One of the first lessons that newspaper journalists are taught is to structure their content so that the most important information they have to share is first, with the importance decreasing as you read through the piece. Pick up any newspaper around you and you’ll see that the first few sentences contain the most crucial elements of the event.
This not only creates impact, but also allows editors to simply snip off the bottom paragraph of a story if they need space for other articles. As the final paragraph is the least important, their editing does not affect the article too much. I’ve already shared how I personally became a much better writer (though I don’t rate myself that highly) and now I want to get into the specifics of how to create compelling content.
If the job of your headline is to get people to read your introduction, then the job of your introduction is to get people to read further into the post. I believe that if your introduction is interesting and compelling enough, there’s a better chance that people will read your entire post, rather than just skimming through or ignoring it all together.
I definitely have a lot of work to do on my own introductions, but do have some advice to share which I think can help you.
List some interesting facts: I think the introduction for this section, regarding newspaper journalists, would have been interesting for most people. The information it shares must have some value, simply because I was able to remember this myself and then pass it on to you all. If you’ve naturally remembered a small nugget of information about a topic, there’s a good chance it’s interesting.
If your facts are both interesting and relevant then it’s a great way to keep people hooked on what you’re saying.
Offer a teaser for later in the post: If you could easily work out who the killer was at the start of an episode of CSI or figure out the plot of a movie after the first 5 minutes, we just wouldn’t watch them. Smart television and movie producers “sprinkle” teasers throughout the length of the production to keep you hooked until the end where you find the answers.
Promise your readers the answer to something you know they’ll care about, and make sure you stick to that promise, but only by offering small nuggets of information as they get towards the end of the post.
Ask a question: Though questions can make very effective headlines, I personally don’t like to use them in this way. I prefer to use them in introductions. This way, you can both ask the question and answer it to offer value straight away, or you can use it as a hook.
Similar to the last point, you could answer an intriguing question and then promise to answer it towards the end of the post. A good one from the book Made to Stick is the question, “What are the rings around the planet Saturn made of?”. I’ll answer it later .
Use Reverse Psychology: I recommend you use this sparingly as too much of this tactic will annoy readers rather than encourage them to read your post. I used this tactic in my ‘most important blog post’ article when I wrote “This blog post is quite long so you probably shouldn’t read it. To the 50% of visitors who are still with me, I’ll say now that less than 1% of you will get to the end so you may as well leave now.”
I can imagine some people will take this too far and tell their readers in every post that they aren’t going to read it or they won’t enjoy it. Trust me, this tactic only works when you use it very, very sparingly. Think of some unique ways you can apply it and you’ll be on to a winner.
The Middle (The “Meat” of Your Content)
The middle of your post is where you get across your main points, provide value to your readers, and offer lessons you hope that they take away from the article. For example, in my post on How I received over 900,000 visits from Google in 30 days, I began by proving my facts and claims in the headline. The meat of the post was exactly how I was able to do that.
Although I mentioned this earlier, it’s very important that even if you have a great intro and a great headline, the meat of your content must match up to those high standards. If you have extravagant headlines and can’t follow them up with great information, you’re just going to annoy readers and they probably won’t come back.
In other words, if you’re going to offer some “secrets”, make sure they actually aren’t that well known.
Be personal: One of the best ways to get your points across is to speak about personal experiences. On the most basic level, this means that you should be open to sharing both your failures and your successes. In my article about generating more blog post ideas, I was more than willing to share that I had been struggling to come up with things to write about.
The reason that being personal works so well is because people can relate to what you’re saying. And, if people can relate to your content, they’re more likely to take your advice to heart and engage in your site. Don’t be afraid to use personal stories to help get your points across. It’s probably one of the most effective things you can do.
Provide concrete evidence or examples: I’m lucky enough right now to be in an industry where people know enough about what I’ve achieved to trust what I say. However, that wasn’t always the case, especially when I was blogging about personal development. In order to get your point across and have your ideas stick, it’s good to have enough information to backup your points so that they really can’t be disputed.
I often include images of ‘roadmaps’ when I talk about complicated subjects like my SEO strategy in big industries, and always try to include examples to help people create a picture in their mind of what I’m talking about. Evidence and examples might not help your post be more viral, but it will help solidify the ideas you’re trying to share.
List your most important points first: I can’t remember where I first read this, but it makes total sense, and it’s something I’ve tried to implement in all of my posts. If you’re writing a list post or ever just listing points in a certain order, put the most unique and/or valuable at the top of the list.
I believe the simple logic is that if you’re going to share points that are interesting and someone hasn’t heard before, they’re more likely to continue reading than if your initial points are just generic and nothing new.
Keep Your message simple: In most cases, it’s best to keep the message you’re sharing simple. Or, if it is complex, at least keep it to one idea. The best blog posts tell you one thing and they tell it well. Seth Godin is a master at this. If there’s a key message that someone can take from your article that they understand fully, then they’re more likely to pass that message on.
An example of this is my post on blogging partners, which was one of the most popular on the site. I said a lot about the subject, and covered it in-depth, but I really just stuck to one idea: If you want to grow your blog faster, find a blogging partner.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Your Summary and General Readability
The summary of your post, in my opinion, is the least important aspect of your article. The hardest part of anything you write is to get people to read it, and then continue reading it until the end. Similar to what newspaper journalists learn, your best information should be in the introduction and main sections of the article.
If you rely on the summary for people to “get” what you’re trying to say then you’ve just wasted 80% of your writing, in most cases. Although the summary isn’t as important as the other sections, there are some recommended ways to use it.
End with a powerful statement: The more articles I wrote, the more I found myself trying to end them with a message that left an impact on the reader. Movies do this all the time; if you’ve seen the end of Inception then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Just because you’ve got your main message out of the way, it doesn’t mean you should get lazy with your article. On two random guest posts that I’ve written, here were two of the endings:
- “Those thousands of subscribers are waiting for you. You’ve just got to be ready for them.” from Copyblogger.
- “Now, can you please promise me you’re going to share your value with the world? Because I can promise you, the world is waiting for it.” from TylerCruz.com
Start a discussion: This will be the third time I’ve mentioned starting discussions and asking questions. I do so because I believe that conversation is really at the heart of blogs, and one of the main things that makes them so different from static sites. Often times, people will want to leave a comment, but they just aren’t quite sure which part of the post to share their thoughts on.
You can use your summary to remind people of the most important points, and ask questions around any of them. This should help to get the comments flowing.
Summarise Your Post: Although very obvious (it is called a summary, after-all), I couldn’t leave this point out of the post. A good suggestion for ending is to pick the most important advice you’ve shared and repeat it in bullet-form. Another option, where relevant, is to give people an action plan as to the steps to take next after reading your advice.
My final suggestion, which is not directly related to making your content viral, would be to offer links to other relevant posts on your site. If people like what they’ve just read (and they probably did, if they made it to the end) then they’re likely going to want to see other articles you’ve written.
I generally break many rules when it comes to readability, but I still try to include the basics when I can. Even if you write the best posts in your industry, nobody is going to take the time to read them if you just list paragraph after paragraph without any formatting or line-breaks.
There aren’t many things to remember when it comes to making your posts scannable. Here are a few things that I think you should:
- Use Bullet Points: Just like I’m doing here, separate some lists into bullet form which not only breaks your post up into sections, but helps people skim your ideas if necessary
- Use Section Headings: I often use H2 and H3 tags to define different sections of my posts. This way, I have a clear outline of my beginning, middle and end, so visitors can decide to read just one section or all of them combined.
- Bold important sentences: If people are going to skim your posts, make it easier for them to take value from it by highlighting your most important points
- Use clear sentences: Unless you’re trying to appeal to English literature graduates, you don’t need to use fancy words or complex-sentence structures. Keep your sentences simple. And remember: What you say is far more important than how you say it.
- Break things up with images: Another good way to structure your content, without using headings, is to use relevant images to break things up. I like to have one in the introduction, as do many other bloggers, and more throughout the post, depending on the length of it
Many of these suggestions are aimed towards people who aren’t going to take the time to read every word that you write, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The whole point is that they’re reading your content and enjoying it in their own way, and then sharing it if they like it.
Many people will also skim an article first, and if it looks interesting, go back to read the whole thing in detail.
In the next update we’ll be looking into ways you can engage with your niche and some other traffic strategies so you can start getting readers to your blog. And remember, we’ll be revealing Andrea’s site on January 1st so don’t forget to check back here in the new year!