Image credit: Pope Saint Victor
When I was a boy I had pink hair. Vintage t-shirts. The sweetest jeans any raver would love to wear. And suede sneakers.
I was it.
Until you sat me down and tried to talk to me. The moment I opened my mouth it was all over. I was a fraud. An empty shell. Shallow and water thin on meaningful content.
I had nothing interesting to say. Ever.
This is kind of the way the content marketing world has been moving. Let me explain.
Where We Are Getting Content Marketing Right
People are getting it: if you want to attract attention then you need to write one helluva seductive headline. Whopper headlines that drive massive amounts of click-throughs.
Or generate a landslide of social media shares.
But that’s not enough.
My work demands I surf the web extensively. I’m lured in by some great headlines. Headlines that make me say, “Dang! I wish I’d written that!”
Where We Are Getting Content Marketing Wrong
Thank goodness Panda punishes this content-farm mentality and rewards original, long-form posts. But even those who are picking up on the original post concept are still missing the life of good writing.
They have the form down. They just don’t know how to write to hold interest. To keep me plugging through their twelve hundred word lecture on the benefits of [enter topic here].
They botch the post in one (or more) of ten ways. Let’s look at those reasons. And then you can look at some articles I’ve included to help you on each topic (most of these articles point away from this site).
1. The Opening
Your headline clothes lined me. Good job. Now your opening should grab me by my throat and drag me down the page.
Tell me a story thick with conflict. Make a challenging statement. And then state you are going to prove your position.
Pull me. Please.
- 10 Brilliant Examples of How to Open Your Next Blog Post With a Bang
- 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang
- David Sedaris’ Tricks to Great First Sentences
2. Sub Heads
Sub heads are the landmarks in your epic post. They help a reader orient himself on the page. They help the scanner determine whether he is going to read more. They help the skimmer comprehend the essence of your post in one quick scroll.
Your sub heads should tell the story of your post in three or four sentences. Or it could communicate the 5 W’s of your article: the who, what, why, where and when.
You need to be specific and clever. See, the rules that apply to headline writing also apply to sub heads. Don’t ignore them.
- How to Write Exquisite Subheads
- Six Steps to Great Subheads
- Using Subheads and Lists to Make Articles Skimmable
3. Warm-Blooded Verbs
Your verbs need life. They should vibrate. Tremble. Carve a vivid picture in the head of your reader.
And, for goodness sake, avoid passive verbs.
- Choose Active, Precise Verbs
- How to Write Call-to-Action Copy That Gets Visitors Clicking
- Monday Morning Essay Tip: Choose More Active Verbs
Online bullets help you break up the flow of text into bite-sized portions. Bullets are perfect for lists. In print you might simply use serial commas to explain the nature, function, role, shape, habits and love-affairs of bullets.
Online you put them in a bullet list:
- Love Affairs
Bullets also break up the text and make online reading fun.
- 8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Want to Actually Read (This article is also a sublime example of a humdinger of a headline delivering a humdinger of a post. Nice job, Mr. Bruce.)
- How to Write Bullet Points That Hit the Bullseye
Every sentence should dove tail into the next. Every paragraph into the next paragraph. Every section into the next section.
When you are editing your post, read, and then re-read. Read it out loud. To a friend.
Sometimes you can cheat with transition statements like “Let me show you what I mean” or “Here’s why.” Better yet, work hard at connecting carefully so the reader doesn’t stop.
- How to Use Transition Words (From Grammar Girl! OH YEAH!)
- Coherence: Transition Between Ideas (Great content. Frightening design.)
- 9 Editing Tips That Make Your Writing Sparkle
6. White Space
People get annoyed when they scan a post and see block after block of text. Use short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
A short paragraph might only be one sentence long.
And just four words.
No worries. This approach allows readers to scramble down your post. Or like gravity it pulls them down.
- 10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines (You are interested in the “White Space Improves Comprehension” section.)
- Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts
- Writing for the Web
The web wants white space. It also wants beautiful images. And it wants to kill off the lame photo. Think Fast Company. The Verge. Or Boston Globe’s Big Picture. Venues that adopted the advantages of the web and screen technology to great effect.
Images abound. Labor long and heavy through Flickr or Society 6. Approach the artists and ask them if you can use an image. And always give credit where credit is due.
- The Death of the Boring Blog Post?
- How to Stop Writing Boring Blog Posts
- The Lazy Blogger’s Guide to Finding Great Post Images
8. Figures of Speech
A figure of speech will breathe life into your text. They compare two different objects. Your eyes ARE LIKE hard-boiled eggs (simile). Your heart IS a hard-boiled egg (metaphor).
A good metaphor lights a fire in your reader’s brain he can’t put out. A bad metaphor is like stumbling over a corpse.
- What Is a Metaphor?
- Magnetic Blogging: How to Use Metaphors to Create Irresistible Content
- How to Use Metaphors to Engage and Encourage Readers
In the marketing world most people are reading your content hoping for answers.
Give it to them.
Teach them how to write. Hula hoop. Show them how to delicately break up with a overly attached love interest. Sell a tank to a priest. Build a house out of sassafras.
And spell it out for them. Be as clear and concise as you can. Go slowly, step by step.
- Your “How-To” Post Will Fail If You Don’t Use These Techniques
- Free Content, Expectations and Monetization
- What Problem Do You Solve?
10. Killer Close
A killer close is satisfying. The reader feels it is natural. A killer close ties in the opening–feels like the lid of a box is being shut. All of your questions have been answered. The reader gets what you promised.
- 10 Best Closing Lines of Books
- 7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post
- Public Speaking: How to Close a Speech
You Are Not Superstar Enough to Write These Kinds of Posts
Some people can ignore this list. Seth Godin, for example. He can get away with pithy posts. He can get away with minimum effort because of the decades of work and thought and reputation that goes behind each post.
You and I have not reached that elevated level yet. We have to earn our right. In fact, you and I could churn out the exact same posts that Seth shares and most people won’t listen to us.
We just don’t have his authority or reach. We have to put in the hard work. No short cuts.
And listen: I’m equally guilty of creating catastrophes. Quite possibly like this post. But I’m trying!