Most blog articles will never get read, but not just because they’re promoted poorly.
Here’s the other reason: They’re a bore. And if you’ve been producing “boring” content because you’re in a seriously technical industry like selling car screws, I bet it can get pretty discouraging when you’re trying to get people to link back to it, let alone read it.
That’s why, in this guide, I’ll go over some of the main factors you should consider when making your content super engaging. I’ll also cover a few tactics you can use to sustain your audience’s attention until the very last word.
It’s 2020: Does Google actually give a sh*t about content length and dwell time?
There’s an old debate among copywriters about which is better: long copy or short copy. Various factors dictate the length of your copy, but the guiding principle is simple:
Say only what you need to say to achieve the desired effect, and no more.
I like to think Google is applying the same principle in its algorithm, but in 2020, an important SEO myth still persists:
The longer someone spends on your page, the higher Google will rank it.
Dictionary.com is a fantastic example. It absolutely crushes in terms of SEO, but it’s not like a search for a term yields a long history about a word, with the definition buried toward the end, and videos scattered throughout to try to keep the reader on the page.
A ranking factor that’s assigned greater importance is most likely user intent. Because if someone wants to know the definition of a word, they can find it quickly on Dictionary.com, and leave satisfied. Why should Google penalize the website because its users don’t stick around for long? Doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.
Me? I love long-form. I absolutely love clients who ask me to write comprehensive guides, and if that’s what you’re writing, it makes sense to go long. After all, if someone’s looking for a comprehensive guide on something, you can safely assume they want all that actionable information to be accessible from one place.
Thinking about user intent: How people “read” online versus on your leather sofa
Say you’re reading Antony Beevor’s excellent “The Battle for Stalingrad” while you’re stretched out on your fancy little leather sofa. You’re feeling totally relaxed, with one hand resting behind your head. Totally engrossed in the story.
In an alternate universe, you’ve never read the book, but you hear about Stalingrad, the largest war theater in history. This sounds insane. How come you’ve never heard of it? So you put your little investigator cap on and you get to Googling.
Do you start browsing sites randomly? Or do you at least have an idea of what you’re going to type, what you’re searching for, and where you’re going to end up?
Reading in print tends to be a passive exercise: You’re absorbing content in a linear fashion—and you’re expected to.
Online, however, you’re not reading passively, but actively scanning for info.
Whenever you land on Google.com, do you stop and randomly brainstorm a keyword to search for because you feel like exploring some corner of the Internet? Or do you always search with intent?
Armed with purpose, you look for visual cues that will guide you to the information you seek. (In information foraging theory, this is called information scent.)
The F Pattern: An ancient web principle that holds firm
The “F pattern” describes how our eyes scan for information online. If you want to keep your readers engaged, you have to make your content reader- and scan-friendly.
Note the “F” patterns in the heatmap screenshots above.
The F pattern is one tested way of organizing information. (It’s based on numerous studies reporting on patterns that have evolved from how people scan online content.)
Consider the F pattern when thinking about how to “shape” and present online copy and content. Specifically, break up large chunks of text. I try to keep it to 4 lines per paragraph.
Readability versus legibility
Readability concerns the ease with which someone can understand your message. If you’re writing for a technical audience, you should utilize their technical jargon. Compare this to writing for a teen audience, where using technical or overly esoteric terms may alienate them. (See what I did there?)
Legibility, on the other hand, is about the level of difficulty someone experiences reading your text, based mainly on your font choice and size. Let’s take an obvious example. If you’re writing content in comic sans, with a font size of 10 px, and you’re writing to sell eyeglasses to senior citizens who are short-sighted, well… you see the problem.
|The average American Internet user reads at a middle school level. |
Here I go, quoting the Nielsen Norman Group again. Your content should aim for “a 6th grade reading level on the homepage, important category pages, and landing pages. On other pages, use text geared to an 8th grade reading level.”
Under the Fold: Where you want your readers to end up
When people visit your site or land on a blog article of yours, the first area they see without scrolling is referred to as being “Above the fold”. This portion requires your dedicated attention. I once read somewhere you have less than 5 seconds to make an impression on first-time visitors. That was way back in the days.
But give them a reason to scroll down, instead of clicking back.
In a study on scrolling and attention, the Nielsen Norman Group (arguably the best researchers of UX design) reported the following:
“Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention to below the fold.”
Anyway. Your above-the-fold area should present your compelling offer, an engaging headline, or your main sales points as clearly as possible. If not, try to get their email. What you do here depends on your specific objectives. But it should receive all the attention you give when brainstorming good headlines.
Pattern Interruptors: How to write great blog posts that engage your readers
In this section, we’ll go over my “Pattern Interruptors” methodology, which is just me trying to sound smart.
It’s essentially a list of ways I use to break up heavy blocks of text. This is my short overview on how to write an engaging article, or how to make your already-published articles even more engaging.
Bullet lists create white space around them, drawing your reader’s attention to the most important, boiled-down points.
Bullet lists work on 2 psychological fronts:
- They trick your brain into thinking information is more believable compared to when the same information is presented in paragraph format. This is because lists provide a sense of progression and totality you just can’t achieve with a basic paragraph.
This doesn’t mean you can be flexible with the truth. Don’t risk it. What you risk is damage to your authority forever. As Bill Bernbach said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”
- We also use bullets frequently for checklists. Do you get a rush of satisfaction every time you strike off an item from your to-do list? I know I do. (I confess, I’m an Asana addict.)
Our increasing reliance on to-do lists over time may also have influenced how we’ve come to perceive bullet lists.
What does this all boil down to, exactly? When your points are presented in bullet-list format, they appear more agreeable and attractive to your readers.
Callouts are awesome for recommendations. They’re basically just a large table you can insert into your text.
You can make them stand out in many ways:
- By giving the box a different background color
- By using a separate heading for each callout
- By using images in your recommendations.
Just look at this one below.
|What’s changed for SEO content in 2020?|
This topic is outside the scope of this guide, but I’m currently working on a Barebones SEO Guide for Business Blogs. (We’ll cover keyword research, Google analytics, meta descriptions, title tags, guest blogging, all that good stuff.) Let me know if you want in by subscribing to my newsletter at the bottom of the page.
Facts, Stats, and Graphs
Here’s an interesting email marketing factoid from Wordstream:
Fact: Most young people use their phones to check their email.
Here’s the same info presented as a statistic: 72.9% of people aged 18 to 24 years check their email on their phones.
And now picture it in graph form.
Which one do you find most convincing? Most people wouldn’t have thought much of the info when presented as a fact. It’s plainly obvious. But presented as a statistic, it’s a bit more interesting. (Do keep in mind, some people are skeptical of statistics, and that’s fine.)
But as a graph, it also lends a visual element, one many people tend not to question. In other words, graphs tend to be absorbed by the viewer in a passive manner. Thus, skepticism is lower.
Quotes from noted experts in your field can lend a lot of credibility to your argument. Use block quotes to distinguish them from the text. Consider the white space around them to draw your reader’s eye to the quote. Position the quote not only for relevance but also by considering where your reader might appreciate a break.
Also worth noting: If you can get a direct quote from a known authority in your niche, some of their authority will rub off on you by association. After all, you’re showing your readers that you know and interact with serious people in your field, and they’ll come to view you as a reliable source of info.
Animated GIFs can be highly engaging, amazing for brand development, and they’re fairly easy to create.
They come in 2 main forms:
- Instructional recordings.
Memes are culturally relatable and are extremely flexible in terms of visual communication. There’s a meme for pretty much everything too. Just check out the massive meme search engine by GIPHY.
Instructional GIFS take a bit more work because you’ve got to create them yourself. But there are tools you can find online that allow you to create a GIF in mere seconds. I used to use Cloudapp, but I’ve since switched over to ScreentoGIF, with no ragrets.
Although Cloudapp is capable of taking screenshots, I use a Chrome extension called Nimbus. The tool is awesome. The free version lets you take a screenshot of an entire page, a selected area, or just the visible part.
Embedding videos are the future, apparently.
1. Yes, it increases dwell time, but as we discussed earlier, this doesn’t concern us because we’re smarter than that.
2. It increases your Youtube views if you’re on Youtube.
If Youtube monetization is part of your overall plan, embedding relevant clips from your Youtube channel will contribute to your views. Not only that, many people tend to neglect Youtube search, but Youtube is owned by Google, and it is the second most searched search engine in the world (after its big brother Google, obviously).
3. You can drive traffic to your site from your Youtube channel, and vice versa.
Directing traffic to and from your site like a traffic cop can present some awesome opportunities. For instance, once your Youtube viewers land on your site, you can try to get their email address.
It works the other way too. Once your readers visit your Youtube channel, there’s a decent chance they’ll subscribe. And because they can see you and engage with you through a visual medium, this will inevitably boost your authority and likeability, 2 serious factors in effective persuasion. And it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune to start shooting decent videos either.
You can also repurpose your video content for your social media. Post them on Facebook if it’s one of your channels. Share them in relevant groups. Leverage Linkedin Pulse to direct traffic through every one of your brand’s touchpoints and maximize engagement.
“Boring” topics could use a little excitement in their lives
So you’re a writer for car screws. Look. It doesn’t matter what you write about. No matter how technical or complex something is, your objective is to simplify and make the content engaging. You don’t do this by explaining something boring by being boring.
You do it by generating excitement.
Look. I’ve got a confession to make. I know it might sound crazy, but sometimes… sometimes?
I try to pump myself up like I’m getting ready for a football game right before I sit down to write something. Why?
Because excitement is contagious. And I can make myself get excited about anything.
Car screws? Hell yeah. Let me tell you all about them wild window felt mounting screws sets my new client’s got flying off the garage shelves. They’ll make your window rolling experience so smooth, it’ll be the most enjoyable part of driving your car.
Tax calculator? Mm give me all them beautiful numbers! Let’s change your life by putting your tax worries to bed forever in a single sitting.
You get the idea.
Ready to boost your site traffic?
Try some of these out on your own content, and do let me know what works best for you and what doesn’t. I know there’s a bunch of other tactics I could’ve discussed at length (like the Curiosity factor, which I love applying), but I’ll get to that in another article.
|Got questions? I’m always here to answer questions. Or to fight bears. So if you’re a quizzical bear, leave a comment below.|