“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” said media scholar and University of Southern California provost professor Henry Jenkins. A prerequisite to creating content that actually spreads, and helps you achieve your goals, is to create something that people actually want to read. Simple enough, right?
Good content isn’t easy to create. By good content, I mean: content that has a higher potential of reaching more people and actually engaging them. Content that people will actually read and be informed by or delighted by. The benefits to your business can range between:
Increased lead generation
More clients retained through engagement and loyalty
Enhanced thought leadership
Many other possibilities, including using content to form relationships with influential thought leaders, etc.
Good content is also a prerequisite to syndication partnerships, which can help get a lot more eyeballs for your work. For example, have a look at what Scientific American magazine and Business Insider are doing. (Or how Lifehacker syndicates Buffer.)
What are some methods of crafting better content?
Professors Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman at the Wharton School of Business conducted an analysis into the variables that could were correlated with articles in The New York Times’ Most Popular list. They discovered that the main predictor of virality of articles in New York Times is high-arousal, whether positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety).
This holds a significant implication: don’t let your fear of other people’s reactions make you try to please everyone. In fact, a simpler rule: don’t be lukewarm, but aim to be strong and polarize. They will either love you or hate you.
As investor Dave McClure says, “Hate is closer to love than indifference—you can’t iterate around indifference, but you can around hate.”
2. Write Stronger Headlines
Legendary ad-man David Ogilvy once said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” That means, theoretically, you should be spending 80% of your time on your headline and 20% on your body copy.
The proof is in the pudding: media company Upworthy raised over $4 million in funding last October, and has gained over 3 million subscribers (even outpacing growth rates of websites like Buzzfeed). One method they use of cutting through the noise on social networks and the other busy avenues of the internet is to make headlines so attractive visitors can’t help themselves. Their technique for headlines is no secret: they write 25 headlines per post before deciding on a good one.
While you may have the resources or desire to spend more than half your content time on your headlines, there’s no excuse for you not to get good with headlines. Here are 101 of world-leading internet marketer Jay Abraham’s headlines for you to model. In case you’re really hungry for more models, have a look at this research done by Econsultancy on effective (and ineffective) keywords. Remember, if you can’t get the clickthrough (and the spread), then your content is dead.
3. Collect Ideas Regularly
A large proportion of time spend on content creation takes place in gathering ideas (or creating ideas). What if you could cut this time down?
Instead of waiting for pitch deadline hour to roll around, collect your ideas through your daily reading. You can do this easily through Evernote (which is a quick solution because you can highlight text, copy it, and organize it within a 20 seconds). Alternatively, you can also use a notebook method to jot ideas down; naturally, it won’t be as fast as copy and pasting text to refer to later, but it could be more effective for brainstorming. Entrepreneur and bestselling author Tim Ferriss documents his method of taking notes meticulously.
Bestselling author Robert Greene uses this method of idea collecting in order to put his books together. He illustrates this further in his Reddit AMA, where he specifies how he uses his index cards and reading methods to gather and organize his ideas and supporting evidence.
4. Read Cosmo
If there’s one thing Cosmopolitan magazine could be respected for, it’s their excellent copywriting. Even if you’re a man, figure out how to get your hands on a copy of Cosmo — it’s worth the funny looks from the cashier at the checkout counter or the friend you plan to borrow the Cosmo from. (It may be more beneficial to your cause to remain silent.)
This resource is what internet marketing veteran Ramit Sethi advocates. You can have a look at the fruit of these expert copywriters’ labour and phrase your stuff similarly. For example, if you were writing for a financial planning publication, Cosmo’s “Lose Weight While You Eat: 9 Belly-Shrinking Foods,” could turn into, “Save Money While you Shop: 9 Wallet-Boosting Tips.”
An interesting sidebar: Cosmo still gets feedback from its audience in order to make sure it stays in touch with evolving changes or changing customer perspectives. Here’s an example of how their surveys look like.
5. Improve Using Feedback
Alright, so you’re thinking: Cosmo has a huge platform to sample respondents from — how the heck can you make use of customer feedback with your comparatively small readership?
Don’t fret, there are still many options. You can A/B test different content; for example, the Huffington Post split-tests their headlines to smaller audiences before sharing it to the general public. That means they can compare initial differences in pageviews, shares, and other types of metrics.
Alternatively, you can find a small sample of proofreaders. It could be friends, potential customers, or current active (and inactive) customers. Bestselling author Neil Strauss reveals in this conversation that he calls a friend over and reads the book aloud to her, and then marks down passages where he notices her attention waning. In that same interview, Tim Ferriss recalls being able to accelerate his proofreading process by finding better thinkers than he is — either other writers, or lawyers and law students.
It’s a matter of effectiveness: if you’re going to be doing content marketing anyway, you might as well do it well. Take a few minutes to analyze the launch of each article or post to reflect on what you did well, and where you need to improve. Is it distribution? Is it headlines? Is it in subject matter and stronger opinions?
It’s all about practise and getting a little better each time. These resources are here and will remain here — come back to this post as you want to improve, and focus on a different aspect each time. Best of luck.
Image Source: Michael Davis-Burchat