On language, the audience, and the critical first lines
Creating concise and targeted quality content is the goal of every blogger and content manager, but seeing those carefully crafted posts translate into a healthy stream of readers can be another matter entirely. When content is growing steadily but traffic is lagging behind, something is amiss. A familiar issue perhaps, with several possible culprits. Three common issues are: considering the target audience, on-point/off-point messages, and a strong start-weak follow through. If this situation - and these issues - are familiar, read on (I suggest you don’t skim to the end).
The importance of words (and where best to place them)
It feels good to write what comes naturally, rather than merely basing your content around key phrases and buzzwords. Content plays a bigger role than many give it credit; vague and irrelevant articles not only turn readers away, but they have the power to negatively impact overall impressions of products, services, and even organisations.
People take the written word seriously, with the only exception of modern times being social media. Unlike spoken language, people tend to take the written word far more seriously and form strong opinions based on what they read. Fundamentally, content should aim to educate readers, while confirming - or challenging - their previously held notions. Getting your content concise, precise, and accurate is a great asset to your marketing campaign and your organisation.
A good practice is to begin by considering the information your audience needs (more on this soon), then share it in an appropriately engaging way to capture their attention. For example, you may require a strategy that includes a significant amount of imagery - such as for culinary, decor, and architecture-related sites - and choose a media platform with a strong visual impact. Infographics and slideshares are an excellent way to visualise and elaborate on complex processes. Finally, for a high frequency of smaller posts (e.g. updates and news) consider a social media platform to maximise impressions, reach, and shares.
The crucial first three lines: read on, skim, or navigate away
When it comes to search engines and finding answers, we really do have short attention spans. Is it due to increasing impatience? Maybe. Or is it down to the fact that we don't find what we are looking for? More likely. On point content has a much higher probability of capturing and engaging its target readers.
The goldfish attention-span is a real thing when it comes to web content. It’s never been more important to capture your reader’s attention and hook them in the first three lines of text lest they skim all the way to the bottom or - at worst - navigate away. ‘Hooking’ readers with an enticing title, for example: ‘3 ways to slash your tax bill that the government doesn’t want you to know’ - only to find the article is irrelevant, poorly written, and the site is packed with ads is a certain detractor from your marketing campaign. You’ll be singing a siren song that’s sure to increase impressions, but also bounce rates along with it. If your strategy is to generate revenue from website ads, this method may have some use; otherwise, it isn’t ideal.
Beginning by including questions, common problems, and insightful information without giving away too much all at once is a great start to an article; you’ll be engaging your readers in a way they can relate to. Furthermore, underestimate your editor at your own peril; high quality articles contain crisp language, concise messages, and unique insights. Edit down the fluff, revise the tone, and then revise it some more to keep your audience reading right through to the end. Finally, once you hit publish that’s not the end either; great content needs routine monitoring, assessment, and maintenance to keep it performing at its best.
First, consider your audience
Writing without first thinking about who will read your work is either writing purely for yourself or for an imagined audience regardless of whether or not they are actually out there. Failing to consider your audience is akin to writing in a black hole i.e. your message isn’t going to get out. Establish your target readers in order to appropriately tailor your content. Personas and prototype readers are a great help with this. Demographic and psycho-graphic details tied in with target market information allows you to build your perceived reader persona.
Using data to create precisely targeted high-value content to engage your audience is the goal. By using key personas and prototypes, your content will deliver a clear message with strong emotional and rational appeal. Personas can be taken a step further to help understand search parameters, select keywords, and develop your site’s search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.
Getting the balance right between target audience, precision content, and a concise message takes practice, evaluation, and planned maintenance. A clear strategy with regular review periods and content maintenance is essential. Once content is published, it needs to be strategically disseminated across your social media channels for optimum performance. A content calendar is a great asset when it comes to monitoring, assessing, and performing routine updates to your content as well. It’s an unfortunate fact that the moment content is left alone without review and maintenance, it becomes frozen in time and it’s potency dwindles.
An expert content marketing agency can plan out your strategy, create unique content, and perform behind-the-scenes maintenance. It's a viable option when quality, targeted content is needed, but the core team's time and skills are focused elsewhere. Plus, outsourcing frees up staff to dedicate more time to the things they are passionate about.
Handing over a portion of the marketing strategy to an expert agency delivers researched and optimised content that follows trending themes. All successful campaigns are based on research and solid strategies plus routine maintenance, and so should yours be too.
First Published: 13 November 2018
Updated: 22 March 2019
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