How to Write Content That Sticks
HOW TO WRITE CONTENT THAT STICKS
Content that captures eyes and minds is king in the digital age.
Articles, blogs, videos, social media posts, and e-books all help drive web traffic and convert visitors into new customers and clients. Used effectively, these many avenues constitute Content Marketing.
While previous blogs in this series have explained how to use Content Marketing effectively from a strategic perspective, there’s still the question of how to generate content effectively for your campaigns and make it stand out from the crowd.
In this article, we’ll go over several tips to help you do just that.
1. Put in the effort to find quality sources.
Let’s face it: A boring article is bad. But a poorly sourced, ill-informed one is many times worse, as it not only reflects poorly on you for publishing it, but it also wastes your audience’s time and misleads them.
It is therefore in your best interest to ensure any sources you use are reputable.
Of course, with the wealth of information available in the modern world, this can be much easier said than done.
So, what makes a reputable source and how do you find them?
Credible sources generally have the following traits:
Their authors are experts in their field, or they are published by well-respected organizations.
The credentials of both authors and publishers are often no more than a single Google search away.
That said, a good reputation takes years to build but only minutes to destroy. Authors and publications that have earned one are seldom shy about sharing their credentials somewhere readily available, alongside their content, such as a dedicated author bio section or an about us page.
If you can find neither of these on the same site as the content, or at least linked to it, that may itself be a red flag for their credibility.
They cite the sources for their information.
Sources can be cited in a variety of ways, ranging from full bibliographies at the end of an article to simple hyperlinks back to the source. Not all methods of citation are made equal, but the appropriate level depends largely on the context of the publication. Academic works generally require far more stringent citations than an online news publication, for example.
Regardless, some citations are better than no citations at all. Even experts in their field tend to refer to other sources and evidence besides their own background knowledge on the subject.
The information they provide is up to date.
The easiest way to judge whether information is up to date is to examine the publication date of the cited sources, as well as the last time the article itself was updated.
A general rule of thumb is that most of the sources should be no more than 5 to 10 years old relative to the date of the content that’s citing them. Cross-referencing the information with other sources is also an excellent way to check if it’s up to date.
They give an unbiased analysis of the topic.
A credible source will try to provide multiple perspectives on a topic in order to maintain objectivity. Focusing disproportionately or exclusively on one side over another may signal a clear bias from the author or publication.
Some amount of bias is virtually unavoidable due to human psychology, as this article from the NeuroLeadership Institute explains. That said, a reputable source should strive not to let its biases manifest themselves overtly.
Lacking one of these traits does not necessarily mean a source is disreputable, as no source is perfect. The more marks they miss, however, the less you should rely on them for accurate information.
Knowing what traits make a reputable source is all well and good, but here are a few quick tips on how and where to find reliable sources for your content.
Seek out experts in their field in order to give your content the credibility it needs. The most obvious way to achieve this is to leverage the contacts you already have.
However, it can be surprisingly easy to find experts, even if you lack prior connections, as numerous sites such as Expertise Finder and the Pew Research Center’s find an expert section can give you contact information for experts, such as their email or social media handles.
Alternatively, you could leverage the power of social media, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, to find subjects for interviews. Everyone is separated by a maximum of six degrees of separation, after all, and social media is the perfect tool to help you skip several of those degrees and find the type of interviewee you’re seeking. How long it might take you depends on your presence on the platform, but even a single mass message sent to all your followers or connections could result in a few decent leads to pursue.
Perhaps the greatest tip for finding good sources for your content is to employ the metrics mentioned above. With some practice and experience, testing whether a source is credible should eventually become second nature; this can save you a lot of time and energy in your search.
Media literacy combined with basic Googling can pull a surprising amount of weight for many non-academic topics. Sites such as Wikipedia also make excellent launch points for starting your own research, as their articles almost always have numerous cited sources you can review yourself.
If your target audience is a bit more academic or technical, then browsing peer-reviewed research articles and journals is a perfect, and likely preferred, way to find credible sources. Research databases such as Springer and JSTOR are go-to places to find such materials. Google Scholar is a seldom discussed offshoot of the regular Google search service that also makes locating such resources easier by serving up scholarly articles exclusively.
2. Choose the right outlets.
The channels you choose for your content can make or break your content marketing efforts.
While all of them have their merits, not all of them are equally suitable for a given audience.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and energy by prioritizing the ones your audience uses most often.
Here’s a brief list of the various types and their pros and cons:
- Email/Newsletters. Used by virtually everyone online at this point. Newsletters and email marketing are great ways to reach an audience quickly and directly on a regular basis. The best part is that your audience is given control over their exposure, as many newsletters are opt-in based and stopping them is as simple as hitting the unsubscribe button.
- Articles/Blogs. The bread and butter of many a content marketing campaign. Articles and blogs are great tools to let your audience come to you, driving up site traffic and potentially advertising revenue along with it. They are also great for boosting your site’s retention and click through rates as you build a base of loyal readers who trust your content.
- Video/Streaming. A passive medium that works wonders when combined with articles/blogs and is just as effective when leveraged on its own. YouTube, for example, regularly receives over 122 million users who consume 1 billion hours of content every day, according to Demand Sage. Quality video content can take quite a bit of set up and effort to create, but the potential return on investment can be more than worth it in the long run.
- Social Media. The proverbial town square of the modern era. Public officials, celebrities, industry experts, journalists, and companies large and small all maintain a presence on social media for one overarching reason: the sheer, unrivaled reach it gives you. As mentioned above, everyone is separated by a maximum of six degrees of separation, and social media is by far the most effective way to jump over several of those proverbial barriers and reach a far wider audience than you otherwise would, as the content you put out on a given platform can easily trickle down to them.
3. Tailor the length to your audience.
There is no one size fits all solution to how long or short a given piece of content should be.
It all comes down to what industry you're in, who your target audience is, what channel you’re marketing through, and how much attention they are willing to spend on what you’re offering in relation to that.
As explained by Matthew Royse on Medium.com, a good rule of thumb is to keep your content between 1,500 to 3,000 words.
Staying within these bounds should help your content succeed in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), lead generation, and social media shares.
This can be further broken down into the following specifics based on format:
- Video and infographic introductions: 300 to 500 words
- Average blog post/article: 500 to 1,500 words
- Content meant to generate higher SEO, leads, and social media shares: 1,500 to 3,000 words
Ultimately, though, the quality of your content matters just as much as the quantity. While it’s good to keep these metrics in mind, it’s best to treat them as general guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.
So long as your content grabs the viewers’ attention, disseminates the information they need, keeps them coming back for more, and doesn’t waste their time, it doesn’t really matter if it’s 500 words or 5,000 words long.
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