Hands up if you have a content writer or content team who do production line content.
No-one would admit to that. But before you get too confident, how often do you look at your own website? I don’t mean looking at the stats in your analytics dashboard. I mean looking at the pages like one of your customers would.
If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably ‘not often’. Because even if you practice all the best advice about keeping content short and to the point etc etc, it all looks the same.
This doesn’t mean your content writer is bad. Just that they’re not making the most of what a writer can do to make content interesting. Take a look at your website again, then pop over to BuzzFeed and take a look at that.
Can you see the difference?
Can your content writer do what BuzzFeed does?
There are few companies that want their website to look like BuzzFeed, even though it’s phenomenally successful, and your website isn’t. But the reason you turn your nose up at it is because you’re looking at the content. All those lists about movie stars and what shampoo they use, or quizzes about which Olsen twin you are. Of course, there’s serious stuff mixed in there too. But by just looking at the content, you’re missing the point.
One thing a good content writer does is present content. She structures it, tweaks it—finds an angle or a surprising way of presenting it.
BuzzFeed is compelling, but it’s not just for what the content is. It’s the way it is presented—constantly varied, interactive, and fun. The site became famous for hilarious lists, but they don’t just do lists. They do everything. Lists, news, quizzes, features, picture essays—the site is a feast of content styles.
Working against your own brain
Back to your site. Your content fits a predetermined structure which is about 500 words long. It has H2 headings every second or third paragraph and a call-to-action at the end.
What you’re writing about may be terrific. But for someone reading it, it’s gonna get tiresome.
It’s our fault. We all read the same how-to stories that tell us to write a great headline (yeah, like that’s so easy), then keep it short and simple.
But the human brain is hardwired to look for novelty.
If all the posts on your site look the same, even if you have wonderful, new things to say in every post, your readers will zone out and move elsewhere. It may not be boring, but it looks boring.
Keeping it fresh
The easiest way to keep your content fresh is by approaching it with story types or templates in mind. Good content writers and editors have used these templates for years as a way to break up the big slab of black or grey text you’re faced with when reading a long narrative piece of writing.
These story templates are the missing piece of the current content marketing puzzle. You can find lots of articles on how to build a content strategy, or how to use tools like Google Trends to find story ideas. But you still have to execute your strategy. Using a story template lets you then channel your hundreds of great content ideas into workable pieces of writing.
The other advantage of using story templates is it keeps you engaged in your own writing because you’re not doing the same thing on autopilot.
Breaking it down
The next time you are planning content, think about the way the story will eventually look on screen. Then ask yourself whether you can present it in a more interesting way.
For example, many of us have, at some time, interviewed an executive with a view to ghost writing a blog post for them. You do that because you think your clients will be interested in something this executive has to say.
But instead of ghost-writing it, why not run the interview in a Q&A format? The structure of a Q&A interview on a page creates lots of space in the narrative where you can slot in photos. If you have more than one photo of the interview subject, it makes sense to run them multiple times in a Q&A. And the alternating questions and answers bring an element of graphic freshness to the page.
Or instead of an FAQ page, why not present it as a quiz? There are plenty of quiz plugins for WordPress sites (Google it, you’ll find a good one).
If both of those ideas were presented beside a more traditional piece of web content, the effect lifts the whole site. The promise of varied content draws readers in. It works for BuzzFeed. I know. I spent an extra hour researching this piece because I got sucked into their site.
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