Since the first Google Panda update in Feb 2011, quality of content has become a major factor on everyone’s marketing checklist. However, your content could be filled with quality and meaty information, and even be founded on some principles that have been successful in the past, but it still could suffer a high bounce rate.
If your content is not appealing to your audience on a personal level, it will be overlooked. Content must be relatable and actionable in order to increase user attention span. So, it is important to find out what content your audience relates to, and then create a plan to boost it across all the platforms you use.
Before We Begin
The first step before creating any plan of action is to assess your current state. Look back at previous posts. How did each one perform? What aspects of your content got the most attention? You should consider comments, shares, likes, favorites, and links. Also, look specifically at bounce rate and page exit rate. This will help you determine which posts are just not connecting with your viewers, perhaps due to topic, presentation of the information, or even the time it was posted.
Use post-click metrics to eliminate pre-visit factors that could affect the accuracy of this test. For example, the number of visits is irrelevant as the efforts generating the traffic could be different from one page to another. Instead use the above-mentioned metrics.
Based on the activity of previous posts, you will have a clear understanding of what makes your audience tick and what content they are more likely to share, comment on, or ignore. You will know of specific tactics that have been proven to encourage audience activity. Therefore, you should use these tactics in all your future content.
I cannot express the importance of this test as part of preliminary research. Many people simply miss the target, not understanding that there is always a gap between what you think is interesting and what your prospects find interesting on the web.
Without further hypotheticals, let me share with you some tactics that I have seen (in my own or others’ content) engage an audience and encourage action from them afterward.
KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
When discussing content on the internet, it has been noted that website users rarely read content fully. Content needs to be written for the skimmer not the reader, and when the content is topically deep, industry jargon should be explained and used carefully. The best way to write content is to understand that your readers could range from an expert to an amateur in your topic field. Here is how you can cover all your bases, and ensure simplicity for your readers:
- Explain industry jargon and terms in parentheses or footnotes and keep in mind the advantages of focusing on clarity over jargon
- Use bullet points and lists to break up long paragraphs
- Create spacing to break up intimidating chunks of information so your reader will be motivated to continue skimming smoothly
- Provide short explanations on the go to ensure that your reader will be able to follow you as your information continues
- Link out important terms to Wikipedia, a dictionary, or other expert posts in order to provide more detailed explanations for terms that you don’t cover
Here is an example of bad structure and an altogether boring page:
Don’t do this! Instead, review your content before publishing and ask yourself if the overall content layout increases its legibility. Tweak as necessary.
Tell How to Do, Not Just What to Do
There is certainly a place for content that describes what to do. Listing the five best software tools with which to find influencers is an article that many people would eat up. However, when it comes to content, it is important that you teach “how to do” and not just “what to do.” Writing the “what” is a very on-the-surface content goal. Eventually, you or your reader will desire to delve deeper into the subject. If you desire to be seen as a resource, then you must discuss the “how” of your topic with your reader:
- Describe your personal processes and tools and how you use them to gain a competitive edge
- Give examples from your work and research and how you read the data
- List resources and share how they have improved your knowledge or skill
By writing the “how,” you actually are teaching, versus merely informing. When you help others solve a problem, you invest in their needs, you build relationships, and you keep them reading. As your viewer continues, they are pushed down the buying funnel from interest and consideration to perhaps conversion and loyalty.
When describing “how to do,” it is important to have the mindset, patience, and verbiage of a teacher. Your expert-level knowledge about a topic has multiple layers which you take for granted. It is easier for you to think about a subject as a whole, but that is a common teaching mistake. When explaining a process, you must break it down.
Explain your subject in a way that everyone can understand.
Photo Credit: Memes.com
Showing visuals relates to both of the previous points (readers have short attention spans and “how to” articles can be boring to read). To address the first point, understand that your reader is looking for the easiest way to have their question answered. Let’s be honest, website viewers are busy. To address the second point, understand readers will not continue reading a paragraph describing how you completed a task, which took you to another page, where you moved your cursor to a certain button… Content needs to be more visually engaging. Try these ideas:
- Provide graphs that help to explain your data and research findings
- Use screenshots of the tools, buttons, and/or tabs that you used
- Create descriptive images and graphs that directly relate to the content and give new insights to your descriptions
- Use videos that tell a story and capture the attention of viewers in ways that a written article cannot
Black text on a white background is boring! Enrich the page with visuals and colors that pertain to the subject. Also, avoid the common mistake of using generic graphics.
Showing visuals makes content easier to understand, and the reader more likely to stay. Explaining is easier with pictures. As you can see below, pictures really are worth a thousand words:
There are hundreds of research articles proving that images keep readers engaged and keep them on the page. Simplymeasured.com did A/B testing for including images in tweets and the results were very conclusive.
Answer Your Readers’ Questions
Since Hummingbird, the web is geared more than ever toward answering users’ questions. Make sure to ask and answer questions throughout your post. This ensures that you stay relevant during the writing process. The goal with content is to completely exhaust your topic. Think how frustrating it is for your reader if they peruse your entire post, yet leave with their question still unanswered.
Also, keep in mind that not everyone will ask a question the same way. Since our goal is to serve the maximum number of readers, we must ask multiple questions that all lead to the same conclusion. This way we are covering a broader search query area, while feeding the Hummingbird algorithm. Follow these practices:
- In your title, either hint at an answer or ask an actual question
- During the writing process, think about queries that your audience might have
- Provide short and to-the-point answers
- Break down answers in more detail below the introduction to give readers the choice of where to spend more time on the page
Answering questions in a post has to be structured. There are countless post structures you can find online. They all share one thing in common – simple structured data that is geared toward web reading. The general structure should be as follows:
Remember, comments and user interaction are dynamic content. They are less important than the actual post, but will become an integral part of it. Return to the post’s comments periodically to answer questions from your readers. This further enriches the post and its textual aspects.
Create your content in a wide range of formats and mediums, and be as unique and innovative as possible. Consider your content to be another form of branding yourself. Branding is a powerful tool for your business because it gives you the chance to link emotional responses with your offered service and to go beyond pictures, colors, and typography. Don’t hide behind your professional website, but rather use innovative content to show users that your brand is personable, relatable, and human. Here are some ideas:
Find ways to laugh at yourself, and encourage others to see why they should laugh with you, like JC Penny’s tweeting with mittens:
Find ways to show that your company is human, like Coca Cola’s give-back initiative:
Find ways to show that your company is unique, like Dove with their pushes toward changing industry stereotypes:
Making content relatable and actionable takes time and effort. Staying on the surface is the easier choice, but it delivers little to no added value in an already saturated online arena. Your readers come to you and trust you for helpful information that is rich and thoughtful. It is also your duty to ensure that the reading process is enjoyable and smooth.
You will find that it is worth the time and effort to take a magnifying glass to your content. It should not only answer your users’ questions, but be personable to them and reveal something about your company and product that they can relate to and feel. Your content should be written with the buying funnel in mind. Write with hope that you will take your viewer one step closer toward your desired conversion and future loyalty.
In addition, you will need to have a monitoring system in place at all times. Always be looking for new insights about how your viewers are interacting with your posts. Use tools like Google Analytics to measure which content approaches are most successful. Use segments to help you read the complex data.
About the Author: Asher Elran is a practical software engineer and a marketing specialist. CEO at Dynamic Search and founder of Web Ethics.