The writing industry is entirely too hung up on words.
Word counts. Keywords. Wordsmiths. The attraction is a natural one– after all, words are our tools of the trade. Without them, we’d be nothing, right?
We get so hung up on words that we forget our primary goal as writers: to convey meaning through words. Words are nothing but a meaningless jumble of characters strung together. It’s how we use those words to make people giggle, make people sob, make them nod, make them wince. Words should mean something significant– and what’s further, words should raise a reaction.
The Meaningful Content Drought
Though the content industry certainly took a step in the right direction by distancing ourselves from targeted keywords, we’re still entirely too hung up on generating new material whenever we can– the more content, the better. Let’s post three times a week! Five! Eight! Who cares what we’re posting– as long as we’re generating new content, right?
Unfortunately, we’ve become so obsessed with this whole Content Marketing idea that we’ve forgotten why content marketing works. Successful content is content that fills a need for consumers: to make them laugh, to give advice, to relay valuable information.
Harsh as it may be, it needs to be said: if your content isn’t filling a need for your audience, your content is failing.
When Words Fail
We all know the failed writing: the fluff. The filler. The blog post that was written and posted for no other reason than that today is Thursday, and our blog always posts new content on Thursdays.
Mindless writing serves no one. You can’t just “go through the motions” when you write– your audience will always be able to tell. And that audience won’t come back to your site.
Why should they? There are thousands of other hard-working writers out there who apparently care more than you do.
Stop driving away your audience with lackluster, lifeless writing. Here are some tips for creating content that your readers– and you– will actually care about.
Find Your Audience (by Finding What Your Audience Needs)
Your audience in itself isn’t important. Who cares if your audience is soccer moms, hipsters, or environmentalists? What you need to focus on is what that audience needs.
You’ve got to know your audience inside and out before you can write for them. Ask yourself the questions: why are your readers coming to you instead of other sites? What sites send them to you? Which posts and subjects receive the most comments? Which receive the most shares and links?
The Need (And Not the Topic) Should Be Your Focus
You’re writing to earn the attention of a very busy audience. Start with a purpose and stick with it from the opening paragraph to the conclusion. Web readers have no patience for flighty writers.
Outlining is especially helpful for writing purposefully and concisely online. Web audiences appreciate easily digestible and segmented content that all contribute to a main idea (just look at the popularity of lists, for example). Outlines work the same way. Outlines also give you a “birds-eye-view” of your content, making it easy to see if any segments stray off track.
Ask Yourself: “Have I Seen This Before?”
Be honest– have you seen this post before? If so, how is it different? Does it bring something fresh, relevant, and necessary to the table?
Don’t kid yourself on this one. The world does not need another post on why grammar is important to writing and the world does not need another Charlie Sheen joke. Learn to recognize when a subject is a tired one. Your audience has no interest in sharing (or reading, for that matter) content they’ve seen somewhere else.
On That Note, Stop Spinning Your Content Already
When pressed for content, Web writers seem to love taking someone else’s concept or ideas and putting a fresh “spin” on the content. That’s fine in theory– adding to the discussion, providing a dissenting opinion, etc.– but these posts often end up as a mindless regurgitation of someone else’s ideas. If you’re truly adding something fresh and original to the discussion, go ahead; otherwise, you’re contributing absolutely nothing of value.
Write for a Reaction
You don’t want your readers to absorb your information and move on. You’re aiming for a reaction– your audience should feel something about your content. Moreover, they should be compelled to act because of your content. Did you make them laugh? They’ll be back– and they’ll tell their friends about you. Did you give them a fresh perspective on something? They’ll share your site with their colleagues.
Every single thing you write should aim for a reaction. Passive writing is failed writing. You’re the writer, remember? You’re the one driving this content. Get in the driver’s seat and take your audience somewhere new.
Quality Control: Would You Share This Content?
Before you post, you need to do a little last-minute quality control. Put your post away for a while and come back to it with a pair of fresh eyes.
Look at your headline. You already know it should be concise, catchy, and contain a “must-read” factor– your audience should feel compelled to open your content. Now it’s time to ask yourself, would I click this headline? Why or why not?
Read your content from start to finish. Don’t fix anything, don’t change, don’t edit. Note when you feel the urge to skim or skip and note where you’re most engaged. Now, ask yourself: Would I share this content? Would you tweet it or post it to Facebook? Would you email it to anyone? If you don’t feel compelled to share your content, your audience won’t, either.
Taking Pride in Your Words Comes Down to One Simple Concept:
Take an interest in your subject. Care about what you’re writing, why you’re writing it, and who you’re writing it for. If what you’re writing is valuable to you, your words will be just as valuable to your readers.
Nicki Porter is a working writer, fledgling foodie, and admitted alliteration addict currently living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter for musings on writing, blogging, and the Muppet Show. And don’t forget to come hang out with CopyPress on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr!