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Convinced there’s no point in writing long blog posts? A scientific study of New York Times articles suggests viral articles are actually more likely to be long. Comprehensive blog posts have a way of attracting attention and links, no matter how much we want to picture the modern consumer as a YouTube surfer with the attention span of a goldfish. The length of an article doesn’t make it unshareable. Engagement does. So what does it take to get visitors to digest an extended piece of content?
Sheer word count doesn’t make a post more useful. If you can make the same point in fewer words, the post will be more fun to read.
Concision rarely comes during your first draft. It comes from editing. We like what Daily Writing Tips had to share on the subject:
– Cut out the redundant parts of phrases like “larger in size,” “oval in shape,” “free gift,” and “personal opinion.” Ask if all your adjectives are really necessary.
– Replace phrases with words. We often use phrases that are just definitions for words.
– You can usually cut “which is,” “who were,” and similar phrases entirely without changing the meaning.
– Cut adverbs that don’t add value. For example, “somewhat shocked” adds zero value to “shocked.” Sometimes adverbs just mean you’re using the wrong adjective. “Extremely unpleasant” should probably be replaced with “horrific,” or something similar.
– Avoid starting sentences with “there are,” or “there is.”
– Can you replace a noun with a verb? “He gave a lecture about…” can be replaced with “He lectured about…” without losing meaning.
– Remove pointless phrases like “in the event that,” “at the present time,” and other clutter.
– Don’t use clichés.
I’d add that you should:
– Write in the active voice. The main subject of the sentence takes the main action. “The book slammed onto the desk,” works better than “The desk was slammed onto by the book.”
– Issue instructions by starting with a verb. “Write concisely,” works better than “You should write concisely,” or “people should write concisely.
– “The” is often unnecessary.
None of these are strict rules. Use them as a guide. If the sentence sounds worse or makes less impact, change it back.
In addition to grammar:
– Don’t elaborate on tangents that distract from your main points. (Use a link instead).
– Don’t use too many examples unless they add value, or your topic demands persuasion.
In short, your post should be long because there’s a lot of information, not a lot of words. And that brings us to our next point.
Ever read an article or watch a video and catch yourself saying “Get to the point already?” Readers will leave as soon as they realize they aren’t being informed (or at least entertained). Here’s how to avoid that:
– Research your topic extensively.
– Check nearly every paragraph for at least one idea your target readers haven’t encountered before, whether it’s a fact, a question, an opinion, a goal, or whatever.
– Focus on the interesting and counterintuitive, not the straightforward and obvious.
– Use analogies to explain complex subjects.
– Explain with anecdotes, examples, and case studies, not just formal research.
– Represent your subject visually.
This is straightforward enough, so we won’t spend too much time on it:
– Can you get the idea across without using jargon? Toss the word and explain the concept.
– Is the concept used too often to toss out the associated word? Define it in plain English, and use an example or analogy to clarify the meaning.
Don’t get caught up in the idea that you need to sound formal and authoritative. Authority comes from your intelligence and ability to explain.
– Speak frankly and conversationally.
– Ask questions for your readers (since they can’t talk to your blog post), then answer them.
– Read your post out loud. Is this how you’d say it yourself?
Here’s the big one. Everything else in this guide will help with engagement, but what is it, exactly? It’s that indefinable desire that keeps readers interested and promotes them to share. Fortunately, it’s easier to explain how to build engagement than to explain what it means:
– Build suspense. Suspense comes from unanswered questions. This can conflict with “inform your audience,” so it’s important to clarify. Unanswered questions are only appealing if the reader knows they’re going to get a satisfying answer. The best way to pull this off is to ask smaller questions and answer them along the way, and to keep surprising your readers.
– Be intense and enthusiastic. Emotional content is shareable, and positive emotions are best.
– Ask your readers questions and address them directly. This keeps them thinking, and makes them feel like a participant.
– Have fun. Don’t be afraid to poke fun or make the occasional joke. Don’t try to be a comedian, but make an effort to enjoy yourself.
– Ask interesting questions, both in the content itself and during the research phase. Interesting questions are a key piece of interesting content.
– Tell stories. Stories can be counter to our nature as marketers, because they are about unresolved problems. Stories focus on problems that people are struggling with, and the story isn’t over until all the problems are solved. Stories are hard, but as magazines and newspapers have known for years, they grab attention.
Controversy abounds on this particular point. Should content marketers avoid ruffling feathers, or should they court controversy for attention? There’s a fine line you need to walk here. If you never state an unpopular opinion, you risk:
– Never saying anything new or interesting
– Being seen as pandering
– Coming across as hollow
But if you do get controversial, you may:
– Permanently alienate yourself from certain parts of your target audience
– Be seen as a shock doctor (equal and opposite of pandering)
– Come across as obnoxious
To solve this conundrum, realize the difference between being opinionated. You can be opinionated and still:
– Be respectful of other people’s beliefs and opinions
– Be open to the possibility that you still have more to learn
– Allow people to state their disagreement without giving them a tongue lashing
– Moderate comments carefully, rather than deleting dissenting opinions
Similarly, you can be inoffensive and still:
– Say things that others may not agree with
– Take ethical stances
– Talk about controversial topics
It’s difficult to become an authority without saying new and unique things. Whenever you say something new, you risk the possibility of it being unpopular. This is normal. It’s more important to be seen as human than as a carefully whitewashed automaton. Just present your ideas in as inoffensive a light as possible.
Readers need to know you respect them.
To be seen as an authority, you typically need to be seen as up to date on trends in the industry. That means you’ll need to:
– Subscribe to the popular blogs in your niche and follow the news
– Frequent the forums and social network groups and see what people are talking about
– Follow market trends if they are relevant to your subject matter
By commenting on the latest news, you will be seen as “in touch,” which does a lot for credibility. However, if all you do is regurgitate what other people are saying, you won’t get very far. You’ll also need to:
– Look for interesting connections between trends that others haven’t spotted.
– Look for connections between trending topics and lessons from history.
– Look for connections between trending topics and lessons from other industries.
– Seek out less-than-transparent sources of information that are relevant to trending topics.
– Use trending topics as a lead-in to something new (without hijacking).
Long content isn’t always more shareable than short content, but it certainly can be, especially when it is more informative than the alternatives on the web. Be concise, informative, respectful, and current. Speak in plain English, and engage your audience with suspense, storytelling, enthusiasm, and direct interaction. Pull this off, and your readers will stick with you to the end, and pass you along to their friends.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Lead SEO & VP of Marketing at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing and SEO consulting company. He’s a regular contributing author at Search Engine Journal and has written for SEOmoz, ProBlogger, SearchEnginePeople and many others. You should follow him on Twitter.