We talk a lot about SEO as content writers. SEO is pretty hard to get away from in this space, and of course, it’s vital for funneling potential readers to your work. We know SEO is important, but we’re not going to discuss SEO here. You already know how to nail the technicalities that make Googlebot happy.
If you haven’t considered the question before, then it’s time you asked yourself “What are my readers going to do once they get there?”
Picture this: you construct an article with 5-star SEO. It draws thousands of readers each week. Hardly anyone stays on the article past the halfway point. One person clicks the CTA by accident. That’s it. Your article sits around like a nice car parked in a driveway, never driven.
What happened? In this hypothetical case, you focused on the technical side of things while completely ignoring the design side of things. You didn’t engage the eye by structuring the article, and you didn’t engage the mind by providing compelling writing. All the SEO in the world can’t help a giant block of text with no substance.
This next part refers to your next steps regarding customer/client/producer/editor feedback, but keep in mind that you can avoid many of these interactions by applying the principles in this article from your first draft forward.
In certain cases, the Content Brief, editor feedback, or other sources may ask you to “jazz up” the quality of the piece you’re writing (or make it “not boring” or ask that it’s “formal but still fun”). Generally, such feedback isn’t super clear or helpful at first glance. The person asking for such things is in fact calling upon you to create a feeling, or calling out a certain aspect that may be lacking from the piece. Such aspects are usually quite difficult to describe.
Yet as readers, we know “exciting/jazzy/sexy/cool” when we see it. It’s one of those qualities intrinsic to our lived experiences and personalities. As the writer, you’re called upon to make content (a collection of facts and features) easy for the human mind to grasp.
But how can we accomplish this?
At Scripted, we’ve identified three key components essential to the creation of “engaging written content”. Feel free to apply these principles to whatever writing project you see fit.
Engagement Key 1: Identify and Hook
Generally, most content creators write their best pieces when they write to the objective. If you find that your assigned piece doesn’t have a clear objective, reach out to the client/editor in the job’s Messaging tab to ask for clarification (or use firstname.lastname@example.org).
Once you’ve identified your primary objective, it’s time to build your hook(s) - components of your written work that will actively engage with your reader’s mind. 99% of the time, this can be best accomplished by linking the presentation of your content to their emotions.
Let’s use an example. In this piece, the client is a healthcare tech service company who wants to inform the reader about the California Family Rights Act, and what it means for private practices. The ultimate objective is to get the reader to react to the Call-to-Action (CTA), clicking through to schedule a demo of the healthcare software service’s product. We want to create an emotional response within the reader so that they do this.
If you're starting from the launch point of "I need to create an emotional reaction in the reader", you must first identify who the reader is. In this case, it's a doctor, dentist, optometrist, or other healthcare practitioner and business owner.
Next, you must identify your ultimate objective for the reader. In this case, it's to follow through on the CTA and book a demo.
Third, identify which emotion(s) you want to create in this reader. This ties directly into Step 2. Is it humor, happiness, longing, fear, sadness? To what end will this emotion be utilized? In this case, we want our healthcare decision-makers to be afraid of costly litigation or of losing their practice due to non-compliance with state and federal law. This is the "why should I care?" step (from the reader's perspective).
Finally, you must identify a solution that solves the problem created by the emotion. For humor, it's continuing the feeling. For longing, it's something to fulfill the need. For fear, it's typically preparation, retaliation, or rescue.
Now to construct our writing based on these principles:
So, two employees both decided to take some personal leave, but only one filled out the request form? No doubt you know your own company's policies, but what about the laws that protect the employees in this scenario — laws you're all beholden to equally? We've all seen it or "heard it from a friend": one misstep in the wrong proverbial ditch, and you're dealing with costly litigation (or worse — your reputation is on the line). It's a sure bet none of us "know what we don't know", but as you do know, in healthcare: "I didn't know!" doesn't cut it as an excuse. If you wish you could demystify the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), you need to learn how to insulate your practice against the potential and ever-present legal pitfalls.
It’s a pretty simple emotional tactic, to be sure (in this case: fear).
It’s also more likely to get your reader down to the CTA.
Sidenote: worried you’re being manipulative? In the vast majority of cases, the idea or service you’re arguing for does represent a real benefit to the reader. In this example, you’re simply capitalizing on an existing emotion, and presenting a solution. Trust me — the things you’re being hired to write about? Your target readers think about these things daily, and if they don’t follow through on your CTA, they’re going to do it in the next article they read anyway.
Engagement Key 2: Always Be Turning (features into benefits)
When Steve Jobs revealed the iPod in 2001, he didn’t lead his keynote speech with a list of features (thin hard drive, 20 gigabytes, small size, rechargeable battery, etc). Who would that impress? Other techies — and Jobs wasn’t trying to sell a new piece of technology to techies. They were already invested, by definition. He was trying to sell the iPod to everyone.
In that spirit, he said
“The coolest thing about iPod is that your entire music library fits in your pocket. OK? You can take your whole music library with you, right in your pocket. Never before possible.”
See the difference? You can imagine it.
You can easily and immediately envision the benefits of what he’s describing.
- 20 gigabytes? Cool, that’s a lot of storage. So what?
- Take all my music with me? Anywhere? Sold.
The point is, imagination equals mental ownership. If you can lead your reader to construct a mental scenario of a problem being avoided or solved, in a manner that’s relatable to that specific reader, then in their mind they’re already test-driving your product or idea.
We aren’t even to the end of the article — the CTA — and you’re already planting the seeds of CTA follow-through.
Benefits are tangible.
Tangible things create mental ownership.
Mental ownership is inherently emotional.
People make decisions based on emotion.
Features are merely that: features. Static aspects of a thing, its constituent components that make it what it is. Benefits are the dynamic, real-life results of those features.
Engagement Key 3: TBI + CTA
We’ll get right to the point on this one. TBI stands for “targeted bolding and italicizing”. CTA, as you already know, stands for “call to action”.
In our first Key, we examined how to identify and create emotional hooks. In the second Key, we discovered that mental ownership is crucial to capitalizing on those emotional hooks.
In Key 3, we’ll consider how a tactical use of graphics and typeset can help tie all this together.
Note: this step is optional. Make sure you read your client/customer’s Style Guide, or ask for one, before using the following tactic. And if you implement formatting they don’t like, you can always walk it back!
Additionally, we’ll touch on the whole reason you’re creating this content in the first place: conversion. The impact of everything covered in this article will be significantly compromised if your Call-to-Action is flat and uninspiring.
Remember that paragraph we wrote earlier? Where we “identify and hook”? It’s decent, but it’s also a wall of text. A big block o’ words — which doesn’t sit well on computer screens, much less smartphones. The quality of your writing isn’t as relevant in this scenario; how you break up your writing, visually modify it, punch up its impact? That’s super-relevant. Let’s break that wall of text down into chunks and add some bolding/italicizing, but with purpose:
So, two employees decided to take some personal leave, but only one filled out the request form? No doubt you know your own company's policies, but what about the laws that protect the employees in this scenario - laws you're all beholden to equally?
We've all seen it or "heard it from a friend": one misstep in the wrong proverbial ditch, and you're dealing with costly litigation (or worse - your reputation is on the line). It's a sure bet none of us "know what we don't know", but as you do know, in healthcare: "I didn't know!" doesn't cut it as an excuse.
If you wish you could demystify the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), you need to learn how to insulate your practice against the potential and ever-present legal pitfalls.
This tactic is working towards a concept called skimmablilty — referring to the average reader’s ability to skim, or quickly parse important information and intended meaning from an article. Remember “abstracts” from college writing and peer-reviewed journals? You’re essentially creating a web-content-style abstract, sprinkled throughout the article. It’s the TLDR (tl;dr = “too long, didn’t read”) for formats that don’t allow for a TLDR section. You might be writing this article on a computer, but guess what 85% of your readers are using to read it?
Finally, when it comes to the CTA, your objective is pretty simple. You’ve already hooked your reader by this point. Why not attempt to land them?
Probably the most common CTA variant alive is “Reach out for more information!” — and it’s about as attractive as a vacation in an alley dumpster. Does that sound like something you’d click on? Only if your need was severe and you were short on time… and then only maybe. It’s uninspired, it sounds boring, and worst of all, it sounds like work. I mean, we’re all working, right? I want my problem to disappear, not suddenly acquire another task to do.
Let’s try something. Pick apart “Reach out for more information!” and give it some variance, but not with a simple rephrasing. What is this prompt actually saying? Basically,
- You want the reader to talk to someone, get an informative email, watch a demo, etc.
- that’s it
Why would you spend all that time crafting an article that embodies everything we discussed so far, only to take this beautiful content cake you’ve baked and throw it directly at the reader’s face? No, dear writer, you want to serve them a slice on a silver platter. Let’s try again.
“See the magic in action for yourself! Click now to grab a demo.” Better?
Tying it All Together
At the core of this content writing approach is an empathetic ability to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. You’ll benefit immensely from asking the following:
What kind of experience is my reader going to have while they’re reading this?
- What will they think by the end?
Would I enjoy this experience?
- Does this make me want to continue reading or take action?
Can I envision the average reader publicly posting this content — or privately sharing this content with people they care about?
Ask these questions during your initial draft, and in your final review. Give yourself the benefit of seeing the big picture of your own work. Take care of the individual edits, sure, but step back and take a look at the entire work. Digest it for a minute. See how it feels when you’re done with specific corrections.
By utilizing audience identification, emotional hooks, feature-benefit transformation, purposeful formatting, and holistic review, you’re creating something of value beyond mere SEO. More importantly, you can now answer that original question:
“What’s my reader going to do once they get there?
If you’re applying these key principles, your answer is much closer to “What I want them to do.”
Author - Chris Baker