Writing content that doesn’t promote engagement is like speaking to an audience that’s wearing headphones – it doesn’t matter what you say because nobody is paying attention (and the few that are don’t care).
In order for content to be truly successful, it not only needs to command attention but also encourage readers to interact with it. It doesn’t matter if you are reaching 100k readers a month if they simply read your latest posts and then do nothing – you’re after the engaged readers that will consume your content and then interact with it. It can be anything from sharing your post to clicking through to another one, but you should be making engagement a priority when incorporating content into your marketing plan.
So, the question then becomes how do you take a stale blog with stagnant readers (or no readers at all), and turn it into something users can’t wait to read and interact with?
The truth is that the solution isn’t some trick nobody has heard of. It’s taking the time to implement 5 best practices (with a few tips) so that your posts promote engagement forever.
One thing before we get started – engagement comes in many shapes and sizes. In addition to sharing and reading more posts, increasing engagement can be measured by session time, pages viewed, comments left, followers gained, and about a dozen other metrics. Find which one best applies to your goals and focus your efforts on improving that. For instance, if your goal is to ignite discussion in the comments, do not put a content locker halfway down your piece, it’s counter productive. Instead, consider asking open-ended questions and encouraging responses in the comment section.
1. Captivating Title
We are marketed to constantly with some studies suggesting we see 3000-5000 ads, in some form, every day. Part of this is due to the rate at which we consume information, but another part is simply companies being more aggressive, especially in digital channels that weren’t available a decade ago.
Your blog posts, whether you realize or not, are a type of marketing, and are considered by many to be a form of advertising. How many emails, RSS links, or Twitter posts have you glossed over without even realizing they were there? Probably hundreds every day.
As a writer, advertiser, or marketer, the first step in making the transition from glossed over to read and engaged is a killer title. You need to stand out and pique users’ curiosity, all while being short enough to be memorable and unintimidating. It’s 2015 so we can forgo the “How to” titles and focus on what’s working now:
- Stats and Figures – in a sea of words, numbers stand out. Numbers are great at creating a sense of urgency or conveying how common an issue is, so use ‘em if you got ‘em. A great example is “80% of eCommerce Sites Don’t Send Welcome Emails – Here’s Why”.
- Questions – I said pique their curiosity, right? Nothing does that like a well-written question that just begs them to read your post to find out the answer. Consider something like “Is Your Online Shopping Cart Neglecting These 3 Best Practices?”.
- Buzzwords – As much as I hate to admit it, words like ‘epic’, ‘killer’, and ‘ultimate’ yield conversions. If you can’t use a number or ask a question, consider making the user think they are missing out by not reading your post. For example: “Optimizing Images for SEO – The Last Guide You’ll Ever Need”.
Don’t forget that titles often serve as the link when your content is shared, and given that we live in the world of Twitter, keep it short and save the rest for your <h2>.
2. Intriguing Introduction
So they have opened your post and are reading your content – how do you keep them interested? The first thing you must do is hook users with a great introduction – nothing sours readers more than clicking on a great title only to find what follows uninteresting or poorly written. You’ll be lucky if less than 50% of new users don’t exit right then.
The key to the introduction is a lot like the title – build curiosity. The introduction should build on itself and flow from one paragraph to the next. Start by explaining why this post is necessary, how it will help the readers, and hint at what type of advice they can expect to receive. DO NOT divulge too much as that’s what the content body is for – why would someone keep reading when everything they need is in the first 100 words?
Here are some tips on capturing readers’ attention from the beginning:
- Use relatable humor – this hinges on you knowing your audience, but assuming your post is aimed at helping solve a problem, consider turning that problem into a joke.
- Use numbers – just like in your title, numbers make the idea you are trying to convey more real. The idea is that “wow, someone studied this, it must be serious/legitimate/important” is very accurate. Neil Patel does this very well and most of his posts lead with some form of data point.
- Paint a picture – we will get into storytelling in more depth later, but for now trust that if you can help the reader imagine a scene in which reading your post will be helpful, you are 99% of the way there.
Introductions very much subscribe to the belief that first impressions are the best impressions, so do not waste the opportunity. Do not start talking about something so abstract that the reader wonders how they ended up there. Do not give away too much too soon. Do build on your title and explain why this post will help the reader and then watch as users can’t wait to read the body.
3. Offer More Than Just Words
Originally I was going to focus on just images and graphics in this section, but the truth is that they are not the only beneficial additions to a post. If you add links to that group, you have 3 things that will not only make your content more engaging, they will also help your SEO.
Let’s tackle links first. You should always link to other parts of your site whenever possible as it not only helps Google better understand your site, but also encourages your readers to explore it further. To start, I would suggest adding a section to the end of every post where you recommend other articles on your site.
Linking to outside sites is another good idea, but there is a fine line between letting it help and hurt you. On one hand, it can help the legitimacy of your post in the eyes of Google, but it can also distract your readers. A good rule of thumb is to only do it in support of your content (case studies, for example) but never encourage a reader to leave your site.
In addition to links, images and graphics provide a great way to captivate readers and convey ideas. According to this study, 90% of all information that enters our brain is visual with the brain processing images 60,000 times faster than it does text. That means neglecting to include any visuals in your content is missing out on a huge opportunity to be remembered and shared.
The types of images you can use is close to endless, but here are a few of the best:
- Product images
Storytelling is a surefire way to relate to most of your readers and can really impact how enthusiastic they are about your content. A good story not only gets the message across in a creative way, it can make the writer seem more human. In addition, a good storyteller has the unique ability to simplify complex issues, something that will help you engage even the most clueless of readers.
For most industries, storytelling should be intertwined with the overall message your post is trying to convey and can negatively affect engagement if you are too heavy handed with it. Use it when it works, but don’t try and force it.
One of the best examples of storytelling I’ve ever seen came from the introduction of one of Glen Allsopp’s posts entitled “Get Hundreds of Links to Your Next Blog Post, Guaranteed”. The post started like this:
“In the late 1800′s, Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to get rid of a number of his associates in the German government. Since many of them were old, he decided to set the age of retirement to 65 and successfully forced them out of their positions. To this day, we still use the same retirement age around the world.”
The rest of his post had nothing to do with Kaiser Wilhelm, but the effect was powerful nonetheless – I couldn’t wait to keep reading and recommended that post to numerous people.
Using videos in a piece of content almost isn’t fair. A Marketing Sherpa study shows that users spend 100% more time on pages with videos than any other media, making them hugely advantageous for engagement as they are easily digestible and typically watched in their entirety.
When coupled with a text post, videos are great at exposing users to products or concepts that really benefit from a visual aid.
Videos can be a pain to produce, but the results speak for themselves when you consider they can attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts.
If you’re going this route, make sure to keep the following in mind:
- Keep ‘em short and sweet as a Wistia study demonstrated even 10 extra seconds can have a huge impact on engagement:
- Put the important stuff at the beginning as attention spans tend to decrease as the video progresses:
- Don’t forget a CTA! Videos follow a different set of rules than text and make it a little more difficult to convert viewers, so try to incorporate an action word or suggestion into the ending. Even something like “Click Here for More Information” or “Check Out Our Deals Page” will give the user a clear directive of what you’d like them to do next.
Good content is the gift that keeps on giving. If you invest the time in researching, producing, and delivering it, your content is sure to engage users long after it’s published. Make sure to keep your goals in mind during planning and execution as everyone defines engagement differently and different tactics work better for different scenarios.
How are you doing with engagement? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!