While this mantra proved true in the 1989 blockbuster film Field of Dreams, it’s unfortunately not a reliable truth in the world of web readership.
Still, if you run your own business or are tasked with writing content for your company, it's easy to be intimidated by the blank page. It's one thing to be a good communicator but quite another to create a web article or blog that gets read.
The problem is that sometimes helpful—even essential—information your audience needs is rarely sexy or emotional.
Topics designed to explain a concept are great for textbooks (but are textbooks great?) but they’re not ideal for getting busy readers to click and ingest.
Because in order to develop a readership, you need to do two important things:
1) Write the Article
2) Focus on one of your audience's problems
You might notice I did not say "use SEO language," and it really is super significant in getting found. And I will write about that another time.
But today I want to focus on the first layer of your problem: writing something useful.
In fact, I believe you deserve a few shortcuts.
Starting from scratch is a painful prospect for anyone, but what if you could take some of your old, dare I say boring, content and transform it into desired information for a hungry audience?
These next few hacks are beyond marketing but techniques born out of the world of composition theory. If that sounds intimidating think of it like this: a book on how to write and current marketing trends had a baby. How can she help you with your content problem? Read on.
This first hack comes from my work as a writing coach, and it’s something I’ve been teaching people to do based on insights from the aforementioned field of composition theory. In other words, this process originated in the land where people think deeply about how words flow from your brain and onto a page in order to create a meaningful message.
Essentially, when we sit down to write something, we often don’t know exactly what we’re trying to say. This problem causes a lot of procrastination and writer’s block, but it doesn’t have to.
Instead, if we give in to just writing and answering questions about our topic, we can do what composition theorists like Bruce Ballenger and Donald Murray call “interview the draft.”
So, after we’ve spent 20-40 minutes explaining our very important content such as “What is temperament?” we then return and ask ourselves some questions that come from journalism such as: “What’s the news, what’s the story?”
In the composition classroom, we phrase this question a little differently: “Okay, so what?” or even “Okay, now what?”
Whether you like the news story version of the question or the one from comp doesn’t matter as much as your answer. Can you read your own very important content (even an old article) and answer this simple question?
For example, if you’re writing an article about the benefits of exercise, you might explain how exercise works in the body, the way it strengthens your heart, tones your muscles, and improves your mood.
But when you reread your draft and say “okay, so what?” now you’re considering why your audience needs to exercise, even if (or especially if) they don’t feel like it. Or, you’re considering what they need to hear in order to feel convinced that exercise will improve their lives, not just in the distant future but this week.
At this point, you might think about your audience’s stress, their challenges with gaining weight, their overwhelm with family, work, and aging parents. Could daily exercise be a remedy for this? If so, how much do they need? Both of these questions address the ‘so what’ and the ‘now what.’
When you revise your draft, now you’re tailoring your content based on a particular focus: stress, overwhelm, weight gain, etc. In fact, you might discover your content could even be repurposed under multiple articles that address each of these problems along with a specific exercise benefit.
By starting with your audience’s problem, you snag their interest as early as the title, which means more engagement with information you created to help them lead a better life.
Another way to ensure your content gets read is to create a profile of your customer’s problems, where you anticipate their questions, concerns, confusion, and pain. Instead of taking your draft and revising it to fit a question, you design your writing from the beginning to target one of these hot button issues.
You might consider questions like: what does your audience care about, what keeps them up at night, what obstacles do they face when it comes to utilizing the information you provide.
Sometimes we’re so close to our topic that it’s hard to get outside of our head and into the reader’s story, but translating your content into an answer they need is key to being read or even perceived as a problem-solver.
If you want a better understanding of how to get inside your audience’s head, working with a story strategist is a great way to design a story map of your audience's problems.
The time you spend reverse engineering your audience's needs means saved time later when you create tailored content they already want.
A solid method for connecting with your audience is to always ask yourself how this topic is being addressed in the media or popular culture today. For example, if parents are concerned about the effects of technology and social skills on their children then your blog about a summer book club can speak to a solution for their worry.
Or if your topic seeks to explain how personality affects teamwork, then you might anticipate how business leaders want to be known for having a better work place or how one’s personality can predict long-term relationship satisfaction, something that almost everyone cares about.
How can you take pop culture’s pulse? Simply plug your topic into google and add the word “news” to your search. A quick google search for the word “personality” and “news” can give you headlines from articles published in the last few days, sometimes even hours, that demonstrate how this topic is already being covered. This mental exercise can give you inspiration or even an angle for tailoring your content.
Getting your audience to tune in is much like listening quietly to conversation at a dinner party before adding a relevant comment about a recent article or movie. In other words, there’s no need to swim upstream but rather go in the flow of your audience.
Readers will make up their mind about your content not by actually reading it first but by reading the title. So, as you make adjustments to your writing for relevancy don’t forget the one thing that’s true of everyone’s audience: they are busy & they are scrolling.
Make sure your titles follow this criteria:
As the intimidation sets in about creating articles for your readers, remember that your expertise is a huge value. No need to write 5 pages if two paragraphs will do.
Keep the focus on your reader’s problems and the immediate help you can provide, and you’ll not only begin to create articles with purpose and meaning but you’ll become a go-to source within your industry.