It’s easy to take quality online content for granted. After all, the Internet has given anyone who wants to be heard a platform, and not everyone has the skills to create captivating content that people genuinely want to read. These days, engaging online content is not only what retains viewers; it is also the key to ranking high on SERPS. Understanding what goes into creating engaging content is a monumental step toward boosting your online presence, gaining traffic, and increasing conversion rates.
Embrace Your Niche
Before we delve into the many nuances and details that go into the creation of engaging content, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to content distribution. What works for one website may not be ideal for yours, so it is important that you consider the context that makes your organization unique. On the other hand, there are some universal truths to either embrace or avoid, and those are the points we are going to focus on in this guide.
Conduct Background Research
Today’s Internet users have been exposed to countless websites, and they can tell the difference between the real deal and an imitator. Fortunately, if you are truly passionate about a topic, it will show in your content. However, that passion needs a solid foundation of research in order for your passion to shine through.
A well-researched topic is rife with tangible details. Find resources in your field that you can trust, and then combine the details they provide with your passion for the subject to create something fresh and exciting. Your ability to understand a topic will help shape how natural, helpful, and engaging a piece of content will ultimately be. Therefore, make sure you’ve done ample research on your topic before you even begin to create content.
Here is how I do my topic research:
- Google it to find what people are asking: [keyword] AND inurl:/forum
- Check what people are searching for in your Google Search Console
- Google it to find discussions: [keyword] AND inurl:/blog
- Check auto complete and related search on Google
- Explore blog topic generators: I really like ContentForest (use with caution)
In addition to the above, be sure to spend some time browsing and researching sites that are similar to yours. Find the content on those sites that engages you, try to pinpoint what it is that makes that content captivating to you, and then use what you’ve learned to improve your own content.
While you don’t want to imitate your competitors directly, adopting ideas from various sources is an excellent strategy to cultivate a voice that is unique and dynamic. Just like music, painting, or virtually any other art form, the key to creating something uniquely yours is to borrow bits and pieces from a wide range of established sources.
Establish Your Voice
It is extremely important that you write for your audience. As you do your research, you will notice subtle differences in each organization’s unique voice based on their industry and their audience. For example, some pharmaceutical companies may have a very professional and authoritative voice with complex language, corporate jargon, and unfamiliar technical terms. Others, like gossip sites, may use a more friendly approach with whimsical language and jokes, and may have a brighter, more playful feel. Consider the product or service you are offering, and try to find a voice that matches that persona.
Regardless of your audience, there are certain writing practices that anyone creating content for the web should incorporate into their voice in order to increase their content’s standing on prominent search engines like Google. For instance, Google favors content that does not rely heavily on passive sentences. Consequently, make sure your content avoids the passive voice and uses lots of active language to deliver its message.
A great way to determine how easy your content is to read, for both Google and users, is to determine your content’s Flesch Reading Ease score. Essentially, the simpler your sentences are in terms of length and average number of syllables per word, the higher your Flesch Reading Ease score will be. Microsoft Word’s grammar check and its open source counterpart, AbiWord, are both excellent solutions for determining this score and improving your content’s readability and its ability to engage your audience.
You could be the next Shakespeare, but if your content doesn’t look pretty, it might as well not exist at all. Nobody is going to bother trying to read a wall of text, so format your content with:
The vast majority of today’s Internet users are going to scan a long piece before reading it to determine if it is going to be worth their time. You need to have a readable layout if you want people to be engaged from the opening sentence to the last line.
Web content should have the following elements:
- Short paragraphs with 5-8 sentences
- Use of style – bold, Italic, and underlining
- Links to other resources on and off your website
- Indented text (list, quotes, sub-sections, etc.)
- Use of sub-headers (H2…H6)
- No fluff
Take your time – If you are not feeling inspired today, wait until tomorrow.
Be passionate, authentic, and empathetic, and the rest will come naturally.
Design Your Content for Multiple Screens
How we absorb content is constantly changing. Today, most people have at least two devices—a computer and a mobile phone—and many have other devices such as tablets as well. It is important that your website can be viewed comfortably on any screen, no matter its size. Ask your friends to view your content on their devices, and take note of how it looks. You may find that changing your formatting, font size, and web design may improve your viewers’ experience.
Things to review:
- Legibility can be affected because of font-related problems
- Image size primarily affects load speed on mobile devices
- Check to see how your mobile version website presents your content
- Check your site on multiple browsers
Choose Your Words Wisely
As you find your voice, you are going to realize that some words just don’t work. Corporate jargon has no place on a fashion website, and whimsical, humor-laden content has no place on a law firm’s website. One of the most common mistakes that new writers make is to try and show off their prodigious vocabularies in inappropriate places.
Instead of reaching for your thesaurus, think about the perspective of the reader. Are you able to convey the same message in a more succinct and direct way? There is nothing wrong with using large words when they work—it might be appropriately dramatic to talk about “vanquishing” a problem rather than “beating” it in some cases—but don’t try to beef up thin content with unnecessary, outlandish synonyms.
You wouldn’t approach someone at a party and immediately start telling them about how your company has the lowest prices and best products. Take that same approach when you write. While you don’t want to beat around the bush, it is important to spend some time warming up your readers before you start trying to sell or push an agenda. You can ease your readers into your content by prefacing it with something simple and relatable, like a story that features your product, or maybe a holiday narrative in which your product plays a prominent role.
Identify Your Purpose
This point may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many writers don’t know why they are writing. Yes, your website needs to have content, but why? What is the end goal? Are you trying to increase awareness, increase conversions, increase traffic and improve search ranking, or are you trying to keep your subscriber updated about events and important news? While you can always combine multiple purposes, it is still very important to first identify the direction which will dictate your voice and writing style. Here are the types of content to consider:
- News / Updates
If you’re an electrical supply company trying to entertain your readers, for instance, your content can be much less fact-heavy than a more traditional education or information piece. Additionally, if you’re a car company trying to drive brand awareness, your content will have to focus more on crafting the lifestyle of your brand than on pitching the individual cars that you offer.
Start a Conversation
The big shot at the head of the table shouldn’t be the only person that gets to speak. One of the best ways to engage your audience is to get them involved. These days, most people are at least on the major social networks. If you play your cards right, you can get them to advertise your content willingly. One share can lead to hundreds, thousands, or even millions more, so you should never underestimate the power of social media.
You can ask your audience for their input on what you should write about through your social media accounts. To make it even easier for your audience to let you know what they want from your site, consider posting polls on your Facebook and Twitter pages that allow your audience to choose from among various ideas that you can use to generate content. This is much easier than forcing your audience to come up with brand new ideas by themselves.
Once you start creating content with your audience’s ideas in mind, make sure you can transform their inevitable interest into a social media presence by including links that can share your content directly from your page.
Here are some ideas to spark engagement on your site:
- Talk about your audience – mention those people who have provided useful input
- Ask questions using polls or surveys
- Answer questions
- Ask your audience to engage directly (“share if you agree”, etc.)
- Be interesting, tell a story, solve a problem
- Use images, videos, and Emojis
- Use Hashtags so people can find your content easily
- Keep the conversation going when others say something
- Include a call to action
- Provide Contests – give rewards for participation
Attract Readers with a Headline
The headline is often what is going to make or break your piece. After all, if nobody clicks, it really does not matter how engaging your content is. First, your headline should be benefit-driven. People want to know that they will have gained something by the time they are finished reading your content. You want to make a promise that entices the reader, without giving too much away. It is also important to note that if you make a promise, you must remember to keep it!
You should also appeal to the reader’s sense of curiosity. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to simply ask a question. Another way is to make a vague statement that promises an exciting answer. It is worth noting, however, that click-bait titles can actually work against you, depending on your content. If you promise to provide three mind-blowing facts about cats, you had better make sure that the facts are actually going to blow people’s minds.
Be Accurate and Trustworthy
Engaging content is worthless if it is not accurate. Your goal as a content creator should be to become your audience’s go-to resource, and that can only be accomplished by creating content that is as accurate as it is compelling. If you can develop a track record for reliable content, you will be in a good position to gain the trust of your readers.
This trust is incredibly powerful, but also extremely volatile. It only takes one error to ruin that trust. Spend some time checking your facts and citing your sources for pieces that require you to do so. Doing this will ensure your content accuracy and will also ensure the readers’ trust that you worked so hard to cultivate.
Be Consistent, Current and Useful
Joel Gross, CEO of Coalition Technologies says the best way to keep viewers returning to your site is to build confidence in your site. For instance, if you write a music blog and an anticipated album has just come out, you need to be first on the block to write your review. Timeliness and consistency keep people returning for more.
As entertaining and fun as you would like your site to be, sometimes the best way to stimulate an increase in traffic and audience engagement is to be resourceful, integrate utilization into your content, and let your readers connect with your authority in your specialized field.
Create Unique Content
Most importantly, engage your audience by creating unique content that cannot be found anywhere else on the internet. Embrace being different from everybody else and offer something special that creates value and generates curiosity. After researching the methods other writers have used in their articles, find a slant that is original and expand on the ideas that you may have found in that approach. Providing articles that are reader-friendly, and yet are creative and unique in their own right, is a guaranteed way to create content that fully engages your audience.