As a journalist, it’s a question I battle with every day. Sometimes you can be genuinely surprised as to what takes off and what doesn’t.
However, there are a few hard and fast rules that will always guarantee you higher readership and engagement. If you want your hard work to pay dividends and be noticed by existing and prospective customers, I suggest you follow these key points:
The heading rules
You can have written the world’s best ever article – informational, witty, timely, the works – but without a good headline, it won’t go anywhere.
A good headline will entice people to read your words of wisdom, and is often the sole determinant of whether they click on a link or pass it by.
Make sure it is concise (no more than six to eight words is preferable) and catchy.
There is also a delicate balance in revealing what the article is about, without giving away so much information that people won’t need to read anything more than the headline. Questions, bold statements or lists (7 tips for…) generally work well.
Don’t forget the standfirst
This is the short statement that directly follows the headline and gives the reader a little bit more detail as to what the article is about.
As with the headline, you want it direct and intriguing, without including all the points you want to convey. Keep it to a succinct sentence or two.
How long is too long?
The length of your written work will obviously depend on whether your article is going to be distributed in print or digitally, as well as how in-depth you plan to cover the topic at hand.
Print has obvious space constraints, meaning you will have a limited amount of space to work with. The blessing, and the curse, of digital content is that your word lengths are limitless.
For anyone who lacks a bit of discipline or finds themselves to be quite verbose, lengthy articles can often leave readers bored and clicking away to something more interesting, or frustrated at having to wade through huge chunks of text to find your key points.
As with verbal conversations, written content should be to the point. Your customers are busy people, and they want to be able to access and digest important information as quickly as possible. This means you should know what you want to say before you start writing, say it in as few words as possible, and always stick to the point.
I also try to keep to the rule that a paragraph should never be more than four lines long, although this isn't always achievable.
Think presentation, not just content
How you present your writings is just as important as what you actually write.
As I mentioned, your customers/clients/prospects are busy people. Most of them will be unwilling to wade through large chunks of text.
Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for. Sub-headings, numbered lists, bullet points, break-out quotes, a quick summary – all of these can help your readers to quickly identify the main points. If they have any questions, they can go back through your article in more detail.
Picture tells a thousand words
This age-old saying has never been more pertinent. A strong, relevant image can speak volumes. It can attract the eye of the reader even before the headline does, demonstrate a point much more concisely than words ever could, and at bare minimum will help to visually break up the text, making the page look more inviting.
If you do not have a stockpile of relevant images to use, there are plenty of online based services (some of them free) that offer high-quality, royalty-free images you can download at the click of a button.
Don’t make content for content’s sake
This, I would argue, is the most important point.
The internet in particular is a crowded place, with everyone jostling for prime position. To add even more to the mix simply because you think you ought to, without having anything useful to say, is nothing more than a waste of your time.
Content creation can be a valuable tool for marketing your business, educating existing and prospective customers about what you do, and even sparking discussion and generating ideas for doing things better, faster or cheaper. But it needs to be done properly.
So before you start putting pen to paper (or, more likely these days, fingers to keyboard), get it clear in your mind exactly why you want to write something, what you want to say and what you hope to achieve with it.
Then determine who your target audience is, where and how you will distribute the content, which will give you an idea of the length, style and tone you should you use.
The last question to ask yourself is “why is this relevant to my audience?”. If you can’t answer that – or worse still, you realise the answer is “it’s not relevant”, then your time would be better spent doing something else.