Good content: The five secrets to attracting and keeping your audience

 

The entrance to my apartment building is under construction. The contractor – or maybe the building management – has put up a sign on the side panel of the building’s front door to ease some of the confusion. “Tennant Entrance,” the sign says.

It has hung there for several months now. I’ve asked the construction supervisor and the building manager to correct the spelling. “There are children who live here,” I said. “For the rest of their lives, they’re going to think tenant is spelled with a double N.”

I was being a little facetious in my plea to “think of the children,” most of whom probably never even look at the sign. Anyway, in this building, there are parents to set them straight (though I would be royally peeved if my child came home with a spelling test in which that word were misspelled).

The real problem is the sign looks bad. It gives the impression the building is run by people not quite adept at using the English language, In a competitive market, with would-be renters passing by every day, the first impression is one of marginal incompetence. I know the owners want to present an image of their building as a top-notch place to live but somehow, to me, the sign introduces nagging doubts.

There’s a lesson here for content providers. Your message may be engaging and thought-provoking, but if you don’t get the little things right – spelling, grammar, links, addresses, phone numbers – your credibility is undermined. You’re somehow not to be trusted. You're an amateur.

So let’s make that our first rule for producing winning content: Be accurate.

Now, about the copy itself. Everybody has probably read some fellow student’s college essay or maybe a pretentious blog posting that meanders aimlessly, as if the writer were not so concerned about telling his story as with producing a required number of words. After he jots each sentence down, the writer checks the word count tool. The professor or editor has asked for 1,000 words, and, damn it, the writer is going to give it to him, whether the copy makes sense or not.

Good content should be crisp and snappy, not bloated or aimless. It should abide by the old writer’s saw, “Never say in 20 words what you can say in 10.” It should have answers to a reader’s questions without needless beating around the bush. It should be reader-accessible. That’s our second rule: Be concise.

Speaking of accessibility, here’s the next rule. Write to entertain. Give your content a narrative. Make your content personal, with anecdotes, characters or settings to which readers can easily relate. Don’t pontificate or rail, tell a story.

Put some thought into your headline. What will attract attention to your content? The header is the first thing a reader sees, and it’s the make-or-break factor in deciding whether he or she reads on. One frequently cited statistic contends that four out of five people will read the headline but only one out of five will read the story.

Make the headline catchy or provocative. Don't make it needlessly lurid or inaccurate. I once wrote a profile of a famous basketball player for a Sunday newspaper magazine, and the editors topped it with “So-and-so’s dirty little secret.” There was no secret. Everybody who read the story asked me what I was talking about, and the subject responded with a sarcastic put-down.

Finally, there’s this: Make your content original. Don’t recycle somebody else’s ideas or plagiarize content you find on the Internet. Visitors to your site will quickly get turned off to your site if it’s just boilerplate text, culled from other boilerplate sites.

Remember, you may have your target audience nailed down and your strategy for reaching them faultlessly crafted. But if the content you deliver is lackluster, your campaign will wither.

 

Author: Edmund Newton