Monday, 29 October 2018

How to create high-impact content in the age of distraction

We have competition. This is called the Internet. And that changes the way people read - or do not read - our content. It is harder than ever to create content that impacts audiences with information overload.

Here is the background: Clickbait may have been around for more than a century (at least according to this hypothesis), but its new supercharged identity is fully compatible with the Internet. Once someone realized that a lot of clicks meant more online advertising revenue, getting traffic became a top priority - overriding the truth, providing meaningful information, or adding value.
Clickbait works by applying our worst impulses: immediate satisfaction with very little work. We compulsively click on headlines such as "Never eat this food," even though we knew rationally that this article would be sensational at best and, at worst, completely off topic.
And the worst part is that we are all in the same boat.

As Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic, "Media companies are desperately trying to get your attention and the headlines you see most tend to appeal to readers.We are all in the same boat, a cycle of perpetual rotation of perfect answers, explanatory graphics and 'incredible truths, and you know exactly what will happen next.'
As a writer, clickbait makes our job very difficult by spamming the playground until people have useless content that oozes from their pores. In such an environment, it is incredibly difficult to write high-impact content, both ethical and rewarding. But there is a way to do it.

Know your audience

Do not write general things that try to please the widest audience possible. Instead, write for specific audiences. Who are they? Where are they? What unites them? And above all, what do they want to read? Once you have an audience in mind, try to understand what their problems are. A pain point is basically something that your audience seeks a solution. Once you know what answers people want, you can offer relevant content that people actually read.
Take this site, for example. This is not meant for everyone between three and three hundred years old. It is not meant for zookeepers and race car drivers. It is rather a place where writers can talk about writing and the challenges associated with the creative process. Content that speaks writing and offers value to writers will do well here.

Go very specific

Never put in the first word of a search in Google and read what happens on the autocomplete? That alone tells you that a) people are wonderful and diverse beings who often ask Google for rather strange things and b) many search queries are very, very specific.
So what happens if you write something on a very specific topic that people are looking for?
Here's an example: a million people write blogs about gardening on bougainvilleas. If you write a generic article on this pretty plant, your article will be completely lost in the crevices of the Internet, drowned by thousands of others.

But if you have written a specific remedy that protects the bougainvillea against a specific fungus, you will get a loyal coterie of gardeners who will tackle this problem and cling to each of your words. In addition, they will come back to read more articles on gardening.
Being very specific also works well with Google rankings. In other words, your content is displayed higher and attracts more glances.

Give people what they can handle

Readers want different things. Some people are really short of time and only want to read while writing. Others want a little more. And still others want an in-depth analysis. The best way to create an impact is to give all those readers exactly what they want.
How? Using the practical approach of bite, snack and meal. It is a metaphor for food where your menu (or item) contains dishes that satisfy all levels of hunger, leaving the choice to the customer (or reader).

The bite

Just a taste. For readers who just want the final and quick result, summarize
everything you say in a header and a presentation text containing your key message.

The snack

A little something light. For readers who have a little more time, but are not likely to jump into an article the length of "War and Peace", create a paragraph with your main points of discussion.

The meal

A main dish for readers with an appetite. Offer a full and hearty meal to those who are thirsty for words, going into detail, providing supporting evidence and adding as much value as possible. But remember to keep things simple because writing simplicity often creates a better impact.
Just as a restaurant menu includes all of these options, your content must have all three options in one place: a header and presentation text at the top, the main argument presented in detail, and a small summary at the end. Then let the reader choose.

Creating a big impact may not be the easiest thing in the world, given the cacophony that surrounds our readers. But this can be done. Good writing!
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