The Internet is a great resource for all kinds of information. Nowadays, just about everyone and their cousins use cutting edge technology to communicate.
Now, you may be wondering at this very moment whether I am aware of my profound obviousness and childlike cookie-cutter language or if you’re a sophisticated reader for cringing at the lead of this story.
I’ll answer your query. Neither. That lead is an example straight out of chapter 1 from the chronicles of content marketing wasteland–a place of murkiness of the written word, where generic business language runs amok, where formulaic cliches are re-hashed like it’s 1989 and where stock imagery is a perpetual boring deja-vu. But whether you’re a reader, a publisher, or a business owner, have no fear. We’re here to help. Let’s start by identifying the (toxic) content waste:
The Headline Hotline
We know a headline can be the difference between a throaty v-12 blog post revving up for massive viral internet traffic, and a broken down clunker of a post, parked in an abandoned lot, just waiting to get towed and dropped into associated web waste. According to KISSmetrics, the ideal headline length is a measly 6 words, so how do you fit color, excitement, and meat into that line while still maintaining search-ability?
Consider constructing your headline in parts, but use more than simply action word, subject, and object. Be playful by coming up with onomatopoeias, or using movie references, pop culture phrases, song titles or other fun elements. There’s also an artful fine line between riding the BuzzFeed/Upworthy-style headline trends and the cookie-cutter corporate plain-speak.
A viral-styled headline like:
“What These Business Apps Can Do Will BLOW Your Lid”
may turn heads, but it’s sales-y and could also run the risk of making your blog look like a tabloid. You probably shouldn’t jump on that bandwagon, unless your business model is based on hype and shock. At the same time, you also don’t want to become a victim of dry business-speak with:
“5 Business Apps to Boost Productivity”
You’ll just end up in line with the rest of the cookie cutter blog batter. Try something with a little bit of swagger, and color like:
“Business Tools Too Cool for the Office”
If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, Hatmandu’s Headline helper can get the wheel turning. Also, never underestimate the power of the thesaurus!
If Content is King, Who’s Writing His Speeches?
Only 45% of small business marketers are admittedly effective at creating engaging content, according to a study by The Content Marketing Institute. Although this year’s stats are looking better than last year’s (34%), us marketers apparently still have a lot to learn when it comes to quality content.
Perhaps if we redefined the term “content”, there’d be more room for growth. For many people, those 7 letters evoke the idea of some sort of generic information presented over a blank canvas, a slew of 0′s and 1′s thrown together for the quick and sole purpose of targeted traffic and social media shares. We need to re-route our expectations, re-purpose our mission, and set the bar higher if we want our web to be filled with color, clarity, and potency.
Be Informative, not obvious:
Readers would rather learn about how “brand X’s Spring campaign is using social media to reach out to the community with a series of XYZ events”, than about how “brand X just released this great product.” For instance, if you’re writing a review on smartphones, you can use a tool like Blekko to search for the latest news with, say, Apple. Blekko also lets you further refine your search with “slashtags”. The query “apple/iphone/events” turns up a spam-free list of the latest iPhone-related events that you can use for an engaging story.
Use Trusted Sources, not Content Hubs
Avoid choosing user-generated content hubs, content farms, or how-to directories like Yahoo Voices, Examiner, or About.com as resources. Instead, opt to find and cite your facts using fresh trending sources like Mashable or Engadget, and use statistics hubs like U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or Harvard.edu.
Tell it How it’s Meant to Be Told
Knowing your target audience is not just “important”. It’s an essential that will keep visitors returning, and becoming a fan of your brand, which is your ultimate goal. If you’re writing a blog for college kids, you wouldn’t write a lead like:
“Laptops and mobile devices are one of the most popular computing choices for college students, and young people today.” Uhhh, what bro? More like:
“iPads and tablets are ruling campuses across the nation, with college kids choosing to stay connected while on the go.”
Stock Image City
“Who is that pristine suited out guy smiling at me with his arms folded, isolated on a white backdrop, and where have I seen him a billion times before?” Not from your dreams baby, he’s a stock image cyborg invading the collective subconscious of readers everywhere who are falling prey to the weak digital assets of helpless content marketers.
But we have the antidote, and it’s not about avoiding stock photos entirely—just choosing them wisely for your blog post. In fact, an increasing amount of image-on-demand sites are raising the bar, and becoming more unique and lifelike. Getty Images and Shutterstock produce some particularly high end images.
A few tips for choosing acceptable stock photos:
- Don’t choose images where the models are staring AT the camera, standing upright and smiling. This is creepy, and looks highly unreal. You want people, not androids. Instead, find images where the models are in realistic scenarios, engaging with one another.
- Don’t just grab result #1! Usually, some of the best images that aren’t overly cliche pop up in the middle of the results. Page 17 out of 25,976 may have JUST what your looking for in terms of subtlety and naturalness.
- We’re already stuck in a digitally overloaded atmosphere, so avoid the typical business/tech styles and colors schemes you’d see in a Microsoft Windows ad circa 1994. Use photos with rich colors, and an earthy vibe.
Now that we’ve escaped the wasteland of factory-farmed filler meat, cliched content, and blog bore, we can see clearly now. Take a deep breath, look around, and meditate on all of the fresh, open air of ideas, and start drawing inspiration to create your next masterpiece of a blog post.