Do you wonder why people don’t seem to care about your content?
You’re targeting interesting keywords and sharing your content with the right communities but only get a few hundred views and a couple of comments if you’re lucky.
If you’re in this situation, you’re doing most things right.
But there’s at least one major thing holding you back. Most likely, it’s because your content isn’t quite good enough.
Ouch. I know that stings. But the reason that it isn’t quite at the level it needs to be isn’t because you don’t know your niche or can’t write a good blog post. It’s because your content isn’t compelling.
There’s a big difference between content and compelling content.
This is something that even experienced marketers don’t seem to fully grasp, and I have proof.
It’s no surprise that content marketing is growing. It’s a trend that I expect to continue for the foreseeable future. Compared to last year, 70% of marketers are creating more content.
Clearly, marketers know that content can be powerful.
So, how come only a minority of businesses are finding success with content marketing?
As you can see, 42% of marketers believe that content marketing is fairly neutral for their business in terms of effectiveness. It produces mediocre results.
A further 19% of marketers do not find it effective for their organization.
Why? Because not all content is created equal.
You can’t just slap together a blog post once a week and expect the leads to start rolling in. You have to earn them.
And you do so by creating compelling content.
Once you understand how to create it, however, you’ll start seeing much better results with your content marketing:
- more traffic
- more shares
- more engagement
- better conversion rates
Before we get started, let’s look at what I mean by “compelling content.”
I’m talking about content that:
- resonates - people feel like you’re writing for them. They relate to not just what you write but also how you write.
- converts – compelling content engages people. It sucks them in so they pay attention and eventually trust what you write. This leads to more subscribers, more leads, and more sales.
- matters - perhaps most importantly, compelling content makes readers feel something. They care about the content, which is what drives them to take action. Modern content can’t just inform. It must also distract, entertain, and inspire, and do so in an enjoyable way.
So, if you’re interested in learning how to make your content more compelling, read on. In this post, I’m going to break down the 8 components of compelling content.
1. Set the stage with your headline
I bet you’ve written a few posts that might be considered compelling content.
And yet, you still didn’t get terribly impressive results.
There’s a very good chance that you slacked a bit when creating your headline.
Your headline is your first possible chance to gain or lose the interest of a reader. There’s a lot of pressure riding on the 5-15 words that describe your content.
On average, eight out of 10 people will read your headline. But from these eight people, only two will continue to read the article.
That means that if you have an average audience and an average headline, you’ll essentially lose 80% of your potential audience before you’ve even started.
So, if you have compelling content in the body of your article, make sure you also have a compelling title.
Upworthy, one of the most well-known clickbait sites, found that traffic varies by up to 500% depending on the headline.
Think of how this compounds over time. If you’re an expert headline writer, your traffic will grow exponentially faster than someone else’s who is better at producing content.
Start with the headline, then move on.
Interest and curiosity go hand in hand: One of the fundamental requirements of compelling content is to be interesting for your readers.
You can’t learn from or get absorbed in content unless you are interested in it first.
While a lot goes into creating a powerful headline, there’s one simple concept that you should focus most of your effort on: the curiosity gap.
When you would like to find out an answer to something that interests you, the space between what you do know and what you don’t know is called the curiosity gap.
When used properly, it can have a dramatic effect on many aspects of your business. Joanna Wiebe was able to use the curiosity gap to increase clicks on a pricing page by 927%.
Essentially, it boils down to creating interest and uncertainty in your reader’s mind.
Your headline needs to leave something to be answered, but if the gap is too big, readers won’t bother clicking it. You need to find the right balance:
How BuzzFeed creates a curiosity gap: Buzzfeed is a site similar to Upworthy. Its whole business is based on curating content created by other people that didn’t get much attention when first posted and then applying the curiosity gap principle to the headline.
Although not everyone is a fan of these headlines, they illustrate the basic principle of a curiosity gap really well.
In a robust analysis on MiniMaxir, Max Woolf examined over 60,000 BuzzFeed articles.
He found that 26% of the articles were list posts, e.g., “X things” or “X ways”. They have become increasingly popular over time because they work:
Let’s look at an example of a BuzzFeed headline to examine how the curiosity gap was used:
23 Struggles All Londoners Will Understand
It’s clear who would find this article most interesting: Londoners.
This is interesting to them because they want to see if they recognize all the struggles. While they probably could guess many of them, their curiosity would spur them to find out what the rest of them are.
Notice that the word “struggles” was chosen instead of “things”. “Struggles” is more specific (to make sure the gap isn’t too large), and as a bonus, it even taps into the self-deprecating nature of most resident Brits.
It’s one thing to recognize a headline that creates a curiosity gap, and it’s quite another to create one.
Let’s break it down step by step…
Step #1 – Make your topic clear: At least a few words in your headline should be dedicated to making your topic clear.
Here’s a recent headline from Upworthy:
5 Planned Parenthood services that aren’t the least bit controversial
The topic is clearly Planned Parenthood services.
If you’re not familiar with the organization, Planned Parenthood helps prepare women for pregnancy by offering a variety of services.
Planned Parenthood appeals to a wide audience in the United States since almost all women are familiar with the service and interested in it one way or another.
Step #2 – What would readers not know? Once you’ve decided on the topic, you need to figure out what you can teach your readers.
In this particular case, Planned Parenthood is well known for providing abortion services. Obviously, this is controversial in the United States.
Although people are interested in the topic of Planned Parenthood, most only know about the abortion controversies. However, the author knows that Planned Parenthood also provides other valuable, non-controversial, services that help future mothers.
Step #3 – Give clues to an answer, but don’t be too specific: Now that you’ve decided what your readers do know (the topic) and what they don’t know, you’ve created a gap.
But right now, that gap could be any size. The more specific you can get, without giving away the answer, the more curious your readers will be.
The easy way to do it is to simply list the number of items in the post. BuzzFeed relies on that to quickly generate these types of headlines.
In our example, it’s “5 Services.” Most headline readers would only be able to name 2 or 3 services, which means the gap is manageable.
However, imagine if the title was “50 services.” All of a sudden, the gap is huge, and curiosity goes down because the reader is nowhere close to the answer.
Step #4 – Make it irresistible: If you want to crank up the curiosity factor another notch, simply imply that your readers don’t know the answer.
Use words like:
- you’ll never guess
In our example, most readers could name controversial treatments, so an article about them wouldn’t be very enticing.
But in this case, the authors wrote about non-controversial treatments, which is something people don’t usually associate with the organization.
Using that short phrase has the same effect as saying “unexpected” or “surprising.” Now a reader can’t assume that they probably know what the article is about. They have to start reading it if they want to find out.
Some people think using a curiosity gap is a cheap trick. It can be.
When you write a headline with a curiosity gap, you’re making a promise to potential readers. If you don’t deliver by truly teaching your readers what you promised (those services had better be non-controversial), they will feel tricked.
It’s up to you to make promises that your content can keep. But that’s where all the other components of compelling content come in.
2. One dimensional is boring
Have you ever attended a lecture where a professor just talked for an hour?
If someone could harness that sleepy feeling you inevitably get at such lectures, they would make a fortune with a product that instantly puts people to sleep.
That kind of lecture is a one-sided conversation—much like many blog posts are, where someone is simply stating facts or talking about themselves.
This bores people because there’s no one that most people care about more than themselves.
You’ve probably known someone who always rambles on about their life, never letting you get a word in. They get boring fast.
Wouldn’t you love it if you had a little “x” button that you could click to leave one of these one-sided conversations?
On the web, you have just that. If you lose interest in a topic because you’re simply being lectured, you can move onto any one of the millions of other websites.
So, onto the problem at hand. At least for the time being, your content is solely consumed. Unless you’re holding webinars or social media chats, content is produced by you and then read, watched, or listened to by readers.
There are two main strategies you can employ to help deepen your readers’ interest and engagement in your content:
- Keep it stimulating
- Make it as interactive as possible
How to make content more stimulating: The best professors in universities and colleges don’t simply read off a sheet or PowerPoint for an hour during a lecture.
Instead, they keep students’ attention by jumping around so that the students are forced to pay attention and stay engaged (at least a little bit).
We can do the exact same thing with our content.
In order to stop our text from dragging on and on, we can break it up with a variety of “rich media” and formatting.
Formatting is the simplest place to start. Write short paragraphs and sentences that are easy to digest. Use different font sizes, bold, and italicize to emphasize important parts of your article for scanners.
Like I said, formatting is easy. But when it comes to rich media, people tend to get lazy.
The most basic type of rich media is images. You should have at least 1 image (or other rich media) for every 350 words.
There are many types of images that are perfect for web content:
- custom images (mini-infographics)
Every single one of my posts starts with one:
Think about it from your readers’ point of view: if you open a page and all you see is a lot of text, you’ll feel intimidated by the information thrown at you.
A picture allows your readers to quickly get a sense of what the article is about and scroll down a bit, which feels like making progress.
In addition to images, you can also use videos:
Videos are great for breaking up long pieces of writing and can be the easiest way to walk readers through a process you are talking about.
How to make content as interactive as possible: As I said, most current web content is a one-sided conversation.
However, yours doesn’t have to be. It can be in that minority of interactive content.
The term “interactive content” covers a wide variety of content:
- embedded social media
Here’s an easy example that anyone can incorporate—an embedded tweet:
As the name implies, interactive content describes any content that a reader can engage with by either clicking, typing, or performing some other type of action.
It forces the reader to pay attention.
The downside is that there are many types of interactive content, and not all are created equal. Some quizzes can be fun, while others are boring.
Going back to our analogy, interactive content is like a professor asking students questions. If it’s an important question that can encourage discussion, it’s a good thing. But if the professor is asking mundane questions, or questions every minute, it will get boring quickly.
If you see an opportunity to include interactive content in which a reader is likely to be interested, go for it. Just don’t go overboard.
3. Immersion is a solid state – don’t break it
Sometimes I read a blog post that seems disjointed.
It’s easy to tell that it’s been written in distinct sections that don’t connect to each other well.
While this might seem okay at first, it will interrupt any momentum a reader initially experienced reading the content.
If you’ve taken my advice from the past, you outline your posts into sections before you start writing. This is great from an efficiency standpoint.
However, the part that most bloggers get lazy at is editing. One of the most important jobs of an editor is to make sure that all parts of the article flow smoothly into one another. They should all logically connect to each other.
Once you have your headline, make sure your content reflects that.
The headline and the intro both help you set up the premise of the “story.”
The intro needs to induce just as much curiosity as the headline. It is the second most important section of the page (after the headline).
It should flesh out the main problem or promise in the headline and lead naturally into the first sub-section.
Common mistake – one headline isn’t enough: Eventually, all bloggers mature and understand that they should be spending a considerable amount of time and effort on the main headline.
It’s what draws people in and gets them to give the rest of the content a chance.
What many do not realize is that a similar amount of attention should be paid to subheadlines.
You also might not know that the average reader only reads an average of 20-28% of a post even if they like it. In other words, the average reader only skims the post you put hours into creating.
Guess what skimmers look for? Content that stands out.
They’ll see pictures and other rich media, but mostly, they’ll see your subheadlines.
If you write a plain headline, you’ll never grab their attention. The ideal situation is to create mini curiosity gaps in each section.
Notice that I didn’t just call this section Write good intros and subheadlines. Any skimmer will just say “duh” and keep scrolling. But when you suck a reader in, you get them to read your text—that makes a few good points—in full.
Here’s another example from a past post:
All of your subheadlines should tell a story and be relevant to the main topic.
If you can grab skimmers’ attention with one or more subheadlines, they will start reading that particular section with more attention.
If that section is particularly well-written, they will go back to see what they missed.
One good subheadline can be the difference between an engaged reader and one who quickly skims your content and leaves.
4. It’s not an article, it’s a story
It’s important that you understand this distinction.
You can call your content an article, a blog post, or whatever you want. But the way you write your content will determine if it’s compelling or not.
When most people think of an “article”, they think of a newspaper article—an objective look at a particular topic that simply states facts.
This is not what blog content is about.
I’m biased when I write, and I need to be. You can’t write compelling content without caring about the topic or not having an opinion about it.
Why do you think there are so many health and nutrition blogs?
If I simply wanted to know how to be healthy, couldn’t I just read the New England Journal of Medicine?
Of course, I could. But for most people—like for me—that would be boring.
They want to read a story that makes the facts relevant to their lives.
Always remember that you are telling some sort of a story to your reader. I don’t mean like a fiction novel, but you are illustrating how what you’re writing about fits into your reader’s life, making your reader the “hero” of the story.
One thing that almost all great blogs do is they engage their readers by using words such as “you,” “your,” “our,” “I,” etc.
Your intro should tell the reader how they will benefit:
And it’s not just the intro. You should be writing your entire post as your reader’s story.
5. If you don’t back it up, your reader will click the “back” button
One of the things I hate most about typical posts written on success is that they are all fluff, no substance.
As soon as I see that the writer makes a claim without backing it up with a credible source, I lose interest.
I’m not special—most people are like this. If your audience is particularly uneducated, you might get away without citing your sources, but it’s pretty rare.
As you can see in my blog posts or guest posts, I try to back up every single claim and opinion with a solid statistic or source. It’s one of the key factors in writing a data-driven post.
This is a lot of extra work. At first, it might take you an extra hour or two per post to research everything you need. But you will get faster over time.
I didn’t always back up everything with tests and data. But when I started to, I saw a huge difference.
All of a sudden, readers were spending over 30 minutes reading my posts.
My on-page metrics improved, and so did my traffic.
Get in the habit of finding relevant statistics and studies when you make a claim, or provide your own data.
6. All content needs this – wait for it…
According to Freytag’s pyramid, there are 5 parts to a story:
The peak of the story’s plot is the “climax,” which is where the main action takes place.
Remember our curiosity gap created in the headline? The climax is the point just before you resolve it.
The tension is unbearable for the reader, and they will read on almost no matter what. House on fire? “It can wait until I’m done reading this post.”
Shortly after the climax, there is the big “reveal.” This is where you relieve that tension by providing exactly what you promised.
It’s crucial that you deliver, or the reader will be disappointed. This is the main reason why many readers do not like sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy. They make incredible claims in the headlines, but they rarely back them up.
Now, your content isn’t a typical story in a novel.
However, you still need a climax and reveal.
In one of your (likely) final sections, you need to show your readers something new and exciting. They are looking for a definitive solution to their problem described in your article, and you need to deliver it.
This can look like many different things, so don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.
Some bloggers, Seth Godin for example, write posts that have only a climax and reveal. Seth writes incredibly short, but insightful, posts:
It’s a very different approach from mine, but it works very well for him.
In every article, he adds some unique or new insight into an important concept. He’s the master of putting complex topics into simple, understandable terms that actually do have an impact on his readers’ lives.
My posts, on the other hand, are thousands of words long. My goal is to create definitive posts on whatever I’m writing about.
Yes, there’s going to be duplicate information for my more experienced and advanced readers. However, no matter how advanced they are, they’ll always learn one or two important things (minimum) that will help them be better marketers.
I’ve taken this approach to help the widest possible audience, and I think it has worked well so far.
7. What the heck do I do now?
Everyone has had those classes in school.
The teacher explains a new relatively complex subject and then gives you a loaded question at the end.
Cue a blank stare at paper.
It’s tough to go from listening for an extended period of time to taking action of any kind. You’re in a mindset of absorbing information, not applying it.
Having readers apply what you write about is good for three reasons:
- They get more out of it - If readers don’t apply what you teach them about, they won’t fully understand it. Consequently, they won’t get as much out of it.
- It’s more fulfilling - I’m guessing (hoping) that you create content first and foremost because you want to help your readers. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing a reader put your advice into action and succeeding.
- They’ll remember it - If someone takes action and gets a good result from it, they will remember where the original advice came from. This will lead to more subscribers, more engagement, and more long-term fans.
How does this translate to compelling content?
Compelling content needs to be as actionable as possible.
Whenever I write about a tactic in an article, I try to break it down step by step for my readers. For example:
I strive to make it incredibly easy for my readers to see exactly what and why I’m doing something. That way, not only do they get an example but they also understand how to apply it to their situation.
Compelling content should not only inspire action but it should also show readers how to take it.
8. What’s your point?
The final part of compelling content is a concise statement of its value.
All good content has some sort of point it’s making (often more than one).
After reading an article, a reader has likely taken in a lot of information (depending on the length and detail).
If you’ve done your job right, they’ve read most words and even understand how to use most of your advice because you’ve provided clear examples.
Now, those examples are really introductory examples. Imagine that you just learned your basic addition and subtraction skills and someone asked you what 2+2 is. You understand how it works on a basic level.
But then you get to the more complicated questions that require you to combine everything you learned. This is where it gets tricky.
The final part of compelling content is putting the pieces together. Recap the main point of the article, the problems you have solved, and the ways your readers can apply what they’ve learned in their own lives.
I end every post with the “Conclusion” section, but you could call it whatever you like:
The important thing is that it’s concise and it contains a valuable message.
Really zoom in on the most important thing you want your readers to do after reading your article. In the above example, I ask my readers to pick one or two aspects of technical SEO to learn more about.
Compelling content isn’t a mystery. You just need to know its components.
Incorporate some—ideally all—of these components into your content, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how the quality of your content and your readers’ engagement increase over time.
If you’re ever unsure of how compelling your content is, read it from your average reader’s point of view. Ask yourself how interesting it really is and whether it inspires you to take action (whatever action you want your readers to take).
If you have any questions about creating compelling content or have any great examples of your own to share, please leave them in the comments below.