In the first part of this post, I discussed ways to encourage sharing once someone has read a post.
But before anyone shares your content from the highest hill in the twitterverse, you must convince people to read your content. This is a whole different challenge. This post will discuss best practices to put your content in play.
Again, in order for a post to be shared it must be read. There are certain things producers can do to increase the chances of visitor staying to read it:
1. Write a compelling first sentence.
Bloggers compete in the attention economy. Readers have no shortage of content to consume, but a fixed amount of time. Within this environment, you need to capture someone’s attention quickly or else they’re upwards and onwards to the other 856 blogs in their reader.
One way to do this is write a compelling first sentence that draws them in. These can take the form of a thought provoking question, brash declaration, or self-inflicting statement that foreshadows a personal anecdote (i.e. I never thought in my wildest dreams that my greatest mistake would come from something I did everyday while at my last company…).
If you can lure people in after that first sentence, you’ve supplanted yourself in the commitment realm. Just like starting a book, I believe that once a reader ventures beyond the first few sentences they feel compelled to finish an article or at least come close. After all, they’re staying for a reason – until they’ve found that golden nugget you alluded to within your title or first sentence they’ll probably stick around.
2. Highlight social proof
People are more likely to read an article if there is some indication that others have recommended it. Social media activity and comment indicators serve as a proxy to help people determine this. When I arrive on your page and see that a particular article has been retweeted by everyone and their uncle, odds are it’s for a reason; I’m more likely to honker in and stick around for awhile. Conversely, when there are no signs of anyone reading and or interacting with a post, this signals to me that the content is probably not worth my time. No one eats at restaurants with empty parking lots unless they’ve consistently had a great experience there.
You can encourage social proof by:
- Consistently creating excellent content
- Engaging in audience segmentation (see part 1)
- Making sure social counters are displayed prominently at the top of the page
- Encouraging interaction at the end of a post (share this, leave a comment etc)
3. Use interesting pictures early in an article
As people shuffle through their readers or tabs, they look for things that stand out. A captivating picture can be a powerful way to draw someone in.
When I see an interesting or funny picture, I find myself more compelled to investigate what this article’s all about. Pictures of a boston terrier smoking a stogie are a bit more curious than a sea of uniform text. This is especially the case when I’m scrolling through Google reader.
The big takeaway here is that just because you create great content, doesn’t mean that people are going to stick around and read it, even when they somehow reach your site. As a content producer, it’s important to understand the small nuances within that attention economy which can be molded in such a fashion that encourages people to actually read your stuff.
Most people arrive at your content by means of clicking a link. Social networks and search engines are by far the biggest referral traffic for most blogs including my own.
Maximizing the number of clicks (and potential reads -> shares) comes down to writing great copy. On most referral channels, odds are I have at least 5 links directly competing for my attention within my periphery. You need to signal to me that reading yours is going to be the best use of my time. If I’m unfamiliar with a producer, writing a compelling title or leading copy is the best way to encourage me to click through.
I try to write 10 titles for every post I write before settling on one. Why? Because I know that the title can make or break people actually reading something I just spent two hours creating. It makes sense to spend an extra two minutes in order to make sure I give myself the best opportunity to put the article in play.
I also think it’s a best practice to optimize your titles for the various channels. For search engines, the most important thing I can do is optimize my title for SEO by including my selected keywords. Before I can even worry about competing in the battle dome of a reader’s periphery, I must make sure I’m on Google’s first page. SEOing each post is an important component of this.
However, titles optimal for SEO often aren’t the type that will attract readers. What I’ll often end up doing is writing two separate titles – one for SEO purposes and one for general sharing. I use a wordpress plugin called Yoast SEO to accomplish this.
This should paint a complete picture of the content funnel. Maximizing the distribution of your content starts with the click and ends with a share, but is affected by many small nuances along the way. Those who understand and take advantage of these will yield the most fruits from their labor.