Hey, here’s a quick story.
When I was wide-eyed and fresh out of college, settling into my first in-house writing position, I attempted to be a proactive “professional” by picking up some books on marketing recommended by industry “gurus” I had stumbled upon.
I thought I was being a go-getter.
Turns out I was just wasting my time.
Every book I managed to trudge through was seemingly identical, each suffering from the same snafus without fail.
The same problems, book after book.
- Each book was incredibly vague in its advice. (“Hey, just engage your audience!” What does that even mean?)
- Each book had the same dull tone, the impersonal voice sort of insider salesman who had the game figured out but was just “laid back” enough to feign being relatable.
- Each book repeated itself over and over and over again, and could have easily gotten its point across in one-third of the word count.
I felt cheated.
I didn’t understand how books about writing could be so, well, poorly-written.
The messages and advice were just fine, I suppose. The writing itself was miserable, though.
But who am I to judge? They’re the “gurus” and millionaires. I’m just the twentysomething making the transition from punk rocker to professional.
Was it my problem or theirs?
Then I realized that it didn’t matter. I was their audience and they lost my attention. Even when the advice was sound, it didn’t really matter.
Because it was boring.
Why Boring is the Worst Thing You Can Be
In regard to writing, especially content writing, boring is basically the worst thing that you can possibly be.
Think about it.
Ever watched a bad movie? Like, something from Mystery Science Theater 3000? Something so bad that it’s good?
Yeah, those rules don’t apply to writing.
You don’t look at a droning, keyword-stuffed article that’s 2,500 words long and think “Huh, that was so bad it’s good!”
You click “Back,” move on with your life and wonder where your valuable time went.
Listen: boredom will crush your audience.
Boredom saps readers’ energy, dragging them to a state of pure apathy.
No “likes.” No shares. No clicks.
How to Combat Boredom and Get Readers to Care
In the weird, wild world of Internet marketing, we constantly obsess over our competition. However, we often ignore perhaps the most important fight of all: how to compete for our audience’s attention.
The result? Worthwhile pieces that drive discussion and debate dominate our search results and news feeds; meanwhile, heaps of underwhelming content fall to the wayside.
Instead, kick boredom in the teeth by writing in such a way that compels your readers instead of putting them to sleep.
#1. You’re a Writer; Write Like One (Preferably a Good One)
Writing is a craft and content creators should treat it like one.
Comparing quality content writing to fiction is apples and oranges, but think about it: what separates the novels that captivate you to the ones that put down after the first page?
Good writers tell a story. They create compelling characters with motivations that you become emotionally attached to. They craft plots that make sense, grabbing you from the beginning and holding your attention until the very end.
Bad writers do the opposite. Their characters are flat. Their plots don’t make sense. There’s no sense of attachment, no creative “spark.” Just words, droning on and on.
Similar rules apply to writers, whether you’re blogging about content marketing for SEO or churning out copy about electronic toothbrushes (or something equally mundane).
You aren’t a robot, so don’t write like one. Give your writing a sense of personality: inject yourself into your work when possible and tell a story.
You have a voice, so start shouting. Be funny. Strike fear. Do something.
I’ll take the toothbrush content example a step further. Let’s say you’re tasked with writing an article about electronic toothbrush heads. Think about which of the following introductions you’d find more compelling:
People use electronic toothbrushes because they’re fast, convenient and comfortable. There is a lot to consider when choosing an electronic toothbrush head, such as cost and comfort. By choosing the right ZzZzZzZzZzZzZz…
The fear of yet another shooting pain. The whirring of the dreaded drill. Did you know that approximately 75% of American suffer from some form of dental phobia? On top of that, the average person drops hundreds of dollars per year on cleanings alone. Save yourself the literal headache and toothache by investing in an electronic toothbrush head that will keep you out of the dentist’s chair in the long-run.
As noted earlier, content creators aren’t solely competing against other writers; we’re competing against Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Pokémon Go and everything else potentially distracting our readership.
Let’s be frank: quality content creation can be a grind. However, there’s no good reason not to put some effort into your content to make it pop.
#2. Embrace Controversy
Taking a literal page from one of the few business books I have found entertaining and insightful, the authors of the renegade business manifesto Rework recommend that businesses pick fights, emulate drug dealers and essentially embrace a no-bullshit approach to marketing.
The concept of controversy is something that alludes many content writers, especially those in seemingly “boring” industries. However, controversy is perhaps one of the best ways to boost interest in your writing, regardless of your subject.
Consider, for example, the emergence of clickbait titles, which remain the bane of many marketers but still prove to be insanely popular. Likewise, consider how the topics of politicians (think: both major party candidates for the 2016 election) and celebrities such as the Kardashians, Kanye West and Taylor Swift continuously dominate the social sphere and news-cycle due to scandal and controversy.
While you shouldn’t’ necessarily rely on tabloid-style content as a means of turning heads, you can use controversy and headlines to your advantage, meanwhile stirring the pot on your own. How so?
Hijack the News – Newsjacking and piggyback marketing have become the norm in the modern blogosphere. Your readers don’t live in a vacuum: they’re reading the exact same headlines that interest you. By inserting your own commentary and references existing, popular stories, you can give your writing a human element and provide a stage for your content to shine.
Start a Debate – The most active discussions, whether they be on Twitter or the comments section of your blog, come from debate. If someone suggests doing something one way, try going against the grain. For example, some writers may recommend never saying anything to potentially offend your readership; your response may be “to hell with that.” Having a dissenting opinion not only sets your content apart from the pack, but also has the convention to start a larger conversation within your niche.
Call People Out – Don’t beat around the bush: if someone is doing something that you think is garbage, why not call them out on it? If you have the chops to back it up, what do you really have to lose? People love a bit of drama, and while you while you shouldn’t simply ruffle people’s feathers for the sake of doing so, duking it out with your competition is clear-cut way to get attention and get fired up.
#3. Find a Problem (and Solve It)
Readers often turn to quality content as a means of solving their problems.
If one of my tires explodes on the highway and I’ve never changed a tire before, I’m probably going to whip out my phone and turn to Google for a solution.
What am I looking for?
Ultimately, an article that will explain to me exactly how to change a tire, quickly, concisely and easily, before I sweat to death or get eaten by bears on the side of the road.
I have a problem and I need a solution. I want the quickest, simplest solution possible to get out of my predicament. Chances are, there’s a short-but-sweet article that can give me what I want; likewise, there’s probably a 90-second YouTube video that can do the same thing.
In other words, I have a problem and there’s content out there to help me solve it.
The better that content is to me right now, the more likely I am to seek it out.
Instead of just blasting blog after blog into the bottomless void of web content, consider how you can serve a problem solver to your potential audience.
You’re a content writer?
Tell me why crappy content is hindering my traffic and conversions and then tell me how to fix it.
You develop SEO software?
Tell me why my keyword strategy is garbage and then teach me how to fix it.
You run a site that sells electronic toothbrushes?
Tell me how my teeth are probably rotting out of my head and how I can save them.
There’s a good chance that your audience isn’t even aware of the problems facing them. You don’t have to go as far as fear-mongering, but at the very least present yourself as a valuable resource to make your readers’ lives easier.
#4. Don’t Be a Parrot
This last tidbit is rather straightforward: don’t be a parrot.
Don’t simply say everything else your competitors are saying.
Don’t just talk about what everyone else is talking about.
Don’t rehash the same topics and ideas over and over again.
The web is filled with waste in terms of content: don’t add to the pile.
If you’re simply relying on your competition for inspiration and ideas, how can you possibly hope to topple them?
If you’re strapped for content ideas, rely first on your audience and yourself.
Let’s get meta.
I was inspired to write this post in response to stumbling on a lot of awful, keyword-stuffed articles lately and then thinking about my early days as a content writer when such practices were commonplace.
Then, I thought about how my time is valuable, just like yours is, and that boring, droning content is a complete drag for everyone involved.
Writers shouldn’t be writing junk and readers shouldn’t be reading it.
This idea didn’t come from someone else’s blog or another writer: it came from me.
And no, I’m not a special snowflake. Anyone can come up with meaningful content ideas without simply playing copycat. Think about the challenges facing your audience and what insight you have that would be meaningful for them.
Stop being a follower. Do something new.
And yeah, saying what hasn’t been said before can be a bit daunting.
But that’s what makes your writing worthwhile. That’s what makes people care.
Look: At the end of the day, you can make your writing whatever you want it to be.
Funny. Fear-mongering. Fierce. It’s up to you.
Whatever you do, just don’t make it boring.