As a regular guest author on a variety of niche sites – such as Venture Beat’s Games Beat to Social Media Examiner to Buzzfeed – I often have to quickly adjust my writing style to fit their tone.
This is pretty customary for me now, but at first it was time consuming. I’d have to make a lot of edits and forgot small tidbits like preferred image sizes and saving as plain text versus word docs.
Unknowingly this soon showed me very important reasons for an article going viral or an article being very valuable, ultimately a method to increase readership:
- headlines are wizardry and I might as well start learning the craft instead of disputing it’s seducing powers
- a good story will always entice readers
- longform is generally a safe bet for first impressions but it’s super time consuming and the ROI is cringe-worthy – unless it’s on your own web property
- authority is instantly associated with branding – time to start befriending
- accuracy and research sets you apart from other writers
- the majority of readers prefer visual learning – time to get comfy with GIFs
Keep these factors in mind as we check out five article structures. Each one is “famous” in its own right and can be utilized to retain readership.
Storytelling with GIFs
Yes, the notorious BuzzFeed. While I have a hunch most social media marketers secretly want to destroy BuzzFeed and every similar manifestation, there are many leaves we can take from their content model.
GIF storytelling has been the bread and butter of many blogs – specifically Tumblrs – but only became a scale-able content model when BuzzFeed adopted them. BuzzFeed has been ridiculed and mutilated for their list-style GIF posts. On a daily basis they churn out dozens and dozens of these lists, using the power of “[x] number headlines” mixed with absurd adjectives, nouns, and verbs as click magnets.[begins rant]
They do have a “legitimate” editorial section, but it’s often overshadowed by their list-mountains. This makes it virtually impossible for any discerning reader to take their “serious” articles seriously.
Case and point.
I don’t really understand why they even bother attempt to cover political beats – their readers are click-baited and heart-strung, not looking for newsworthy information. Does BuzzFeed have the connotation of outstanding news? When we look to get our daily dose of real news is BuzzFeed the first, second, eighth, or 23rd source we think of? NO.
Over the past few years, many journalists have been publicly detailing their “digital sweatshop” stories as content farmers. For example, Bekah Grant’s story that went pretty hot on Medium a few weeks back is most likely identical to those who work at BuzzFeed (not to mention Upworthy, Gawker, Mashable, etc.). Their commitment to increase readership is based on pumping out 4-5 articles daily – or in Upworthy’s case, sifting through hundreds of videos and brainstorming over 30 clickbait headlines.
I would assume in the case of BuzzFeed writers, they can’t take themselves seriously writing about 17 scrumptious ways to eat a creme egg and lobbied to get at least 50% of the homepage for real news. My educated guess is that since the real news is on the right half of the page the click-through rate is god awful. Not only is it scientifically proven that readers start on the left, but the left is full of clickbait. It’s ludicrous. IMO BuzzFeed needs to stop trying to be a source of news and just accept itself as a listicle content farm that infests our Facebook newsfeed due to our less-discerning friends who unwillingly click “share.”[ends rant]
The GIF storytelling content recipe calls for the following ingredients:
- GIFs that are easy to relate to, use celebrities, and show reactions
- Sub-headings that tell a story in succession and set the stage for their respective GIF
That’s it. A beginner level recipe.
The model we’re aiming for is far more valuable than BuzzFeed, which is pure entertainment. After all, we might be working on a client blog that sells “un-sexy” products. At first glance we might conclude un-sexy products are not a good match for GIFs. But what if we’re telling a story in GIFs about the RKI gas detector that’s common in homes/buildings? We could have a go at the “dangers and safety” side, using reaction GIFs to exaggerate people panicking, being confused, and then being successful in using it.
Or we might have just another SEO blog – a pretty congested space to be in right now.
Chris Dyson demonstrates this perfectly in his post; The Link Building Process in GIF Form. It’s finely targeted to anyone in SEO that’s worked on the outreach side of things (aka link building). This was actually the first post I read on Dyson’s blog and I subscribed shortly after. He increased readership with a dozen GIFs.
Resources for GIFs:
- Reaction GIFs – self explanatory
- Giphy – a robust gif search/database
- /r/gifs – a subreddit dedicated to GIFs
You don’t have to follow the Heading + relevant GIF format. Intertwine GIFs throughout a post to breathe life into parts that get dry.
Longform Evergreen Killing Machine
Get ready, it’s time to arm ourselves with one powerful weapon…
The monotony has broken!
Longform and evergreen are buzzwords signifying a content style that truly impresses readers. It’s long enough to be the “final stop” for understanding the respective topic and the quality is memorable enough to trounce time itself – at least for a handful of years.
Want a really good example of longform/evergreen content? Read this. (TechCrunch article).
Here’s a little social proof – the top comment for that TechCrunch article:
The article takes a practical/unbiased approach to analyzing the San Francisco housing crisis, covering vital influencers throughout history and intertwining the lasting impact of technophiles and entrepreneurs.
And it’s not just a select group of publishers pushing longform – everyone is hopping on this train:
In 2010 Longform.org was founded, featuring the best longform content around the web.
This is all to show that it’s still an emerging content model with flexible variations.
Quick Tip: Many sites hosting longform content neglect the organic search traffic gathered from translating pieces and optimizing them for different geographic search engines. Either call up a bi-lingual friend or employ document translation to have a quick turn-around and reel in more organic traffic.
Longform’s older brother, dissertations, is a good role model.
- We need to perform extensive research – nothing like the off-hand Google search. Read scholarly articles, conduct interviews, and hold focus-groups or surveys if you have the resources.
- We need to pick a topic that doesn’t phase out – not another “ultimate guide” but a resource so authoritative people will bookmark it, print it, and share it with confidence. We want students to cite it in their papers.
It takes me a couple hours to knock out an ordinary guide post, but when I contributed a 5,000 word article for KISSmetrics it took me about two days + another day of proofreading. And I will say that’s a bare minimum for the time it should take for longform. Since eCommerce has a lot of technical elements it’s easier to verify information, whereas an article jesting to cement the understanding of a housing crisis requires a lot more digging. Conversely, an eCommerce site that sells Dodge parts could put together a longform piece on the history of Dodge. They have a plethora of content options, from infographics and educational longform pieces, to videos and visualized how-to guides. Speaking of which…
Visualize the Traditional How-To
The standard for “ultimate how-to” guides used to be similar to a list.
Step 1: Do this.
Step 2: Do that.
Step 3. Drink a beer, you’re done!
It’s standard to includes screenshots, but so many guides run short on the visuals. The foundation of these guides is to be the last and only resource. If people are still asking questions than your guide skimped on descriptive visuals.
Every step and tactic you explain should have a respective visual. For example, Brian Dean’s recent How-To:
Every step in this article includes a screenshot to visualize main points – not to mention an introductory video that serves as a primer for this SEO topic.
Large Mini-Interview Roundups
Here’s a great example of what I’m referring to.
Essentially we’re crowd-sourcing ideas, advice, and examples from authorities. Couple this with the “brand = authority” factor mentioned earlier and you should have a pretty solid base for kicking off this strategy.
The trick to a successful roundup is crafting the right question(s).
- They should not require more than a few minutes to answer
- They should be general enough to get a variety of answers
- They should be specific enough to be on-topic
The benefits of a roundup like this are beneficial for everyone involved – specifically:
- The interviewees gain equal exposure from your web property
- The networks for each interviewee will share the roundup, equaling multiplied social signals and traffic
- The interviewees tap into your network and each others networks
- You are now past the phase of introductions with each interviewee
If you think about the type of people you want to be networked with, this is a perfect way to get on their radar and earn some trust.
Go Behind the Scenes
There’s something exciting about seeing something that’s off-limits to the rest of the world. People love exclusive content, and a sneak peek of a world they never get to see gives them the positivity of acknowledgment & trust, which translates to a deeper connection to your site.
Suppose you want to give foodies an exclusive look inside the kitchen of a five-star restaurant. Don’t just tell them what it’s like – show them. Get quotes from the chefs. Get photos and videos of the people in action. Combine details people expect with things they might not know. Show people a world they’ve never seen before, and they’ll wonder what else you have to offer.
- Did your office contribute volunteer work? Take pictures and write a post telling the story. Explain the cause, if any money was raised, who was involved, fun/funny stuff that happened, etc. Use GIFs!
- Case studies are always a hot behind-the-scenes model. Have a client that’s alright with displaying some analytics screenshots?
- Show a day-in-the life at your job. Or do the same thing for a high profile person in your industry.
Thoughts on the idea of “articles”…
An article is like a bagel. It’s delicious when it’s fresh and warm, but often it’s just hard. The hole is the middle is its great mystery, and yet it wouldn’t be a bagel without it.
Fresh articles = timely and relevant
Quality articles = well-researched, well-planned, unbiased, and propaganda-free
The hook = the “hole” / the “mystery” – this is your voice and style shaping content into an experience that literally influences emotions.
When was the last time you read an article about SEO or blogging and genuinely experienced sadness, happiness, and motivation?