We have competition. It’s called the Internet. And it’s changing the way people read, or don’t read, our content. It’s harder than ever to create impactful content for audiences experiencing information overload.
Here’s the back story: Clickbait may have been around for over a century (at least by this version), but its new supercharged identity is fully internet-enabled. The moment someone realized that a lot of clicks meant higher online ad revenue, getting traffic became a key priority: get over telling the truth, providing meaningful information, or adding any kind of value.
Clickbait works by indulging our worst urges: immediate gratification with very little work. We compulsively click on headlines like “Never eat this food” despite rationally knowing that the actual piece will be sensational at best and completely off-topic at worst.
And the worst thing is that we are all in this together.
As Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic,
“Media companies are desperately trying to get your attention and the headlines you watch the most tend to be the headlines that readers click the most. We’re all in this together, a perpetual rotation cycle of perfect responses, graphs that explain it. all and amazing truths, and you know exactly what is going to happen next. “
As writers, clickbait makes our job very difficult by spamming the playing field until people have useless content seeping through their pores. In such an environment, it is incredibly difficult to write high-impact content that is also ethical and adds value. But there are ways to do it.
Know your audience
Don’t write general things that try to appeal to the widest possible audience. Instead, write for specific audiences. Who are they? Where are they? What unites them? And, most importantly, what do they want to read? Once you have an audience in mind, try to understand what their pain points are. A pain point is basically something your audience is looking for a solution to. Once you know what answers people want, you can offer relevant content that people actually read.
Take this very site, for example. It is not intended for everyone between the ages of three and three hundred. It is not intended so much for zoo keepers as it is for race car drivers. Rather, it is a place for writers to talk about writing and the challenges associated with the creative process. Content that talks about writing and offers value to writers will work well here.
Go very specific
Have you ever entered the first word of a Google search and read what appears in the autocomplete function? That just tells you that a) people are wonderful and diverse beings who often ask Google pretty weird questions and b) many search queries are very, very specific.
So what if you wrote something on a very specific topic that people were searching for?
Here’s an example: There are a million people who have gardening blogs that write about bougainvillea. If you write a generic article about that beautiful plant, your article will be completely lost in the cracks of the Internet, drowned out by thousands of others.
But if you wrote a specific remedy that protects bougainvilleas against a specific destructive fungus, you will get a loyal cabal of gardeners fighting that problem to hold on to your every word. Also, they will come back and read other articles on gardening as well.
Going very specific also works well with Google rankings, meaning your content appears higher and attracts more eyeballs.
Give the people what they can handle
Readers want different things. Some are really time poor and just want to read a little. Others want a little more. And others want an in-depth analysis. The best way to make an impact is to give all of these readers exactly what they want.
How? Using the practical snack, snack and meal approach. It is a metaphor for food where your menu (or item) has dishes that satisfy all levels of hunger, leaving the choice to the customer (or reader).
Just one taste. For readers who just want the bottom line and fast, summarize
everything you are saying in a header and blurb with your key message.
Something light. For readers who have a little more time but are unlikely to indulge in an article in the “War and Peace” length, create a paragraph with your main talking points.
A main course for readers with an appetite. Offer a full and hearty meal to those who are hungry for your words, going into a little detail, offering supporting evidence, and adding as much value as you can. But remember, keep things simple, because simplicity when writing often creates a better impact.
Just as a restaurant menu includes all these options together, its content should have all three options in the same place: with a title and blurb at the top, the main argument presented in depth, and a short summary at the end. So let the reader choose.
Creating a high impact may not be the easiest thing in the world, given the cacophony that surrounds our readers. But it can be done. Happy writing!