Want your articles to spread like Gangnam online? You’d better master the art of capturing the micro-attention of your readers. Here are 10 guiding principles to help you on the path of writeousness (yes, that word just happened).
1. Craft a compelling headline.
A catchy headline can make all the difference to the success of an article. Content startup UpWorthy has gained millions of readers based on their ability to rewrite headlines about serious and important issues in a catchy, web-friendly way. If you want your content to spread online it is worthwhile to dedicate extra time to crafting an enticing headline.
2. Start with the most important content.
Summarize the point of your article in the first paragraph. Be specific in this summary, and try to add immediate value. Even if some of your readers won't get further than this, their first impression of an article of often determines whether or not they'll share the post with their networks.
3. A post should only be as long as necessary.
Beware the ever-shrinking attention span of your reader! Even in super-short form web-publishing formats like the Facebook status it has been proven that posts with less characters get shared more. In longer formats like articles and blog posts your article should be compelling from beginning to end. Usually the easiest way to achieve this is to simply write shorter articles. There are a few masters who can hold reader attention for long-pieces on the internet. Those writers and those pieces become the stuff of web legend.
4. Where a picture will say more than words can, use it.
It’s worth spending the time to select the picture that will bring your writing to life. Also, a good caption to a picture is as important as a good picture for the story. I’ve learned this from using Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook that a fairly ordinary photograph can become a conversation point by accompanying it with a caption. You could, for example use the caption to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular aspect of the picture, or to help them see the picture differently.
5. Format for the Skim-Reader
The skim-reader is not a lesser being. The skim-reader is half your audience! Use formatting such as sub-headings, bold, italic, underlined, and bullet points to help content stand out for skim-readers and search engines.
7. Be specific.
If you are vague online, you will lose your reader. Also, using specific language is a great way to get search traffic on different search terms. For example, instead of just saying “the horse” every time you mention it in your article, you might try “the Arabian thoroughbred”.
8. Cite your Sources.
Use hyperlinks to reference points that may require back-reading or validation. This is part of enhancing the user experience of your article. It helps build trust and interest in the issue you’re writing about.
9. Tight prose wins.
Editing for clarity and simplicity, down to the sentence-structure level will make a difference. On the web, full-stops tend to beat commas and semi-colons. Rather break a long, complex sentence filled with commas and semi-colons into a few shorter sentences. Also, take care to craft a few take-out sentences that social media readers can use to summarize highlights when they are sharing your article. While you’re at it, eliminate cliches.
10. Check before you publish.
It’s very difficult, and embarrassing to try to retract misinformation or grammatical mistakes once your post is live on the web - particularly on Twitter and Facebook where your post can be quoted and shared on profiles and pages that you don't control. Even if you might lose the scoop by taking a little bit longer to confirm your facts, it is better in the long run to gain the trust of your readers.
11. Encourage Social Commentary.
Your work as a writer online doesn’t end when your article is published. You should share your writing on your own social channels, and also participate in the commentary around it. People are encouraged to comment when the writer responds and acknowledges their contribution.
The commenters may not be experts in the subject you’re writing about (although they could be). They may even be completely clueless about the issue. However, their opinions on a subject can be indicative of public perception about an issue, and therefore very interesting and relevant. The comments are often as interesting as the main piece.
So there you have it. I went up to Mount Table, and came back with these Commandments. Fortunately they're not written on stone tablets (so old school since the iPad, really) so we can remix them if we want. If you like, then please hit the little heart below, or leave comment below to enhance it.