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). 

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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.

As public lead for Creative Commons South Africa, I'm often faced with content publishers asking me questions like: How can we possibly afford to stay in business while giving away the fruits of our labour for free?

I'll cover three basic ways.

1. Advertising

The most obvious answer is that you can make your money back from advertising. However, quality journalism and production is not cheap, so it is quite difficult to make sufficient profit from advertising and affiliate revenue alone if you're relying on original content to bring in your readers.  Archived content can, however, provide bonus revenue from people coming across old content that you may already have recovered your costs on.

2. E-Commerce and Affiliate Revenue


A number of publications, such as Backpackers.com are using e-commerce to fund their publications (in addition to advertising). You can also get commissions from related products and services that you recommend via your site (some publications have ethical issues with this, as it can be seen to bias the writing toward the particular products/companies that affiliations have been set up with).

3. Freemium

Some companies, such as MarketingProfs, give away some of their articles for free but charge for full access to all their articles. Others, like Trendwatching, give their content away for free, but charge a premium for high-quality summaries and live presentations of it. There are many ways to apply freemium - for example, you can give free access for a limited time only, or free digital access to drive print subsriptions or attendance at events. Andrew Chen has devised a useful little spreadsheet to help you evaluate the viability of freemium for your product or service.

Chris Anderson has identified four types of free that can work in business, an article worth checking out. I've reproduced his visual summary below:

The Four Types of Free

Lastly, you may find that giving your content away for free doesn't work for you. The fact is, that despite the overwhelming amounts of free content available online today, it's still time consuming to find the best knowledge and information that you can trust and use. People, like me, are still prepared to pay a little extra for access to well researched and produced  information. Walter Isaacson wrote an insightful piece about the need to charge for content in this week's Time magazine (which is, ironically, available for free HERE)

Oh, and by the way... Creative Commons is not all about content creators giving content away for free. Yes, you can sell your own Creative Commons licensed work, while limiting others from doing the same.  Creative Commons licenses allow others to share your work, while giving you credit for what you've done. They can only sell it if you have allowed for commercial use of it.