Recently, I spent a week stuck in the Midwest due to travel complications getting back to Boston (remember summer?? Yeah, I don’t either). During my extended stay at my mom’s, my daughter ran in circles around the house (cabin fever, M&M’s, and new maracas from grandma make for a powerful combo) while I tried to work in the other room.
My mom kept popping in to “check on me,” which invariably meant she wanted a timeframe for when she could release the reins and observe the toddler play from the safety of her couch.
“What are all those tabs open on your screen?” she asked during one such check-in. I explained to her that, as with any digital marketer, my job involves consuming little bits on information – constantly. In fact, it’s the very foundation on which content marketing is built.
Let’s face it: People are busy. They don’t have the time to sift through your blog to get the main points. In the words of one Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, it seems like most readers really are into the whole brevity thing:
So what’s the easiest way to catch your readers’ attention and get them to stick around long enough to read your stuff? Show them you know what matters to them and that you’re there to help them solve their problems.
Here are 5 super simple ways to do that:
- Know Your Readers’ Industries So You Can Write with Authority
- Talk to Your Readers, Not at Your Readers
- Determine What Questions Your Readers Are Asking – and Find Answers
- Consider Your Audience’s Reading Experience
- Tell Readers How to Learn More (and Make It Easy for Them to Get There)
Know Your Readers’ Industries So You Can Write with Authority
As the saying goes, write what you know. In the B2B marketing space, however, subject matter can sometimes be pretty obscure (especially to those of us coming from a marketing/communications/PR background!).
It’s not enough to develop buyer personas, although that’s certainly a big part of crafting the right type of message to speak directly to your readers. To really demonstrate to your readers that you understand their questions, thoughts, emotions, pain points, etc., you’ve got to know their industry through and through.
This may seem like it involves a good deal of research on the front end. But it’s an important content investment to make because it gives you the confidence you need to write with authority, which both makes your pieces stronger and helps connect you to your intended audience.
Our clients work across a variety of different sectors, so it’s my job to educate myself and stay on top of the latest news, trends, and challenges affecting each industry. I make it a point to read at least one article per day in each of the industries I write about, which helps me draw parallels when I have clients who work in the same or similar industries and generally better understand my clients.
Talk to Your Readers, Not at Your Readers
When you’re writing about an industry that may not be very familiar to you, the natural inclination is to take on a somewhat formal tone. Why? Many people believe that writing in a stilted, academic voice makes you sound more credible than you otherwise would. But guess what? Going about writing in this way is likely to lose your readers’ interest rather than pique it (unless you’re writing for an academic audience, of course).
A noted in a Jeff Bullas blog, one of the most important parts of blogging is writing like you speak. “A blog is a friendly chat that will inform and entertain your audience,” says writer Margaret Pincus in the post. “It is not a lecture, an academic thesis or the opportunity to harangue your readers from your soapbox.”
So how do you learn to speak your clients’ language? It’s easy: Talk to them! Whether that means jumping on the phone, having them fill out an editorial questionnaire, monitoring their social profiles/comments in forums, etc., it’s important to learn how to talk the talk, so to speak. From there, you can craft your language in a way that will be approachable, informative, and (hopefully) entertaining to your audience.
Determine What Questions Readers Are Asking – and Find Answers
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled the most mundane questions (anything from “What happens when a toddler swallows a button?” to “How old is Alex Trebek?”) and found immediate, helpful answers because I do it literally every day. What sticks out in my mind is when I can’t find the answers I’m looking for; that’s when I get frustrated and bounce from blog to blog, spending less and less time on each one I find.
As a content marketer, you want to figure out what sorts of questions your readers are asking – and work on providing solutions. Now, no one’s suggesting you have a crystal ball or can read your readers’ mind. But there are a number of different tools available that can help get you in the right ballpark.
Quora and Yahoo Answers are two of my personal faves, but one I started using recently is FAQ Fox (hat tip Orbit Media Solutions for introducing me to it). It’s pretty easy to use – all you have to do is put in a keyword for a specific site, and it will populate a list of questions users are asking. What’s particularly useful about this tool is it shows exactly the language readers are using to ask questions (which helps with tone, as mentioned above) and gives you a goldmine of blogging material, since the questions listed represent those that users aren’t finding satisfactory answers to in search results.
The example below shows results for the keyword “b2b marketing.” After typing in the keyword, I selected the Advertising/Marketing tab and hit Search (you can add or delete sites already listed for relevance). Once you’ve filtered through results, you can elect to export the data into Excel and get started crafting blogs that provide direct answers to reader questions!
Consider Your Audience’s Reading Experience
For several of my clients, I frequently write about the importance of providing a good customer experience. In fact, there are some scary stats out there to back up the assertion that quality customer service is key. Did you know, for example, it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one bad one?
I think this can (and should) be applied to the reader’s experience as well. Why put so much time and energy into a blog post if it’s not set up to provide a positive experience to the person reading it? That’s just wasted effort.
A recent Search Engine Journal article explains the nature of modern day communications: “In print, your reader can focus exclusively on one page or one section at a time. On the screen, your reader is distracted by dozens of other messages, such as commercials, suggested articles, images, videos, audio, and more.”
In the article, Brent Csutoras maintains that, in order to keep your reader’s focus, you need to structure your text in a way that provides a better experience. His philosophy is that paragraphs should be limited to one thought each to make it easier to absorb information. Other ideas to maintain reader interest are to vary sentence structure (as opposed to the humdrum subject-verb), break up text with subheadings, add punctuation where applicable to give the reader a mini break, etc.
Tell Them How to Learn More (and Make It Easy for Them to Get There)
Let’s say you’re on top of all of the above and you’re rocking some stellar pieces of content that are really working for your audience. You’ve done your research to determine what types of topics they want to read about and you’re presenting the information in a way that makes sense for them.
So what’s next? If you’re readers are eagerly and regularly consuming your content, chances are they’re well on their way to a conversion. Rather than assuming they’ll take the initiative to hunt down the information they’re looking for on your clients’ sites, make it easier on them by providing the information for them.
For one of my clients that puts out regular, consistent site content (2-3 articles per week), we make sure to link to applicable product pages and list other relevant site content under a “related content” subhead. We also include a link to our client’s contact form in each article to make the process even easier.
Learning to write for your readers can sometimes seem like an arduous journey, but it’s actually quite simple. By knowing your readers’ industries, addressing common problems in your content, and using the appropriate tone, you can demonstrate that you understand your readership base (even if you’re not part of it!).
As His Dudeness might say, following the above can really help you tie your content together.