It’s tempting to jump online and immediately churn out blog posts as quickly as you can. The Internet is a confusing place and it’s difficult to know what will catch people’s attention. The easiest solution is to try writing everything — until someone bites.
But it’s a poor way to keep readers coming back.
Newspapers have spent centuries developing tools to entice readers, and as print journalism declines, newspapers are taking those tools and adapting them for an online market. It’s worth your time studying how professional journalists create content for their websites and to adapt those methods for your own small business website or blog.
Here are five things journalists do to get readers:
1. Know your audience:
You know the target market for your business, what the demographic breakdown is, the age range and income bracket, but have you considered what your target audience reads?
Imagine your ideal customer. Do they read newspapers or magazines? What are their possible hobbies and interests? How much time do they spend reading a day? A week? A month?
Is there something related to your product that your audience would like to read? Once you figure that out, you can start developing your niche.
But once you know what it is, don’t be constrained by it. Find interests parallel to your topic and use them to bringing in more readers. Just don’t forget your core readership.
2. Keep it simple:
The Internet is limitless and it’s easy to vomit information onto the screen. 1,000 words, 2,000 words — it makes no difference when you’re online, right? Wrong.
Print journalists write to a maximum word count. They write to fill an exact number of inches in a column. But online journalism is even more restrictive.
It’s incredibly easy for readers to click away. They might read the first couple paragraphs of your blog post and then move on.
Online journalists learn to write articles no longer than 750 words. Ideally an article falls within 400–600 words. Any longer and your reader might loose interest. Only exceed 750 words if you’re confident your topic is interesting enough, and your post well written enough to hold your reader’s attention.
Make it as easy as possible for them to read your blog post. Use simple language and short sentences. Avoid jargon whenever possible.
3. Use snappy headlines:
Many journalists and newspaper editors work by a rule of thumb: six word headlines. If you can’t say it in six words you’re either tackling too much or there isn’t enough there worth reading.
Restricting them to six words isn’t always possible, but titles will always benefit from the attempt.
Titles are there to catch the reader’s attention, to tempt them to click the link to your blog. Don’t try and explain everything in your title, but give enough information so that readers know whether or not the post will be worth their time.
4. Don’t bury the lede:
The “lede” is the lead sentence at the beginning of an article that hooks the reader. The headline catches a reader’s attention; the lede seduces them to keep reading. It usually encompasses the most interesting aspect of what they are about to read. So don’t bury the point of your blog post deep down in the middle.
In journalism there’s a concept called the inverted pyramid. While it has seen a decline in print journalism recently, the model is useful for writing online. You put the most important aspect of the story at the top and then organize the rest in descending order of importance.
Give your reader what they need to know right away in case they lose interest later on.
5. Just the facts:
Journalists let the facts speak for themselves. It’s OK to have an opinion, but back it up with concrete facts. And above all: fact check, fact check, fact check. The internet is a cesspool of gossip, rumour and misinformation.
When incorporating information into your blog post, always ask the question: “says who?” Don’t trust any information you get second hand through news articles or blogs. Find out where it came from.
And avoid pandering, padding and fluff. Savvy readers can smell hyperbole and bullshit no matter how well you think you disguise it.
The most important thing about writing online is to take your writing seriously. If you don’t, neither will your readers. Keep it simple, keep it short and ensure it’s accurate. You want to provide as much information in as few words as possible. The more you give, the more they’ll read.