Most blog articles will never get read, but not just because they’re promoted poorly.
Here’s the other reason: They’re a bore. In this guide, I’ll go over the main factors you should consider when creating engaging content, and then the methods I use to boost content engagement.
(By the way, when I speak of engaging content here, I’m talking about writing engaging content online. And by content, I mean articles. This means we won’t discuss how to write web copy here. But keep in mind, the same principles do apply when you’re writing copy too.)
This article presents the psychological differences between reading on the web versus reading in print. I also cover the methods I use to make my content more engaging.
Content length, dwell time, and engagement
There’s an old debate among copywriters about which is better: long copy versus short copy. Various factors dictate the length of your copy, but the guiding principle is simple:
Say only what you need to say to achieve the desired effect in terms of moving your reader toward your goal.
But in SEO terms, here’s why it’s important to make your content engaging:
The longer someone spends on a page they land through the search results before clicking back, the higher Google will rank it.
This is called dwell time, and Google Brain’s Canadian Head confirmed it to be a ranking factor. Why does this concern you? Because if no one can find your content, it doesn’t matter how good it is. They won’t read it.
With content, long form always dominates. This has been shown over and over again in the research literature. So if you’re wondering how to write engaging blog content without boring your reader, don’t give in to your weaker urges to go short, because here’s the simple truth: With long content, you go long or go home.
Understanding user intent: How people “read” online
Say you’re reading Antony Beevor’s excellent “The Battle for Stalingrad” on your couch. You’re lying down, relaxing with one hand resting behind your head. You’re completely engrossed in it.
Here’s another scenario: Say you never read the book, but you heard about Stalingrad, the largest war theater in history. This sounds fascinating to you, so you hop on your computer. Do you start browsing sites randomly? Or do you at least have an idea what you’re going to type, and where you’re going to end up?
Reading in print can be a passive exercise: You’re absorbing content in a linear fashion. Online, however, you’re not reading passively, but actively scanning for info.
When you get to Google.com, do you stop and brainstorm a keyword to search because you feel like exploring a random corner of the Internet? Or do you search with intent?
Armed with a purpose, you look for visual cues that will guide you to the information you seek. In information foraging theory, this is called information scent.
The F Pattern
The “F pattern” describes how our eyes scan for information on the web. If you want to engage your readers, you have to make your content reader- and scan-friendly.
Notice the “F” patterns in the heatmap screenshots above.
The F pattern is one tested way of organizing information. (It’s based on studies reporting on patterns that have evolved from how people scan online content.)
You can consider the F pattern when thinking about how to “shape” and present online copy and content. Although it’s an interesting consideration, take this with a grain of salt and as a reminder to break up heavy blocks of text.
Readability versus legibility
Readability concerns the ease with which someone can understand your message.
Legibility, on the other hand, is about the level of difficulty someone has when reading your text, based chiefly on your font choice and size.
The average American Internet user reads at a middle school level.
Here I go, quoting the Nielsen Norman Group again. Your text should aim for “a 6th grade reading level on the homepage, important category pages, and landing pages. On other pages, use text geared to an 8th grade reading level.”
Use the white space between your design elements (including blocks of text and images) to guide your visitors’ experience.
A skilled designer knows how to manipulate white space in clever ways for emphasis.
Above the Fold
When people visit your site, the first area they see without scrolling is called “Above the fold”. This portion requires your dedicated attention. I once read somewhere you have less than 5 seconds to make an impression on first-time visitors. That was years ago. So give them a reason to scroll down, instead of clicking back.
In a study on scrolling and attention, the Nielsen Norman Group (arguably the best researchers of user experience design) reported the following:
“Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention to below the fold.”
How do you get people to read the remaining 80%? Easy. Write engaging headlines.
It’s outside the scope of our guide here, but here are my thoughts on writing attention-grabbing headlines.
This above-the-fold area should present your USP, an engaging headline, or your main sales points as clearly as possible. If not, try to get their email. What you do here depends on your specific objectives. But it should receive all the attention you give when brainstorming good headlines.
Pattern Interruptors: How to write great blog posts that engage your readers
In this section, we’ll go over my “Pattern Interruptors” methodology, which is just me trying to sound smart.
It’s essentially a list of ways I use to break up heavy blocks of text. This is my short overview on how to write an engaging article, or how to make your already-published articles even more engaging.
Bullet lists create white space around them, drawing your reader’s attention to the most important, boiled-down points.
Bullet lists work on two psychological fronts:
- They trick your brain into thinking information is more believable compared to when the same information is presented in paragraph format. This is because lists provide a sense of progression and totality you just can’t achieve with a basic paragraph.
This doesn’t mean you can be flexible with the truth. Don’t risk it. What you risk is damage to your authority forever. As Bill Bernbach said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”
- We also use bullets frequently for checklists. Do you get a rush of satisfaction every time you strike off an item from your to-do list? I know I do.
Our increasing reliance on to-do lists over time may have influenced how we’ve come to perceive bullet lists.
What does this all boil down to exactly? When your points are presented in bullet-list format, they appear more agreeable and attractive to your readers.
Callouts are awesome for recommendations. They’re basically just a large table you can insert into your text.
You can make them stand out in many ways:
- By giving the box a different background color
- By using a separate heading for each callout
- By using images in your recommendations.
Just look at this one below.
Facts, Stats, and Graphs
Here’s an interesting email marketing factoid from Wordstream:
Fact: Most young people use their phones to check their email.
Here’s the same info presented as a statistic: 72.9% of people aged 18 to 24 years check their email on their phones.
And here it is again in graph form:
Which one did you find most convincing? Most people wouldn’t have thought much of the info when presented as fact. It’s plainly obvious. But presented as a statistic, it’s a bit more interesting. However, keep in mind, some people are skeptical of statistics, and that’s fine.
But as a graph, it also lends a visual element, one many people tend not to question. In other words, graphs tend to be absorbed by the viewer in a passive manner. Thus, skepticism is lower.
Quotes from noted experts in your field can lend a lot of credibility to your argument. Use block quotes to distinguish them from the text. Consider the white space around them to draw your reader’s eye to the quote. Position the quote not only for relevance but also by considering where your reader might appreciate a break.
Also worth noting: If you can get a direct quote from a known authority in your niche, some of their authority will rub off on you by association. After all, you’re showing your readers that you know and interact with serious people in your field, and they’ll come to view you as a reliable source of info.
Animated GIFs can be highly engaging, and they’re fairly easy to create.
They come in two main forms:
- Instructional recordings.
Memes are culturally relatable and are extremely flexible in terms of visual communication. There’s a meme for pretty much everything too. Just check out the massive meme search engine by GIPHY.
Instructional GIFS take a bit more work because you’ve got to create them yourself. But there are tools you can find online that allow you to create a GIF in mere seconds. I use Cloudapp, but if you know of a better one, let me know.
Although Cloudapp is capable of taking screenshots, I use a Chrome extension called Fireshot. This tool is awesome. The free version lets you take a screenshot of an entire page, a selected area, or just the visible part.
Embedding videos is a fairly new idea to blogging, although it’s becoming increasingly commonplace, because the benefits are so numerous:
- It increases dwell time.
It takes time to watch a video. That means your readers will stick around your page for a little while longer, boosting your SERP visibility.
- It increases your Youtube views if you’re on Youtube.
If Youtube monetization is part of your overall plan, embedding relevant clips from your Youtube channel will contribute to your .
- You can drive traffic to your website from your Youtube channel, and vice versa.
Sending traffic to and from your site can present awesome opportunities. For instance, once your Youtube viewers land on your site, you can try to get their email address.
It works the other way too. Once your readers visit your Youtube channel, there’s a decent chance they’ll subscribe to it.
You can also make these videos part of your social media marketing campaigns. Post them on Facebook if it’s one of your channels. Share them in relevant groups. Leverage Linkedin and Google + to direct traffic through every one of your brand’s touchpoints and boost engagement.
- It works wonders for personal branding.
What’s better than reading your stuff? Watching your stuff, with you guiding them in person. They can see and hear the voice behind the words, adding dimensionality to your relationship and making you more real. And it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune to start shooting decent videos either.
Ready to boost site traffic?
With these tools, it should be a breeze to boost website traffic.
Here’s what you should remember from this guide:
- Dwell time and how it ties to engagement
- How people absorb content online (readability, white space, etc.)
- Using pattern interruptors (like callouts, numbered and bullet-point lists, screenshots, and GIFs) to break up your web content
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be directing targeted web traffic to your desired content in no time, you engagement booster you.
I’m always here to answer questions. Or to fight bears. So if you’re a quizzical bear, leave a comment below.