Oh Twitter. What happened to you. You used to be so fun and interesting, and now all that’s left is fucking content marketing.— John O'Nolan (@JohnONolan) September 26, 2016
You work in content marketing, but you don't ever want your stuff to read like content marketing. Why?
- Content - the word literally means “filler”
- Marketing - let's sell some shit
Who would want to read fluffy articles trying to sell things? No one. You want to build audiences, explain complex problems and make the world a smarter place.
Here's how to write great articles that don't sound like content marketing.
Understand why people hate content marketing. Lots of people do and for good reason: most of it is terrible. Done well, it actually helps businesses grow and makes readers smarter. I'm a believer, but it's worth understanding the other side. Cynicism benefits you here.
Assume no one cares. Because honestly, they don't. Think about how many articles you actually read. I bet it's very, very few. Supply is always increasing, but demand never changes. Pay close attention to analytics. Imagine spending a week writing an article that 42 people read. We've all experienced that. If you want people to care enough to read your stuff, make it really damn good.
Prioritize stories over words. Grammar, structure, tone, etc.—it's likely be lipstick on a pig unless you're truly an expert. It's usually important to question whether or not a topic is interesting enough to write on. Or, perhaps more importantly, whether or not you've found the interesting seed of an idea to expand on. If you find yourself writing something fluffy and unoriginal, stop before you get into the habit of prioritizing words over stories.
Get down with nuance. Content marketing is often surface level. It's easy to touch on ideas without really digging in. This happens when writers don't fully understand the problems/ideas/stories they're talking about. Great writing is detailed, nuanced and very hard to create. Embrace it.
Try new article structures. If an article is exactly 1,200 words and broken into three sections, you can bet it's content marketing. It's easy to lean on tried-and-true templates, but you'll need to branch out if you want to differentiate your work.
Get comfortable interviewing people. A lot of content marketing is just regurgitated content marketing. (The content marketing centipede, anyone?) Reorganizing other people's content into new content isn't good enough. Regularly interviewing smart people who have something to say adds depth to your writing.
Don't write college papers. College English classes are responsible for a lot of the poor writing we see in the content world. I'm thinking of putting a course together that forces writers to distill any article they write into either 1) a single sentence or 2) a sketch.
Your writing isn't getting graded anyone, and it won't get read either if you don't drop bad habits like:
- Using too many adjectives
- Writing 2-3 sentences when one is enough
- Sharing obvious information
- Writing sweeping statements that try to sum up way too much
Understand why people read.
There are only two few reasons people read things online:
They need to learn something for work, like how to complete a task or use a piece of software..
They are bored and looking for entertainment. If you can figure out how to meet this need with content, good on you.
Very few people (if any) read content for pleasure. It's more likely your readers are reacting to the forces around them, like a manager telling them to run an email campaign or find a new help desk tool. The better we understand that, the more helpful your content can be to your readers.