Too Long; Didn't Read: How To Save Your Blog From Content Shock

July 15, 2014 Braveen Kumar

Content shock

So long, writers and bloggers!

Two  of the biggest content marketing conversations over the years have alluded to the waning popularity of “text-heavy” content like blog posts and articles:  

  • Content Shock”: the notion that the Internet of the future (maybe even the present) will be saturated with so much content that our limited attention spans won’t be able to keep up.
  • The Rise of Visual Content: a shift in audience preferences toward more visual content formats that make it faster and easier to consume information.

These trends don’t bode well for less visual media that eats up our time. 

So, ready to fire your writers and hire more graphic designers?

Wait! Let’s give them a chance first.

Let me tell you a story — a story you’ve probably seen and felt before. A story about content love... 

I’m casually scrolling through my News Feed one lonely night. I see a few blog posts that promise to blow my mind

That’s what the last one said, but my head is still very much intact. 

I see a couple more that promise to tell me how to do my job better — useful tips, probably — but I feel like I’ve read it all before. "6 Ways to Do This Better." "12 Tricks to Boost That." 

It’s not their fault. I’d just rather stare at some pretty infographics than commit to blocks of text. 

But then I see it. 

Sitting in the middle of that crowd of content, there’s a blog post that catches my eye. Strange. It’s usually the prettier ones that get me — the infographics, the videos, the SlideShares

But there’s something about the headline. There’s something about the image. There’s something about it that makes my finger pause and compels me to scroll back up. 

I give it a click, knowing full well that strong first impressions have been known to fall flat. This is no pretty picture, after all, and blog posts and articles want me to stick around. 

But one line leads to another and, before I know it, I’m head-over-heels in love. It was interesting. It was refreshing. It was valuable.

But what’s most intriguing…I just read a 1000 word blog post in 2014

What about Content Shock? What about colorful SlideShares? 

If you can relate to my News Feed romance then you might relate to this: 

I’m a shameless skimmer. I, like many others today, prefer the “one night stand” equivalent of content consumption: fast, easy, no commitment. I want what I need (information) and then I want out.

But there are certain people who can consistently conquer one of the least colorful content formats — quite literally the most black and white — and even get someone like me to follow their every word. I notice that these are the ones who write content that I finish. 

We call them copywriters, and let’s also include content creators who apply their techniques.

But we’re writing content, not ads

Copywriters have been fighting for attention in a noisy space for decades, even before the Internet. In fact, they’re often tasked with making interesting “content” that most go out of their way to avoid. 

I’m not an advertising copywriter. I’m a writer who admires and studies their craft. But I think if we’re going to brace ourselves for  the coming Content Shock, it might pay to look at how copywriters manage to work their magic in the most mundane medium: text.

If we break it down, maybe we can find clues about how to stand out better, no matter the medium. Let’s start with how they handle their subject.

What’s your angle?

Pop quiz: How many angles does a triangle have?  

Three?

Wrong! At least in this context.

When I say angle I’m not talking about geometry. I’m talking about perspective. A triangle has 3 sides, 3 internal angles that add up to 180 degrees, and is considered the strongest shape around. There’s also “The Bermuda Triangle” where ships mysteriously vanish (and probably some of my socks, too, after laundry day).

What’s my point? That even two-dimensional topics, like triangles (pun!), have as many interesting angles as you’ve got the time to research and list.

You can go further and connect these points with interesting facts, recent events, or references to pop culture. Interesting angles and associations can add another layer of intrigue to whatever you’re writing about. They also let you be more creative when choosing images or headlines.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to force it. Your goal is to relay value, after all, and this approach doesn’t lend itself well to all topics or objectives. But it’s often easier to differentiate your content about a tired topic when you approach it from angles that the competition doesn’t. 

Copywriters often recommend research and social listening to see how they can join the conversation before they follow their gut. What does your audience want to read? Do they even know it yet?

I like to believe that no matter how many times a topic has been done, there is always another way to do it if you think laterally instead of literally. 

The hook gets them here, but for copywriters that’s not enough. They know they need to keep their audience invested.

Structure with strategy

When you read content written by copywriters, or content writers who apply their techniques, you can spot evidence of clear strategy in their structure. Their words read almost like a good story: they begin with a bang, flow smoothly through the middle and lead to an impactful conclusion that leaves their target audience wanting more. 

It’s no small wonder that established copywriters like Luke Sullivan recommend that budding Mad Men read books about storytelling and dialogue, such as "Story" by Robert McKee.

Stories — like ad copy — employ a seamless flow that refuses to give the crickets a moment to chirp. Never be boring is the copywriter’s mantra.

Whether their priority is to educate or entertain (always with a clear goal), copywriters make it their mission to engage fast and hard from the get-go. The headline, first line, second line, etc., maintain their strong first impression. The effective use of white space, by breaking blocks of text down into smaller paragraphs, keeps their content approachable. 

Subheads are a saving grace in this regard too, as they make it less taxing for readers to navigate through a piece of text. They can also act like signposts, allowing you to organize your ideas and refocus your readers when you run the risk of losing them. 

As you can see, copywriters approach writing with zero sense of entitlement. In fact, their attitude is the opposite. They’ve adapted to an audience that, to put it mildly, routinely files much of their sweat-stained work in the same special place time and time again: the trash can. 

Maybe it’s the adblockers that have conditioned them, but copywriters bring the same people-don’t-want-to-read-what-I-write viewpoint to writing content. 

Thankfully, we’re still a ways away from the day when folks start installing content blockers  on their computers. But Content Shock could very well put marketers in a situation where they have to vie for attention through a similar level of noise.

That’s why, when they can get away with it, copywriters (and good content writers) coat their writing with flavor. Style is their savior.

Style: The hook, line and sinker

The Academic in the room might ask, “Do you mean MLA, APA, Chicago, or Canadian Press?” 

None of them! The goal is to keep readers interested, not remind them of the most boring parts of their time in school.

What I mean here is rhetorical style: the voice you use to compel your audience to listen. Established copywriters choose the best style suited to pulling readers through a piece of writing, to convince their audience that their attention should be on them and no one else. If substance is the what, then style is the how. It’s the voice. 

“Style” is short sentences. It’s long sentences with complex constructions that allow you to fully flesh out a thought. It can be how you format parts of your text. Sometimes it’s alliterating aggressively to arrest your audience’s attention. It’s using figurative language to draw analogies like a game of connect-the-dots that makes it easier to see the big picture. 

It can be authoritative, corporate, conversational, salesy, satirical. Whatever voice a copywriter uses, they seem to always keep three things in mind: their subject, their audience and their objective. 

When carefully chosen and applied, style allows writers and speakers to teach, motivate or even sell. Doesn’t that sound like what we, as marketers, want to do?

“OK...but I’m still going to bank on these hip new GIFographics”

Whatever your view is towards Content Shock — whether you’re ready for it with new content formats, believe distribution or earned media should be our new focus, or just want to write it off as a buzzword — the reality is that the Internet is saturated with content and long-form text will likely be the first to get ignored. 

Yet copywriters have consistently managed to engage and convert with what’s likely today’s least loved content format. There must be something to that.   

Content Shock comes down to this: limited attention spans exposed to unlimited noise. Copywriters approach text content the way they do because they’re explicitly tasked with: 

  • Rising above the noise with a clear voice and path to action.
  • Winning an audience’s attention and affection.
  • Building a brand’s equity by leaving lasting impressions
  • Creating conversations and, above all, conversions!

Most of this is in line with what content marketers want their content to do. So the next time you read their content, take note of how copywriters keep you invested as a reader.

If Content Shock and the prevalence of visual content mean anything, it’s that blog posts and articles need to be adapted by providing an experience that can even outlast competition that doesn’t serve a content marketing initiative, like this:

 

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About the Author

Braveen Kumar

Braveen is a Content Marketer at Shopify.

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