We've got competition. It's called the Internet. And it's changing the way people read – or don't read – our content. It's more difficult than ever to create content with impact for audiences suffering information overload.
Here's the backstory: Clickbait may have been around for over a century (at least according to this take), but its new supercharged identity is entirely Internet-enabled. The minute someone figured out that loads of clicks meant greater online ad revenue, getting traffic became a key priority – outweighing telling the truth, delivering meaningful insight, or adding any sort of value.
Clickbait works by pandering to our worst impulses: immediate gratification with very little work. We compulsively click headlines like “Don't ever eat this one food” despite rationally knowing the actual piece will be sensationalism at best and completely off-topic at worst.
And the worst bit is we're all in this together.
As Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic,
“Media companies are desperately trying to get your attention and the headline tropes you see the most tend to be the headlines readers click the most. We are all in this together, one perpetual spin cycle of perfect responses, all-explaining graphs, and amazing truths, and you know exactly what's going to happen next. ”
As writers, clickbait makes our job very difficult by spamming the playing field till people have useless content seeping out of their pores. In such a milieu, it's incredibly difficult to write high-impact content that's also ethical and adds value. But there are ways to do it.
Know Your Audience
Don't write general stuff that tries to appeal to the widest possible audience. Instead, write for specific audiences. Who are they? Where are they? What unites them? And, most importantly – what do they want to read? Once you have an audience in mind, try and understand what their pain points are. A pain point is basically something your audience is searching for a solution to. Once you know what answers people want, you can serve up relevant content that people actually read.
Take this very site, for example. It's not meant for everyone between the ages of three and three hundred. It's not meant for zookeepers and race car drivers alike. Rather, it's a place for writers to talk about writing, and the challenges associated with the creative process. Content that talks about writing, and offers value to writers, will do well here.
Go Very Specific
Ever put in the first word of a search in Google and read what comes up on the autocomplete? That alone tells you that a) people are wonderful, diverse beings who often ask Google rather weird things and b) many search queries are very, very specific.
So, what if you wrote something about a very specific topic that people were searching for?
Here's an example: There are a million people running gardening blogs writing about bougainvillea. If you write a generic piece about that lovely plant, your article will be utterly lost in the crevices of the Internet, drowned out by thousands of others.
But if you wrote a specific remedy that protects bougainvillea against a specific blighting fungus, you'll get a loyal coterie of gardeners battling that problem to hang onto your every word. What's more, they'll come back and read other gardening articles, too.
Going very specific also works well with Google rankings – meaning your content shows up higher, and attracts more eyeballs.
Give People What They Can Handle
Readers want different things. Some are really time-poor, and only want to skim-read. Others want a bit more. And still others want an in-depth analysis. The best way to create impact is to give all these readers exactly what they want.
How? By using the handy bite, snack and meal approach. It's a food metaphor where your menu (or article) has dishes that satisfy all levels of hunger, leaving the choice up to the customer (or reader).
- The Bite
Just a taste. For the readers who just want the bottom line and fast, summarize
everything you're saying in a heading and blurb carrying your key message.
- The Snack
A little light something. For readers that have a little more time but are unlikely to throw themselves into an article the length of “War and Peace,” create a paragraph with your main talking points.
- The Meal
A main course for readers with an appetite. Offer up a full and hearty meal to those hungry for your words, going into a bit of detail, offering supporting evidence and adding as much value as you can. But remember, keep things simple, because simplicity in writing often creates better impact.
Just as a restaurant menu carries all these options together, so must your content have all three options in the same place – with a heading and blurb on top, the main argument presented in-depth, and a little summary at the end. Then, let the reader choose.
Creating high impact may not be the easiest thing in the world, given the cacophony our readers are surrounded by. But, it can be done. Happy writing!