Many of our Content Marketing Academy community members were inspired by our 2016 conference. One of the top takeaways from Ann Handley‘s keynote was that we needed to be “Bigger, Bolder, Braver”.
In this week’s guest post, our CMA Member John Espirian, makes a case for not hitting publish on ‘boring’ content!
Every day, more than 2 million blog posts are published online. Only a tiny percentage get a decent-sized audience. In some cases, the audience is just one person: the same person who pressed the ‘Publish’ button.
[sad trombone sound]
Why is this? Some of it comes down to poor promotion. If you don’t tell people that your content is on the interwebs, how do you expect them to find it?
Say you’ve managed to convince people to take a look at your blog post. You’re trying to provide something of value (because you’re not stupid enough to leap into sales mode) but no one responds. No likes, no comments, no shares. It’s what marketing duo Andrew and Pete refer to as ‘content crickets’.
[faint chirping sound]
Basically, no engagement. Just a whole heap of nothing.
Now, there could be lots of reasons why you get no engagement. I’m here to talk about only one of them: the boring blog blues.
Nobody wants boring content.
Put that on a post-it note and look at it the next time you have an idea for a blog post. We can call it ‘the boring test’.
The boring test
If your blog idea sounds even the slightest bit grey and dull, you’ll do the whole internet a favour by not publishing that blog.
Is the content boring? Yes? Don’t publish.
Doesn’t everyone do this? No. The evidence is in the vast majority of forgettable blogs published every day.
So why are people still creating boring content?
If people can get over themselves enough to realise that their content really is boring, they’ll probably justify that by coughing up this old line:
‘Well, it’s not my fault. I work in a really boring industry.’
So, someone who works in a boring industry deals with that by spreading boredom throughout the internet with their boring blog posts. How’s that helping anyone?
Look at it this way: if you’re in a ‘boring’ industry, there’s a good chance that every one of your competitors is creating boring content. Think about it. That’s awesome. That means that you need to pour just a little creative juice over your blog ideas and – voila – you’ll have content that sets you apart from everyone else.
Are boring industries really that boring?
I recently asked my colleagues to tell me about the boring industries they had worked in. Here are some of their answers:
- Safety footwear
- Life insurance
- Bottled water
- Paint-drying products (I’m not making this up, I swear)
OK, these don’t sound like inspiring things to write about. But just about every subject area can be interesting, relevant and fun (decent ingredients for many a good blog recipe). Here are some suggestions for tackling such topics:
Safety footwear – why not talk about the joy of playing active sports? Blog posts could focus on the fun that you can have with feet and ankles that haven’t been burned, twisted or cut off (ouch!).
Life insurance – you could focus on the things that make each day happier, associating a long and healthy life with taking care of your loved ones. Changing the angle like this can give you something positive to write about, helping you avoid potentially grim topics (in this case, death). As an added bonus, putting an uplifting, alternative spin on a topic can mean you side-step perceived problems with writing about a regulated industry.
Bottled water– how much can you trust your tap anyway? How many miles of pipes does water have to go through before it reaches your glass? How slowly does mineral water drip down from the top of a mountain? Do runners drink bottled tap water in the middle of a marathon?
Paint-drying products – take a humorous spin. How much time does the product save? Talk about all the cool things that you could do in that time. Any of them has to be better than watching paint dry! The joke writes itself.
Signs that your content is boring
What if you’re unsure whether what you’ve created is worthy of being labelled ‘not-boring’? Here are some signs to look for:
- Walls of text – unless you’re a first-rate novelist, nobody wants walls of text. Online readers tend to scan content quickly before stopping to take it all in, so short sentences and paragraphs, with key points in bold will help to break the monotony.
- Too much text – even if the text is broken up well, there might still be too many words overall. If you can reduce the total number of words without changing the meaning, do that. Use only as many words as you need.
- Talking as though you’re someone else – don’t talk about yourself in the third person (‘John thinks this is good advice’ – er, no). Companies do this all the time, ruining the human connection they should be trying to foster with their audience.
- No visual interest – a few graphics or photos here and there wouldn’t go amiss. Your post doesn’t need to become a picturebook, but some visual interest will keep people reading longer.
- Tiny text – some sites set their font sizes way too small, which makes it feel as though you’re reading a stuffy newspaper. Make sure your font size is at least 16px.
- No clear message – will every person who consumes your content be clear about the point of the piece? If your explanations are woolly, prepare for your audience to be bored (swiftly followed by them leaving). Be less boring: that’s the point of this piece, in case you were dozing off.
An antidote to boring content: storytelling
There’s a big trend at the moment for every business to tell a story through their content. So long as you’re not outright cheesy in your approach, you should write your content in a way that shows some narrative.
Because people respond better to storytelling than they do to plain facts. That’s why we tell kids the story of the boy who cried wolf rather than just telling them that lying is wrong. Stories convey meaning better than any bullet list.
Here’s a great example. Say I wanted to promote all the good things you could do with a Google search. I’d tell you that you could look up whatever you wanted: addresses, flight times, language translations, anything. I’d tell you that the system was easy to use. Yada yada. All I’m doing there is banging on about features. Audiences yawn when you hit them with features.
But show the audience how you fix problems and you’re talking business.
Turn that into a story and you’ll do even better.
Weave in a proper emotional pull and you’ll have the audience hooked.
That crappy features-driven promo I did for Google just there, a few sentences above – it didn’t work, right? Compare it with this 52-second video on YouTube:
Now, who could say that was a boring bit of content? And yet it was in service of a soulless global data engine that lets people ask questions and receive answers (not inherently exciting). If products and services like that can be made exciting, then so can yours.
And you don’t need Google’s marketing department to do it. It just takes a bit of invention – looking for a new angle – to find an interesting approach that will resonate with your audience.
Sometimes you can do this yourself. Other times, you need to lean on your network of friends, colleagues or co-workers. And still other times, you might need to ask for help from a professional content writer. Whichever route you need to take, it’s possible to find an engaging way to get your message across.
An important point about authenticity
Being not-boring doesn’t mean you have to jump to the other end of the spectrum. Going for shock value or swearing in every other sentence won’t work unless that’s part of your authentic character. If you’re really going to reach people, you have to do so with your natural voice. Faking it isn’t a good strategy.
There’s enough boring content out there on the web. It’s piled up to high heaven. Don’t let your content add to that grey mountain. Start building a new and different mountain. A rainbow-coloured mountain with pink unicorns at the summit. Just don’t do what everyone else does. Commit to creating non-boring content and see how your audience likes the new view.
Over to you
Do you suffer from the boring blog blues? Has this post given you some ideas on a new angle? What’s stopping you from being less boring? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
- Guest Blogging: Why I’ve started a Guest Blog
- Episode 57: How to improve your writing for business blogging
- Blogging isn’t dead: 3 fundamental lessons for blogging in 2016 from Mark Schaefer
- How can I write effective titles and opening paragraphs?
About John Espirian
John Espirian is Google’s number one ranked provider of technical writing services in the UK.
A former Microsoft MVP and current director of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, John produces simple, helpful content for online tech businesses.
He blogs regularly on espirian.co.uk/blog.