I originally published this article on Entrepreneur.com.
Have you ever wondered why you read the articles you read online?
How it is that some articles manage to grab our attention even with all the distractions online today? No matter how busy we are, there’s always certain content that manages to gain our undivided attention. So what do those writers know that the rest of the online world doesn’t?
As it turns out, a number of psychological factors are at play. You could say popular content has somewhat of a “secret sauce” that mediocre content doesn’t tend to have. If you’re thinking content that stands out is simply better-written or more “valuable,” you’re wrong. At least for the most part. The internet is filled with valuable content. It’s almost a commodity at this point, and it’s certainly not a differentiator.
The truth is, the gurus in your industry aren’t much smarter than you are. They may have a certain level of authority, but that authority isn’t the sole reason people read their content so intently. The keys to a fascinating piece of content are much simpler than you probably realize, and they’re right at your fingertips. Here a few secrets the pros use to draw readers in, keep them engaged and entice them to take action.
1. Use data and images to lend instant credibility.
People tend to trust data more so than opinions. If you haven’t yet built personal credibility with an audience, you can use data to your advantage. Find statistics and studies that back you up. To shore up a recent blog post, Brian Dean from Backlinko turned to a study from Claremont University that found images boost content credibility by 75 percent. (See what I did there?)
Another study cited by SiteGrain revealed that people were more likely to believe in a particular medication’s efficacy when presented with visuals that appear scientific (graphs, formulas, etc.), even when the visual contains no new information over the text.
So what does it all mean? Include data and statistics, then take those statistics and put them in a visual of any kind. You should see engagement increase significantly. Human brains love proof, numbers and images. It only makes sense to use a combination of statistics, graphs, charts and screenshots to your advantage.
2. Use quotes for instant authority.
“The internet is filled with valuable content. It’s almost a commodity at this point, and it’s certainly not a differentiator.” — Mike Taylor, Marketing Specialist
Sound familiar? That line appears in this article’s introduction. But it carries more gravitas, somehow, when given the pull-quote treatment.
I might skim right past a powerful statement buried within the text of an article. Arrange that same statement with a byline, and suddenly it becomes words to live by. It’s almost as if our brains think it must be true if it’s in quotes.
Maybe it’s because we tend to quote influential and successful people (usually after they’ve died). Maybe it’s because quotes carry with them a bit of implied legitimacy. Who knows. Either way, quotes work — and they’re a great way to instantly give your content a certain level of authority.
3. Use stories to keep readers engaged.
Why do we love movies, TV shows and books so much? We’re hardwired to love stories. They speak a language that people’s brains understand at a primitive level.
Spin a simple, boring topic as a storyline, and you’ll instantly make it more appealing and engaging. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to do. Even the smallest amount of storytelling injected in your content can make a huge difference. Try this: Instead of making your point outright, present an example that really illustrates your message. It will resonate much more with your readers, and they’ll be much more attentive.
4. Use subheadings to keep readers on the page.
Of course, you can’t entice readers to action if you can’t keep them on the page. It’s 80 percent of the battle. Winning it requires understanding how people consume content in the first place.
Think about how you read this article. You probably saw the headline, read the first few lines and then skimmed until you saw a subhead that seemed interesting. No doubt you skimmed that section, too, and started reading again only when you saw something that jumped out to resonate with you.
Structure your content so readers can get the gist of it just by reading the subheadings. They should be able to understand the main points without having to dig through the entire content to find the message you’re driving home.