This post originally appeared in Forbes.
Recently I received an email from Buffer, a social feed scheduling app, and its analysis of viral trends in social media. Included in the piece was a frequency chart of the words that were most shared and clicked on. Building on Buffer’s data and our own, we wanted to understand how the content of a story and the headline resulted in what stories were shared, posted, and engaged with. By combining our results, we’ve started to see a few interesting patterns, which we’ve summarized as helpful writing tips:
Tip 1 – Be Helpful / Answer a Question
Users are starting to ask questions to Google as they do to Siri. Factual questions typically beginning with who, what, when, and how (to) dot the top headline keywords. By phrasing your post title as a question, there is a better chance of hitting an exact search match. As Buffer points out, questions have double the click thru rate as other headlines. Sites like Quora, Answers and Ask are great for driving traffic via their high page ranking, but many are also looking for experience based answers; ones that sometimes are not indexed high on the answer sites. Furthermore, niche sites have popped out for various answers. For example, Stack Exchange is a great forum for software developers’ bugs and challenges. Our common knowledge is stored and shared in the cloud; anything you don’t know someone else will. Sharing of this knowledge will lead to others wanting to share it too as well as building a portfolio of thought leadership. Perhaps your site can become the Stack Exchange of your niche.
Tip 2 – Be Specific
The Internet is a great place for niche communities to find themselves. Likewise, in search, I’m looking for a very specific answer. The keywords “this,” “that,” etc., demonstrate that people will click through on things when they know that the piece will not be long and rambling but very directed toward “this.” As attention spans shrink, time investment becomes more important to readers. These “specificity” keywords help you signal to the reader that your piece will be succinct and to the point. Users now understand that they can refine their search by adding more keywords to their search query. By having many small pages (and titles and URLs) with the keywords in them versus having one long piece that tries to address everything, your site will more likely be found and visited.
Keeping it short and simple, similar to Jeopardy answers, and accomplishing one thing is much more useful than being “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Tip 3 – Answering Why
Answering a specific question has been our first two points, but an important question that is typically neglected on certain topics is why. Factual arguments usually don’t need to answer “why,” but where human emotions are involved, “why” is the difference between a good post and a great post. Simon Sinek, the creator of the “Start with Why” concept goes into depth about the psychology behind why. In a post, “why” evokes emotion, curiosity, passion, and reasoning. It is one of the chief drivers behind the traffic machines like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. It is also the basis for many of our (usually) irrational and emotional decisions. Whether, happiness, sadness, or laughter, we all want to feel something. If done correctly, “why” seeps out through the writing, making us feel human and giving us the added desire to share with our friends the emotions that we feel.
I’ve tried to breakdown some of the patterns that we’ve seen with the posts that we enable as well as the study that Buffer published. Even though some of us may be starting to experience click fatigue, there will always be another reason to click through and engage. I’d love to hear your experiences in what works and what didn’t.