We’ve all been there – you spend hours crafting a Dickensian or Orwellian-standard blog post, committing facts, drama, tension and humour to the page only to watch it repel readers. Why is noone reading this honed and highly researched tome? You played with language, you told a story, you advised and entertained: why isn’t it your highest-performing content yet?

The reasons can be many:

  • It could be that your content topic is over-saturated. With so much writing on this topic available across the internet, your’s isn’t visible enough, merely caught in a bloated swirl of similar posts.
  • Perhaps you misread your buyer personas and they’re actually not interested in your chosen topic at all, meaning you need to revisit their pain points
  • It could be down to your title wording, the content offer or the length of the post – these metrics need to be monitored in HubSpot or whatever analysis tool you use

Or it could be – as we’ll focus on in this post – that you aren’t talking to your audience in a way that they relate to, enjoy or expect. Without a connection or perceived bond between you and your reader, they simply won’t persevere with your content – no matter how good you are. It isn’t merely about what you say, but it’s the way you say it.

So we’ve put together this post to combine everything we’ve learnt about a successful writing style ourselves, and combined that knowledge with some fantastic tips we picked up in a recent The Guardian Masterclass, led by journalist Eddy Lawrence. In no time at all, you may just see the length of time people are spending on your page increase – and more of those precious conversions occur, turning visitors into leads and customers.

Coffee cups in a group of friends

The illusion of intimacy

This shouldn’t be an illusion at all – you want to create genuine closeness with your customers – but anyone reading your blog post, pillar page or social media posts who isn’t yet a customer still needs to get the sensation that you know them and understand their problems, fears and needs.

During the masterclass, we discussed the importance of our “lizard brains.” They crave familiarity and closeness; at a basal level, we like it when people seem similar to us, as Researcher Andreas Komninos explains:

“Familiar things are usually seen as safe and preferable, while unfamiliar things are treated with suspicion until we have assessed them and the context in which they appear. For this reason, designers, advertisers, and anyone else involved in selling products tend to use familiarity as a means of evoking positive emotions.”

You can do this in your writing by:

  • Writing in a conversational way, as if you’re just chatting informally together, face to face – this doesn’t necessarily mean using slang but having a friendly, funny and playful style that’s easy to understand will help form trust.
  • Using ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ for the idea of unity and ‘all being in it together’ – if you show their problems are also your problems, they’re more likely to form a bond with what you’re saying.
  • Making it sensory: as we learnt in the Guardian Masterclass last week, using the sense of smell in writing is one of the most evocative ways to bond your reader to your writing and thus, your brand. Using pleasant smells such as fresh coffee or baked bread in your writing act as a form of nostalgia. As the masterclass tutor, Eddy Lawrence, The Guardian journalist said:

“The part of the brain that deals with smell is very close to the part that deals with memory. Put your reader in their mental happy place through smell and they’ll remember what you wrote.”

  • Using contractions: conversational habits we do all the time – squeezing two words together to make one for ease (can’t instead of can not, wouldn’t instead of would not, you’ll instead of you will). Unless you’re writing an incredibly formal and important document – such as something legal – you can leave the “full English” at the door and still make an articulate, persuasive and helpful point.
  • Imagining and inspiring: don’t just write content where your audience is a passive viewer, make them a participant. Inspire and motivate them to take action, whether it’s to start a new business or just share the article you’ve written – remember social sharing icons, CTAs and rhetorical questions to put them in the copy.

Stack of books being held by a hand

Read, read, read

As Steven Wright, American stand-up comedian and writer says:

“It usually helps me write by reading — somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear.”

It’s a widely accepted piece of advice: if you’re reading, it improves your writing skills. As a previous English teacher, I was constantly telling parents at Parents Evening to encourage their children to read, in order to improve their writing skills. And not just ‘read anything’: countless studies have proven the power of reading fiction in increasing brain function, connectivity and creativity. But as a business writer, how does this translate?

You need to read what your audience is reading – find their watering holes. This isn’t only to get an idea of their behaviours and put your own materials into their laps, it’s to learn other things, too:

  • Read about their industries – find out more about the latest innovations, the new thinking and political decisions affecting your customers and prospects.
  • How are they used to being spoken to? Are there different tones of voice used within their industry? How do authoritative, established companies compare to the way startups talk to them? What’s the difference between white papers, blog posts and social media messaging?
  • Don’t only focus on what they want to read and learn – what do they want to share? Which articles are the ones they’re reposting? These will usually fall into 3 categories:

1. News

2. Facts

3. Entertainment

If you want to write content that your audience shares, you need to hit at least one of the above topics. If you’re funny, use that in your writing. If you’ve got some brand new, ground-breaking research or an inside scoop, use that in your writing. As Eddy Lawrence explained in The Guardian Masterclass:

“People want to look cool. They want to pass your content off as their own, saying “look what I’ve found” when they repost it to gain prestige, respect and, most importantly, their own likes and comments.”

  • What is your audience excited about? What changes are happening in their industry at the moment? Whatever they’re anticipating and eager to try out, that’s a content idea for you.
  • Many companies forget to read what their audience is saying – they ignore the comments on YouTube or the discussions taking place beneath other articles. What are some of the common viewpoints? What do they disagree over? And crucially, how do they speak to one another? This will give you such an insight into how you should speak to them and the angles to explore in your writing.
  • And finally, change with your audience – research them regularly even if you feel you know them really well. What they read and enjoyed five years ago, isn’t likely to be the same now – do you read and watch all the same channels as you did back then? Keep evolving as your reader does to prevent losing them.

And there you have it – our own masterclass version of some top tips to try for creating content your audience will actually read. We are constantly trying these out ourselves: there is no magic wand. You have to find out what works for your reader – as yours is certainly different to ours. But if you keep mixing things up, never letting yourself get into a writing rut, you’re already doing more than a lot of content creators out there and this will pay in dividends.