5 Basics for Compelling Content

Inspired by Johnon this week, here are some of the fundamentals essential to gripping web copy that entertains and sells:

1. Tell a story. Customers aren’t looking for a sales pitch. They’re looking for solutions. If your product or service is so great that they just have to have it, you need to demonstrate why, not just tell them that. Stories (which may be as various as testimonials, case studies, quotes or just examples within your writing) allow the reader to make a visceral connection and experience what it is that makes what you offer so great.

2. Have something to say. This may seem obvious, but I’ve read too many op-ed pieces and blogs whose writers were obviously trying to yarn because they have a quota or deadline, not a burning gut, compelling them to write. Even if you’re an all-star writer, when you’re trying to fake passion, it just won’t work. Go into whatever you’re writing with intention and make what you say matter.

Yes, this even applies to business writing.

3. Make it clear. No grammatical acrobatics, no dynamic new paradigms of leveraging modern solutions to 21st century business problems. Be up-front with what you do, and write in simple sentences that convey those points effectively. Use metaphor and story (see #1) to make your writing great, not language that draws attention to itself.

4. Keep it lean. You need to make your point, but once you make it, move on. Follow the immortal mantra of William Strunk: Omit needless words.

5. Take a second look. Randall Jarrell once said, “You don’t write, you rewrite.” This may seem an antiquated concept in the age of blogging, IMs and email, but if you’re writing anything other than a note to your mother-in-law than it’s worth taking two looks at (or three or four, if you can swing it). Your perfect article will always have a couple of redundant sentences, mis-used words, strange syntax, and poor grammar. People notice polished writing.

And that’s about it — by focusing on clear, direct language you will unintentionally write better, stronger, more concrete writing that people find irresistible. And by knowing what it is you’re trying to sell (or tell) and what role it functions in people’s lives, you’ll actually plant than intangible hook that leads to calls, clicks, or downloads.