A friend of mine is a passive aggressive tweeter. You know the kind I mean, right?
“Dear Uber driver, it’s six degrees outside! What’s the deal with having all four windows open!?”
Rather than politely ask the driver to close the windows, he opts instead to make a noise on the internet during his cold, uncomfortable ride to work.
While the din often seems loudest on social media, noise abounds online in general. Everywhere you look, you see articles claiming to have “5 super fast ways to do this!” and “103 best ways to do that!”
These ideas aren’t necessarily bad. If the article delivers on its headline promise, you’ll be 103 ways better off.
Unfortunately, it’s more often than not wishy-washy clickbait. In addition to annoying the reader, this kind of content damages your reputation as a writer.
As I was drafting this post, a piece on Gorilla Marketing by Seth Godin landed in my inbox (serendipity I love you). The excerpt below offers a soberingly accurate description of the ‘noise’ I’m referring to.
“Today, because noise is everywhere, we’re all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.”
Why do you write?
If you’re a freelance writer, chances are you’re trying to turn your writing business into a money-making machine. As a blogger, perhaps your focus is more on getting your brand out there. In which case you’re likely after guest post opportunities.
In each of these cases you’re clear on what you’re getting out of the deal: money, recognition, maybe even both (if you’re lucky).
But how much consideration do you really give to what the reader is gaining from the transaction?
The world is inundated with information
According to Worldometers (a website that counts the number of blogs posts written on any given day), more than three million have been published today so far.
No wonder the human attention span has dwindled to a point where it’s lower than that of a goldfish. Although to be fair, if our finned friends had access to smartphones they’d probably be just as easily distracted (just not by cat videos).
Given how busy life is nowadays and how much harder we have to work to stay ahead, it’s understandable that we writers sometimes forget how easily distracted our readers are.
It’s not an excuse, obviously, but when the deadlines are piling up alongside the dishes and the bills, it’s bound to happen. We need to change that, but how?
The ‘adding value’ pact
It starts by making a pact with ourselves that we’re going to quit squabbling over bananas and instead engage for the long haul. No more excuses.
Let’s make a deal with our readers that from now on, we’re putting them first.
There’s a reason why good SEO practice dictates writing for humans first and search engines second. Writing for the latter may well get us to the top of page one on Google, but what’s the point if what we’ve written amounts to nothing more than keyword-littered noise?
We’re human and it’s human connection we’re after (Google’s spider bots don’t make for great coffee companions, or so I hear), so let’s focus a little more on what we can give. Approach it from that angle and the ‘what we can get’ part will take care of itself.
Start with why
For once I’m not referring to Simon Sinek’s ridiculously popular TED talk (32,658,808 views and counting). If you haven’t seen it you should absolutely set aside the next 18 minutes to rectify that.
In this instance, I’m talking about something I learnt from my ex-boss. She told me she won’t write a single word unless she’s one hundred percent clear on her ‘why.’ As an inbound marketing aficionado, she walked her talk.
Purpose is different for everyone.
For my boss, it meant ranking for a specific keyword or generating new leads. Freelance writers might be looking to land new clients or impress existing ones. Bloggers are likely focused on increasing page views or building a reputation as a thought leader in their niche.
Content is about more than purpose
My boss was on point. Purpose is key. But purpose is about more than ranking for a specific keyword or increasing page views. While certainly important, these goals are secondary to our ultimate goal of adding value.
This means writing for the sole benefit and enjoyment of our future reader. Yes, getting paid is important, as is achieving whatever other goals we may have for furthering our career. But first and foremost we should be thinking about how we can add value in a world that’s marinating in information.
When we do that, everything else will follow: money, happy clients, soaring pageviews and more. Why? When we write intentionally people will take notice, for the simple reason that it shows we give a damn.
These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves every time we sit down to write.
- Will this help the reader?
- Is it worth their time to read it?
- How will it make them feel?
- What can they do with the information?
- Will it make them think?
- Will it make them act?
We’ve all read something so captivating that the world around us just disappears. There’s no room for noise here, no room for anything but the words we’re so intent on absorbing. It’s a magical place to be (until you look up and realize you’ve missed your stop).
Seth Godin summed it perfectly at the end of his blog post on gorilla marketing when he said, “We don’t need more hustle. We need more care and generosity.”
When we sit down to write, that’s what we should aim for. We may well fall short of our mark, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.