Three Easy One-Minute Tricks to Create Pure Content Magic
Posted on July 14th, 2015 | By Gerd Meissner
Sounds crazy? Consider this:
Airplane pilots learn and practice to "fly by the numbers." They memorize their plane's most important operating parameters like their mother's birthday. To reach their destination safely, they keep checking the cockpit instruments during flight.
In the creative field, painting by number(s) won't win any art awards. Still, the method allows even absolute beginners to create complex pictures.
The bottom line: it gets results. So what about "writing by numbers," to reach more readers and turn them into customers or clients?
Wait. Letting word scores or algorithms guide how we write? Ridiculous!
Hold on. Even professional writers use such digital "creativity enhancers" from time to time - because they work. (For more on the topic, check out Resources at the bottom of this post later.)
The tricks below will take up only a few minutes of your time, but they will lead to higher search rankings for your posts, more website visitors, and improved engagement rates.
Concerned that input from software would make your writing formulaic? Leave that worry to purists, who don't write for business (= for measurable results). You will be surprised how app-driven writing can help jumpstart the creative process when you feel stuck.
Let me explain.
Discover Proven Methods to Easily Create Powerful Stories That Readers Will Love
For web copywriters, algorithm-aided writing is nothing new. Many get paid to research, structure and create content "to specs."
Their tools: word counters, readability programs, Internet search analytics and search engine optimization (SEO) software. What they are aiming for: improved engagement and conversion rates.
Advertising copywriters rely on A/B testing, which has been around longer than the Internet. They run the same ad copy with different headlines to see which one draws most responses. Split testing, as the method is also known, has become ever more important on the Web.
Still, math and stats make many of us who write for business shudder. So does the thought of accepting help from readability algorithms and text analyzers.
The tools on my shortlist below make it easy for business writers to overcome such resistance. As for myself, I use them and put the fun back into routine writing.
Enjoy the syntax challenges or headline suggestions they throw at you. Analyze the results, edit again. Reward yourself with high scores for readability, sticky-ness, and search engine friendliness.
Here's how it works:
1) Your Free Tool for Easy Writing Success*
Want to stand out from the writing masses? Take a page from "Papa". Cut the crap.
Like its namesake, the Hemingway Editor web tool prefers it bold and clear. "It's like a spellchecker, but for style", explains the website.
You can write and edit your piece on the site, or draft it elsewhere and paste it over to Hemingway for editing. A premium version (Windows / Mac) is available for download, with extra bells and whistles.
The Hemingway editor prevents prose from getting in the way of the message. Your writing is too dense or too complex? The program will set red and yellow markers to rub your nose in it - like mine in these examples:
Too much passive voice, too many adverbs? Count on Hemingway to point it out, using blue and green highlights.
The web app draws from "readability" research and uses the Automated Readability Index. This algorithm determines the lowest U.S. education level needed to understand what you wrote.
The formula has been around for decades. Similar editor plugins for WordPress and Google Docs are based on it as well. The main advantage of the Hemingway editor: its simplicity. You can access it from any web browser.
Hemingway's rigid "less is more" approach is not everyone's cup of tea. As for myself and my bread-and-butter writing, the app has become one of my favorite editors.
Why? Because the Hemingway editor makes it easy to calibrate a short post or article in a minute or less. So I gladly put up with its taskmaster quirks.
*The subheader's "draw" was calculated before publication. Learn how to calculate and plan the "sizzle factor" of your blog headlines .
2. The Oddest Places to Create Headlines
Next step: Create a headline and subheaders that will get your readers' undivided attention. Make them hang up on mom. Have them dump the brewski, disregard the squirrel, shush a unicorn. Whatever it takes.
Did the subheader get your attention? Full disclosure: I had help from the (free) Idea Generator web tool.
Facing a dark void, where there should be flowerbeds of blossoming ideas? The Idea Generator, a.k.a. Title Maker, by Seattle, WA-based marketing agency Portent will save the day.
Think of Portent's web tool as a web writer's inspiration slot machine. Instead of grapes, bells and cherries, it displays headlines. No coins required. You simply feed a term that describes your subject into the Title Maker form, and - ka-ching! - reap the rewards, in form of headlines that sizzle.
Easy, isn't it? Let's look at an example.
As part of my day job, I write, edit and translate content about "foreign direct investment." Most of my writing covers companies from abroad that invest in the US.
Exciting, I know. It actually is, but how to make that point before the reader's eyes glaze over?
Let's say I am writing a blog post that targets regional economic development managers. Many want to find out how to attract more companies from abroad to create jobs in their community or state.
On less creative days, I can leave it to the headline generator to add glamor and pizzazz. On Portent's webpage, I would enter "Foreign Direct Investments."
Writers can rely on Portent for headline ideas that will work for all kinds of audiences:
- "How Foreign Direct Investments Could Make Betty Draper a Better Mother." Rich food for thought. Let's watch an episode of "Mad Men" and sleep on it.
- "Foreign Direct Investments by the Numbers." A real screamer... Bean counters, beware your blood pressure!
- "The Insider's Guide to Foreign Direct Investments." Who doesn't want to be an insider?
- "The Only Foreign Direct Investment Resources You Will Ever Need." Sign me up already!
- And then: "The Hunger Games Guide to Foreign Direct Investments." Plenty of promise here. Do we have a winner?
Now all that's left is to write the actual post (if we didn't write it yet). Fulfilling the promise can be a tall order with more "unusual" headlines. So here's a...
Warning: On the web, headlines that over-promise are known as "click bait." If your writing under-delivers, you will alienate your readers.
Bonus Tip: How to verify your headline's "sizzle factor"
But how to ensure that your headline will reel readers in? The Advanced Marketing Institute (Tucson, AZ) offers a solution with its free Headline Analyzer. I've written about it on the on the Cybersecurity Writers blog.
Use this tool to calculate the "draw" of your headline. Full disclosure: I checked the headline of this blog post before publishing it. Here's the result:
This tool by Bismarck, ND based editorial calendar service CoSchedule dissects headline components and presents its findings infographic-style. I liked what I saw:
Do online title makers and headline analyzers strike you as odd places to find headline writing help?
I look at it this way: If nothing else, such tools can help me jump-start my own headline generator - the one in my head.
Because, as seasoned copy editors know: the oddest place for the best headlines (or the best place for the oddest headlines) is still the space between our ears.