Do your readers hang on to your every word?
I bet they don’t.
Okay, that’s not fair because mine don’t all either.
The facts clearly show that a large chunk of your readers will skim your content, no matter what.
But that still leaves a lot of readers.
And these readers can choose to skim as well, read somewhat closely, or read every single word you write.
I think you’ll agree that the last option is the best for us as content creators.
Think of the blogs you read on a regularly basis. How many recent posts have really gripped you?
I mean those cases when you read every single word because you couldn’t help it.
Maybe one or two?
It’s certainly not common. And because it’s challenging to create content that does grip your readers, you won’t be able to achieve it in every case.
But that’s the goal that you should have in mind. It’s what I’m always trying to do when I write a blog post, guide, or guest post.
In this post, I want to share four methods that I personally try to use to accomplish this.
Start incorporating these tactics into your own content, one-by-one, and I guarantee that you’ll start seeing more comments, more subscribers, and better on-page metrics (like time on page, bounce rate, etc.).
1. We NEED answers as readers
The first requirement for gripping content is that it needs to be interesting.
It doesn’t matter how well-written something is if your reader doesn’t have at least some interest in it.
I’m going to assume that you can come up with some decent content ideas fairly interesting to your audience.
More importantly, you need to use a principle called curiosity gaps as often as possible.
Curiosity gaps have less to do with what you’re writing about and more with how you are writing—to maximize interest.
Here’s what a curiosity gap is:
The more we are interested in finding an answer, and the less of an idea we have of what the answer actually is, the more curious we are. A curiosity gap is the space in between what we know and what we want to know.
Sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed use curiosity gaps in their headlines all the time, despite their claims that they don’t.
And it’s because they work.
Using curiosity gaps to make your content gripping: Okay, neat, but how do you actually use curiosity gaps in your content?
You can’t control what your reader already knows; that’s going to be different for everyone.
What you can control is how much they want to know the answer to something.
It starts off with the benefit that your content provides. That’s where you get the initial interest.
The benefit might be:
- Showing how to make an extra $1,000 a month
- Teaching how to use a tool to save 5 hours a week
- Learning from your 10 biggest mistakes as a business owner
- Or anything else that most of your readers would want to find out.
If you emphasize a good benefit in your headline and first few paragraphs, you’ve already built up some interest—perfect.
Now, you need to deepen the curiosity gap by increasing your reader’s desire to know the answer even more.
There are a few ways to do that, but the best way is to surprise them.
Take that first example I just gave you: a method to make an extra $1,000 a month.
Most readers will be interested in it, but they’ll also assume that it’s going to be straightforward, like working an extra 5 hours a week or getting a second job.
Instead, you need to surprise them.
What if we changed it to: A non-obvious method to make an extra $1,000 a month.
Now, the reader is even more interested because they don’t even have a good guess at your answer.
But you can apply this within your content itself, not just the headline and first paragraph.
Tell the reader that you’ll reveal a trick or secret of yours to get even better results from whatever you’re writing about.
The final note I need to make here is that you need to deliver on your surprise. If you promise a non-obvious method, it needs to actually be non-obvious, or you’ll lose your reader’s trust.
2. If you saw an angel, wouldn’t you pay attention?
We’ve all seen it on TV: a guy sees a girl he thinks is beautiful, the music starts playing, and light begins radiating outwards from her.
All of a sudden, he can’t focus on anything else but her.
That’s obviously not completely realistic, but it has some truth to it:
When we are in awe of something, or even just impressed by it, we focus our attention on it.
Can you guess how this applies to content?
If your reader is impressed by either you or your content, they’ll be glued to every word on the page.
The tough part is finding a way to impress your readers.
One of the best methods to do that is to use the “halo effect”: once we see someone or something in a positive light, we rate them highly in other aspects as well.
For example, studies showed that we naturally think that beautiful people are kinder, more trustworthy, and smarter than less attractive people.
But it goes beyond just basic traits.
One study had subjects grade a written essay, but only after they saw a photo of the supposed author. Some study participants were shown photos of attractive authors, and others were shown photos of unattractive authors.
Here’s the twist: the essay was the same regardless of the author photo the subjects saw.
The researchers found that the clearly attractive authors got a rating of 6.7 out of 10, but the unattractive writers got only 5.9 out of 10.
On a different essay with the same setup, the attractive authors got 5.2, while unattractive authors got only 2.7.
Basically, if a reader thinks highly of you in one area, their opinion of you will transfer over to other areas and, in particular, your content.
When we like people or are impressed by them, we give them the benefit of the doubt.
You’ll see a few things when you come to Quick Sprout or any of my other blogs, starting with a picture of me in the sidebar:
No, I’m not ready for GQ, but I had professional pictures taken and cleaned myself up the best I could before the photo shoot.
Present yourself in the most attractive light you can, and that will carry over to your content.
It’s not all about looks: I went over only a few studies about the halo effect above, but there are many more. And others prove that the effect applies not just to looks but indeed to all traits.
If someone is really nice, we think that they’re probably smart.
If someone is really accomplished, we think their content must be amazing.
And so on…
You can see that I use the halo effect further within the biography under my picture.
When someone first finds out who I am, they see that I’ve worked with massive companies and have founded two successful companies.
When someone gets to my content, they’ll see I’m not just some random guy. Instead, they’ll think something like:
Holy crap, this guy is successful! He must know what he’s talking about, so I’d better pay attention.
But don’t think the halo effect is about tricking people. It’s about making sure they see your best traits as soon as possible.
Find a way to impress people either above or beside your content or within the content itself (tell a story that relays an impressive accomplishment).
Your face isn’t the only thing that can be pretty: Think about what makes a person attractive.
It’s not just their actions or looks. It’s also things like their clothes.
Which content do you think readers would rate higher:
- a guide with minimal formatting?
- a guide with a beautiful design?
The answer is obvious. The same content will be rated higher when it’s designed well, and that’s because of the halo effect.
That’s one of the reasons I spent so much on design for my advanced guides (in the sidebar):
Yes, the content is great, but the design is as good, or better, than that of almost any other piece of content on the Internet.
Readers have carefully read the whole guide throughout the years not only because of the content but also because of the design.
You don’t necessarily have to go to the same length, but do whatever you can to improve the look of your content (images, formatting, font, etc.).
3. Explain complex topics like your readers are 5 years old
Think about the last piece of gripping content you read.
Chances are you weren’t scratching your head every 5 seconds or heading to Google because you didn’t understand something.
The best content isn’t written in complex terms, which is why some of the smartest people can’t write content to save their lives.
This is a very simple tweak you can make to instantly make your content more gripping—just write simpler.
You don’t have to write as if your readers were literally 5 years old, but you want to write in a way that will allow 95% of them to understand everything you wrote without having to look up words, acronyms, or other terms or concepts.
4. The same old angle is never gripping
Remember when you were a kid and when learning basic addition was fun?
Most people enjoy new things.
What they don’t enjoy is repetition.
Once you learned how to add, did you really want to spend hours every day doing it?
I’m guessing no—because doing exactly the same thing over and over is boring.
This goes back to the curiosity gap. If there is no gap (because you already know the end result), there’s no curiosity.
And yet marketers regularly produce content that is very similar to tons of other content already out there.
For example, if you search for “guest post guide,” you’ll find a few different guides from well-known sites:
But you can go down hundreds of results, and you’ll still find more guest-posting guides.
Who’s going to find those interesting after they’ve learned 99% of what they need from those first few guides?
Approach it from a new direction: I’m not saying you can’t write about topics that have been written about. But I’m saying you need a unique angle that hasn’t been done (at least not too much).
More lectures on addition will be boring to anyone who can already add. However, teaching someone to add in their head could be new and fun.
Readers and students will always pay more attention to new angles and new ideas.
My challenge for you here is this: the next time you’re writing an article, see if it’s been done before. Search for similar articles.
If you find several, you need to change the approach you take to your article because chances are many of your readers have already seen those other ones.
For example, you might want to write an SEO guide.
Well, there are hundreds out there that go over all the basics of SEO, so there’s nothing you can add to that.
However, you can take unique angles to appeal to specific audiences. For example:
- How to SEO a Joomla site in under 10 minutes
- How SEO for a local business differs from SEO for a typical website
- How to set up your social media accounts for better search rankings
If you want true fans, you need to create content they love.
They can’t just like it because in that case they’ll often skim it.
You want them to read every single word because they can’t help it. These readers will then sign up to your email lists, buy your products, and help share your content.
This isn’t easy, which is why I showed you these four ways to make your content more gripping.
Start by applying a single method, and once you have that down, start with the next one.
Track your results before and after applying each tactic, and I think you’ll be happy with the improvements you’ll get in reader engagement.