Ever clicked an article that captures your interest and then abandoned it partway through? Even dismissed it entirely? Perhaps the headline promised something compelling, but the content didn’t deliver. Maybe the subject was something dear to your heart, but the writing came across as ill-informed or overly biased.
There are a whole host of reasons readers give up or reject an article. Poor flow. False promises. Off-putting walls of text. Untrustworthy or meaningless sales blurb. It’s easy to unintentionally write content that isn’t engaging, especially on unfamiliar subjects. Worse is falling into the trap of employing tricks to stand out from an ocean of posts on a trending topic.
The good news is you don’t have to be that writer. Follow the tips in this article to find techniques to keep your readers hooked to the end, build trust in your words and, more importantly, avoid common pitfalls.
Beware the Unreachable Carrot
Imagine you sit down with a cuppa to read something, and every few paragraphs you’re promised that the juiciest part will be along in a moment. “You’ll learn about this later,” ensures the writer.
You read on, intrigued only to find a few paragraphs further: “I’ll cover this in a minute.”
The dangling open hook rapidly tires an audience, and delaying the point of the piece starts to feel like a trick. Disingenuous. As if you’re never going to reveal the answer or, right at the very end, you’ll ask the reader to buy the answer in your fabulous new book. It raises suspicion, and that’s anti-engagement.
The teaser technique may seem like the ultimate thrill ride to the writer. A whodunit to keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final paragraph. That’s fine in fiction, but in the corporate world, play safe: Don’t take chances with a reader’s attention.
By all means, tease future information, or let a reader know once or twice that you’re introducing a concept now that will be discussed in more detail in a future section.
You could say “In the such-and-such section, we will discuss …” which means readers can skip directly to that part if they wish. Just be mindful that each “later, I promise” chips away at reader trust. A true fan might be willing to stick it out, but many others will drop off at varying thresholds.
If you find yourself adding too many open hooks, consider revising the piece. Perhaps the structure or flow could be altered or overhauled to cover topics in “real reader time” rather than delaying them.
Deliver on your promises as you go through the piece and readers will reward you with their time.
The Drapes Should Reflect the Decor
Talking of promises, ensure your headline and subheadings are relevant and appropriate for your content and audience. Tabloids are especially good at clickbait headlines that either bear little relevance to the content or, if they do, are misleading at best.
Overuse of sensational title words like “shocking” and “amazing” might well lead to more article clicks, but if readers find the content neither shocking nor amazing, they’ll feel cheated. You’ll erode their trust.
Offering more truthful headlines bolsters the perception of your writing. So instead of setting up your article to be THE BEST THING YOU’LL EVER READ and then not delivering, it’s often better to take a leaf out of the service delivery playbook. Err on the side of caution: Your parcel will be delivered within five days.
When it’s dispatched and arrives in three, your expectations are exceeded, and your trust in the company rises.
Being truthful doesn’t mean coming up with limp titles—far from it. Your titles need to zing to get readers to the first paragraph. Just make sure they’re not outshining or overstating your content.
To help keep your titles relevant, focus on the logical flow of ideas. Shuffle content around to see if it fits better under a different heading. Moving sentences often leads to changing the headings themselves, strengthening the piece overall.
Stronger links between headings and content not only improve human readability and trust that your article does what it claims but also increase contextual search engine relevance too.
More relevance = more trust = higher organic ranking.
Since not everyone will read every word, improving the relevance of content under each heading also caters to the needs of reader variation. If skimmers who primarily look at images, pullouts, headings, and opening paragraphs of each section come away with a broad understanding of your points, you’ve satisfied their needs.
Match Content Length and Tone to Your Audience
Although our attention spans may not be that of a goldfish after all, it’s tempting to write shorter pieces when there’s so much content swamping everyone’s senses. After all, who has time to read long articles? The answer is surprising: Don’t be afraid of longform.
If your content is authoritative and well-researched, people will come back for more regardless of its length.
Those skimmers and scanners who are looking for an overview or specific piece of information on your topic are complemented by the people who want to absorb every word. If you can enrich both audiences by writing in detail, while signposting key information with clear headings in an easily scannable layout, you’ll satisfy a wider spectrum of readers. They’ll return for more of your writing.
Ultimately, the balance of your words must match your intended readership, so pitch arguments accordingly. The language used and level of detail you provide depend on where it’s published and whether you’re targeting academics or laypeople. It can be painful, but don’t be afraid to cut words or tighten sentences for clarity.
Like most things, harmony is key. Walls of text are off-putting and give readers a reason to abandon your article, so don’t give them that reason. If your content needs to be long, there are techniques you can employ to make it seem less daunting:
- Short sentences help to break up longer passages, as they act almost like punctuation. Word glue.
- Short paragraphs make a piece appear more accessible, especially if read on small screen devices that have limited line lengths.
- Relevant headings break up content, as do the occasional image or pull quote to make text easier on the eye. It helps your article feel snappier, even if it’s long. It also aids those skimmers to quickly find information they want.
- Use lists where appropriate, as they’re easy to scan. Just employ them sparingly so your article doesn’t start to feel like an instruction manual (unless it is one!).
Research, Research, Research
People naturally approach content with skepticism; it’s your job to win them over with authoritative claims. If you write a passage where you’re asking people to take your word for something, provide one or more credible sources or testimonials to back it up.
Reliable statistics help too. Along with articles or case studies that support your points, numbers provide concrete details readers can latch onto. If you’re writing for a blog and know that 55% of readers spend less than 15 seconds on a page, then you know what you’re up against. That knowledge determines what you have to achieve to engage people, which in turn drives your content and research (and if it doesn’t, it should).
Good quality sources from reputable news outlets or specialist bloggers indicate that you understand your topic. Readers can tell when writing is lazy or lacks substance, so your diligence shows you’ve put the effort into the piece, which boosts trust.
A common worry is that providing external links will lead people away from your site, and they won’t come back to your content. True, it’s a risk. But as long as your writing is direct and fat-free, readers will finish your work, using the provided links for further reading.
The authority that your own piece gains by linking to relevant sources outweighs the risk of losing a few readers to attrition. Just don’t cite tertiary sources such as Wikipedia or you’ll erode any goodwill you may have earned!
Avoid Bias and Salesy Content Where Possible
This is a thorny topic because depending on the type of content you’re penning, limiting bias may not always be achievable. Product reviews and opinion columns are, by their nature, one-sided.
Since your aim is to provide credible and compelling information that readers love, if your content feels like it has an unnatural or paid-for bias, you may lose reader trust.
Even though you might be arguing or presenting in favor overall, try to weave in fair and balanced information from both sides where appropriate. Acknowledging drawbacks and including counterarguments adds trust to your work, enhancing its credibility because it appears you’re not just bashing something for the sake of it.
Although people may disagree with your viewpoint, they’ll be impressed you considered other angles to arrive at your conclusion.
Where it’s not possible to collect supporting articles that present many sides to your topic, there are still techniques you can employ to boost trust:
- If you’re writing brand copy or a sponsored post, acknowledge that up front. Readers can then approach the article with that mindset, and it doesn’t feel as if you’re tricking them.
- If you’re writing an op-ed or something that relies on your opinion, of course put forward your point of view. Just be careful it doesn’t appear coerced.
- If you’re writing “factual” content such as a cake recipe, acknowledge other approaches. If a trusted cake maker advocates a particular oven temperature for the perfect cake, yet you disagree, link to their recipe, and state why you prefer your approach. It demonstrates you’ve considered other angles.
There’s one situation where citing as many sources as possible might be considered bad. Articles that are littered with links to content on the same website can come across like someone at the back of the room jumping up and down yelling pick me! pick me! It’s distracting, readers smell sales, and their skepticism radar peaks.
Internal linking is prevalent on product copy pieces and may be unavoidable to a degree. In which case, try to limit their number to only those that are the most important to demonstrate your viewpoint.
Spark the Senses To Win Readers Over
For an extra kick, there’s one final approach you can use to capitalize on your audience’s thought processes: psychology. Link your content to emotions, colors, and sounds. It’s a trick that marketers know all about.
Evoking multiple senses and letting readers fill in the blanks appeals to their emotional center. Strong visuals conjure a lasting picture that makes your piece more memorable.
Don’t be afraid to have a little fun, too. It all creates a deeper bond with your work, one that people will feel more compelled to share with their network. And a recommendation from a friend is an incredibly powerful trust signal.
Overcoming the doubters is key. You need to convert readers from wallflowers to active participants. After all, you’re writing for them, so if you can make them see red and that’s the point of your piece, great.
If you’re offering well-being advice and can link your writing with lazing under the dappled shade of a rustling tree on a rolling hillside, then transporting readers to that place in their minds will make your writing stand out.
A picture may paint a thousand words, but a few well-placed words that paint a picture can be just as effective.
Trust Starts and Ends With Truth
Ultimately, you can’t force anyone to read what you write, let alone believe it. But if you present your diligently researched arguments clearly, logically, and in a balanced form, you can slay readers’ natural skepticism.
So before sending the piece off, read it back—out loud—and ask yourself if you find it persuasive. Honest. Trustworthy. Do you deliver on your promises throughout instead of leaving the reader hanging and hanging as you tease future parts? Are your titles and headings all razor sharp and match the content in each section? Have you penned active copy that uses decisive language, backed by credible sources?
If the answer to all those questions is yes, there’s a strong likelihood readers will love what you write and trust your viewpoint. And, more importantly, come back for more of your high-caliber content, time and again.