5 Ways to Keep Your Readers Engaged

The average reader will view your article for 15 seconds or less. You may have drawn them in with your headline, but are they going past the first few lines? Are they leaving your site truly understanding the point of the piece? If not, then why? Even if you are drawing the attention of those who are likely to be more engaged than the ‘average reader’, there are still tips you can follow to ensure that readers are absorbing and engaging with your content. 

Ask Tough Questions

Notice here how I have already questioned you and your articles. Questions encourage curiosity and allow for people to think of an answer to what is being posed. Questions also connect with a reader’s brain and leave them wanting an answer to your question (which is now their question). Ultimately, the reader should leave your site feeling a sense of value from the questions you have posed. Therefore, in order to ask the questions that are going to allow for optimum engagement and readership, understanding your audience is pivotal. 

Have an Opinion

An article that people want to engage with is often one that makes a claim and sticks to it throughout the piece. This should get people thinking about where their thoughts are on a particular issue. This can often lead to positive debate within a certain topic area or industry. That being said, think about your readers here and consider balance on some topics. You do not want to force people away from your site by being overly controversial, but it is not always necessary to sit on the fence. Industry leaders are often the ones with strong opinions, and a great way to showcase this leadership is by getting involved in the comments section on your site or engaging with readers on Twitter.

Ensure the Article is Digestible

This comes in two forms; tone and visuals. With tone, you again need to ensure you understand your audience. Are technical, high-level terms going to be understood? Or are they going to lead to your readers becoming confused? If so, they are likely to zone out and ultimately look for their information elsewhere. Be sure not to become too casual though. If you are posing answers to questions that your readers already know the answers to, then really what value are they getting from the article? As for visuals, you do not want to overwhelm readers with big block paragraphs. Breaking the article down into sections can make the whole piece feel more digestible and less of a task. Utilizing subheadings can also allow readers to skim through the article and get to the section they are looking for.

Use Statistics

Statistics allow writers to support their arguments with convincing evidence. They also enable writers to draw conclusions and argue specific sides of issues without sounding speculative or vague. Stats also engage the readers and get them thinking about the significance of the issues that you are presenting to them. Keep in mind though that the statistics need to be relevant to the the story. Adding them for the sake of it will likely confuse the reader and defeat the purpose; which is to tie everything together.

Tell a Story

People connect with stories. From a young age we are exposed to storytelling and we enjoy it when things come full circle. Tying points back to the questions you asked originally is a great way to do this throughout the article and should be fully utilized in the conclusion. The reality is, when stories are told, readers engage, so if there is the opportunity to emotionally engage with an audience, then seize this opportunity. All the points mentioned in this article can ensure that you are telling your story and that your readers are hanging around for more than just 15 seconds.

George has been part of theGeorge Circa team for three years. He graduated from Plymouth University, England, with a master’s in marketing management and strategy degree. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

The Benefits of Outlining an Article in Advance

Whether you’re crafting a straightforward blog or you’re delving into an in-depth research article, there is a temptation to simply sit down and crank out the copy. Once you start writing, the thoughts will flow, the sentences will arrange themselves accordingly, and everything will come together properly.

Unfortunately, as any dedicated writer or marketer can attest to, crafting effective copy takes a bit of forethought. Prior to writing a piece, it’s important to take a moment to plan out exactly how you’re going to approach crafting your copy–by doing so, you can ensure that your piece will have a cohesive structure, and that you will use your overall writing time efficiently. Here are a few of the key benefits of outlining an article beforehand.

The Theme of Your Piece

The most important benefit of outlining is that it can help a writer to determine the overall theme–or point–of a piece. Let’s say that you want to craft a blog about how Cision is the most effective marketing tool on the market. The first step in crafting this piece is to answer the critical unsaid question: why? Why is Cision the most effective marketing tool? Is it because it helps you stay organized? Or is it because it helps you connect with reporters and editors around the world?

Consider the following sentences:

A) Cision is the best tool a PR rep could ask for.

B) Cision is the best tool a PR rep could ask for because it features an unrivaled database of top reporters and editors around the world.

By addressing the unsaid question, you are able to determine the theme of your piece–Cision is great because it has a fantastic database. Once you’ve established the theme (or the why?), you can then break down how you will explore this concept on a paragraph-by-paragraph level.

Secondly, by addressing the theme, you can avoid burying the lede. A reader wants to know what the point of a piece is from the get-go–this is known as the lede, or the vital point or points that the reader needs to know about this story. In a traditional journalism story, the lede often appears right at the start of the piece.

Let’s say that you’re crafting a news piece about a revolutionary environmentally friendly car. The lede for that story would probably look something like this:

Acme Motors’ new Eco car line, which debuted at the Berlin Auto Show last May, is the most environmentally friendly car on the market, according to Green Car Reports. While most vehicles use gasoline to power their engines, the Eco car relies solely on water as a fuel source.

The lede for this piece lets you know the crucial parts of the story–that the Eco car is unique for a particular reason–right from the start.

A lede can appear in the first paragraph or even the first sentence of a piece. However, if you are not aware of the point of your piece from the start, you may “bury” your lede further down in the copy. This may cause the reader to become distracted or confused, since they may not be clear from the beginning on what the piece is actually about. By outlining before writing, you will establish the point of your piece immediately, and you can then decide how to examine this point in a clear and thoughtful fashion.

Solid Structure

When outlining, you can provide a thorough breakdown of how you will write the piece on a paragraph-by-paragraph level. By doing this, you can ensure that you will use your writing time properly, as you will understand where you need to go with your narrative as you tackle each paragraph or section. When outlining, there’s no need to go overboard: You can craft a detailed structural breakdown that explicitly highlights what you will say in each paragraph, or you can craft a simple outline that only offers a sentence or two regarding your approach within each section. The point is that with an outline, you’ll have a roadmap of sorts–you’ll understand where you need to go with the piece as you write it.

Research: Offering The Right Information

Outlining beforehand is useful from a research perspective, as well. Going into a piece, you may have a rough idea regarding the facts, statistics, or other data you might want to use within the copy. When outlining, you can determine a structural breakdown of the piece–in other words, what you will say in each paragraph–and you can also establish what type of information you will use within each individual section. For example, if you’re crafting a piece about press releases, you might want to include a section about the overall effectiveness of press releases–in other words, do they actually work on a consistent basis? If you want to make the case that press releases are effective, then you need to have the statistics to back up your assertion. By outlining, you can decide what type of research you will need for your piece even before actually begin writing it.

Gaps in Logic

Let’s say you’re making an argument: Press releases are no longer valuable. Your position is a controversial one, so you need to have facts to backup your case. You also need to make sure that there aren’t any obvious holes in your logic. By outlining, you can determine what kind of information you might need for your piece in advance, but you will also have a chance to examine your position from top-to-bottom. You might find during the outline stage that you overlooked a critical point in your argument. However, with a proper outline, you can ensure that you’ll present a solid case to your readers.

Supplemental Imagery or Charts

A good blog or article understands how to convey information in an easily digestible fashion. In other words, when crafting a blog, it’s critical that you present your copy in a way that won’t overwhelm the reader. Large, dense paragraphs might work for an academic journal, but they’re not appropriate for blogs, which are often intended to be read or scanned quickly. With that in mind, you might find at the outline stage that you can break up your copy, or supplement your information, by including charts, tables, or imagery. Determining the kind of images or charts you might need for your piece is far easier to do at the outline stage than the final drafting stage.

A Conclusion

Every good narrative needs a good ending. With an outline, you can develop your conclusion right from the start, guaranteeing that you will present a cohesive narrative structure from the first sentence down to the very last word. Once you highlight the theme of your piece in the outline, you can check to make sure that every section within the article or blog addresses this theme. Ideally, the conclusion reiterates your theme–e.g. Cision is excellent because of X, Y, or Z–and points out to your reader why your main argument matters.

An outline is a compass bearing, offering you clear guidance and direction at every stage of the writing process. An outline doesn’t need to be extensive–it can be detailed, or short and sweet. But by outlining before you write, you can guarantee that you will use your writing time in the most effective way possible.

Stefan Slater obtained his Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Nonfiction from Goucher College. He is a writer with over seven years of content creation experience, and his nonfiction work has appeared in a number of publications, including LA Weekly, Hakai, Angeleno, Surfer, and more. He is Circa Interactive’s lead editor.

6 Tips to Start and Master Your College’s Blog in 2018

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together six useful tips for your college’s blog to become successful. Enjoy!

While you already know that your school needs a blog, the usual roadblocks–time and staffing–are probably standing in your way. Whatever you do, don’t allow these to become constraints. Blogging has the potential to grow your school’s brand, engage your community, and recruit right-fit students to your schools, so it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’re ready to dive in to starting your college’s blog in the new year, here are a few steps to guide your success.

1. Determine a Focus for Your College’s Blog

Many colleges and universities don’t blog at all, and those that do often limit themselves to ones written by the college president, department heads and admissions directors–a pretty narrow focus.  Since your blog will be a traffic-driver and will help to fill your recruitment funnel among other things, put the focus on where you shine: your culture. Showcasing what makes you unique, like the programs you specialize in, your awesome students, and incredible careers of graduates allows you to broaden your focus and bring in students, faculty, coaches, current parents, alumni and others to contribute content.

2. Gather a Group of Dedicated Writers

In order to make an impact with your blog, you need to be consistent about posting. And while it seems simple to assign the task to one person to keep the blog’s tone and voice the same, gathering more content contributors makes it easier to produce content on a consistent basis.

To choose this group, start by polling your community. Ask faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents to share their ideas on posts they’d like to write, or topics they think would be beneficial to prospective and current students and their families, or alumni. Current student bloggers are a great source of content (especially English majors!) as it’s a great resume booster for them to see their work published online, so they’ll love to blog frequently. And, prospective students love to hear firsthand from current students.

Vanguard University does a great job of sharing content from students in a variety of stages and programs to give real-life insight into the student experience (and it looks pretty cool, too!).

An example of how to use student contributors for your college's blog.

A Student’s Guest Post on Vanguard University’s Blog

And while you may want to have different blogs for special programs, like study abroad or athletics, these should be maintained in addition to your college’s main blog. Use a tool that lets you categorize your posts so that they can be dynamically published to all related categories, letting you maximize the impact of your content with less effort.

Remember-it only takes two blog posts per week to improve your website traffic!

3. Create a Content Calendar

Once your group of writers is formed, work with them to create a content calendar that works.

Determine which days you want blog posts to be published, which topics are timely, and which topics are evergreen (can be posted any time.) If you’re only going to blog twice a week, take into consideration that Monday mornings rank highest for visits and Thursdays rank highest for social shares, so focus on those days to get the most traction.

4. Determine an Editing Process

At Finalsite, we use the “press call” concept. Each day at the same time, the marketing team receives an email with all the content that’s scheduled for the next day, including blog posts, and shares their edits with our content marketing manager, who inputs them, and prepares content for publishing.  This system works for us, and now our team expects and prepares for press call each day. Your editing team might be made up of content contributors, marketing or admissions staffers, or others with a critical eye.  

5. Write Simply and with Intent

If your intent is to inform, blogs are meant to be easy-to-read, conversational pieces, but your content contributors might be self-conscious about writing. If your blog is simple and written with intent, it will always be well-received.

Here are few tips for making this happen:

  • Write in lists. It makes content easy to digest and gives readers key takeaways.
  • Write your blog post title first (you can always go back and fine-tune it later!) A title gives your post focus.
  • Write in chunks or sections. Blogs shouldn’t be written like an essay, but should be segmented by different thoughts or ideas.
  • Use a textual hierarchy to break up your post and make it easy to read.
  • Numbered posts are really effective: “The Top Five Reasons to Major in Business,” “Three Reasons Greek Life isn’t What Think it is?”
  • Always incorporate photos in your posts. We recommend one image near the top, and several images throughout the post.
  • End all blogs with a call-to-action.
  • Encourage content contributors to be themselves and use an authentic voice.

6. Share Your Post via Social Media and Subscriptions

“Is anyone out there?” It’s a common fear that you and your content contributors could spend hours on posts that no one sees. But when you follow a few simple steps, your blogs will be seen, appreciated, and shared.

First: Create a way for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. This way, they’ll get the blog posts delivered right to their inbox.

Second: Each time you post a blog on your website, share it on your social feeds. This is a pivotal piece for your inbound marketing strategy! You can also share older blog posts that are still relevant on social media, too! Be sure to always include a photo in your tweets and Facebook posts, as posts with images are more likely to get clicked.

Third: Add links to your blog in the online newsletters that you’re already sending. If you have a monthly newsletter that goes out, include this month’s best posts as a way to drive readership and subscriptions.

Fourth: Use blog posts as inbound marketing content. When sending communications to students in the admission funnel, consider which blog posts you have, and use them as your inbound content. For example, if a student wrote a post on their experience as a student athlete, it would be great to share that with all applicants interested in your athletic programs.

 

Pulling it All Together

Your blog won’t appear overnight, and neither will differences in website traffic — so don’t get discouraged. A blog takes weeks to really get up and running and months to really make a difference. However, with the right people and plans in place, it will quickly become a central piece of your inbound strategy and school culture.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

 Hadley RosenAfter more than a decade working in schools in roles in the classroom, communications and advancement, Hadley joined Finalsite in 2013 as Marketing and Communications Manager. She loves meeting Finalsite’s amazing family members around the world and learning about trends impacting schools. She’s a big fan of travel to places near and far with her growing family, cooking cuisines of all kinds, and working on her French fluency.

3 Tips for Finding Blog Topics For Your Degree Program: Advanced Strategies To Get Your University Organic Visibility

One of the core challenges that many higher education marketers run into is how to increase the online visibility of the programs that they manage. With higher education, and specifically online higher education becoming increasingly competitive, how can a marketer effectively position an online program in front of potential students?

Blog content is a strategy that is part of most savvy marketers arsenal. For years we have been told by industry thought leaders that content is king, and that it is an essential piece of any effective marketing and branding strategy. But the reality is that the online landscape is becoming very crowded. An infographic shared by Digital Buzz stated that there are up to 2 million blog posts written every day! With that much content being produced, it’s not surprising that a lot of it fails to achieve results.

For many higher education marketers, just acquiring the green light to create and post content to university blogs is considered a win. For those lucky enough to have an actual budget for content, measuring ROI from this content is going to be essential to keeping that budget. So how can marketers find blog topics that receives visibility, drives traffic, and helps produce students? Well, there are two elements to a superior content marketing strategy: high quality content creation and effective content distribution.

Today we are going to provide three tips on a very important and sometimes overlooked element of content creation: topic creation. Creating blog content that is in demand, not overly saturated by competition, and relevant to your target audience all starts here. The following tips and tricks can help you research blog topics that can provide the visibility you crave for your online programs.

Keyword Research

This is the foundational step for any content creation strategy. My esteemed colleague provided an in-depth analysis of keyword research back in 2013, and apart from Google’s keyword tool now being called the Keyword Planner, everything else in this article still fully applies today. But with the Keyword Planner name change came some more advanced options when completing keyword research, such as Ad Group Ideas, which is a much more advanced way to figure out how Google makes connections between keywords. For example, if I wanted to produce some blog content relating to health informatics jobs, then I would input “health informatics jobs” into the Keyword Planner. Google will provide me with ad group categories and keywords that it fines relevant and could be less competitive, such as clinical informatics or business informatics.

Webmaster Tools

Back in 2013, Google stopped providing search query data (the keywords that individuals use to find your website). This was a huge blow to the SEO community, as marketers thought that they could no longer research the types of keywords that were driving traffic. Fortunately, Google has allowed marketers to connect Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics in order to share not only basic traffic data but also ranking and impression data. Without getting too in-depth, the main takeaway here is that marketers can now understand the keywords their program websites rank for. This is a massive opportunity for marketers to dive into the data to find long-tail keywords that a program might rank outside the top 50 for, and create new and more relevant content to capitalize on these keywords. Here is a quick guide on how to link Google Analytics to Webmaster Tools, which is the first step in uncovering this data.

SERP Competitiveness

By finding out how competitive the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) is for a specific query, a marketer can quickly eliminate any potential topics that might be too competitive. When perusing the search results, tools such as the Moz Bar can provide some great insight into metrics, such as Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA), for topics that are searched. Depending on the current SEO position of a website, it might be a good idea to set a baseline domain authority that’s viewed as being too competitive when completing this research. For example, the following snapshot provides insight into the competition around the query “big data skill sets in demand.” As you can see, there are some domain authorities in the teens and no .edu domains, and if the search volume warrants it this could be a good area of opportunity for a program.

Finding Blog Topics

Through completing the upfront research of identifying opportunities, search demand, and competitiveness, a marketer can quickly understand where the possibilities are when it comes to blog content creation. This foundation, coupled with the production of high quality content and an effective distribution strategy, will drive the type of program visibility needed for success.

Robert LeeRobert offers a decade of demonstrated digital marketing expertise, and he has provided results to clients both within and outside of higher education while working as an analyst, team lead, and director. He has planned and implemented digital marketing campaigns for a number of large universities throughout the United States, and he leads Circa on all aspects of client strategy. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert led digital marketing teams at the higher education organization Embanet.