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.

Storytelling in Higher Education Marketing

Great stories are all about conflict. Audiences care about stories and characters because they want to see a journey or a struggle to overcome a problem. They also have a beginning, middle, and end and appeal to a larger theme. In a basic way, these are the elements of story that I’m constantly thinking about when creating content as creative director at Circa Interactive, and it’s one of the most valuable tools at the disposable of higher education marketers. So how does storytelling correlate to higher education marketing, especially in the digital space?

Our team is focused on helping university programs increase rankings, generate leads, and build enrollment, and as a journalist and author with a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, I approach higher education marketing from a unique viewpoint. I’m focused on building content that the best publications in the country will want to publish in order to build links and increase program visibility, and attention to storytelling is the key to landing these high level publications.

Media Outreach: Professors are storytellers

Because of recent changes in the SEO industry, Google has placed more of an emphasis on organic and authentic content, and it has caused digital marketing professionals to pay closer attention to backlink quality over quantity. Luckily, because we work with universities, we have access to invaluable content creators: professors. This is where individual faculty members come into play. They are on the pulse of industry trends and research, and while it seems obvious now, they are exponentially valuable as content creators. So our focus has been finding ways to leverage their expertise and tell their stories within the media.

What excites me most about higher education marketing is the access to individuals who are on the cutting edge of their fields. I have the opportunity to interview thought leaders in computer science, criminal justice, engineering, and more in order to  learn about their research in groundbreaking areas (cloud computing, homeland security technology, data mining in sports, and countless others). Our job is to present their research, the materials they teach in class, and their viewpoints in order to tell our programs’ stories in as many ways over as many platforms as possible.

Often, faculty members are more focused on publishing in academic journals, because that’s what will help them reach tenure. They tend not to consider mainstream media, and they write in a different style than publications like the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Ars Technica, PBS, and more. So our job is to help guide them. This is where thinking about story is important. It might help to think about faculty members as central characters in the narratives being told in the media. They are actively seeking answers to problems and conflicts through academic writing and their research, and they are in the middle (in media res) of the action. It’s important to remember that faculty members aren’t just teachers; they are professionals. Most have theoretical and practical knowledge, which makes them the ideal candidate for the media.

For example, recently we helped a professor understand his place in the news. One professor was researching how leadership can help LGBT members in the workplace, and we helped him acquire an article on a major publication where he argued for more direct leadership action among mangers in order to create inclusive workplaces. He was addressing a problem and conflict. This is what caught the attention of the editor.

Another example comes from the tech field. A professor we work with is currently interested in how mobile computing will impact urban life. What he was pointing out was the conflict between the infrastructure of our cities and the updates these urban landscapes would need to handle the projected innovations, while suggesting solutions. The great thing about stories like this is that it’s a large scope, and the changes he’s currently writing about might not take place for another 15 years. This leaves us with a lot more room to tell his story and add to it as it develops.

Once the most relevant and interesting stories are targeted, pProfessors can write articles about the problems they hope to solve with their research. From the creation of these articles, it’s possible to have a link posted in their bio back to the program. This accomplishes several things for marketing purposes: helps increase rankings, builds traffic, and expands the program’s brand. If you’re able to offer ghostwriting services, then this helps with the consistency and volume of articles. (Professors are busy people.)

But the way to accomplish this strategy immediately is to start asking: What stories do my professors have to tell? What conflict or problem are they addressing in the media? And who would care? That final question is important because it helps dictate potential audience and outreach strategy.

The Narratives in the News: Digital PR and Infographics

Right now, the biggest stories in the media are the CIA torture practices; Ferguson and criminal justice; the drop in oil prices and the effect on the economy; and the future of mobile devices and cellular networks. By asking what our professors can add to these stories, we’ve discovered a new way to build links. This is the traditional side of PR that we have incorporated into our SEO practices. We reach out to the media, aware of the current state of a narrative, set up an interview with a reporter, and ask the reporter to include a link if they use their quotes. The reality of this strategy is that some publications won’t put a link and some will, but this has become an important part of our larger marketing strategy, leading to links on publications with high DAs (Forbes, Gov Tech, IB Times, and more) while marketing content to a larger and diverse audience.

In addition to pitching our professors to the media, we actively focus on turning their research and the program’s concentrations into content that connects to the larger stories within the media. Some of our most successful pieces of content have become infographics, and we’ve have had these visual resources published at such incredible places like PBS, Mother Jones, Inc., Entrepreneur.com, CIO, Arch Daily, and many more. We have found that our success is based on access to high-level research and the ability to build engaging and rich stories. Countless marketing professionals use infographics as a part of their strategy, but effective story telling is what separates the quality infographics from the mediocre.

At Circa Interactive, we have created countless infographics on subjects such as juvenile detention, cloud computing, sports psychology, and we’re learned that for an infographic to be effective it’s essential to address some sort of problem (the lack of female computer scientists; the rise in school shootings; the problems facing the smart city) and tell this story with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should set up the problem or conflict, the middle should address some of the ways that this problem is affecting a community, and the ending should conclude the story with a call to action or summary. Once these infographics are created, we then look at where they fit into the larger narratives in the news.

Most marketing agencies know that content is king. It’s a cliché thrown around in most webinars and workplaces, but what digital marketers need to consider is what separates good content from mediocre content. For me, it’s all about storytelling, and in the higher education world, we have access to endless amount of stories and content that any editor, any reporter, or general reader would love to experience. The first step is recognizing that value and then finding ways to take advantage of it.

Joseph Lapin is the creative director at Circa Interactive. His writing has been published at the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, and more.