You're not talking at anybody, you're having a mutually beneficial conversation.

I read anything between 10 and 20 articles on Medium each day. On a particularly rainy day, I could skim around 40, but when it’s sunny, forget it! (Yes, I am a skimmer, but I have a good excuse. I’m curating.)

I can tell immediately what works and what doesn’t. If you already know what doesn’t work, you can skip the following section and go directly to the part about hacking content marketing for better results. See ya there!

All That Doesn’t Work, Sorry

  • Publishing a block of text — be gentle on the skimmers, we’re more than you realize. On a busy day, all we can handle are bites, not full meals of information we might have already consumed — oh — 1000 times.
  • Publishing articles longer than 7 minutes. Apparently, that’s the ideal length. If you think about it, there’s no way you’ll see 12 minutes and think “hooray, something to spend my lunch time on!” Fat chance.
  • Making everyone feel bad. I once published a rant on Medium. Suffice it to say, it didn’t soar. What I have noticed on Medium is that highly inspirational content is preferred over anything else, and if you manage to get your story in Better Humans, you’re golden.
  • Making a general and unexciting list of anything. You know the ones: top 10 things successful people do, best growth hacks of all time, etc. Usually, what I’m looking for is actionable advice. If it’s a replay of 100 other resources, chances are, I’ve already bookmarked them.
  • Articles with virtually no formatting. Again, as a skimmer, I appreciate: bullet points, italics, subtitles, categories, and quotes.
  • Promoting your ass off. When you promote the hell out of your product, you deprive the reader of actual takeaways. The only thing they’ll walk away with from your article is the disappointment of a missed opportunity to learn, and some wasted time.
  • Using ‘I’ way more often than using ‘you’. If you put the focus on yourself, nobody will bother with the rest. The self-centered approach only works in high school. You’re wearing big pants now, so act like it.
  • Begging people to recommend your stuff. Come on, what’s the point? If I like what you’ve written, I will recommend and tweet it. But when I see the big fat “if you liked this article, it would mean the world…”, I won’t.

These are the ones off the top of my head. There are many more.

What Works & What You Can Do About It

Now we’re getting to the exciting part. I’d like to talk about Content Marketing. Do you even do it for your business? Because, you know, it’s not just articles full of keywords and name-dropping and back-links that you can spew 24/7. In fact, I’ve discovered I can produce no more than two quality posts per week, maybe three if I’m particularly inspired.

Thing is, most things have been said and done.

Ask yourself this: do you have something new to say? If the answer is no, ask yourself: does my article provide actionable advice? If the answer is no, ask: is my content somehow engaging, does it entertain at least?

If the answer is no, don’t publish it. Think of a new content strategy.

You see, every time I write an article, I start with a block of text. I write the bare bones that illustrate my point — hopefully in good order — and when I finish writing, my reaction is instantaneous: I can’t publish this crap!

See, the bare bones of an article lack a lot of things, like:

  • data to back up your statements;
  • specific examples that illustrate your point;
  • additional things you forgot to mention the first time;
  • overall focus and coherency of the piece;

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something, then realized it was all out of focus or it lacked helpful points, and got dejected. When this happens, you think that nobody will like your article, but wait! If you give it another shot, you might be surprised how the bare bones can grow skin, and organs, and a whole personality to go with it.

I’ll give you an example of what I did to grow these things:

When I finished I want my emails with extra personality, please! I thought it was just another silly article. I had to add some examples (the creative project video) and the A/B test exercise to make it richer. There was a voice inside my head objecting: where’s the proof?! So I added some.

While the initial draft would have flopped, the final version performed rather well. It was included in cool collections, recommended by awesome people (thank you!), and even started discussions on twitter.

This is the result you want: engagement. Everything you do must be done to this end goal. To achieve it, you need to find your sweet spot. Just try different things, see what works, and replicate it. It’s that simple.

This is a good rule of thumb in content strategy.

Speaking of strategy, there’s one more biggie I’d like to talk about. It’s something that I have found particularly effective.

You’re not talking at people, you’re talking with people.

Have you ever gotten a “omg, I love your articles”? Hope so.

I’ve gotten that comment countless of times. Why? Because I’ve been told I have this “conversational style” everyone likes. I didn’t realize before I was told, but once the light bulb switched on, I saw what the big deal was.

Every writer I have ever been crazy about writes conversationally.

True story.

A few examples are: JenikaStefKristen Lamb, etc.

Those are just a few people who rock at conversing with their readers instead of talking at them. You can tell that talking at someone sounds an awful lot like talking down on someone. I’m not saying I haven’t been guilty of it — in fact, maybe I did it a little at the beginning of this article.

But even if I do something I fear you won’t like, I forgive myself for doing it and try to make up for it with extra quality or extra personality or extra whatever will make you happy. (Making people happy is my #1 priority.)

Now, this all sounds peachy but you’re thinking “I can’t do it.”

I beg to differ.

Anyone can write conversationally.

You can’t do it? Really? Let’s do a little exercise.

  1. Write the bare bones of a new article or pick an existing one.
  2. Imagine you’re talking to a friend. Start writing/editing.
  3. Every time your friend says something, listen.
  4. Insert their objections and agreements in the document. Do it.
  5. Address the objections; enjoy the agreements.
  6. Add questions when it feels right.
  7. Edit the text so that it looks like a conversation with your reader, not your friend. If you think about it, the reader is your friend.

The point of this exercise is to let you see the article you’re writing as an actual conversation, instead of a one-way speech. Most of all, the “friend parts” will help you learn what you think may or may not work, and what parts you need to add/skip. So writing can be mutually beneficial: you learn something, and your reader learns something, too. Everybody wins!

Just make sure your friend is someone very critical. It helps.

As for the questions part, it’s very important because they act like hooks that reel the reader back in when they’re starting to doze off.

Now tell me, how did the exercise feel? Awkward? Ridiculous? I bet you didn’t write a single word because you’re in your lunch break and there’s no way to type comfortably on your smartphone. Or you’re leisurely sitting at your desk, with some free time on your hands, but you just can’t force yourself to do something that feels out of the ordinary.

I’ve been there.

Thing is, my most popular article on Medium is Don’t just learn new skills; learn new ways of thinking. Y’all liked it a lot, so I gather you agree.

Then why would you resist something that could make your content strategy better? In that article, I stated that simply reading things out of your comfort zone (Ryan Holiday agrees with me FYI) will expand the limits of your imagination, your knowledge, and your confidence. Likewise, doing something that feels awkward may be the best decision.

Doing things that feel uncomfortable propels you forward. Doing comfortable things, on the other hand, holds you back.

I can’t tell. Are you nodding your head or shaking it?

Whichever’s the case, I am happy because I have given you a creative exercise that might as well help your business: how’s that for killing two birds with one stone? (Aww, poor birds, now I feel bad.)

So let me know if this helped and show me your results! Thanks. ☺

Violeta Nedkova

Violeta Nedkova is a multipassionate marketer who loves helping people. She talks and writes about marketing with purpose and personality because it's so much better than traditional marketing.