Twenty years ago, the Internet was a bit like the Wild West: wide-open frontier, full of possibilities for the adventurous and danger for the unwary. Oh, and it took about as long for a website to load as it did to take a stagecoach from Deadwood to Silver City.
Nowadays, the web has been tamed, and having an online presence for your business isn’t something for the mavericks and the speculators, it’s a crucial component of virtually every successful business.
The question then isn’t if your business should be generating online content to edify your existing clients and draw in new ones, the question is how best to do that. Today we’re going to focus on one particular component of successful blog articles, and it’s not the sort of thing you will usually hear when people are discussing how best to maximize one’s SEO ranking via market communications, branding, etc. The underused but absolutely priceless ingredient in content writing is what we would call the “story.”
When we refer to the “story” in this case we’re not necessarily talking about a work of fiction, we are talking about an aspect of writing in general that can often be underutilized or outright neglected by amateur copywriters. The reason this concept may seem strange is that it is so often lacking in the field—the internet is teeming with content articles and sponsored blogs that have no story whatsoever, and are simply a series of facts or claims tied together with a few buzzwords for the search engines to latch onto.
The problem with such content is that while a search engine might pick up on the right keywords and deliver the article to a prospective market, if there’s nothing more to the piece than a dry description of the goods or service being offered than there is a high chance that potential client just went back and resumed their search. On top of all this, search engines are getting smarter, and content that offers nothing more than a barebones description of a business are being shunted right back to the bottom. The articles that are being filtered straight to the top are ones that have something more to them, a dynamism and originality that sets these blog articles apart from their competitors. These are the articles with a story instead of simply a sales pitch.
Let’s put this in the perspective by comparing online content with a more tried and true advertising format: the television commercial. Do you think millions upon millions of non-football loving viewers watch the Super Bowl to find out the facts about this or that new product, or do they tune in to be entertained? People love good commercials because good commercials tell a story. Content articles don’t have to be bland, drab description of something, they can be every bit as original and engaging as a good commercial, and still be informative. These are the sort of content articles that can go viral, and they do this not by utilizing a magical string of keywords but by providing the reader with something they are not used to receiving from a sponsored blog post: real content with real depth. Blog articles can tell a story, even if the reader might not articulate it that way.
The next question, then, is why doesn’t every copywriter take this approach, if it’s so beneficial? The reason is that telling a story can be a lot harder than it sounds, even for experienced copywriters. Just as a skilled mason might not be able to carve a statue or a trained musician might never compose their own music, many perfectly adequate SEO copywriters will look at you askance when you ask them about the story behind any given article. For these professionals, the blog post doesn’t have a story at all; it is merely information that they are conveying as straightforwardly as possible.
Yet for a certain subset of copywriters, anything and everything has a story, even if it takes some work to figure out the best way of turning a new brand of bug spray or an accounting firm into a compelling blog post. A trained writer sees inspiration everywhere, and that can make all the difference between a technically perfect but uninspired article and the sort of sponsored blog post that gets the reader sitting up straighter in their chair and paying close attention. The key is in figuring out what the story is for any given article before it’s written.
As long as writers have been telling stories, interviewers have asked them the eternal question of, “Where do you get your ideas?” The famous writer Harlan Ellison ™ supposedly answered by saying “Poughkeepsie,” and going on to convince the interviewer that he paid a monthly fee to a subscription service that sent him the raw ideas that he then turned into his award-winning fiction. While this may sound like nothing more than an amusing anecdote, it actually demonstrates exactly what we are talking about: Ellison took inspiration from a rather commonplace question to concoct an elaborate and entertaining story. That’s what fiction writers do every time they sit down to tell a new story, and it’s what the best copywriters do, too.
If you are not a writer yourself, it may not seem immediately obvious, but strong storytelling has always been the backbone of advertising. Back when advertisements were being pasted on the walls of saloons the advertising agencies had to tell an entire story with just a single image on a poster, and when these archaic advertisements were replaced by billboards that challenge persisted… but now those days are behind us, too. We currently have the luxury of multi-paragraph blog entries to present to the public, and so we need to take advantage of that space and tell the stories behind our products and services. Every business has its stories, so what is yours?
by Jesse B.