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7-Point Content Checklist for Getting Traction on Your Next Article

7-Point Content Checklist for Getting Traction on Your Next Article

Andy Crestodina

jeep driving up red rocks

You’re an expert on a topic. Your editor loves the idea. You have a page of notes ready to be turned into your next article. So what happens next?

How you construct that article will determine how well it connects with your audience. Will it get clicked and shared? Will it have a low bounce rate and high time-on-page?

Build it carefully and your odds of success are so much higher.

Notice I said “construct” and “build” rather than “write.” This post won’t help you be a better writer. But it will help you be a better assembler of content elements. Remember the axiom from the golden age of marketing:

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“Great copy is never written. It’s assembled.” — copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz

With Eugene’s words in mind, here is a 7-point checklist for building a better article.

1. A Long, Specific Headline

It’s tempting to write something clever. Everyone loves clever. But your audience is looking for clarity. The reader of your headline is trying to decide whether or not it’s worth the click.

To win the click, write something clear, not clever.

When they see the headline – in their inbox or in a social stream – the reader does a split-second cost/benefit calculation, deciding whether the likely value of reading the article exceeds the few seconds it takes to click (or tap) and scan. Clarity is more important than clever in this context.

Another trick, if you write a long headline, you’ll get more bites at the apple. A five-word headline is less likely to trigger the reader. A much longer, 15-word double headline, has more opportunities to indicate the value of the article behind the click.

Not surprisingly, research by Buzzsumo found that longer headlines are far more likely to drive social media engagement.

number of headline words and average facebook engagements
Image source: BuzzSumo

2. Short Paragraphs

Your article is not homework, assigned by a teacher. Your reader knows where to find similar articles on the same topic. The back button is right there in the corner.

So don’t make it hard on them. Make your piece easy to read. Open up the text and add whitespace with just a few strokes of the return key. Write short paragraphs.

The longer the paragraph, the more likely it is that the reader will skip it. 

Compare these two examples of the same text. Which is more likely to be read?

long paragraph next to short paragraph

Consider making it a rule: no paragraphs longer than three lines. At least not in blog posts. Add this to your editorial guidelines and share with all of your contributors.

3. Bulleted or Numbered Lists

Another bit of formatting that makes all the difference: lists. 

If you write a paragraph that mentions three things, don’t miss the chance to break them out into a bullet or numbered list. Doing so will make the content more scannable to keep the reader flowing through the content.

If the entire post is structured as a numbered list (like this one) then you have the opportunity to include a number in your headline. This lets potential readers know that the content will be scannable, which may make them more likely to click. 

4. Multiple Images

Ten years ago, we recommended adding an image to each article. Today, we recommend adding an image to each article at every scroll depth. 

The goal is to reduce the bounce rate by avoiding any point in the article at which there is nothing of visual interest. No matter how far down the page you scroll, there’s a supportive image, chart, diagram or video.

5. Quotes From Experts

This is an excellent way to add visuals, but also value.

Just as a journalist wouldn’t write an article without a source, marketers should avoid writing articles without expert contributions.

  • Visual interest: Headshots of contributors’ faces.
  • Quality: Additional points of view with examples, stories and advice.
  • Traffic: Contributors are very likely to share the article, increasing social reach.
  • Networking: Reaching out to experts helps to grow the professional network of the writer.

In my experience, it makes the writing and promotion process more enjoyable. Collaborating on content has a direct and visible impact on Analytics in the Fun report.

Fun chart

If only there was such a report. But the best things in life aren’t in your analytics!

6. Internal Linking

Most marketers know that it’s helpful to link from their new article to related content. But very few marketers link the other direction, from older articles to their new post.

So here is another rule to add to your editorial guidelines:

You are not done publishing a new post until you have linked to it from an older post.

These links are important for guiding visitors through your site (to your new content, toward conversion) but also for SEO. Internal links are one of the ways that ranking potential flows through your website. 

chart of internal linking strategies
Image source: Internal Linking Strategies, Orbit Media

Linking to a page helps Google know that the page is important. The link is especially helpful if the words in the link are relevant to the topic of the page you’re linking to.

Consider the text within the following two links:

  • “Click here”: This link doesn’t indicate relevance for anything.
  • “Read this content checklist more more tips”: This link suggests to the search engine that the page you are linking to is a checklist for content.

7. Call to Action

Finally, we come to the desired outcome of the article and of the content strategy as a whole. Great content guides visitors toward action. 

For most blog content, the ideal outcome from the visit is a new subscriber. Blog readers generally have information intent, not commercial intent. There’s virtually no chance that they’ll need your product or service at that moment. But would they like to get more helpful articles like this one? Maybe yes!

Each Blog Has Its Own Voice

Of course, this list should be adapted to fit your editorial standards. If anything from this list doesn’t align with your brand guidelines, skip it. Adapt this content checklist to suit your style and your goals.

And if you don’t have brand guidelines in place yet, we highly recommend creating one using this quick template.

In the end, every content program fits somewhere on a spectrum between formal and friendly.

FormalFriendly
Correct grammar per Strunk & WhiteUse of incomplete sentences, double negatives, start sentences with conjunctions, end sentences with prepositions
Images that add value: diagrams and chartsImages that add fun: animated GIFs, emojis
Semicolons and em dashesExclamation points, ellipses and emojis

Header photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media. He’s an international keynote speaker and the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing.