David Bolton

In my opinion, we don’t read enough. We skim, glance and scroll until we reach a page that captures our attention. But what really makes engaging content when you get down to the bare bones of writing? I would argue it’s the author’s responsibility to tell a compelling story that entertains as much as it informs.

In today’s world, content rules. Whether it comes as a series of beautifully crafted sentences, a combination of letters and hashtags or audio-visual treats for the senses, content is an ever-present participant – and a theoretically welcome member – of our media-centric 21st century.

It really is that simple. Content is what makes the wheels of engagement turn, it is what informs and educates those who want to learn and, ultimately, is what people talk about when they stand at the watercooler.

Good content is readable, great content stands out

To understand why the art of content creation is so important, we should consider what the concept actually signifies. Contrary to popular belief, words don’t appear out of thin air. They are coaxed into being. They need to be nurtured and arranged in such a way that makes sense to readers in the physical or digital world.

In order to truly appreciate why content matters, we should turn our attention to the words of Theodore Sturgeon. An American science-fiction author, Sturgeon famously stated in 1958 that 90 percent of all SF writing was, in the parlance of the times, crud. He then claimed that, by using the same standards that had applied to his particular genre of content, “90 percent of film, literature, consumer goods, etc are crap.”

This is probably not overly shocking. Not every piece of content created will be awesome. The economies of scale, coupled with the sheer volume of information that our brains cope with on a daily basis, ensures that we have evolved from readers to a scroll-and-click generation. Our ability to consume or appreciate content relies less on a lengthy consideration of what we are seeing or hearing and more on headlines or soundbites.

Content for commercial storytelling

If you are still reading this blog post, then I have got your attention. That’s a good thing. This isn’t intended to be Lord of the Rings or the print edition of Rolling Stone, but a short gallop through why crafting engaging content should be a top priority for readers and writers.

In 2012, content was the lead tactic for 18.9 percent of global marketers, according to LinkedIn’s Jonathan Lister. This year, that number has grown to 34.8 percent.

Content marketing is now one of the most significant weapons in a company’s armory. In 2012, it was the lead tactic for 18.9 percent of global marketers, according to LinkedIn’s Jonathan Lister. This year, that number has grown to 34.8 percent.

Content is also the bedrock of the social media community and the reason why someone would visit a news or company website. It’s the driver behind how individuals connect with what they need to know.

Google’s focus on rewarding great content marketers

Lurking behind the scenes, we have the mysterious world of search engine optimization. To say that Google has changed the world of content creation is like admitting that Sharknado is probably not a very good movie.

Content Makes The Marketing Magic HappenGoogle makes more than 500 changes to its ranking algorithm every year. The SEO giant doesn’t just make high-profile algorithm updates to Panda or Penguin, but undertakes a series of tiny adjustments that can render a long-standing content curation philosophy obsolete before anyone realizes.

This is obviously a concern for content marketing managers and, naturally, the writers creating the landing pages, blogs and news articles. If we appreciate that the goal of content in a business sense is to get prospective buyers to turn into dedicated purchasers, then it becomes hugely important to get the words right. And how do we do that? By engaging, by making sure content is tailored toward the reader in a form that enhances the message, while at the same time ensuring narrative flow is not compromised.

In many ways, this is not an easy task to achieve. As I noted above, there is an art to creating great content. Journalists and writers use what is known as the inverted pyramid of information to present facts to readers in the most logical order – the lead/most important, the body/critical information and the tail/extra or interesting info. This has been employed by writers since the 19th century and it’s tough to argue with when it comes to digital content creation.

Naturally, this format works well with news. That is not to say that it can’t be used in a variety of other media forms, but in terms of news dispersal and a potential call to action, it is widely accepted as the best reporting practice. And if we allay the pyramid with the critiques of his industry by Sturgeon throughout the 1950s, then the picture becomes clearer.

Take a closer look: Quality really does matter

Companies need to know they are providing the information required in a format that will engage customers. Whether in the form of a blog post, a news feed, a whitepaper or a landing page, the content must be in the 10 percent that Sturgeon admired. The accepted adage that content is king becomes even more crucial moving forward, and it is down to the writer to make sure this is a primary focus.

A recent Brafton blog post by content writer Christopher Davis counselled against boring the audience to sleep with drab compositions. This is undeniable, but not inducing a state of hibernation is only one aspect, especially if we consider that directing eyeballs to a particular website or brand was only the preliminary action.

Our attention spans are disjointed and fractured – we hardly take a deeper look at what we read. This is what 21st century content has become, less an immersive experience and more a quick fix to make sure that we haven’t missed out. However, the speed of life precludes many of us from having the time to truly appreciate what it is we are seeing.