February 1

The Zen of Shareability

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By Bryan Johnston

February 1, 2021


The trick to share content online is to have a word total between 553 and 991, and you must post between 7:13 and 8:01am, mid-week. That’s it. That’s the secret.

Wouldn’t that be nice? If only it were that simple.

There are millions of blogs and websites, with thousands being added each day. There are billions of articles and posts on those sites. Rising above the din takes effort, but is by no means impossible. There is no magic formula. There are no shortcuts. But top to bottom, there are some best practices that will increase your odds of being seen and noticed.

Places everyone! Let’s take it from the top…

Headlines Are More Than Just a Hat

Truth be told, your headline can make or break your article. It should never be an afterthought. Many web writers spend almost as much time on their headline as they do on the body. Your headline is your calling card, your introduction, your key. It needs to be short (KISSmetrics suggests six words as ideal), engaging, and intriguing.

Some structures work better than others. While they may seem overplayed, these formats consistently get people to read and share content online:

  • The “How To” Headline (How To Save Money By Building Your Own Car!)
  • The “Top [Blank]” Headline (The Top Five Ways to Start Your Own Country)
  • The Question Headline (What If You Could Grow Your Own Money?)
  • The Benefit Headline (Increase Your Writing Output by 221% with Our New Pen)

Another technique – think of it as an extension – is to evaluate your headline against the 4 U’s – unique, usefulness, ultra-specific, and urgent. A good headline should include at least 3 of them. Spend the time and effort coming up with a winning headline, and you’ve already won half the battle.

Lead With Your Lead

The first paragraph is crucial. With so much out “there”, there’s a lot of competition for attention. Make it count. Your headline pulled them in. Now, start with a bang. Set the tone (funny, quirky, informative, professional) and clearly explain exactly what the article is going to cover. Don’t make them work for it. They won’t.

Make It Chunky Style

Large blocks of text are scary. Study after study has shown that people tend to either skip over it completely, or skim through it without reading much of anything.

The trick is to break it up. Create bite-sized portions via bullet points, lists, short paragraphs (4-5 lines), and sub-headings. Draw your reader’s eyes to important content with bold text and clever framing (lots of white space around it).

If they read it, and it’s good (more on that in a moment), they will share it.

Get Visual With It

Your article needs visuals. It must have them. Photos, videos, charts, graphs, and infographics all increase the shareability of your article tenfold. Somewhere in the vicinity of 65% of us are visual learners. We’re visual creatures. We’re drawn to them. And if they’re engaging, striking, humorous, surprising, or otherwise remarkable in some way, so much the better.

Include visuals. More than one. Enough said.

Make ‘Em Laugh!

Or cry. Or feel awestruck. Or get angry. “Good” content appeals to emotion. And we are much more likely to share content that moves us in some way. Research has shown that positive emotions are better than negative, and “high arousal” emotions are best of all. High arousal emotions include hate, anger, awe, frustration, love, excitement, joy, and anxiety. Appeal to one of those – remembering that positive is better than negative – and your reader will definitely share your article.

On the other hand, “low arousal” emotions such as boredom, depression, contentment, and relaxation tend to elicit no response from us whatsoever. No sharing for you.

Just Ask!

An oft-forgotten trick to getting more shares for your content is to ASK your readers to share it. It’s astonishing just how effective this “technique” can be. A quick request appearing at the bottom of your article is often enough to get nearly 100% of your readers to pass it along. Include a few sharing buttons like Facebook, Twitter, G+, and tumblr (and thereby remove any difficulty), and your odds increase even more. Just. Ask.

Practical. Useful. Interesting. Surprising (ideally in a positive way). These are the touchstones. If your article appeals to at least one of them, and you follow the advice appearing here, you’re well on your way to a sold-out run. Include a story or anecdote if you can. Your article will be read. Your article will be shared. And sharing is caring (as we all remember from kindergarten).

About the author

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a high school junior & a Portuguese water dog. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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