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The biggest challenge that content marketers face has remained for the past five years. The challenge? Creating engaging content. Research from Content Marketing Institute shows that this is a top concern for 50 percent of B2C marketers and 54 percent of B2B marketers -- just as it was back in 2010. It's the central problem in content marketing: If you can't produce engaging content, you will struggle to turn readers into buyers.
The content creation challenge
"People want to consume useful, engaging, and/or entertaining content. The fact that there is a flood of it available will not cause that desire to be suppressed. People will just become selective, and use all the filtering technology that exists out there to manage that flood. "
What makes the situation even more acute is that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to content creation. You can't guarantee that what works on one blog will also work well on yours, or that what works on your blog will also work well on some other channel, which is why you must tailor your content to suit each medium. Furthermore, you can't just churn out content for the sake of creating content, especially when there's so much for people to choose from. Eric Enge from Moz says:
Here are 10 tips to help you wow your readers with content that engages:
1. Know your audience Before you can create engaging content for your readers, you have to know who they are. That's why understanding your audience is the foundation of any content strategy.
Information overload, aka content shock, is real, and it affects writers and readers alike. Which is why it can be hard to create something that feels fresh, new and relevant. Get it right, though, and the potential payoff is huge. Engaging content can:
  • Help customers to trust you
  • Create a relationship that drives more leads and conversions
  • Enhance your authority and build your reputation
  • Improve your search ranking engine rankings
To make this report even richer, add insights from Pinterest analytics, Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics. For example, the analytics data in Twitter gives information about occupation, buying styles, education and much more. This data will help you put together detailed buyer personas so you can create content that's relevant to your audience.
You already have most of the information you need to do this. All you have to do is put it together. If you're using Google Analytics and have the demographics information enabled, you can find out the age, gender and interests of your audience by navigating to the appropriate sections of the Analytics report.
Finally, figure out which social media sites and other sites your audience favors. This will help you to create content that plays to each platform's strengths so that it reaches your readers and makes it more likely that they will share and engage.
2. Find out what performs well The best predictor of what will engage your audience is what's already engaging them. For your own site, you can use analytics tools to find top content or assess how much of your posts people read. A heatmap tool like CrazyEgg will help with that. But it's not just about your own content, as that's not all your audience reads. Check out what's hot by using tools like Google Trends, or by doing a search for content related to your niche on SocialMention or by visiting an aggregation site like Alltop.
Another great tool for figuring out what's popular is Buzzsumo. Not only can you identify the hottest content on your own site, but you can identify that of your competitors,' too, so you can mimic the strategies that are working for them. Use the advanced search features to plug in the URL of a site you want to analyze and the left hand filter tools to set the search period. Hit the button and you'll get the top results for your specified search. See if you can identify any particular themes or topics that you can repurpose for your own niche. And make a note of the popular headlines - these will be useful in the next step.
3. Grab them at the start The headline or title of your content often determines whether you win the battle for audience attention or lose it forever. According to Copyblogger, 80 percent of the people who see your content never get past the title. That's why it's so important to get it right. The good news is you don't have to reinvent the wheel. In the last step, you identified some of your competitors' most shared and therefore most engaging content. Now it's time to put that intel to work. Write a list of the headlines that grabbed you most and see how you could tweak them to be right for your audience's interests. Keep writing headlines until you have a long list of options (CoSchedule suggests at least 10, though 25 is even better). Then analyze those headlines to see which ones are likely to perform best. A great tool for this is CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer which provides in-depth information on how your headline will look to readers, whether the headline is the right length, and how the words you choose are likely to affect readers. You then get an overall score (anything over a B+ works, but get an A and you're sure to have a winner).
4. Tell a story In an age of content shock, compelling stories attract the most attention. People respond to other people's experiences, so when you tell a story, you’re more likely to grab (and hold) their interest. ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg agrees that storytelling matters. He says:
"we’re hungrier than ever for stories that grab onto our heart and refuse to let go."
There are many ways to tell a story, but the most important thing is to make it relevant to and interesting for your readers. To figure this out, ask yourself a couple of questions when you reach the end:
  • First, did you cover the most important elements so that readers understand who and what the story is about and why they should care?
  • Second, and more importantly, does it pass the "so what" test? If it doesn't then your readers aren't going to be engaged.
Even if your brand isn't interesting, you can still tell a good story. The next two steps will help you nail it.
5. Be real Sure, your content is intended to attract your target audience, but the best way to do that is by being real. (Yes, we're back to stories again). You can share real experiences you’ve had or real events and your response to them. And you can engage your readers with information that delivers value to them. Case studies are a good business example. They usually include data (something people love) and tell how a business moved from one situation to another and what strategies they used. You can also be real by creating content to answer readers' actual questions. You can find these questions on social media or on Quora, which lets you see topics that are trending and the questions people are asking. Check out the number of views for each question to know if it's worth spending your time on.
Finally, you can be real by writing the way you speak and addressing readers directly. Don't be afraid of humor, either, as long as you're sure your readers will get the joke.
6. Write it right When you're writing online content, you have to walk the line between being expressive and being wordy. Most web content writing advice says to keep it short and simple, with a single main idea per paragraph. That's OK as far as it goes, but you have to make every word count. That's why the language you choose is so important. An analysis of viral headlines by Ripenn found that:
  • Curiosity makes people keep reading
  • Getting emotional makes people click and share.
  • Bold statements get attention (as long as you have evidence to support them).
A good place to start in tweaking your language is with Buffer's list of popular words that go viral.

7. Add images
If you've been looking at online content for the past few years, you'll see that most content has at least one image and many sites include an image after every couple of paragraphs. They're not just doing that for the heck of it. Buzzsumo's analysis of 100 million articles shows that images are a key factor in virality, leading to more Twitter and Facebook shares (and therefore more engagement). Social Media Examiner agrees. So to engage your audience, add relevant images. In my own limited trial, I've found that having an image near the start of an article or creating an infographic with key points leads to more sharing. Here's how you can quickly create a shareable image with Canva.
Go to the site and choose a template, like the blog header template. Use the search bar to add an image that works for your content or upload your own. Add it to the design, then tweak the words to include a quote from the content or your blog title. Save, download and upload to your content. Once you get used to the process, you can do this in less than 5 minutes.

8. Add video
Video is popular. It's popular with business executives, of which 59 percent claimed they would rather watch video than read text. And it's popular with mobile device users, who are responsible for 40 percent of all video watched. Simply put, video grabs eyeballs and makes people want to share, so it's something to include in your content mix. Good ways to do this include:
  • Recording speeches or presentationscreate an infographic
  • Converting a Powerpoint presentation to a video
  • Using a tool like Animoto or Powtoon to create a quick animated video
In all cases, you can use the video not just as its own form of content, but you can also use excerpts on social media sites to bring people back to your blog.

9. Repurpose wisely
For content engagement, the more the better, so aim to help more people see your content with some creative repurposing. According to Convince and Convert, you can get at least 8 pieces of content out of a blog post, but even if you don't choose to do that, you can increase your audience by:
  • Creating an extended excerpt for sharing on Google+ and sharing sites
  • Pulling out key points to create an infographic
  • Syndicating content to sites like Medium, LinkedIn and Business2Community.
(One of my articles got 10 times the number of views on Business2Community as on the site it was originally published).
10. Be truly social Don't be a link dropper. To get your readers to engage, you have to engage, too. Ask people questions related to your content, then follow the discussion. Or use your content to answer a question on Quora, and stick around to hear what people say. Include niche sharing sites like Growth Hackers and - there are often lively discussions there, and you can attract the attention of influencers, which gives you increased reach.
"Engagement is the primary driver for creating memorable, lasting relationships."
He adds that creating personally relevant content that makes people think is one way to solve the engagement conundrum. What do you think?
Sharon Hurley Hall Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with her on Twitter @SHurleyHall.
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How To Conquer Content Marketing's Engagement Challenge
By Sharon Hurley Hall
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