What Makes Content Popular? Take-Aways from March 12 LMA Program

Kerstin Firmin, Creative Manager, The Bar Association of San Francisco

What makes some articles more popular than others? That was the subject of last Thursday’s educational program offered by the Bay Area Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association. The speaker, Adrian Lurssen, VP of Strategic Development and Cofounder of JD Supra, offered case studies and shared best practices for content creators and marketers. Here are some key take-aways:

Your audience members read and share your content on their own terms

Today’s readers reach your content when and where they want to. Your readers may not read your latest article on your website where you originally published it. Instead, they might stumble across it days later, prompted by a LinkedIn post in which a colleague shares your articles, along with a comment that grabs their attention.

In this new environment, you have to earn your readers’ attention. People will not necessarily read your content simply because they know and like you. You have to give your readers a good reason to disrupt their busy schedules to read your content. You can achieve that with the type of content you produce and how you package it (more on that below).

When content becomes popular, it fuels conversation between others and becomes the subject of other people’s conversations. That is the key to popular content. Your readers share and discuss your content on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, spreading your content further. At the same time, their secondary discussions can inform you about what to write next. Their criticism, comments and questions can fuel your future content.

Publishers need to experiment, evaluate, and engage

Experiment with your content all the time – write different types of content, experiment with different headlines, or try new things, like content curation.

Today, major publications like the Wall Street Journal, hire bloggers to curate and package content from around the web, and publish it under their own brand. Such curated content is often packaged as “Top IP news from around the Web”, or “What you Missed Last Week.” It’s is important, of course, to give proper credit to the original authors and publishers when curating content. Done right, curation can be a powerful content marketing strategy.

When experimenting, it’s important to analyze your marketing efforts. Leverage your analytics, especially your referral traffic sources (i.e. people who pick up and reference your content on their own platforms.) For instance, when writers link to your content in their own articles, reach out to them. Typically, an author’s email address can be found in the author bio, along with the article. Reach out to the author, send a thank-you email and introduce yourself. It’s a great opportunity to offer to be a source for future stories.

Content that is popular is timely, readable, and relevant

News-jacking (creating content that comments on breaking news events) is a great way to generate timely content. Also, make your content relevant to your audience. Don’t write about the law – write about how it impacts the people you serve.

Make it easy for your readers to scan your content quickly. That will help them determine whether your article is relevant to them and worth their time. Lists and articles that are broken up with sub-headers are highly readable.

In addition to writing timely articles, create “evergreen” content. While timely content can gain popularity fast, it also fades from view quickly, once the related news event stops generating headlines. In contrast, evergreen content focuses on deeper analysis. Evergreen content is more general and does not specifically mention the players in the news event. Thus, when the news event fades, the content remains relevant.

Don’t give everything away in your headlines

Finally, headlines – the first clues your potential readers see that can determine whether or not they will click on it. Titles should tell readers why they should disrupt their busy schedules and read your content.

However, don’t reveal everything in your headline. Leave a touch of mystery that will make your readers curious. Lurssen offered a great example with the following headline: “Top Ten Reasons to File Your Patent Applications by March 16, 2013” – This headline works, because it tells the reader the content is timely, urgent, and readable. Importantly, the ‘why’ is not answered in the headline. The reader will have to click on it and scan the top reasons to find out more.

Lurssen is an engaging speaker with many real-life examples from his professional life at the digital media company JD Supra.  He supplements the digital with the analog in the form of anecdotes from his father, an “old world print journalist”. To hear these stories and many more examples of his expertise, you’ll have to see Lurssen for yourself – you won’t regret it.

Presentation slides via SlideShare: