How to Write a Feature Article
I’m going to break it down for you this week. There’s some intense debate happening in webmaster forums about whether social signals outweigh links, and what webmasters should focus on more when building a website. The Panda and Penguin updates have everyone in a tizzy and I’ll lay it out for you – right now is a really confusing time for search marketers.
Everyone’s in an uproar now about Matt Cutts’ comments during an SMX Advanced interview with Danny Sullivan. These are the kinds of articles I’ve been finding plastered on the front pages of sites like Search Engine Roundtable:
After this wave passes, we’ll inevitably be faced with a new update and even more mixed signals. Of course, there’s already mass confusion. Forums are lighting up (again) with frustrated webmasters arguing about the importance of links versus social, like in this excerpt from an exchange in the Webmaster World forum:
This versus that, tit for tat. Links versus on-site optimization versus your Twitter following. The process of figuring out what works is simply exhausting, but I never get tired of this stuff. Love it. However, for those of you who are sick of the noise – those of you who just want to know how to make some great content for your websites that will bring in visitors, I’m going to exercise the KISS technique. This week, I’m staying in the same vein as last week’s post (if you haven’t had a chance to give it a read, you can find it here).
In it, I discussed the importance of community-building as a means for growing and maintaining an audience for your site or blog. I focused on the external things that you must do in order to develop a following – so now let’s talk about how to create content they’ll want to follow.
The Guts of a Feature Post
I wrote about that guy on Entrepreneurs-Journey.com last week. For those of you who weren’t tuned in, he talks about the importance of regularly writing “pillar posts” and sprinkling them into the other content on your site. His take is that pillar posts are articles that are evergreen – meaning the material is never time-sensitive. Someone could read the same article months after you first post it and derive the same value as the very first readers. Pillar articles boost traffic and still enjoy frequent visits long after they’re buried deep within your site’s archives.
I agree with all of this, and I’ve been writing pillar posts for my own sites for quite some time before I stumbled upon the pillar post concept. The only difference is that I’ve been calling them “feature articles” and I structure mine a bit differently.
If you commit to spending a little more time on an article or two each week and consistently include a few key elements, you’ll have a website full of feature articles in no time.
The guts of a feature article, stripped down naked for your viewing pleasure:
1. A great headline and meta description.
The headline and meta description are arguably the most important elements of your article when it comes to search traffic. You could have the most mind-blowing article in the world, and no one would know if your title and description are a real snooze. Your article could hang out on the first page of the SERPs, but if you mess this up, you might as well be on page 14.
To craft a killer title, sum up in one sentence what your article is about and write it down. Then, think objectively about the most exciting way to present the information. Leave something out that the audience would have to read the article to discover or start with a teaser.
If you’re still stuck, try this. For one solid week, as you browse the Web, keep a Notepad file of every article you view online. Jot down the title of each one you read, and once you have your list compiled, review the titles carefully. There’s a reason you clicked through to read each article – and that reason was the headline. Figure out which elements ultimately influenced your click and use the tactics in your own titles.
2. A killer intro.
This, again, is critical. You need to open with a witty hook, something that grabs the reader’s attentions and is perhaps even a bit tongue-in-cheek. The idea is to draw your audience in and hold them there with a vice grip. In the intro, don’t be afraid of using the first person and showing a little humanity. Identify with the reader. And, please, whatever you do – talk directly to your readers. Write as if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with a good friend.
3. A meaty body.
It’s not all about the word count, despite what you may hear in marketing forums. This is one of the most common misconceptions out there, and it drives me bananas. If your article is 1500 words, then you can’t lose, right?
Would you sit through 1500 words of dribble when there’s an entire Internet out there waiting for you? Of course not! Always keep the $10,000 question in mind as you’re writing:
“Is this something that I would actually read… start to finish?”
I’d much rather read 400 words of action-packed content than 1500 words of plain vanilla sludge. However, longer is better – just make sure to pack substance into every nook and cranny of your writing.
You know the basics. Use small chunks of text. Divide your article into sections with H1 headings. But beyond all that, really research what’s out there on your topic before you get started. Present the research in your article, and add rich media from your journey (think screenshots, videos, and images) to present to your reader as a one-stop “highlight reel” of your findings. When it comes to being thorough, your article needs to hit it out of the park.
4. A thoughtful wrap-up.
Add one last section. This is the part where you contribute to the conversation instead of regurgitating the same article that readers can find in a million other places on the Web. And, yes, they do notice when you do that. Add your own unique take on the problem or subject after you’ve presented a complete and balanced article, and show a little personality while you’re at it.
There you have it folks. My method for writing the feature post. Try it out on your site or blog, but remember – these babies take forever to write. And if you get your audience used to them, you’d better keep delivering or you risk losing your edge. That’s why it’s best to start by only sprinkling a few in from time on your site or blog until you’re more conformable with the process.