This is a guest post by Victoria Greene, a branding consultant and freelance writer. Take it away Victoria!
As a copywriter, you’ve probably written your fair share of vaguely generic articles.
In the online world, we often see the same topics covered time and again – not necessarily word-for-word, but close enough that you only need read one such article on the subject. Some topics are simply not very interesting to write about – at least, perhaps not to you. But if it’s your job to write about them, how can you take these generic topics and approach them in an interesting way?
Here are 7 techniques that I like to use to give an otherwise generic subject a fresh lease of life.
Related reading: Copywriting formulas: Smart copywriting? Or cheating?
The unexpected comparison
An unlikely comparison that still somehow works makes for a more interesting and fiesty read than your standard point-by-point article. All you need to do this well is to become a master of justification. As long as you can justify why something is like something else, in a few different ways, preferably with examples, then you have a logical thread to follow.
For example, I once wrote an article on Why Designing A Website Is Like Building A House. Because in many ways it is – you have to find the right location (hosting), you have to make plans, you have to consider efficiency and usability, and you need to know when is the right time to get professionals involved. It’s obviously not exactly the same process, but there are enough parallels for the article to make sense and have value.
The unexpected comparison allows you to have a little more fun as a writer. Look around you for metaphors, patterns, or interesting points of comparison. Have a go at pitting surprising things against each other to add a little more flavour to your writing.
The time limit
Maybe you’ve been asked to write an article about a generic topic, such as how to reduce belly fat, or tips for becoming more productive. These articles don’t really need writing – there are thousands of them out there already. But here’s a thing: people are lazy. We all want to have flatter stomachs and higher productivity. And we’d all rather have these things sooner.
So if you’re writing an article like this, try working with a time frame. Example time frames:
- In Under 1 Hour
- With An Hour A Day
- In Less Than A Week
- In Exactly One Week
- In One Month
- In Less Than 30 Days
- In 3 Months etc etc.
The time frame makes the task feel more achievable and concrete. And it means you have to condense each task or step to its bare minimum, focusing on the quick wins. Considering the vast majority of us are time-poor, working within a time limit is a great way to get more eyes on your content. It can also bring up surprising points of comparison.
The unconventional/cult character guide
Just like with an unexpected comparison, writing an ‘unconventional’ or ‘cult character’ guide to a generic topic instantly makes it sound more interesting. And again, it’s easy to do. All you need is justification. Note: this sort of thing tends to work better for more playful, informal brands.
This BuzzBlogger article, The Oprah Winfrey Guide to Social Media could have simply been called ‘How to Create a Social Media Marketing Plan’. A tired title for a tired topic. Giving it a topical celebrity framework gives this piece a more intriguing and interesting angle.
There’s really no lack of possibilities. And if you can pick an angle that’s relevant to your niche, even better. If you write about beauty products, why not try ‘How to Do Your Makeup Like Kylie Jenner’? Or if you write about film, what about ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Guide to Writing Screenplays’?
You can’t go wrong with a good ‘unconventional guide to …’ – unless of course, you forget to add anything unconventional. What about The Unconventional Guide To Freelancing, or The Unconventional Guide To Getting Signed By A Record Label for starters?
The personal story
One way to be sure you are covering fresh ground is to tell a personal story, or at least include relevant anecdotes. Even if you’re experiences are not entirely unique, it’s more interesting to hear about what someone else went through than what might happen ‘in theory’. Plus, you will have legitimate examples to back up your points.
Because humans love storytelling, hearing a first person perspective is a great way to draw readers in. So what can you add of your own personal experience to the generic article you’re writing?
To give an example, I recently opened an Oberlo dropshipping store. According to all the studies that I researched in advance — this should have been a smooth and easy process. But of course, even the simplest process in theory can throw up obstacles in practice. Obstacles like customers struggling to find what they want (even when it’s right there in front of them), print samples not coming out as you expect them to, and even one unhappy customer airing her grievances publicly on social media.
Instead of putting a PR-friendly spin on everything, I opened up online about the challenges I’d been having with my store. I shared real and raw outtakes of my entrepreneur journey (like the 2 AM blog post writing or the time all my shipments went out wrong). It was a great way to make topics that have already been covered like a million times seem more fresh and engaging.
As well as going into detail about how tough the entrepreneurial journey can be, I added cool storytelling elements to my product listings in order to help them stand out. I went into detail about how the products could themselves become part of someone’s life and personal story. A story is a great way to create a more direct relationship with your reader.
It’s helpful to share real-life experiences of what works and doesn’t work. This is how we learn. Your experiences, whether good or bad, could prove useful reading for someone else. At the very least, it stops you churning out an identikit piece of writing.
Messing with formats
An article isn’t the only way to cover a topic. And frankly, sometimes it’s not the best way. If lots of content already exists about your given generic topic, can you take that information and present it differently?
What if you took that information and turned it into some sort of graphic? Does it lend itself to a table or diagram? What if you could make it into a short video or podcast? Buzzfeed has a habit of using memes and GIFs throughout its content – silly yes, but their traffic speaks volumes.
You can also use tone to sound different to other generic articles. Perhaps write more conversationally, breaking the copy right down.
There are lots of written formats to play with as well – numbered lists, step-by-step guides, how-tos – don’t let yourself feel constrained by everything that has gone before.
Picking a thing
Generic articles are often so-called because they skim lightly over a subject, without really getting into the nitty-gritty. They provide an overview. So if you must cover a certain topic that has been done to death already, why not take one element and write in more depth about that?
Say you want to write about digital marketing. Pick just one element of that – maybe Facebook Advertising. You can then break that down even more, perhaps looking at split testing, sequential advertising, social ad formats, analytics, or whatever.
The more niche you can go, the more expert you will appear. And it gives you leeway to write several different articles, all about digital marketing, rather than just the one.
Finally, another way to liven up a generic topic is to newsjack – make the subject relevant to something else that’s happening in the world right now and is already on people’s radars.
As I write this, here are a few things that are happening:
- Trump appeared to forget the words to the National Anthem
- North Korea is considering sending a team to the Olympics
- Oprah Winfrey made an electrifying speech at the Golden Globes
- Scientists have developed a bionic hand with a sense of touch
It’s worth noting that news material should be used sensitively. Don’t use an emotional story to make a frivolous point in the name of getting clicks. But done right, it’s a great way to jump on pretty much any bandwagon you want to get involved in. Did I mention justification?
For example, based on the events above, you could write something relevant and timely such as:
- Lost For Words: Cognitive Impairment & Other Causes of Poor Memory
- The Oprah Winfrey Guide to Sensational Public Speaking
- Electric Cars & Bionic Limbs: The Bright and Crazy Future of 3D Printing
So for your own sake and that of your readers, next time you are handed the most generic brief of your life, I urge you to consider unusual ways of presenting the information – even if at first glance it seems impossible.