Guest blog by Kate Jillings of Toucan Tech
I’ve written a few hundred online news articles on topics as varied as Pope Benedict’s Twitter Account to the Daily Mai’s bashing of school fundraisers. I’m a far cry from being a poetic writer or a trained journalist, but I have learnt a few tricks if I want my stories to have any impact.
Here’s my 13-step plan to make your news sparkle on the web:
- Carve out a catchy headline – it sounds obvious, but I’ve seen so many bland headlines that don’t inspire people to click-through to read – what a shame! Headlines should be short and punchy, intriguing and include names (people or places or companies) if relevant. Don’t be afraid to use click-bait – “You will not believe what happened at the Cricket reunion event” or “These students have all secured Oxbridge offers, what’s the link?”
- Write a clear introductory sentence – people want to know what they’re investing their time to read – don’t be vague or cryptic in your opening sentence. A concise summary, with the key facts from the article, is a good start – and will help for search engine optimisation (SEO) too.
- Choose a high-impact image – the web is increasingly about images… if you’re an Insta user you’ll understand this! Any news story should be accompanied by a beautiful, arresting or bold image. Avoid grainy or dull pictures or cheesy stock photos.
- Quote people in your story and be charming about them – people (generally) like being mentioned in the news! Quote or reference people in your story and ideally ‘tag’ them to the article (if you have this feature) to involve more people in your piece. Anyone quoted (assuming the reference is positive) is likely to share the story with their social channels – bingo, more eyeballs!
- Quote organisations in your story – this can be particularly effective if you make the company (or their PR team aware) of the article, asking them to re-post, link and share the piece. Companies often have large Twitter/ LinkedIn/ Facebook audiences, which can really help to boost your readership numbers.
- Use a digestible format, like a listicle or ranking – use sub-headings, sections or lists to help break down your story into bitesize nuggets. People typically can’t remember more than 3, or maybe 5, points at a time – but sometimes very long lists can garner attention – e.g. 50 reasons to do an MBA or 12 resources for international GCSEs
- Don’t be too long – 500 to 800 words are the max most people can comfortably read on a screen. Or, let’s face it, for the younger folks it’s more like a quick glance at a photo with a caption or two…
- SEO – not enough space here to delve into the world of Google crawlers, but in very quick summary, it’s helpful if you publish your content on a site with a good SEO structure and if you add relevant keywords to your title and headings.
- Be original – good for SEO, but also better for your readers – cover a new topic, or a different angle, or provide a personal account – anything that’s fresh, unique and hasn’t been written before.
- Appeal to peoples’ competitiveness – online readers often like a quick contest, poll or game – can you incorporate this into your story, or even make it the entire point of your piece
- Don’t be boring – enough said! Fun, interesting, quirky, shocking stories are more likely to be spread…
- Share your story – hopefully your readers will share your article, but you should make an effort too! Which social media groups/ pages are relevant for your story? Who can you email the story to (e.g. in a newsletter)? Which friends or organisations will share the piece on your behalf?
- Repeat, regularly – like face creams and diets, once you have a formula that works for online news, keep doing it! The web moves quickly and yesterday’s stories slip down feeds and email inboxes quicker than ever – so publish little and often.
Kate Jillings is the co-founder of ToucanTech, a community database and website software for schools. She’s passionate about providing a practical and beautiful product and helping schools to run effective marketing, fundraising, alumni and careers activities.