Not every topic is considered ‘interesting’. In a culture where witty words and bitesize stories top the viral charts, making your dry content stand out can seem impossible.
We all understand the value of creating engaging content, but how do you achieve this when your topic is regarded as dull?
What are dry topics and why are they so hard to write about?
Dry topics are usually discussed in industries where a higher level of expertise is needed to understand the content. Examples include the medical and financial sectors.
Heavy jargon and a lack of personalization are common traits of dry content, making pieces harder to write for a more generalized audience.
Content writers need to inject creativity into their work, searching for unique methods to make their writing stand out. This can be more difficult when the topic is dry and – at first glance – doesn’t allow for a high level of creative freedom.
However, breathing life into a topic doesn’t mean the original message gets lost or the seriousness is disregarded. It’s about writing fluently and with flair so your content is more likely to be well-received, understood, and remembered.
What is quality content?
To understand how to make dry topics engaging, we first need to acknowledge what ‘quality’ content is.
Google use the phrase ‘beneficial purpose’ within its search quality guidelines, which defines content quality in reference to the user intent. It’s often teamed with the term ‘helpful’, and “quality raters shouldn’t just consider if the page could be helpful to someone, but if it is a beneficial page to have on a site or in the search results.”
Beneficial purpose is an addition to Google’s existing Page Quality (PQ) metric, which determines how well a page achieves its general-purpose – sharing information, selling a product, entertaining, and so on. Pages that have beneficial purpose and achieve this receive a “Highest Quality” score on Google’s PQ rating.
For content to be considered helpful, it needs to be easily understood and memorable. In regards to dry topics, this means making the content as approachable, meaningful, and relatable as possible. If this is achieved, the reader is more likely to share the content as a source of trusted information and Google will regard it as ‘quality’ content.
Measures of engagement
Engagement measures aren’t always the best reflection of how good your content is. Many marketers look at the session length, concluding more time spent on a page is evidence of a successful post.
However, in a world where video triumphs, this isn’t always the case – a short, engaging video is more beneficial to your audience than a lengthy article filled with overcomplicated points.
The number of pages per session is another contested metric of content quality. If your user is reading multiple other blog posts or information pages afterwards, perhaps the initial one they landed on wasn’t engaging or informative enough?
Instead, it’s best to look at certain behaviour and conversion rates. If your blog is shared on social media, this is a good indication the reader found your topic engaging and helpful. Signing up to your newsletter or a free trial version of your product is another sign your writing has piqued their interest.
How to make dull, dry topics engaging for readers
Turning dry, dull topics or technical content into engaging pieces requires a mixture of approaches. Capture the readers’ attention and make your writing memorable by considering the style, content, layout and format of your work.
Humanize the topic
Beginning your piece with an anecdote relating to the topic immediately humanizes it. This could be done in a number of ways: a real story of how your customers use the product and benefits it’s had, recounting how you came to establish the product and business or recalling an everyday experience which has relevancy to your subject.
Personalizing the topic makes your readers aware of the human behind the content, no matter how dry the subject. Reading about someone’s passions or personal experience with a product or service is contagious, and invites the audience into a shared space they’ll feel compelled to engage with.
Determine the end goal of your content straight away. What will the reader gain from reading this blog about a seemingly dry topic? How is this going to be achieved? Setting clear goals immediately engages your reader because it means their needs have been considered, meaning they’re more likely to stick with the content.
From a client viewpoint, establishing your end goal is also beneficial. Your SEO client can easily see how this content will help and engage their readers, and they’ll understand how you have utilized the targeted keywords to achieve a higher ranking.
Don’t assume knowledge
Assumed knowledge is often given as a reason not to overcomplicate your writing, however, it can also work the other way. Oversimplifying your technical content can mean the reader misses the point, or has to look elsewhere for a more in-depth explanation.
On the other hand, too much jargon can alienate the reader, especially if the terms aren’t explained.
The latter can be considered a result of the False-Consensus Effect, defined as “people’s tendency to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context.” When applied to content, this is the belief that your reader shares your level of knowledge on a topic, and will follow technical terms and long explanations with ease.
Finding the sweet spot between oversimplifying your topic or making it too complicated can be difficult, and will involve trial and error. But it can be done well.
Headings can help – including a ‘what is XXX’ with a definition of your article topic means more experienced readers know to skip over this, while a general audience will find it useful. The same goes for separate boxes with jargon definitions. This way, your content won’t be bogged down by constantly explaining your terms, and readers will have an identifiable place to refresh their memory.
Write like a person
A dry topic doesn’t have to be void of humour or fun. While we don’t recommend using it as a place to try out your latest comedy routine, inserting relatable phrases and metaphors can make the subject less heavy. Just make sure they are all within reason and appropriate for the subject matter and audience.
Break it up
Many of us feel overwhelmed when presented with long paragraphs of text, particularly if it’s a subject we know little about. This means we’re less likely to read it. Having lots of shorter sections encourages the reader to stay on the page and helps them retain the information.
If your content must feature a lot of technical jargon or complicated points, break up your content. Having bitesize chunks of information is easier for your reader to digest the content.
Use visual aids
When creating your content, consider that most people will be viewing it on their phones. Visual aids fit with the type of mobile content we’re used to (in line with social media trends), and help convey dense or figure heavy information.
Charts, graphs and infographics are stylish and user-friendly ways of breaking up your dry topic. They can also be saved and shared.
With the rise of video, especially among younger internet users, consider if your topic could be repurposed into a different format. Content repurposing into a video, downloadable eBook, or even Twitter thread or LinkedIn article means your usually dry topic takes on a new lease of life and reaches a wider audience.
Tap into trends
Finding creative ways for your product or service to relate to popular or trending content is a brilliant way to make your dry topic more engaging. For example, Netflix’s real estate show Selling Sunset (2019) could be a great backdrop to chat to your customers about planning permissions – not usually a ‘glamourous’ subject!
Research your audience
If you’re finding it difficult to avoid overcomplicating your topic, a little bit of research can go a long way.
How are your audience, or those with less knowledge, describing and analysing your subject? What are the key points and terms readers are seemingly having problems with? How can these be simplified? You could use your social media to help, by asking your audience to describe a difficult term in as few words as possible. The results may shock you.
Reframe what your product or service does, encouraging the reader to consider how it could shape their future. ‘Human-centred design’ is the latest buzzword to come out of Silicon Valley, and is “the idea of designing solutions, tools, and technology that fit around the way humans think and behave”. Explain how your FinTech company – usually a mystifying area – is adapting to this by making money management and investments more user-friendly.
Case Study: QuoteSearcher
QuoteSearcher is an insurance broker based in the UK and, as you’d expect, doesn’t produce typically engaging content.
However, their usually dry topic was given an intriguing spin as part of a digital PR campaign. They used data from a survey commissioned to YouGov, which helped create a dedicated landing page. The content discussed SMEs’ opinions on the then-recent EU referendum.
The landing page featured a bespoke, full interactive graph, which allowed multiple datasets to be cross-referenced at one time. Headlines from the research with follow-up information allowed for quick, bitesize insights. Graphs and imagery were used to illustrate the data and findings.
As a result, the campaign got coverage in international and national newspapers (The Independent, Daily Express, International Business Times, etc.) with a digital reach of 190K and an offline reach of 1.1 million. The QuoteSearcher website gained high authority links and brand awareness increased, especially among the target demographic. DA of the site also increased, and natural links from quality sites were achieved.
While the main focus of this campaign was PR focused, QuoteSearcher incorporated some of these approaches to ensure the landing page was engaging and memorable.
The fact that QuoteSearcher’s findings and information from the landing page were used in widely circulated publications is evidence of how the business managed to turn a typically dry topic into an engaging piece.
It may be harder to write about dry topics, but it’s certainly not impossible!