First, an apology.
You have just been victimized by a bait-and-switch maneuver. Despite the title of this piece and the misleading image of our sixteenth president, this blog post has no connection at all to Mr. Lincoln. I shamelessly appropriated him to lure in readers. I was committed to the acronym “ABE” and his image just popped into mind.
So: sorry for the deception. If I apologize at the start, that makes it all better, right?
On the other hand, if you are here for a discussion about writing better online content for your law firm, medical practice, or other small business: welcome. Tip your hat to President Lincoln, and pull up an armchair.
There Are Two Arguments Embedded in Each Content Piece You Write
Every content piece you write is really an argument. We do not mean “argument” in the sense of a quarrel, but rather a series of reasonable claims that build together toward a convincing conclusion. In fact, I would contend that every piece you post online contains two arguments: a logical argument that develops the theme of your subject matter, and a hidden, emotional argument that has nothing to do with the subject.
If you do it right, the logical argument should persuade your reader that a specific claim you make is true. That claim—your ultimate conclusion—may be as varied as any of these:
- It is a very bad idea to ignore early signs of hearing loss.
- It is urgent to be checked out by a doctor if you strike your head after a trip or fall accident.
- There are effective treatments if your toddler is having difficulty walking.
- There are three things it is important NOT to do if you are considering bankruptcy.
That is all very straightforward. What you may not have realized, though, is that there is a second emotional argument that runs through every content page on your website. Surprisingly, this argument is the same for each page. It addresses the reader’s attitude toward the writer, and it generally runs something like this:
- Wow, this guy (in a non-gender-specific sense) seems to know a lot about this topic—and that is good, because it is a topic I need to know about right now.
- This guy spent a huge amount of money and time to get an advanced education, yet he is sharing what he knows generously.
- Because of his intelligence and kindness, I am starting to trust this guy.
Trust. That is the key word here. The intellectual part of your content draws in readers, but the attitude you display in sharing information-rich content builds trust and converts readers into potential clients.
Trust is the true coin of the realm, and helpful web content is how you mint it.
The ABE Principle Revealed
Foster Web Marketing endorses the idea that you should keep your business website fresh with a steady addition of exciting new content. However, just sticking words on the page is not enough. It is essential that your articles, FAQ answers, and blog posts speak to the needs of your audience: your content must be richly informative, in order to transmit the emotional argument and win the hearts of your readers.
Thus, the ABE principle: “Always Be Educating.” Your writing should be leavened with information, case examples, and facts you have learned throughout your years in your profession. Of course, you should not browbeat your readers with statistics and other data—that will just drive them away to other websites. Mastery of expository writing means learning just how much proof you need to supply to keep the reader engaged and moving forward.
We could analyze written material at the level of paragraphs or even individual sentences to see how they contribute toward the “Always Be Educating” goal. If you take the time to do so, you will find that you are making three different piles of written content:
Reports of personal experiences—your own, those of your clients, or those noted in the news media—will be the foundation here. Supplementary material may come from polls, government records, scientific research, medical studies, and many other sources. The effect of all this evidence will be to ground your essay in fact.
Data alone does not make up an argument. A major part of your written effort will be to show how one fact relates to another, connecting the data to form a coherent and persuasive viewpoint. Sentence by sentence, you weave a framework that steadily carries the reader forward. Sometimes, you will use words and phrases that explicitly show the reader how ideas relate to one another; these transitional words include for example, also, given that, although, then again, however, and many, many more. At other times, the clear meaning of the sentence will forge a connection between key ideas.
And finally, we have a pile of sentences that look pleasant, appeal to the senses, and have the same nutritive value of cotton candy—which is to say, essentially none. What I call fluff sentences are often generalities, common knowledge, or unquestioned assumptions. These may provide bulk to an essay, but don’t further the mission to educate the reader. That is not to say you must purge all fluffy sentences from your content; a few general sentences can be overlooked as part of an introduction, for instance. However, when fluffy writing dominates an article, it can sabotage the purpose of informing readers. Too much fluff and the work falls apart.
You want examples of bad, overly generalized writing? I have been collecting these treasures for a while:
- Dog attacks are more common than people may think and result in victims suffering serious injuries or death.
- Unfortunately, teenage drivers are inexperienced and sometimes lack the judgment to make responsible driving decisions.
- Losing a loved one in a wrongful death incident will likely be a difficult time for your family.
- The evaluation of a medical malpractice case must be thorough.
- You can’t really ever be completely prepared for a truck crash.
- Independence Day is often filled with alcohol, grilling, and fireworks.
- There can be many causes of an aircraft accident.
Your opinion may differ, but I did not find that any of these sentences deepened my understanding of the topic, nor did they provide a transition from one fact to another. They are all platitudes. They take up space without advancing the argument. They are dead words that represent a waste of the writer’s time—and the readers.’
Is Your Web Writing Focused on Educating?
Getting grammar and spelling right aren’t enough anymore. Today’s standards dictate that content for web-based marketing must be informative and engaging. Evidence is essential. So is the transitional material that gives a framework for interpreting the evidence. “Fluff” and other filler, by contrast, interrupts the educational mission and should be avoided as much as possible. Your mantra as a writer should continue to be, “Always Be Educating.”
This isn’t an easy task. If it were easy, people would be lining up for the privilege of doing it.
The people at Foster Web Marketing understand how challenging this job is. We love to share tips and ideas to make it easier for you to produce interesting and informative marketing content. You can start by reading our FREE report, The Foster Web Marketing Clients’ Guide to Great Content. Then, if you have any questions, contact our writing gurus by phone or by using the Get Help Now box on this page.
We would love to give you a helping hand, and we think Mr. Lincoln would approve, too.