Before the internet exploded and became our source for all things content, people turned to print magazines when they wanted to be entertained and kept up-to-date. Print magazines came in a huge variety of specialties, focuses, and styles, and there was something to be had for virtually everyone in between those glossy pages.
Within the last several years, however, the print magazine has been all but exiled to obscurity while the popularity of the internet.
While print publications may not be our primary sources for enjoyable content any longer, there are still plenty of lessons online marketers can learn from the golden era of print magazines.
Content Marketing and the Upside of the Internet
The internet: it has served to connect us to virtually everything, and for that we’re grateful.
While it can be tempting to yearn for days past where print content ruled and glossy page magazines were the crème de la crème of the literary world, there’s no denying the fact that the internet has made publishing easier and more accessible for everyone.
Don’t believe me? Try submitting your most recent article to The New Yorker, and then we’ll talk.
While there’s no doubt there is too much content online and that most of it is bad, there’s also no denying that the accessibility of the content-focused web has given us all a way to hone our skills and develop a personal brand without jumping through the seemingly impossible hoops of the large-scale publishing world.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
While there are dozens of fantastic things about the web, the “free for all” online platform that has created so much abundance that the water has become a bit muddy. Right now, 27 million pieces of content are shared each day, and you don’t have to try very hard to get lost in that sea. Because the web has made it so easy for everyone to have a voice, either through a personal blog, a Facebook account, an Instagram feed, a curated Twitter presence, or even a YouTube channel, it’s become harder than ever before to stand out, no matter how good the content may be.
Yes, we’re living in a time of content marketing overload, and marketers everywhere are scrambling to keep up. Unlike major print magazines, which published only expert-written, carefully reviewed content, the web has allowed everyone to become a writer, which means that, while some of the content you run across online is good, most of it is unprofessional, poorly written, duplicated, dull, or just plain bad.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad content than good, which makes its tough for good content to rank well online. Not all hope is lost, however, and content marketers who are willing to look backward toward print content will have a better idea of how to improve and enhance their online content in this brave new world.
10 Great Lessons You Can Apply From Print to Modern Content Marketing
To improve your content marketing and ensure everything you publish online is exactly as good as the work in your favorite print magazines, follow these tips:
1. Do Your Research
In the days when print magazines dominated the world, research was key. Without good research, it was impossible to land a spread in a big-name magazine, and your career as a writer would stall out until you learned to check your facts and mine great sources. In addition to making your writing authoritative, research also allows you to write original, unique content that captivates your readers’ attention.
While most of us are vaguely familiar with the tenants of good research, doing good research for online copywriting requires real skill and patience. The best copywriters in the world are the ones who are researching all the time. Regardless of whether you’re researching something for a particular assignment or simply mining topic ideas for later content, using an app like Evernote to clip, save, and store interesting pieces of information and organizing it according to the subject is an excellent way to ensure that your research game is stronger than the competition.
Once you’ve gathered your information, evaluate it closely to find the never-before-written-about angle and transmit it to your readers. Not only will they appreciate you for it, but you’ll stand out as an innovative copywriter with valuable, in-depth ideas to share.
2. Seek to Teach
Your primary job as a copywriter is to teach your audience something. For an example, think about any of the essays featured in large journals like The New Yorker or Harper’s. Not only are these articles all beautifully written – but they’re also educational. To keep your audience engaged and ensure the content you’re creating is worthy of notice, you need to focus on being a teacher.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about how to change a tire or breaking the news on Google’s latest algorithm update – unless you’re helping people see the topic from a new angle you’re not doing your job. With this in mind, dig into your topics until you find something that will shock your reader and snap them into paying attention. It’s easy to write content, but tough to write educational content that readers talk about with their friends. Shoot for the latter.
3. Serve Your Content Objective—With Personality
If you’re looking to appeal to a broad and intelligent audience, the objective viewpoint is your best bet. While it’s possible to make a career for yourself as a writer with a strong personality (think Mark Manson or, before him, Hunter Thompson), today’s readers are looking for information first and entertainment second. With this in mind, ensure that the content you’re writing addresses a topic from an objective viewpoint. In addition to providing more value for your readers, this view also allows you to present the facts on a subject without blurring it with opinion or perception.
It’s also important, however, to ensure you write with a unique voice. While this balance takes time and experience to strike, learning to present the truth of a situation while also appealing to your readers’ sense of irony, humor, and interest is a valuable skill that’s prevalent in print journalism but often lacking in the copywriting community.
4. Master Your Craft
Nobody wants to purchase display bowls from a shoddy woodworker, and nobody wants to read content by a copywriter who can barely spell or use correct grammar. In light of this, it’s critical to master the craft of writing and put out excellent content that’s free of any grammar mistakes. In the world of print copy, every piece that gets published goes through several rounds of edits and proofreads and, by the time it makes it to the magazine, it’s flawless.
While the same should go for online content, the fact that marketers are often their own editors makes it easy to put out poor-quality content that’s riddled with mistakes. While this won’t stick a fork in your copywriting career the same way it would a journalism career, it’s a terrible habit to get into, and you’ll have a much easier time being taken seriously if you dedicate yourself to perfecting your spelling and grammar from the get-go.
If you have a hard time correcting your spelling and grammar, hire someone to do it for you. It’s a small move that can make all the difference in your career.
5. Be the Authority
It’s highly unlikely that you’d pick up a niche-specific print magazine and wonder if the author of the first article was really an expert on the topic. This is because any journalist who wanted to land a position in a print magazine would need the credentials to merit it. It’s not enough to be a good writer or to have published content in the past. Instead, a print journalist would need to know the topic intimately, and have the track record to prove it.
This standard is becoming more prevalent in the world of online copy as we speak.
In fact, last year, Google released its 160-page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
While the guidelines covered many topics, two of their biggest focus points were on acronyms known as YMYL and E-A-T.
E-A-T stands for “Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness:” the standards by which Google measures all online content. To rank well in the SERPs, online content must possess high levels of all three. YMYL, on the other hand, stands for “Your Money or Your Life” and is an acronym used to describe a particular set of pages that require a heightened level of expertise and authority. These pages provide critical information about topics (Such as divorce, medical advice, or tax laws) that could have an adverse impact on someone’s life, health, or finances if the writer made a mistake with the information.
While print journalists have long since understood the importance of being authoritative experts on their topics, it’s clear that the world of online content is beginning to demand the same thing, as well.
6. Specify, Specify, Specify
A big-name magazine editor would kick your content to the curb if it used words like “Very,” “a lot,” “big,” “often,” or “heavy.”
These are vague, unspecific words that do nothing to illustrate the topic for a reader or help said reader learn something new.
In light of this, it’s critical to be as specific as possible in your online writing. Including well-researched, current facts, statistics, and figures in your online copy is a fantastic way to make it stand out from the crowd and earn the attention it deserves.
7. Fact Check Everything
A piece published in a major print journal will be fact-checked again and again. This is because readers are smart and publishing a piece with shoddy or incorrect facts is an excellent way to shoot yourself and your publication in the foot.
Unfortunately, online content seldom goes through such a rigorous fact-checking process. Because of this, it’s critical to fact-check all of your online writing as if it were headed out for publication in The New York Times. This keeps you from damaging your reputation and ensures the information you’re delivering to your readers is valuable and trustworthy.
8. Aim for Depth
The difference between an award-winning story about a homeless man and a news story about a homeless man is the depth with which the journalist approaches it. Any topic can be boring if you make it so, but great writers – both online and in print – know that any story can be powerful.
Because of this, it’s wise to learn to draw on human emotions and pull things like tension, sadness, love, and happiness into the stories you tell. This makes your copy more engaging and helps readers access it easily.
9. Slice a Story Into Digestible Bits
If you’re writing great content, it’s likely to be long and involved. In the New Yorker, many articles run for 10,000 words or more, but the key thing that keeps these stories from being boring is the people writing them know how to break up the content into digestible chunks by connecting them to other events, drawing in a large cast of characters, and infusing humor and facts for momentary relief.
Think of it as slicing a pie rather than attempting to eat the entire thing right out of the pan.
It’s more enjoyable and a whole lot less messy for everyone involved.
A good print magazine includes stories from dozens of different viewpoints and about dozens of various topics. To keep your online content fresh, shoot for the same thing. Ensuring diversified content is a learned skill that helps you connect with readers and improve your online copy.
From Print to the Web: Good Copy Carries Over
While the world of print copy may seem entirely different from the world of online copy, there’s plenty to be learned from the glossy pages of yesteryear. Copywriters who take these ten strategies to heart will produce better writing and enjoy more online visibility.
by Julia McCoy