When I started copywriting, I was introduced to the idea of the Power of One. It essentially says: Have a single good idea and follow it all the way through your piece.
There’s a similar idea called the Golden Thread.
Originally meant for sales letters, the Power of One and the Golden Thread became central to my copywriting style because I was primarily a long-form sales letter writer.
More recently, I’ve expanded to chiefing content for brand marketing campaigns. And I’m seeing some strange things…
No Power of One…
No Golden Thread…
Instead, I’m seeing a great idea that starts… and stops. And then another good idea that starts… and stops. And another one. And another one.
So I double checked the format to see if the article was meant to be a listicle (an article that lists several ideas under a single topic meant for quick perusal).
Alas, not a listicle.
But the format still looked familiar. What was it? Tell me if this looks familiar:
- Supporting Idea
- Supporting Idea
- Supporting Idea
Yes, it’s the trusty high school essay format. I still teach that format to my kids today when I’m trying to help them organize their ideas into a coherent thought.
Unfortunately, this format isn’t conducive to:
- How people read today
- How Google indexes information
How People Read Today and What Writers Can Do About It
More and more people are reading on their mobile phone. In fact, if you see someone reading on a laptop, desktop, or *gasp* a printed book, it’s a bit of a shock.
These days, it’s very challenging to hold someone’s attention long enough for them to read a 3-point essay style article because the ideas (while related) are distinct from one another.
This gives the reader it’s okay to stop reading when the first idea ends and they see that bit of white space between paragraphs.
So as a writer, you’re facing at least 4 additional challenges previous generations of writers didn’t have to deal with:
- Short reader attention spans
- Readers who are micro-searching for answers in spare scraps of time
- Small screens (no much luxurious 8.5”11” pages to stretch out upon)
- Formatting meant to please the eye that implies, “Sure, it’s okay to stop reading whenever you see white space or a new subhead.”
So what can you do? Take the trusty essay format and update it for modern readers (which btw, has the handy side effect of being automatically optimized for Google search).
Instead of having one article with 4 related ideas, break the article into 4 mini articles that are linked together.
The result is a content cluster.
4 Google-friendly Advantages of Content Clusters
Content clusters have several advantages.
- Easier to rank. Google can easily index each article because you stuck to one idea.
- Reader empowerment. Readers can have a choose-your-own-adventure moment and only click on the sub-ideas that interest them.
- More engagement. You can keep readers on your site longer by giving them the freedom to engage with the content.
- You can say more about your topic. A standard essay is 500 words total. Current best practice for search optimized articles is a minimum of 300 words each. That means you could write 1200 words on your topic, even at the minimum, which is much more appealing to both the reader and the writer.
Best Way to Turn a 3-point Essay Into an Engaging Content Cluster
The content cluster structure looks like this:
Article 1: Cool big idea with links to 3 supporting articles.
Article 2: Cool supporting idea with link to Article 1, 3, and 4.
Article 3: Cool supporting idea with link to Article 1, 2, and 4.
Article 4: Cool supporting idea with link to Article 1, 2, and 3.
This structure can be harder to visualize as the writer but it’s infinitely easier for the reader to use.
To make things easier for you, here’s the process I suggest:
- Map out the article the way you would a traditional essay.
- Write a rough draft.
- Write a headline and subheads strong enough to stand as their own articles.
- Break the draft into 4 articles and lengthen the copy as needed.
- Omit the conclusion and replace it with a call to action.
- Cross-link to the other articles in the cluster.
- Link out to articles you used as references.
- Work with your graphics person and web expert to get the article live and looking great.
That’s it! The most important thing to remember is writers can increase readership by changing the formatting to align with how people read. Why go to the trouble? You have great ideas! Let’s make sure people read them.