How reading makes you a better writer

How do you write on a topic without saying what thousands, if not millions, have already said?

How can your content marketing stand out against an entire Internet of content, also talking about what you’re talking about?

By narrowing your perspective.

By “chunking down” into a sub-topic that is of interest to a more limited audience.

By making use of what in SEO is called the long-tail keyword phrase.

The idea behind “Positioning”

I am a huge fan of the book Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. I personally consider it to be one of the best marketing books ever written.

Since this book was first published in 1980, some of its specific recommendations are outdated, but its main point is still valid.

They talk about how when you’re entering an existing marketplace already dominated by others, where there is no way for you to be first, how you need to create a position in that marketplace where you CAN be the first.

The human mind seems to like firsts. We remember them.

To illustrate this point, they use the following example:

  • Who was the third person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean?
  • Who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean?

Only the most die-hard fans of aviation history know the answer to the first question, while almost everyone knows Amelia Earhart is the answer to the second.

That she is the answer to both questions illustrates their point.

I have no doubt that if Al Ries and Jack Trout were to write a version of that book today with an SEO perspective, they would be huge fans of narrowing your perspective, of taking advantage of long-tail keywords.

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The idea behind “Point of View”

This is similar in concept to, but somewhat different from, Positioning.

It’s where you talk about “the same old thing” but from a perspective that you think matters and is being ignored.

Of course, the next question is “matters to who?” and that brings us to the topic of personas.

Other have advised me, and I’ve found this advise to be useful, is to write as if you’re speaking to a specific person who matches the persona of your intended audience.

For information on how to create a persona, I refer you to Creating a Persona—a step-by-step guide with tips and examples.

But… It feels easier said than done

This is likely one reason why the Internet is full of crap content.

So… How do YOU do it?

Good writing starts with reading

If there is something you want to write about, Google one or two variants of the idea, and read the top 30 to 40 SERP results.

This is guaranteed to stimulate your thinking.

Notice how you react

Did something someone else wrote…

  • Trigger a rant?

Or a desire…

  • To explain further?
  • To correct the record?
  • To provide an alternate view?
  • To emphasize something they mentioned in passing?

And go with it

Once you have a reaction to something someone else wrote, you have something to work with. It matters less what the reaction is than that you have one.

Need to boost your topical authority?

A few examples to illustrate

Well, two examples to be exact. One is a more generic topic, the other is a more narrow topic.

Backpain when breathing

While back pain is widespread, this article is about back pain you notice when taking a breath.

First, a few Google search stats:

Back pain is widespread for a variety of reasons, and for this reason, a lot has been written about it.

  • A Google search for “back pain” returned 5.3 billion results.
  • A Google search for “back pain when breathing” returned 570 million results.
  • A Google search for “back pain when breathing deeply” returned 15.4 million results.

By narrowing the focus from “back pain” to “back pain when breathing” they’re narrowing the niche. If they had decided to add “breathing deeply” that would narrow the niche further.

Back pain when breathing

Irish banjos

To me, this feels like a VERY narrow topic. Most likely because I didn’t even know Irish Banjos were a thing.

The article is really about Irish Tenor Banjos, but…

  • A Google search for “Irish banjos” returned 5.8 million search results.
  • A Google search for “Irish tenor banjos” returned 83 search results (not a typo – and clearly too narrow).

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Banjo

So… How broad is too broad? And how narrow is too narrow?

There is no absolute definitive answer to these questions,

Having said that, a search phrase that returns 5.3 billion results is clearly too broad, and one that returns 83 results is clearly too narrow.

Between those two extremes, you need to strike as good a balance as you can between your belief that there is sufficient interest in the topic to justify writing about it at all, and so much interest that whatever you write stands no chance of ever being noticed.

While there are numerous tools to help you choose appropriately narrow topics and keyword phrases, that is beyond the scope of this post, and, not ironically, a topic that has been covered hundreds of thousands if not millions of times already by others.

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Image credit: Four ways how reading makes you a better writer

Kevin Carney
Kevin Carney

Kevin "fell into" SEO by accident, like many others. The SaaS platform to help writers boost their topical authority came years later after various SEOs said it was something they would like to see.

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