What the heck happened?
You had a brilliant idea for your blog.
You spent days (or even weeks!) bringing your idea to life — editing, tweaking, and perfecting every syllable.
You used every promotion strategy and technique in your arsenal to ensure the world would know about your blogging masterpiece.
So when you laid down to sleep that first night, you were certain you had a winner on your hands — the kind of content that could stand the test of time and be spoken of with reverence years later by adoring fans who named their firstborn after you.
But faster than you can say “Keyser Soze,” your content was — poof! — gone.
After its initial wave of popularity subsided, your masterpiece faded into the background as newer and newer content popped up.
Instead of standing the test of time, your content was forgotten.
And the only adoring fan willing to name their firstborn after you was your spouse.
What the heck happened?
The Painful Truth: Most Content Will Disappear Into Obscurity Days after Hitting “Publish”
It’s sad but true.
Most online content, even when it’s excellent, is quickly forgotten.
Sure, it may be popular for a little while. For a few glorious moments, it may be flush with laudatory blog comments, congratulatory emails, and social media love.
But, eventually, its popularity fizzles out.
With two million new blog posts published each and every day, only a select few are able to stick in the minds of readers.
How do these select few do it? How are they so memorable?
More importantly, how can you repeat what they do so your content has a chance to still be remembered years from now?
That’s what this post will teach you.
The 5 Crucial Qualities of Unforgettable Content
If you want to create content that people will remember and reference for years — not just days — after you click publish, you need to give it one (or more) of the five qualities we’re about to discuss.
Let’s get started.
Quality #1: Gives Readers an “OMG!” Moment
Remember the end of Se7en when Kevin Spacey’s master plan was revealed?
Remember when your mouth dropped open after Darth Vader made the shocking (and often misquoted) revelation that he was Luke’s father?
Remember how stunned you were at the end of The Sixth Sense when you learned that Bruce Willis’s character had been wearing a toupee the entire time?
These movies caught us off guard, jolted us to attention, and got us talking.
And years later, we’re still talking about them.
Why is that?
They’re quality movies for sure, but there’s more to it.
As Chip and Dan Heath discuss in their book Made to Stick, our brains filter out consistency in favor of focusing on differences.
So instead of remembering by-the-numbers movies that end exactly how we expected, we remember the ones with unexpected twists and surprising revelations.
Those are the stories that stand out, stick in our minds, and get us talking about them.
How does this relate to starting a blog?
If you want your content to be remembered, try surprising your reader.
It’s a tried-and-true method for crafting content that sticks.
How It’s Done
Have you ever come across a headline that stopped you in your tracks?
Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants is such a headline. It’s surprising, different, and catches you off guard.
But it’s nothing compared to the surprises inside the post.
The first revelation is that James Chartrand is actually a woman; however, the big discovery is why she took and continues to prominently use the name James Chartrand as her pen name.
She explains how a simple name change was able to take her from a struggling freelancer to a well-known blogger.
While the result was unintentional, she reaped many benefits from taking on a male persona — an easier time getting jobs, more respect for her work, and more recognition.
Undeniably, the post is brilliantly written. That makes it great.
But it’s the surprise factor that makes James’s post so gosh-darn memorable.
How You Can Do It
Creating surprising content is not an easy task, and it requires a well-thought-out idea to achieve it. But here are two ways you can get it done:
#1. Drop a Bombshell
Do you have a secret your readers would find surprising?
You’re a travel blogger who’s never flown on a plane? Do you blog about healthy eating but stuff your face with cake on a weekly basis? Are you a fashion blogger who once wore an orange tuxedo to a charity gala?
Tell your readers. Give them your reasons. Get them talking.
#2. Break the Norm
Let’s be honest… Most tips, advice, and strategies you find online — regardless of the niche — are unoriginal. You’ve seen them before, and so have your readers.
Want to surprise your audience?
Offer them unconventional advice they haven’t heard a thousand times before. Give them a truly new idea or insight. Provide a simpler technique or shortcut that makes them cry over all the time and effort they wasted doing things the regular way.
A surprising revelation doesn’t have to be extraordinary or outlandish for people to remember it.
Sometimes, it just needs to thwart you reader’s expectations.
Quality #2: Overwhelms the Senses (Including Taste Buds)
Remember the final scene in Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella has a catch with his dad?
You can hear the sound of the baseball hitting their gloves. You can smell the grass on the field. You can feel Ray’s years of guilt melting away as he closes his eyes, smiles, and tosses the ball back to his dad.
(Be honest. You’re crying right now, aren’t you?)
Field of Dreams made you feel like you were in Ray’s shoes, on his field, playing catch with dad. The scene creates such a vivid experience for viewers that whenever they think of playing catch, this scene will come up alongside their own childhood memories.
That’s the power of content that overwhelms your senses.
When you paint a strong scene in your audience’s mind, you make it easier for them to pull it back up from their memory. You’ve essentially bookmarked it for them so they can easily find it when something — a sight, a smell, a sound — reminds them of it.
And the precious few bloggers who can paint such scenes with their writing have been rewarded for their efforts.
Rewarded with tweets. Rewarded with email subscribers.
Rewarded with posts remembered long after their publish dates.
How It’s Done
The trick is to use descriptive language that conveys sensations and lets readers experience what you want them to gain from your writing.
Few writers are better at this than Jon Morrow.
In his post 7 Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything But His Face, he uses descriptive storytelling to help the reader get an idea of what it might feel like to be him; specifically, what it’s like to live with a disability.
Had he simply told his readers facts, the points in Jon’s post wouldn’t have resonated with them the same way.
So Jon puts the readers in his shoes. The ups, the downs, and everywhere in between.
And they remember him because of it.
How You Can Do It
If you’ve taken a good English or writing class, you’ve probably been told a time or two to “show, don’t tell.”
This means you want to create an engaging experience for your audience; not just tell them what you want them to know.
But it also means giving your readers specific, concrete advice.
Your reader shouldn’t try in vain to grasp abstract concepts, such as building courage or showing kindness. These are hard to visualize and too vague to put into action.
What would building courage look like? What would showing kindness look like?
Give them concrete actions to take that would display these concepts, like asking someone out on a date (courage) or hugging a stranger (kindness).
You must engage the senses both in the stories you tell and the advice you give, or they will both be quickly forgotten.
Here are a few more specific ways to create engaging, sensory-overloading experiences:
#1. Paint a Mental Picture: What Do You See?
It isn’t enough to tell your readers there was a scary house in your neighborhood when you were a child. Describe the house to them in vivid detail.
What shade of gray was it? Were the doors boarded up? Precisely how many ghostly figures did you see staring at you from the upstairs bedroom windows, and how many are standing behind you right now?
#2. What Do You Hear?
We listen to uptempo songs to push us through cardio workouts. We listen to rainfall when we’re trying to sleep. We listen to Justin Bieber when we want to punish our neighbors.
Want to transplant readers into your world?
Talk about the drip, drip, drip of the faucet. Mention the squeaking floors beneath your feet. Describe the awful music coming from your next-door-neighbor’s house.
#3. What Does it Taste Like?
Does the beach air taste salty? Is the roaring fire so intense you can taste the smoke? Is the smell of your roommate’s tuna fish sandwich so strong you can taste it from across the room?
Tell your audience. Make them taste the fishiness.
Quality #3: Coins a Contagious Catchphrase
“The quicker picker upper.”
“The ultimate driving machine.”
“Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
Unless you’re one of the precious few whose brains haven’t been inundated with advertisements over the years, you probably recognize these slogans. You also probably recognize the companies that created them.
That’s what a great slogan, phrase, or title can do.
They’re memorable. They differentiate the brand. They often outline a key benefit.
If you want your content to have a chance to stay relevant for years to come, present something that’s novel and — this is key — condense it to its essence.
The end result will be a phrase or idea people will immediately associate with your content.
How It’s Done
The post 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly created an idea that was short and sweet: you can make a living doing anything if you have just 1,000 true fans.
He defined this simple, brilliant idea and then spent the rest of his post explaining why it worked and what you had to do to make it work.
Written in 2008, Kevin’s post is still remembered and referenced all these years later.
Because the phrase “1,000 true fans” condenses its concept into a simple, catchy phrase. And that makes it easier for people to remember and repeat in conversation.
Brian Dean does something similar in his post The Skyscraper Technique, which teaches a useful link-building strategy for beginners and veterans of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) alike.
After naming his technique, Brian breaks it down into easy-to-follow steps so his audience can quickly get what they need from his post.
The technique is fairly simple and its title, again, is quite catchy.
You can grasp the concept of Brian’s idea simply by its name. You can visualize it. You can close your eyes and see it in action.
And that helps make it memorable.
How You Can Do It
Ask yourself a few questions…
What is your post about? Can you boil your main idea down into a memorable phrase or title? Does it present a unique perspective or technique? Does it address a real need or concern many people can connect with?
Your phrase should be simple and leave an impression on your audience, whether that’s giving them an “aha” moment or simply piquing their interest so they’ll be curious to hear what you have to say.
And once you have settled on a memorable phrase or title, feature it prominently. Include it in your headline. Repeat it, as needed, throughout your post.
Quality #4: Strips You Down and Lays You Bare
If you really want to write a post that resonates with people, you need to connect with them on a deep, personal level. You need to strip your defenses and show your vulnerable side.
This not only sets you apart from all the regular, straight-laced content your audience is exposed to, it helps you relate to them in a way that’s meaningful.
Why do you think Taylor Swift is so popular?
It’s not because she has a better voice than everyone else. It’s not because she’s seven feet tall. It’s not even because she frequently posts pictures of her cat on Twitter and Instagram.
It’s because her lyrics connect with her audience.
From teardrops getting on her guitar to shaking off the fact that haters insist on hating, Taylor often shows vulnerability in her songs.
This vulnerability endears her to her fans. When they look at her, they see a seven-foot-tall version of themselves. They see a kindred spirit.
And you don’t forget kindred spirits very easily.
How It’s Done
Jon is masterful at showing vulnerability.
In his post On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting for Your Ideas, Jon recounts the story of his mother’s tenacity in the face of his condition, which his doctor labels terminal.
He does this beautifully by telling the story first from his mother’s perspective, then from his own, and — lastly — he ties it into his main point: writers have to fight for their ideas with all the determination and love with which mothers fight for their children.
Such an appeal to the audience’s emotions is powerful. It hits home. It’s memorable.
If you want to make your content memorable, make it personal.
How You Can Do It
There are many, many ways you can show vulnerability in your writing. Here are a few ideas:
#1. Open a Window into Your Life
Like Jon does in many of his posts, you can draw your audience in with a personal story.
This works especially well if it exposes you in some way to the reader or helps them relate to you. When you write, you’re asking your audience to trust you with their time and attention.
Show them why they should feel comfortable trusting you.
#2. Reveal Your Intentions
Do you have personal reasons for writing your post?
Be candid with your audience and tell them why the subject means so much to you.
It’s easy for your audience to see you as just another faceless entity trying to sell them a product or idea.
Break this image by showing them your human side.
#3. Expose Your Fears and Anxieties
Are you writing about a problem or worry your audience has?
Let your readers know you are (or have been) in the same boat they are and show them how that makes you more qualified to write about it.
Quality #5: Breaks Your Reader’s Lenses
We all view the world through lenses.
Some are very specific…
“I’ll vote for whichever candidate lets me have chickens in my backyard.”
However, most lenses are common. They shape our thoughts, passions, and widely-held beliefs on everything from sports to religion.
But what if one of the things you’ve believed all your life was turned on its head?
If you want to write content that people will remember in five years, you can’t just give readers random facts.
You need to hold up a mirror so your readers take cold, hard looks at themselves.
You need to challenge something your readers hold dear.
You need to change their worldview.
How It’s Done
Few concepts are as ingrained into the American way of life as the eight-hour workday.
That’s why Leo Widrich’s The Origin of the 8-Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink It, which attempts to debunk the eight-hour day by showing how it wasn’t a well-thought-out or highly-optimized number, is so intriguing.
Leo doesn’t offer the reader a new number as an alternative. Instead, he says what his reader should be concentrating on is focus; specifically, how well they are able to focus on the task at hand regardless of how much time they have to complete it.
Another way to change worldviews is to expose your readers to the reasons why they hold the beliefs they do. A great example of this is the post Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think.
Written by Tim Urban, this humorous piece takes the audience through a history lesson that tells them why they care so much what people think, and then guides them on how to overcome this crippling fear.
We’re constantly trying to overcome fear of rejection and embarrassment, so a post telling us why we (foolishly) fear such things definitely hits home.
How You Can Do It
Challenging people’s views isn’t easy, but here are a few ideas to help you do it.
#1. Demolish Beliefs That Lead Them Astray
Look at the commonly held beliefs of your readers and see if you find any of them to be faulty.
Ask yourself question like:
- “What do my readers believe about X that’s untrue?”
- “What often-repeated tips and strategies in my niche are — how to put this delicately — extremely stupid?”
- “What beliefs keep my readers from achieving X result?”
Once you’ve found something faulty, write about it.
That’s what Derek Halpern did when he tackled the “Content Is King” mantra.
It’s what Dries Cronje did when he told bloggers that posting every day was a silly strategy.
And it’s what Jon did when he shot holes in many of the traffic-building techniques used by beginner bloggers.
Demolishing your readers beliefs in a direct, honest, and non-condescending way is an effective strategy for creating memorable content.
#2. Put Your Readers in Someone Else’s Shoes
A great way to get into your readers’ heads and change their perspective is to present them with a story — whether it’s a real one or a metaphor — and challenge them to ask, “How would I feel if … ?” or “What would I do if … ?”
Just think about your favorite books.
The best are ones where we put ourselves into the shoes of the characters. You’re not reading The Three Musketeers, you are The Three Musketeers.
It’s you who is fighting with swords and having swashbuckling adventures.
And once you’re in their shoes, you can more easily see things from their point of view. Suddenly, you’re not viewing the world through your lens. You’re viewing the world through theirs.
That’s what a great story can do. It draws you in. It flips the “sympathize” switch and turns it to “empathize.” Flip that switch in your reader and it becomes that much easier to flip their perspective.
It’s Time to Craft Everlasting Gobstoppers of Memorable Content
With dreams of fame, fortune, and world domination dancing through their heads, ambitious bloggers pour their hearts and souls into content they hope people will remember forever.
Unfortunately, most bloggers have no clue how to craft content readers will remember after their morning cup of coffee.
But you do.
You now understand the five crucial qualities content needs to be memorable. To be spoken of with reverence years later by adoring fans. To stand the test of time.
The days of being dumbfounded as you watch your latest blogging masterpiece fade into the sunset are over.
Are you ready to create content people will still talk about in five years?
Then what are you waiting for?
Let’s do this thing.