The more complex our digital environments become, the more we need to do to make our content stand out. If you ask marketers or communications specialists about their approach to attract digitally jaded audiences, you’ll probably hear the term or buzz word „Engaging Content“. While the meaning of the wording is clear, the implementation is less obvious.
Creating interesting and captivating content has no generalized formula as it heavily depends on the characteristic of your unique audience. Nevertheless, there are proven principles and rules to consider if you want your content to stand out. In this article I would like to group these principles in a simple 2 pillar concept covering the basics as well as the core of our engaging content approach.
„Engaging“ begins even before your readers start consuming your content. It’s start with the moment when a potential reader selects your piece out of hundreds of alternatives.
To convert a potential reader to an engaged consumer of your content, you first have to guide him or her to your article or post. Unfortunately most of us are so exhausted by the digital noise trying to grab our attention permanently that we became used to filter content in a fraction of a second. These filters however are not very smart as we intuitively select based on what we perceive will bring us the greatest instant stimuli.
According to Hubspot, research reveals that using visuals increases the likelihood that people will consume content by 80%. On a website, users will generally spend much more time looking at the visuals than reading the text as long as it is relevant. On the other hand, cheap stock photography or „decoration-only“ graphics are completely ignored according to an eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group. 
The primary purpose of your headline is to create interest in you content and to grab attention. It’s also your value proposition so that readers understand the benefits of reading your piece of content. It should clearly be customized for the interest of your audience. Ideally it would summarize what readers will learn without to overpromise. Clickbait titles are a very bad practice and will always end up in a frustrating reading experience.
In terms of precise wording, there are proven building blocks for headlines that will increase attention such as using numbers, referring to scientific research or framing a title as a question. Ultimately, what will work will again depend on the unique characteristics of your audience so that over the long term constant refining based on one’s own data will bring the greatest success.
Nevertheless, this Hubspot article is a very valuable starting point to get inspired and to learn about the various types of headline strategies.
People don’t read anymore, they skim. According to research, more than 50% of your visitors will read your articles for 15 seconds or even less. Also, according to another eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group, on an average website people will only read up to 28% of words. An a consequence, skim-friendly, well structured and rather short content is winning.
It’s as easy as this, if your intro is not exciting enough, too broad or just providing background information you better keep it as short as possible or don’t include it at all. The reason is the same as in the paragraph before. If you knew you had only 15 seconds, would you start introducing your ideas or would start throwing out your most exciting findings right away?
The primary purpose of publishing content should be to add value to your target audience. Therefore at the core of your content you must deliver insights that will expand the knowledge of your audience.
Most content online will not be substantially original simply because there is so much already said that it is impossible to reinvent the wheel again and again. And that’s totally fine because often the true personal value of content is not based on the source concept or idea behind, it is much more the application or the new perspective in which we are applying common theories. Simply describing our own experience may shed a whole new light upon a subject for your audience.
If we could measure engaging content based on a single variable, I would definitely say it should be the degree to which content makes us re-think, question or even change are own assumptions. To me, it’s the deepest level of engagement if another person’s opinion stimulates your own approved and fixed norms or frameworks.
Visuals are the key ingredient for engaging content. They not just help grab attention, they also let us process information differently in our brain. If we collect a piece of information just by hearing it, we’ll only be able to remember 10% of it after three days. Alternatively, if we combine the same information with visuals, we remember 65%. The difference between text and visuals is less severe but visuals still beat text. This is mainly because text takes time and energy to be processed by our brain. Essentially, a paragraph is just a little picture where our brain needs to pay close attention to little details of every letter to decipher the words and then combine the individual meaning to full sentence. On the contrary, a video delivers the message instantly.
The more you can make your content specific to an industry or even a niche, the more relevant it will become for this audience. If you can prove your experience in this niche by showing examples that your audience can relate to, you’re much more likely to keep your readers attached. In addition, confronting your viewers with questions that relate to their personal experience will truly involve them and also stimulate critical thinking.
Ultimately it’s all about the value your content provides your audience. If you are able to pair captivating insights with practical usage examples that your readers can put into practice straight away, you managed to leave a mark on your audience.
 Hubspot - 45 Visual Content Marketing Statistics You Should Know in 2019
 Nielsen Norman Group - Photos as Web Content
 Hubspot - 13 Types of Blog Headlines That'll Get You More Traffic
 Buffer - Why We Should Focus on Attention Not Clicks
 Nielsen Norman Group - How Little do Users Read?
 Brain Rules - Vision trumps all other senses