improve your writing with these two crucial components

I once asked on social media:

What’s your biggest challenge when creating compelling content?

I didn’t treat it as a poll with various challenges. I wanted pure, unfiltered responses.

And the number one answer was:

Keeping it original and interesting.

So, let’s talk about that today.

Meaning + fascination

The two elements that lead to reader engagement, social media sharing, and the “gotta have it now” impulse are meaning and fascination. But you knew that from the subhead.

Let’s unpack each a bit.

Meaning: This is the informational aspect of your content that your regular readers, listeners, or viewers expect from you. This is also a topic that matters to the prospective audience you’re trying to reach through social media sharing.

Another way to think of this important aspect of your content is relevance. Content must be highly relevant to your existing and prospective audience, but I prefer meaning, as it implies an extra level of value that makes people treasure you.

Fascination: The fascinating element of your content is where your creativity shines. It’s the fun, shocking, or entertaining aspect of your content that makes people pay attention and share with their friends and colleagues.

Often you’re using an analogy, metaphor, or simile to make an associated connection between something cool and an important topic that might otherwise be pretty boring.

Not only does this attract and hold attention, it also aids in comprehension and retention for your audience, which in turn increases your subject-matter authority with them (because they actually learn something).

Here are two examples from Copyblogger (meaning in italics, fascination in bold):

How I Became a Better Writer Thanks to Distracted, Hungover College Kids

This article took a highly improbable source of fascination to deliver the meaning readers of Copyblogger seek — how to write better.

5 Things a Bad Dog Can Teach You About Writing Good Copy

It’s pretty easy to spot the meaningful and fascinating elements in that one, right?

(Don’t fear) fascination

Many people, especially in professional services or conservative industries, are afraid to go out on a limb and throw in that fascinating aspect. I’d argue that these are the types who have the most to gain from breaking out of stodgy convention and shaking that moneymaker a bit.

You can get a lot of mileage out of industry inside jokes and references that are completely obscure to outsiders. Remember, you don’t care what anyone else thinks other than your target audience.

And from post to post, you may only bond strongly with a small segment of the people you talk to. One article speaks strongly to some, the next to others.

The point is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone.

Bonus points if you got that the subhead for this section is a terribly clever Blue Oyster Cult and Human League reference: (Don’t Fear) the Reaper + (Keep Feeling) Fascination.

Also, if you have to explain your terribly clever reference, it’s too obscure. Clarity matters more, no matter how cool the author thinks it is. ?

Ultra-meaning can be fascinating

It’s true that you can intrigue people with an overwhelming amount of relevant meaning, to the point that it becomes fascinating in and of itself. This is the realm of list and how-to articles that go viral on sheer value alone.

The key to this type of engaging content is specificity. The more specific the value you promise and provide, the more fascinating people deem it.

Check out these examples:

Hopefully you feel the same way about this article.

Yep, this is also how you write great headlines

In each example I’ve given, you can spot the intersection of meaning and fascination from the headline alone.

That’s why meaning + fascination = the secret to engaging content and great headlines.

Remember, the title of your article is simply a compelling promise of what your content offers. When I say write your headline first, I mean come up with an intersection of meaning and fascination, reduce it to a working title, then deliver on the promise by crafting the content.

If you find you can’t deliver on the promise, you’ve got to scrap that idea and find another.

Don’t strain to make a bad analogy work; simply look for another pairing of meaning and fascination — they’re everywhere once you understand what you’re looking for.

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on April 7, 2011.

51 Comments

  1. Randy Kemp says

    Brian:
    Meaning and fascination – 2 good concepts to latch unto. Speaking of fascination. What’s happening with the radio show? Are you putting it on hold for a while? Will it start-up again? I miss the podcasts.
    I always like headline writing concepts being covered. Good stuff today.
    Randy

  2. Brian Clark says

    New radio show tomorrow. We only took last Friday off because we had two posts to run that day.

  3. Pedro Cardoso says

    Meaning and Fascination are just words. Meaning is a function of the author’s skill (requires practice to improve at it), while fascination is ultimately a function of the reader’s interest (which depends mostly on the context). Both of which are things you can’t much control directly within the limited timespan of actually sitting down to write a single article.
    The one element we can and should focus on for strong and quick results is the writing *angle*.
    From there, it’s all a matter of meaning and fascination, preference, style, skill, know-how, and whatever other buzz words you feel like throwing into the mix. But without a good angle, not even a proficient and talendted copywriter can come up with a great article, as you’ve just demonstrated:
    IMO the present article is really not so good (compared to the usual copyblogger quality level) because there’s not a clear angle to it. Doesn’t feel like you put much thought into this piece, sorry…. and this is coming from a regular fan, mind you.

  4. Brian Clark says

    Pedro, when I talk about fascination, that’s the same as an angle. It’s just a more specific way to define an otherwise vague term.
    Sorry you didn’t like the article.

  5. Pedro Cardoso says

    I’d say the right angle bridges the gap between the author’s intended meaning and the reader’s experienced fascination.
    Don’t be sorry someone didn’t like this article. Look around you, is there anything but praise being tossed around?
    I actually assumed you might find a bit of criticism refreshing, for a change!

  6. Brian Clark says

    I don’t mind criticism at all. I did put a lot of thought into the article though, I’m just getting more understated in my old age. ????

  7. Susan Daffron says

    Wow, thanks for referencing my post! I’m kind of giddy that my headline was used as an example ????

  8. Brian Clark says

    It was a great headline paired with great content. Thanks for giving me a great example. ????

  9. Susan Daffron says

    Thank you. I’m just blushing now. That means a lot coming from the Headline King ????

  10. Codrut Turcanu says

    Just wondering why I cannot submit comments if I am the 6th person on a thread.
    Could you edit the wordpress commenting settings to accept more comments on the same thread? Cheers.

  11. “How do you get this webinar?
    You get instant access to Magnetic Headlines Intensive (with included manual and slide deck) plus The Premise Guide to Effective Copywriting (73-minute audio seminar and 23-page PDF manual) when you try out our new Premise Landing Page System for WordPress.” – Brian Clark
    I almost bought ‘The Premise’ last night. I’m glad I waited 24 hours. After posting this comment I will buy it.
    On the post, two quotes that I find interesting are: “Keeping it original and interesting.” And “The point is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone.” – Brian Clark
    I’m glad you are back with a bang!

  12. Nick Stamoulis says

    “The point is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone.” Excellent point! It’s almost never worth it to be all things to all people, it just makes your writing come across as bland. Really dig in and find a specific audience you want to connect with and write for them!

  13. Constantin Gabor says

    I’d like to see some giveaways on Copyblogger.
    How about running a survey on what product to launch next, and give the headilnes webinar for free to three people who take the survey?
    Does this make sense (meaning). It’ll fascinate me if you do it?
    Thanks!

  14. Constantin Gabor says

    Lol… Bad placement of question mark…

  15. Brian Clark says

    We’ve got a big giveaway coming this afternoon. But you have to buy Premise to get those two seminars, sorry. ????

  16. Brian, I bought ‘The Premise’ as I said in my previous comment. I was going to buy it regardless of the gifts, but are the added ingredients that pushed me over. I’m glad I bought it because I need it and love it as well.

  17. Brian Clark says

    Cool Ebuka, I think you’ll love the software. And we’ve got tons more valuable seminars coming for Premise owners only.

  18. Shane Arthur says

    Brian, I think you should give a free copy to the first person who recognizes what a sly dog you are for sneaking a Yes album reference into the title. ????

  19. Brian Clark says

    If I did that, it was unintentional. Which album?

  20. Shane Arthur says

    Which album!? #unfollow. ???? Essential Elements.

  21. Jack Price says

    I agree with Susanna Perkins. I bought Premise, and the webinar with you and Jeff was worth the purchase price.
    I know! You should sell the webinar and give away Premise as a free-prize-inside!

  22. Brian Clark says

    I think the people who spent over 8 months building the Premise software would not like to hear that, Jack. ????

  23. Russ Henneberry says

    Excellent post Brian. It solidifies something that I have been noticing about good headlines and good post topics for a while now.
    I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is and this post explained it nicely so that I will be able to apply it more effectively.
    I recently wrote a post called ‘The “Chutes And Ladders” Guide To The Simple Sales Success Formula’ based on my limited understanding of this concept.

  24. Brian Clark says

    I think you’ve got it Russ. Sometimes it helps to have concrete clarification of the things we’ve already started picking up on. I know I do.

  25. Theresa Delgado says

    Thanks Brian,
    The webinar with you and Jeff Sexton was excellent! It really helped me to get over the mental block I have with writing headlines.
    Your formula of “meaning + fascination = the secret to engaging content and great headlines” is right on. My problem is the “fascination”. I am hoping that as I use Premise this challenge will disappear. Practice. Practice. Practice.
    Question: In using Scribe to review my post, if the keyword is not toward the front it dings you. So how do you balance that with creating Magnetic Headlines?
    “How I Became a Better Writer Thanks to Distracted, Hungover College Kids” would get a good score from Scribe, because the keyword “Better Writer” is near the front.
    My guess is that “5 Things Depeche Mode Can Teach You About Effective Online Marketing” would not get a good “Title” score because the keyword “Effective Online Marketing” is at the end of the long title.
    I know I’m dissecting this to bits, however I’m really trying to wrap my head around this.
    So, I’m thinking that one way to fix this might be to change the Meta Title or maybe the Title I input into All In One SEO (the plugin I use with Scribe)?
    Thank you for a great article – Theresa

  26. Brian Clark says

    Theresa, that’s right. You put your “magnetic” headline on the page people see, and your more search-focused headline in the alternate title tag space with SEO All in One or WordPress theme frameworks like Genesis.
    Even your alternate tag should be compelling, since it’s people who use search engines. But leading with the keywords is farily important in search results, both for the search algorithms and for people who want to be assured that your content is relevant to what they’re looking for.

  27. Theresa Delgado says

    Brian,
    Thank you for clarifying. I need to work on this strategy and think more creatively on ways to achieve great headlines and search results.
    Thank again – Theresa
    PS: @Constantin Gabor – Giveaways?!?! Everyday Copyblogger has giveaways – AKA their daily posts.:) Where else can you find so much valuable information that’s FREE?? (maybe you were just joking)

  28. Vince Robisch says

    Brian,
    Can’t wait to build my next Premise landing page! Oddly enough, one of the suggested headlines in Premise was “The Richard Simmons Guide to Short-Short Stories”. Seriously though, I’m enjoying the product.
    Vince

  29. Brian Clark says

    I think that was Sonia having a bit of fun. ????

  30. Vince Robisch says

    I was just kidding about the headline (I made that one up). Glad to know Sonia and I might share a similar sense of humor! I wasn’t kidding about my fondness for Premise.

  31. Sonia Simone says

    You had me worried, there Vince. “Hm, I don’t remember being on any serious painkillers when I did the Premise education …” ????

  32. Allen Walker says

    Will definitely keep those thoughts of meaning and fascination in mind.
    Thanks for the heads-up.
    I think that when it comes to identifying meaning and fascination, it’s important to engage and understand your audience on a deeper level as well. What are the things that would truly be meaningful and fascinating for them…
    Cool!

  33. accountant finder says

    Great post! Great choice of words, as well. Something that every writer needs to think about when writing. It’s all about the viewers.

  34. Martyn Chamberlin says

    Getting a 404 on the words “analogy, metaphor, or simile.”
    You made my day Brian. You crashed my server, at it rocked.

  35. I mean no offense at this comment — but there are literally thousands of people on the web providing recommendations, advice, education, tips, tricks and techniques about how to write copy that sells, persuades, compels, fascinates, mesmerizes, hooks, convinces and/or brings money pouring in through the mail slot or Paypal.
    My question is this: how do we know who’s giving us the right advice and who’s just putting anything out there to get attention (read: income)?

  36. Another “classic” that’s destined to become a “page”.
    “You’re The Man!” seems to not quite cover it.
    Why is it, Brian, that you write the best damn posts on the planet?
    I should have an audio affirmation made for all of us mere mortals:
    “From now on, I will write a rockin’ Meaning + Fascination headline BEFORE I write one line of the post I’m workin’ (on) for the weekend.”
    Getcha some-o-that Loverboy reference ????

  37. Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 says

    Man, it’s about time you brought your aweseomeness to Facebook! I’ve been off of it for coming up on 90 days now but I’m Saturday I’m back and I’ll for damn sure be clicking “Like”.
    Meaning + Fascination
    Love the way you broke this down so explicitly, yet simply. Writing headlines for SEO while simultaneously grabbing attention has been something I’ve fought and your wisdom on this topic has made it easier for me to put down my gloves and embrace this idea because it gives me the best of both worlds.
    Thank you and congratulations on taking the next step to dominating yet another media!

  38. Content writing can certainly be a challenge at times but this post is a definite push in the right direction. Thanks!

  39. Niall Harbison says

    It really is the biggest challenge. I often wonder if it’s better writing less than more (of course it is). The problem is in my head everything sounds like a brilliant post but in hindsight it probably had limited interest. I’ve no idea how you guys do it here….you write about content all the time and it sounds like the most boring topic on the planet, certainly to write about every day, yet it comes out interesting all the time!

  40. I totally agree with the previous comment that something sounds good in my head, but when I actually sit down to write the post, even I’m bored with it! It’s usually late at night when I get a lot of great ideas, and I think about all of the things I want to say, but when I get to my computer in the morning, it doesn’t come out the way I pictured it, and I end up trying to think of something else to write about. It’s frustrating because I read so many blogs that have multiple posts every day, and they’re all interesting. Where do they find the time to write all of these articles? I have trouble keeping up with a few posts per week!

  41. Andrew @ Blogging Guide says

    Great analogy you’ve got here. I totally agree with you. The mixture of meaning and fascination can really help provide a very engaging content for readers. Thanks for the share. Keep it up.

  42. Clay Morgan says

    This post is one of the best I have ever read on the internet. And I’ve never said that before. Seriously.
    Maybe it’s because my brain just had a big connect on something I’ve been trying to articulate. Maybe it’s because I am presenting at upcoming academic conferences about how to effectively use pop culture to connect with students. Whatever the reason, I will be holding onto this one for a while! Great job Brian.

  43. Mohan raj says

    Nice Write-up. I don’t know how I missed it. Headlines are the most important thing when it comes to traffic apart from content.
    Thank you.

  44. Brian,
    I love the post!
    I discovered yourself and Copy Blogger a year and a half ago. I wanted to write some super geeky and tragically boring photography ebooks. But your advice on headlines and writing changed everything for me. It started me on a new learning journey.
    The fascination aspect has always alluded me though until recently. On a whim, I decided to explain a photography concept in a bizarre way. People read it, liked it, and shared it.
    This fascination stuff really works!
    Thanks for the countless great articles, podcasts, and courses
    Without your help, I would be boring my reader to death.
    Mat

  45. Linda Joyce says

    Hi Brian,
    Great message! Regrettably, meaning + stodgy better describes my realm Fascinating is the missing element that needs work. Thanks.
    Linda

  46. Bill Widmer says

    Brian, you keep impressing me. Your content is just so damn good, man!
    What are some questions you’d ask yourself about a piece before, during, and after you write it to ensure it provides massive value for your targeted audience?
    Cheers!
    Bill

  47. Michael LaRocca says

    If it isn’t original and interesting, nobody’s going to read it.

  48. manju rai says

    Cool Post Brian! Thousands of bloggers are there to present their content but make sure you should talk in a way, so people want to listen. Always try to significant in your conversation.

  49. Anh Nguyen says

    Brian,
    Thanks for this though-provoking article. I always though about writing compelling content but have never articulated what’s the best way to engage your audience in a more personal level. And sure enough what you mentioned about meaning and fascination really adds spice to the post.
    I can see how it can help differ you from everyone else as a write and blogger. Great idea and I can’t wait to apply that on my writing. ????
    Thanks for sharing!
    Cheers,
    Anh

  50. I totally agree with you. It can really help provide a very engaging content for readers.

  51. Katrina Chua says

    Great point Brian! Meaning and fascination is a BIG part to attract your prospect, build a relationship, and make the sale. It’s great to always include in making headlines. Of course, commitment can’t happen in nine seconds, but introductions can.

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