Samuel Johnson’s five-step guide to content marketing

One of England’s greatest literary historians, Samuel Johnson had a wealth of advice for writers. And, as it turns out, some prescient words for content marketers

Born in 1709, Samuel Johnson led a rich life plagued by financial complications and health issues but powered by a supreme writing and editing ability. Most famously of all, he compiled A Dictionary of the English Language. Nine years in the writing (he initially boasted he would do it in three – an early lesson that realistic scheduling is key) it remained the pre-eminent British dictionary for the next 150 years.

Johnson also proffered much literary criticism, and it is within those many lines that content marketers can glean these five pearls of wisdom.

  1. “When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

In other words, do your research. Not only in the preparation stage before production, but also by delving deeply into analytics to measure the content’s success (or otherwise). We must also be aware of rapid changes in content measurement – including a growing interest in measuring physical and emotional data.

  1. “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
“A writer who obtains his full purpose loses himself in his lustre.”

Two quotes here to illustrate that writers must be careful to avoid overindulgence.

Content Desk has long been an advocate of sub-editing. A sub-editor not only polishes the essential content into a more free-flowing, stylish read, they also scrape away the superfluous. Content, especially in the digital world, must be concise, focused and relevant. And for that, you need a skilled pair of objective eyes.

  1. “The purpose of a writer is to be read, and the criticism which would destroy the power of pleasing must be blown aside.”

Audience is everything. Content marketing exists to speak to an audience, informing them of a product and service. Top-quality content marketers will have their eyes firmly on the people consuming the content and feedback should be not only encouraged, but demanded.

One such way of getting that feedback is through A-B testing – easily implemented across virtually any digital output, from the smallest to the largest companies.

  1. “One of the amusements of idleness is reading without the fatigue of close attention; and the world therefore swarms with writers whose wish is not to be studied, but to be read.”

Engage, engage, engage. As much as we would all like to believe that our content is so inspired as to grab the undivided attention of anyone who consumes it, in a time-poor and distracted world – with audiences reluctant to face ‘the fatigue of close attention’ – this is unlikely to be the case.

What can you do to increase engagement factors? Could your text end (or begin) with bullet point summaries? Does your headline combine SEO effectiveness with sufficient intrigue? Is there a more visually appealing photo, beyond typical stock imagery?

  1. “There are, indeed, few kinds of composition from which an author, however learned or ingenious, can hope a long continuance of fame.”

Building a continuing relationship with an audience means committing to producing a stream of regular, high-quality content. Quality, of course, will always win out against quantity, but that sense of continuation is vital.

Whether through a daily blog, weekly newsletter or set of themed videos, ‘a long continuance of fame’ can be helped along with a sense of regularity and reliability.

by James Sullivan. Contact him here.

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