Before you submit an article to Anthill for our editorial consideration, we highly recommend that you read this page in full. Yes, please read it from top to bottom.
It might be a long page but we’re sure that the recommendations below will not only help you create a compelling, highly-read article for Anthill. They will help you succeed in other areas of your professional life, by unveiling some of the ‘secret’ strategies employed by Anthill to create colourful editorial, attract traffic and build a vibrant community online.
Editorial Suggestions (How to earn an audience online)
- Five ways to make your headline more ‘retweetable’
- Three ways to get your readers addicted (from the opening paragraph)
- Five ways to search-engine-optimise your piece
- Refining your body copy (editorial guidelines)
Technical Requirements (How to upload your article)
The following suggestions were assembled to help our contributors provide content that is compelling for an online audience and avoid some of the more common mistakes made by new and infrequent writers.
Please read this section with an open mind. It was crafted with love.
The suggestions below are based on observations we’ve made at Anthill while watching the ebb and flow of traffic on our website. However, the creation of compelling content is more an art than a science.
So, feel free to follow your own path when it seems appropriate.
This is the most important element of your article if you want human beings to actually read the spoils of your toils.
If you present a headline that stinks, you will radically reduce the number of people who click on the ‘link’ that introduces your piece and you will, therefore, undermine the volume of people who read your piece in full – no matter how fantastic your prose is or how life-changing your content might be.
Online content should be supported by a headline that is clear, compelling and demands to be clicked. Further, a compelling headline will help make your article ‘sharable’. A good article with a clear and compelling headline will be retweeted, posted on Facebook walls, Digg-ed, StumblUpon-ed and shared in a variety of ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.
We refer to this process as ‘making a headline more retweetable’.
1. If you want click-throughs, never use language that is opaque.
Compare these headlines:
“Flight of the starlet”
“Lindsay Lohan Escapes from Rehab”
“Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: An Australian Story”
“How Wotif’s Graeme Wood raised $5 million of venture capital in his sleep”
What you will immediately notice is that the former options are almost indecipherable.
If you were to see a link, read a tweet or receive an email with either of these headlines would you bother to open or click-through? It’s unlikely.
The latter options might not be your cup of tea either but at least you can make an informed decision. This is also why number based headlines are so successful (i.e. “10 steps to make your headlines pop” or “Five ways to make your headlines more retweetable”).
2. If you want to be understood (and found), use plenty of nouns and verbs
The other thing you’ll notice about the latter options is that they include clear subjects (nouns) and actions (verbs).
This is not just good from a reader’s point of view. It also helps search engines, like Google, find your article.
Someone with an interest in ‘Graeme Wood’ or ‘Wotif’ or raising ‘venture capital’ is more likely to type these words into a search engine than ‘Nothing Ventured’. If these ‘keywords’ are featured in the title of your article, search engine algorithms are more likely to isolate this article as something of likely interest to the person conducting the search than if the headline used less specific or generic words, like ‘starlet’, ‘starlet, ‘nothing’, ‘ventured’, ‘gained’ or ‘Australia’.
While there are many rules that a search engine will follow when determining which web pages should appear at the top of its search pages (such as PageRank), it is well know that the headline, title-tag and sub-headings play an important role (See Five ways to search-engine-optimise your piece below).
3. Get informal and invite participation
The fictional headlines above can be improved further by adding an informal invitation to participate.
For example, consider some of these alternatives and extensions to the first sample above:
“Did you know that Lindsay Lohan has escaped from rehab?”
“Have you seen this picture of Lindsay Lohan escaping from rehab?”
“Lindsay Lohan has escaped from rehab. Why was she there in the first place?”
Each of these headlines invites participation from the person reading the headline. This sort of tactic makes a headline exceptionally ‘retweetable’ and clickable because it’s inviting a reaction.
4. Include a judgement-laden proposition
Let’s say that Wotif.com has recently launched a new website. An obvious headline might be, “Wotif.com launches new brokering website for Australian hotels.” In this instance, we’ve followed the rules and included plenty of nouns and one verb. There is nothing opaque about this headline.
But what if we said, “Here’s a retail website that gets it right”? In this instance, we have made it clear that we have judged the site. The inference is that we are inviting readers to participate by agreeing or disagreeing.
We can take this approach even one step further and say, “Here’s a retail website that actually gets it right”. The word ‘actually’ implies that most retail websites get it wrong. And controversy coupled with curiosity is a powerful combination.
5. Prompt curiosity (it’s a difficult urge to resist)
Some headlines are compelling by sheer virtue of the curiosity they instil in the reader. However, creating a headline designed to prompt curiosity in its own right is an almost impossible undertaking, unless you’re a genius or get lucky.
The simpler approach is to tweak your existing headline to create an element of mystery.
The headline above, “How Wotif’s Graeme Wood raised $5 million of venture capital in his sleep” gives a lot away through the use of nouns and verbs. But it also hints at a deeper story that the reader will only get to discover if he or she clicks the link.
To get you thinking…
Here are some of the headlines on the Anthill website that have prompted a high click-through rate:
- Hidden Pizza Restaurant reveals not-so-hidden flaws in Yellow Pages’ digital strategy
- The best three-minute video about leadership you will ever see?
- 8 ways business owners sabotage their success (and what you can do about it)
- 20 dark secrets your computer technician doesn’t want you to know (or is simply too embarrassed to tell you)
- Michael Jackson is NOT dead!
- Now you can get Hulu in Australia (and Stephen Conroy ain’t gonna like it)
- This should hang on every entrepreneur’s wall
- Think Mums and Dads are jiggy with it? Toyota does. [Video]
- The latest hot trend in social media: leaving it
Like all authors, we also often struggle with headlines.
We’re not perfect and don’t always get it right.
However, practice makes perfect and, if you observe these rules, you will soon find yourself creating highly retweetable headlines, often before you’ve even started writing the piece.
In fact, we often recommend to authors that they devise the headlines before starting article. Sometimes an article is built around a retweetable headline, rather than the other way around (i.e. Michael Jackson is NOT dead!)
This is the second most important element of any article, if your goal is to get people reading it.
This should be obvious but most new or infrequent authors seemingly treat this vital part of an article as an opportunity to ‘warm up’. However, readers don’t want to see you doing your stretches. Like all spectators, they want action – to be absorbed, taken on an adventure, from the get-go.
More often than not, we will delete the opening paragraph (or opening sentence) of editorial submissions. That’s right. Select. Delete. And here’s why.
1. Avoid the bland and painfully obvious
We’ve found that most submissions received by Anthill begin with something bland – a phrase or opening remark that is completely unnecessary, such as:
“In an increasingly complex and technological world, social media has become a progressively important marketing tool.”
“In fact, three out of five retirees now use social media to stay in touch with their children.”
Hang on? What was the point of the first sentence? Let’s cut to the chase shall we:
“Three out of five retirees now use social media to stay in touch with their children. What this means for marketers hoping to reach this growing segment is profound.”
Once again, this topic might not be your cup of tea. But you can make an informed decision, rather than fall asleep due to the unnecessary and mind-numbingly obvious statements that characterise the normal opener.
2. Statistics versus Mystery
The example above suggests that statistics are a powerful attention grabber. Often they are. But nothing beats a ‘good yarn’.
Consider the typical business news story on the topic of, say, business insurance.
The predictable author will begin with a statistic and them some obvious prose:
“Business insurance in Australia is a $2.8 billion industry. It is often viewed as a necessary evil. The severe consequences of under-insurance or non-insurance make it one of the most important risk management measures that a business can take.”
Most of this paragraph was paraphrased from the opening ‘teaser’ of a prominent business magazine’s website. The names have been hidden to protect the guilty.
Obviously, there are more engaging ways to commence an expose on the importance of insurance, such as:
“It was 1am on a Tuesday night when the phone rang. Tim Pethick awoke in alarm and panic. The Nudie Fruit Juice founder had recently moved his growing fruit juice empire to a new factory and, so far, things had not run smoothly. He picked up the the phone tentatively. It was bad news. The new assembly-line he had worked so hard to build would not be running on Wednesday. His factory had burnt to the ground. And, worst of all, it was not yet insured.”
The above paragraph is fictional. Pethick did lose a factory to a fire but it was insured. However, the strength of this opening paragraph in place of the one that came before is obvious.
Statistics are strong but nothing beats a good human yarn. But imagine being able to combine the strengths of both.
3. Statistics plus Mystery (with a side of Meaning)
As we’ve already said, if you have an argument that you wish to make, statistics can be an author’s best friend.
However, most people waste the opportunity by presenting statistics or facts that are outside people’s day-to-day experiences and are, therefore, meaningless. They use statistics to shock, rather than help a reader truly understand the circumstances.
In an article from Fast Company Magazine published in August 2009, brothers (and authors) Dan and Heath Chip provide the following hypothetical scenario (In fact, most of this section paraphrases their combined work):
“Imagine that the federal government announces a second-stage bailout in the amount of 703,000 hectoshekels… To assess the bailout, you’d ask: How much money is that, exactly? Is it too much or not enough? For all practical purposes, an $800 billion stimulus package is as opaque as a 703,000-hectoshekel package; we have no real grasp of what it means.”
Many people have attempted to put big numbers like these into perspective. in the film Super Size Me, documentarian Morgan Spurlock mentions a media campaign that encourages kids to eat five fruits and vegetables per day. Its ad budget is $2 million. Meanwhile, McDonald’s annual ad budget for the United States is around $750 million.
That’s a ratio of 375 to 1.
That might sound shocking but it’s inherently meaningless.
But what if I asked you to imagine that your 5-year-old daughter watches three hours of cartoons every Saturday morning and sees two McDonald’s commercials per hour. Every Saturday, then, Ronald McDonald engages her six times. How long will it be before your daughter sees a fruits-and-veggies commercial?
She’d wait about 14 months to see the first one, and she’d have a driver’s license before she saw 10 of them.
When using statistics, don’t forget to put your numbers into a meaningful context for the average human. It’s possible to create intuition without losing shock value, while telling a story.
You might think that this should be our job.
Isn’t search engine optimisation something that tech-heads take care of, tweaking code and refining meta-tags?
That might be true in some cases. But we’ve found that the surest way to get an article read is to get it found. And helping a search engine find a certain piece is fast becoming the role of the author.
We find it crushingly sad when a great piece is ignored by search engines (and, therefore, is barely read) because it did not follow these rules. Sure, we can push your editorial through our email newsletter, Facebook page, LinkedIn group, Twitter feed etc. But links from search engines still accounts for 40% of our traffic.
This section was devised to help you help search engines find your piece.
1. How does Google think?
To understand how you can help search engines find your article (and, therefore, increase the number of people reading it), it pays to know how Google thinks.
The reason why Google is one of the world’s leading search engines is because it was among the first of the search engines to rank web pages according to incoming links. Before Google, conventional search engines ranked results by counting how many times particular search terms (i.e. keywords) appeared on a web page. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin theorised that a better system could be built by analysing the relationships between pages.
According to Google, if a web ‘page’ (as distinct from a web ‘site’) is receiving a high number of incoming links, its content must be of high value. An incoming link, in this sense, can be viewed as an endorsement of the page. The more incoming links, the more endorsements that page has received, therefore providing a strong indication that the content on the page is of good quality.
Of course, this is an over-simplification of the process.
If some of these incoming links are coming from other pages that are also recipients of a high volume of incoming links, Google considers these endorsements from these popular, highly-endorsed pages to be of higher value than a regular incoming link. Incoming links from a highly endorsed page will provide an even stronger indication that the content on the page is of good quality.
It’s like comparing an endorsement from 50 random football fans versus one Nobel Laureate.
Page and Brin called this new technology PageRank, where a website’s relevance was determined by the number of pages, and the importance of those pages, that linked back to the original site. Page and Brin originally nicknamed their new search engine “BackRub”, because the system checked backlinks to estimate the importance of a site.
In other words, Google locates web ‘pages’ (not web ‘sites’) based on keywords and then ranks each and every page it crawls by the number and quality of incoming links the page receives.
2. How to get incoming links (become ‘sharable’)
We’ve already mentioned earlier how a retweetable headline, coupled with compelling content, can prompt readers to ‘share’ your article by retweeting it, posting it on Facebook walls, Digg-ing it, StumbleUpon-ing it etc.
Anthill pages are already laden with tools to help our readers share your content. But the obvious question might by why? Doesn’t this allow others to ‘steal’ portions of Anthill’s content? Doesn’t this enable ‘copyright-kleptomaniacs’ to use and abuse your articles?
This type of ‘old media’ thinking is still rife. However, we have found, through trial and error, that the more we ‘share’ a piece the greater the amount of traffic (readers) it will attract.
We believe this is because the volume of incoming links created by heavily ‘shared’ articles invariably increases the PageRank of these articles. Despite the fact that many of the incoming links created will not be from highly ranking sites (random football fans) according to Google’s ranking system, the volume alone can push an article closer to the ‘top of a Google search’ when a potential visitor searches for related content using a search engine.
Also, when an article is heavily shared, the chance of the article reaching the attention of another highly ranked site (a Nobel Laureate) increases, further adding to the article’s PageRank.
3. The importance of keywords
While a page ranking is important, as the key factor determining how closely to the top of a Google search any given page will appear, Google can not determine the relevance of your article to any search without the inclusion of keywords.
There is a common, mistaken belief, largely created by content management system providers and search engine ‘gurus’, that ‘keywords’ are something that you type into a ‘box’ when posting an article online, to help search engines isolate the topic of your article, so they may list your article among the search outcomes when prospective readers search for articles relating to these ‘keywords’.
This may indeed have once been the case. However, it is no longer accurate.
Search engines do serve up pages by matching words that appear on a page with those typed into a search engine by a prospective reader. But search engines do not pay attention to words categorised as ‘keywords’ when doing this. Rather, a search engine will take note of every word that appears on a page and observe which words are given prominence.
What do we mean by ‘prominence’? Here’s what you need to remember.
It seems that search engines give greater emphasis to keywords that appear in the title of the article, the title-tag and sub-headings scattered throughout the article. (See How to use keywords (and help Google find your piece)
By observing this rule, you can vastly increase the likelihood of your article being found by Google and associated with terms likely to be searched for by a prospective audience.
Remember the suggestions made earlier about how to make a headline retweetable?
The first suggestion was to employ nouns and verbs in your headline. For example, we compared “Flight of the starlet” with “Lindsay Lohan Escapes from Rehab” as possible headlines for the same piece. Someone searching for an article on this topic is unlikely to type ‘flight’ or ‘starlet’ into a search engine. They are more likely to type ‘Lindsay Lohan’ and ‘rehab’.
By second guessing the types of words your prospective readers are likely to type into search engines and incorporating these words into your headline, you can dramatically increase the chance of people finding your article on search engines.
Google has its own tools to help people locate popular or commonly searched terms.
However, it does not end there. You can further increase your chances by incorporating deviations of common search phrases into sub-headings and outgoing links. As above, it seems that search engines, like Google, give greater emphasis to keywords that appear in the title of the article, the title-tag and sub-headings scattered throughout the article.
For example, one of the samples provided earlier, Now you can get Hulu in Australia (and Stephen Conroy ain’t gonna like it), employs several likely search terms as sub-headings, such as “How to get Hulu in Australia” and “What is Hulu?” These clearly reflect phrases prospective readers are likely to type into search engines when seeking information on this topic.
As such, we recommend that new and infrequent authors prepare a draft with section headings that incorporate search terms before beginning the process of writing the article in full.
Like the headline, it pays to draft the sub-headings in advance.
4. Be generous with your links
We have observed that the number of clearly articulated outgoing links to external highly ranked web pages also has a bearing on ranking and traffic.
This again flies in the face of conventional wisdom. (Why should I want to send my web traffic elsewhere?)
However, through trial and error, we have found that pages that include outgoing links that clearly express the destination of the link (such as “Click to read the Boston Consulting Group Report“, rather than “To read the Boston Consulting Group Report, click here), are likely to increase the pages web traffic.
Like many of the tactics that Search Engine Optimisation practitioners apply to increase a pages prominence on search engines, we do not know why this is the case, we have just observed that such outgoing links affect traffic.
We can hypothesise that perhaps these links alert the destination sites to our presence and prompt traffic that way. But it seems more likely that search engines like Google have set their algorithms to reward the attribution of sources and encourage the free navigation of traffic throughout the internet.
So, don’t forget to link where appropriate and identify your sources!
5. Share the love!
As mentioned, we can help bring attention to your article by posting it on our homepage, posting it on our Facebook Fanpage, LinkedIn Group or Twitter feed or sending it to our opt-in email database as part of our newsletter.
We’ve also explained how you can help yourself by using headlines that are sharable, teasers that are compelling and keywords that will help search engines find you.
But never under-estimate the power of your own networks.
Leela Cosgrove has built a following of readers on the Anthill website, as has Sahil Merchant. Both contributors actively promote their latest articles through Twitter, Facebook and their own blogs.
In this way, they are able to build momentum by prompting comments and conversations that increase the popularity of their articles, encourage sharing and, therefore, increase the likelihood that their articles being found by search engines or linked to from popular third party websites.
Every media outlet has its own editorial style-guide to ensure consistency. For example, one media outlet might use the expression ’30 percent’, another might say, 30 per cent’, while another will employ the symbol, ‘30%’.
Here are some of the more common examples that we ask our contributors to observe:
Commas in numbers.
We employ commas, as such: 1,200,000. (Not 1200000).
Percentage as a symbol
We employ the symbol, as such: 30%
Numbers as words
A number lower than 10 is written as a word (i.e. In four days it will be my birthday). A number higher than 10 is written as a number (i.e. It will be my birthday in 22 days). If the sentence begins with a number then that number is written with words (i.e. Twenty-two is the number of days until my birthday). The number 10 can be written as a number or a word unless presented at the beginning of a sentence, in which case it is written as a word (i.e. Ten days later…).
And the most frustrating of all…
A company is a single entity (employ singular, not plural form)
When referring to a company and ‘its’ actions, do not refer to ‘they’ or ‘their’ actions. A team is a single entity, as is a pair and a group. For example, “The company assembled a team of softball players for its annual family day. The team had a bear as its mascot. It assembled team mates into pairs so that each pair could have a photo taken with its mascot.” etc
Please read the following technical specifications before attempting to upload your article.
- Please use the online form provided. Please DO NOT email your editorial submission (even if you have submitted an article this way before).
- You may draft your article using the word-processing software as your choice. But please be aware that you will be asked to ‘cut and paste’ the body-text into the online form provided. This form does not accept rich-formatting, such as italics, bold and links.
- To indicate where you wish to emphasise a word or phrase using italics, please use CAPS. For example, ‘The weather was REALLY cold.” We do not use bold to emphasise words in articles.
- To indicate that you wish to link to an external site, please include the link in brackets after the word, phrase or name that you wish to link from. For example, “The recent report, titled The Innovation Imperative in Manufacturing (http://www.bcg.com/documents/file15445.pdf), from the Boston Consulting Group (http://www.bcg.com/) included some interesting results.”
- To indicate that you wish to insert a supporting image or graph, please reference that picture by inserting a phrase such as [PICTURE #1 – Innovation Graph] or [PICTURE #3 – Funny Street Sign] to correspond with the field that you used to upload the picture when completing the online form and the content of the image.
- If you wish to upload a picture of the author when completing the online form, please provide the image as a square JPG (255w x 255h).
- If you wish to upload a thumbnail picture to promote the article, please provide the image as a square JPG (255w x 255h).
- If you wish to upload a graph or image to support the article top be placed within the body-copy, please provide a JPG that is between 300 and 640 pixels wide.