Do you want a wider audience, more subscribers, better conversion to paying customers, fanatically loyal readers, and enviable word of mouth?
You can have all of them by keeping one simple piece of advice in mind:
Treat your readers like dogs.
If you want to teach your dog to sit, how do you go about it?
Any good trainer will tell you that the smart way is to give him lots of rewards and love every time he sits when you say, “Sit!”
It doesn’t take long before he’s waiting eagerly to see what other kinds of instruction you might have. Would you like him to shake hands? Fetch your pipe and slippers? Take out the trash and wash the dishes?
Positive reinforcement makes an ally of your dog. You’re in the same pack. He wants to do things for you. He’s happy and you’re happy.
How to treat readers like dogs
Every time a reader does something you like (read a post, subscribe to your blog, open a message in an email newsletter, etc.), you want to give that reader a reward — a cookie.
(When I say “reader,” I also include podcast listeners, video watchers, etc.)
That’s what I call “cookie content,” and it has three characteristics.
1. Cookie content makes life better
Cookie content makes the reader’s life better somehow. It might be a funny image, a useful tutorial, or just a really good low-carb dessert recipe.
But in some way, large or small, cookie content makes the reader glad she took a few minutes to consume it.
Reference and how-to content make great cookie content. Inspiring, funny, or heartwarming content can work too, if you’re good at it.
If your readers print out your content so they can refer back to it, or bookmark it, or post it to Facebook saying “Yes. This,” you’ve got it right.
2. Cookie content can be used right away
The 60-Year Plan for Getting Moderately Well-Off doesn’t tend to make for good cookie content.
10 Things You Can Do This Weekend to Repair Your Credit does.
No, you don’t want to overpromise quick “magic bullet” schemes. But cookie content isn’t about the long term and it’s not about hard work. It’s about fast, simple solutions that people can use right away.
It’s fine to talk about the longer term too. But be sure you have enough quick cookies in your content to keep things palatable. Your readers have enough complexity to contend with. They’re not looking for more in your content.
3. Cookie content tastes good
Cookie content is highly readable. It brings the reader pleasure. It’s often entertaining. It’s well organized and appealingly formatted, which makes it digestible.
Cookie content uses your best writing skills. Not to show off how smart and talented you are, but to make the content more delicious for your reader.
Easy reading is damn hard writing
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
Training your readers
In a crowded email inbox or RSS reader, cookie content will tend to attract your reader’s attention first. You’re literally training that reader to consume your content, because the content is beneficial and appealing.
Each time she reads your work, she feels better. It doesn’t take long for you to become a pleasurable habit with that reader. (Even better, you’re 100% fat free.)
Does this mean you never get to promote yourself? Not at all. You can make high-quality offers regularly (and you should, if you want to make a living). Just be sure you’re including enough cookies to keep your reader’s attention and interest.
You probably don’t want to create content that consists of nothing but cookies. That can give even the most self-indulgent reader indigestion.
But include enough that you’re always training your audience to open your email, read your blog posts, and pass along your special reports. You’ll find that the more you reward them, the more they reward you.
Editor’s Note: This is a Copyblogger Classic post, originally published in July, 2009. We’ll be republishing classic content from the archives from time to time, updated — as this post has been — to be sure the advice is as relevant as ever.