How to Create Better Content: Treat Your Readers Like Dogs

Dog

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.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. Following your metaphor… “or how dog would treat us”

    • That’s thought worthy.

      Literally I wouldn’t want to treat users like dogs. However, the point Sonia made is great.

      The most difficult thing is to figure how how much of free content should be free.

  2. SO small snippets of content that are like treats for users…I like it.

    This also goes back to the “give before you get” principle. DoshDosh has a good article on this:

    http://www.doshdosh.com/give-before-you-try-to-get/

  3. My dog is ALWAYS hungry. And, I know that she loves green beans, so, give the reader what they want.

  4. Good stuff. I like posts that contain things I can do right now, instead of just theory. Practical application is what I pay attention to. So that’s what I write about too.

    Thanks for the insightful post!

  5. Keep wondering where that other “dog” article is from a year ago…where is that related posts plug-in?

    LOL

    Nice job…I AM an animal trainer…

  6. The 60-Year Plan for Getting Moderately Well-Off. lol!

  7. I totally thought this article was going say to talk to your readers like “Who’s a good boy? WHOOOOO’S a good boy?! Yes you ARE! Oh, YES YOU ARE!!”

  8. I love this, perfectly put. People need take-aways that are easy to carry and don’t end up being clutter. Great article!

  9. Great article, Sonia. As soon as I saw the headline of this appear in my inbox I had to take a look!

    I will definitely take this approach with some of my future blog posts. Who doesn’t want a quick dose of blog happiness, eh?

    David

  10. Thanks for delicious cookie, Sonia. :-)

  11. Thanks guys.

    Laughing, @Lawton. Your dog reminds me of those markets who wants something totally different than we thought they wanted.

  12. Ohhhhkkkkay… now I understand why this site so often goes against my thinking blogging/writing DNA. It is a cat-person dog-person thing.

    Quite simply, I’d rather stop blogging than think with this mindset. If you think of your audience and yourself as cats, you get a very different kind of blog.

    Venkat

  13. Aha! Venkat, I think you actually have hit on it exactly.

    In real physical life I’m a cat person, but when I’m communicating with customers, I’m a dog person all the way.

  14. “How to Create Better Content: Treat Your Readers Like Dogs” – Great title! And cute dog! ;)

    Thanks for letting me know about how to treat my readers like dogs using this cookie stuffs. Yet another way of attracting the readers! :)

  15. Caught this link on twitter and glad I did. I’ve been in a slump as of late and this helps me to see things clearer. Thanks for posting!

  16. “Woof!” “Woof!”

  17. Ever see a dog spotting a cat? He must get it at all costs. It’s not logical. It’s visceral.

    So, Treat Your Readers Like Dogs by Giving Your Readers Must-Get-Cat Content.

  18. Shane, when I say LOL, you can take that literally.

  19. meow!

  20. I love how in your posts, you always utilize what you teach in your own writing. For example today’s title was totally unexpected and I was compelled to read it because I wanted to see what you had to offer today. As always Sonia, great post.

  21. Hmmm… I’ve been treating my readers more like cats.

    I reward my cat just for allowing me to be his human. I know I can’t control (much of) his behavior with treats; I give him treats anyway, whenever he demands… I mean wants them. He’s spoiled rotten, but he loves me. (I think.)

    But I believe well-trained readers would be better than spoiled readers, so I’ll take your great advice, Sonia, and get more into the positive reinforcement mode.

    Thanks!

  22. wow!! its great to see, good luck!

  23. What an interesting article – and a great quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne ( I’ll now subscribe ) woof woof!
    Best wishes from Hamburg, Will

  24. Thanks for the tips Sonia. Having just launched my own blog I can use all the cookies I can get. Woof!

  25. Speaking as a dog lover, this post is great. It’s hard to use a clicker on a reader, but you give some creative ideas!

  26. Sweeeeet! And you know cookies are highly addicting, just what the blog doctor ordered!

  27. Ooh, Deb, I like the idea. No idea how to implement it, but there must be some way. :)

  28. Cookie content. That’s new, but I like it! Seems like Copyblogger has so many dogs then :) Count me in :D

  29. I believe I have made the mistake of too much cookie content. I belive I need to get some special offers in, lol. Thanks.

  30. Lexi Rodrigo :

    The same principle works with clients too (oops, are any of mine reading this?).

    Reward them for working with you – exceed their expectations, overdeliver, give a little something extra when they don’t expect it, make their lives easier and their biz more profitable – and they’ll be loyal to you even when you raise your rates.

  31. great article it sonia.
    It seems that before we write an article we need to think how will this benefit my reader …im learning this copywriting business so im going to consider this in the future.

    I shall be back for more tips thanks

    richard

  32. I think that I have been doing this on my blog intuitively. I seems like good manners to want to repay someone for even the smallest action.

  33. That’s a great way of thinking when writing. Having the reader in mind has proven to really work for me. You got it all right. Using all the necessary time to understand what the reader/client wants n giving him exactly that.

    Btw your dog must be a very happy dog :)

  34. @Lexi, totally! It kind of surprises me that more businesses don’t try to make it a pleasure each time I contact them. It works. :)

  35. I put up a poll to determine what readers would like but so far its a three way tie. I need a larger sample. Any suggestions? Most visitor don’t take the couple seconds to click a choice. It’s at survivalstew.blogspot.com

  36. Sonia, I wouldn’t take a course to compare your visitors with dogs for one reason only. You dog has 100% trust in you as a Owner. With the visitors to your site you have to conquer their trust and attention. That’s why here you have to sit on the tale and try to look at the visitor’s eyes without blinking. With your dog it is exactly opposite. Agree?

  37. Great advice. I think I can work on my cookie skills some. I am always afraid of giving too much cookie when writing. Liked it!

  38. @Anatoly, that’s an excellent point! The trust isn’t built in the way it is with a canine pal. Although I also find that cookie content is fabulous for building trust, and the habit of “rewarding” readers works to create great trust and rapport.

    @John, since surveys are somewhat limited anyway, I’d just take the one of the three that you like the most and try it, and observe how people respond. Then take #2 and do the same, then #3. Go with more of what gets more response, regardless of what the survey might say.

  39. This was a very interesting and helpful article. When I read the title, I wasn’t so sure, but when I got to the end of the first couple of paragraphs I realized what you meant.

  40. Great headline. If your cookie has a bite-sized action and your reader completes the action, I think two things happen.

    Their self-confidence goes up (which feels good) and their trust in you increases.

  41. Your headline is really one of the most attention-grabbing headlines I’ve ever seen. I’ll probably never use it, because in my Chinese culture, to call people a dog is an insult, but that’s why your headline grabbed my attention when I opened my email inbox, only to discover you meant a totally different meaning! Awesome stuff. Thanks Sonia, and triple thanks for your cookies as well!

  42. I felt similarly about this headline to the James Chartrand’s article about blaming Canada. I thought it was going to be slightly offensive but express a message in the post somewhere, and like James you proved me wrong too.
    Really good message Sonia and I think a lot of people expect people to want to read there work without any recognition and it doesn’t always work like that. It’s important to reward your readers and those that take the time to hear what you have to say.

  43. “Positive reinforcement makes an ally of your dog.”

    “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!”

    Err no. Nice hook but these statements show your lack of understand about Dog Behaviour and being an effective pack leader.

    Firstly, to ‘make an ally’ of your dog you need to be a good and consistant leader, this means clearly setting rules, boundaries and limitations and immediatly correcting any unwanted behaviour. Giving treats without first providing exercise and discipline will actually unbalance and confuse your dog, and potentially cause behavioural problems.

    Treats are not affection, fulfillment is. Walking your dog and asking it to adhere to your ground rules will not only fulfil your dogs intrinsic needs it will also demonstrate that you are the pack leader, allowing it to relax and be releived of the responsibilities of leadership.

    Sorry to play devils advocate and I know this is a post about content creation and not dog behaviour but it’s this exact attitude that makes people poor dog owners. Even in your comments you say you’re a Cat person. When you were ‘Creating your better content’ did you do any research on dog behaviour before making such a point?

    Your post is offering advice on ‘HOW TO CREATE BETTER CONTENT”. Am I supposed to be reassured by the fact that the premise you based your post on is factually incorrect (or incomplete to say it nicely)? Can I take this to mean that ‘good content’ does not require any research as long as there is a loose connection with a compelling headline?

  44. Right on Sonia, I’m going to give a “live chat” cookie to my new subscribers and regular commentators while they are still viewing my blog. This real-time, 140 character thing has caught on. There’s this new thing called Twitter and………..
    -The Professor

  45. I really enjoyed the article…the ideea of treating your readers like dogs is unique and very useful.
    Thanx for the tip!

  46. sh*t, my dogs bite back! hahaha… thanks for the article, so refreshing!

  47. What are you on about Jackmo? Sign…..

  48. I write short articles for treats and they work pretty good. Just remember to make them tasty.

  49. A very good tip for the newbies like me as well. Thanks!

  50. Would you like your pipe or slippers??

  51. Tender thanks you for details. It helped me in my task

  52. Reminds me of a great quote from a Green Bay Packer Player (Jim Taylor, I think) about Vince Lomardi:

    “He treats us all the same- like dogs.”

    I don’t think this ties into your theme though- Can’t imagine we want our customers expressing the same sentiment.

    Nice Post.

  53. I think if you get over the awful analogy it could be an interesting post.
    And maybe the analogy isn’t awful. I mean, there’s a lot of people “woof”ing in their comments.

  54. Thanks, this is going to help me a lot. Because I am a patient person, I have been using long term content over things to do immediately greatly. I now realize that part of the value of CopyBlogger is that you give us post ideas to write about right now; when we’re battling bloggers block. Thanks so much, I’m going to create some “cookie content” now!

  55. Mmmmm cookies… Thanks for the great article! I see how this would attract people, and how you don’t want to use it all the time.

  56. great article…concept is needed..how can we create a good content if we dont have a mind concept of our blog…hehehe…

  57. My line of work is like a bitter pill, so Sonia’s cookie-style is a refreshing approach to business, not just writing.

    I liked Nathanial’s quote, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” You make it look so easy Sonia!

  58. Hmm, a very interesting way if looking at things! Some dogs are easier to train than others. I hope my readers are similar to golden retreivers!

  59. Now I know to treat my readers with lots of respect and lots of tender love and care to keep them coming back for more giving them a cookie to sweeten them up even more.

  60. I just realised that some of my fav blogs treat me like a dog!
    …and I like it.
    That is exactly why I visit them – I like feeling good.
    Will be keeping this in mind. Thanks. *big smiles*

  61. Great tips! I enjoy your articles, Sonya!

  62. Haha great blog, treating your readers like dogs is definately a new concept lol. Theres a school of thought that says you should always treat your readers like aliens and avoid jargon and buzz words at all costs, something ive always done and has worked very well for me, great blog cheers :)

  63. From one very well trained puppy – thank you! I am learning so much!

  64. Exactly! I’m thinking about all the different things that a lot of good blogs allow readers to do ie. the cookie. We can comment back, which makes us feel important; we can share easily on twitter or facebook, which makes us feel like a source of wisdom to our friends; and we can trackback, which makes us feel like our blog posts about the same topic are noteworthy.

    I also know how I feel when I read a blog post and then feel like I have something really good to add to the article and find out it doesn’t allow comments. Grrr! Or the blogs that aren’t written to me the reader but more as a term paper. Sleepy time.

    Thanks!

  65. Enjoy reading your articles, food for thought.

  66. Tremendous information here.

    Never heard of this before as I know about giving value and rewarding but this is a neat way to look at it and some great practical ways for ensuring you keep the list happy and well still with you!

    Best
    Greg

  67. I loved the headline for this post! But it made me wonder about treating customers (people) like dogs. What does that say about customers (people)? Are they easy to manipulate and lead like sheep? It also made me think of the Pavlov theory. Each time the dog rang a bell, he received a treat. I’m all for positive reinforcement, but…Where do you draw the line?

    • My personal opinion is it’s not as easy to manipulate people as we think it is. :)

      For me, this is less about trying to manipulate than it is about earning your audience’s attention with material they actually want to read/hear/watch.

      It’s interesting to me that some of the most overtly manipulative marketers (or at least those who are trying) tend not to do this. They jump right to a hard pitch, trying to push the audience rather than earn trust & present offers.

  68. I pray that it’s not easy to manipulate people, but…Some folks are easily lead and don’t think for themselves.

    I’d prefer to earn my audience’s attention and respect. There’s too much B.S. out there. I think people would appreciate someone who understands how to building trusting relationships. Someone who understands the importance of honesty and integrity vs. someone who’s out to make millions of dollars.

    You’re right about manipulative marketers jumping in doing a hard pitch and pushing their audiences to make a decision on the spot. Some folks like to research products and services and make thorough decisions. After all, they’re spending their money. They may as well make sure a product and or service will work for them.

  69. Thanks for the reminder from a self defined “classic” that is clearly “relevant.” It even contains yesterdays tip toward the nostalgic. ——- A not so gentle memory of my dearly departed Tinker Bell.

  70. Now I know why my dog left me. No cookies. However, I have been silently working on a new recipe for some more delicious cookies and after reading this, I hope to have a few fat dogs lying on the porch soon.

  71. Ha ha.. that’s an example of thinking out-of-the box! “Easy reading is damn hard writing” I love this quote, it is the rule that every real writer has to have in their minds. Nothing good is happening easily. Thanks for the post!

  72. Love it!

    (and I love dogs too so this works for me on both levels ;-)

    thanks – your biscuit is in the post Sonia,

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

  73. Great article! It takes a dog to know a dog in my opinion…how about treating them like skilled humans? Does that work here?

    • oh, you meant treat them like incompetent bitches, now I get it! love the dog reference though ;)

      • Deb,
        Well, I guess that just about puts the period on this one. Metaphors can be just a tad slippery.

        • Yeah, seems like they can be used to get attention and entertain for sure. I’m not sure about providing value though, most honest people who know they’re sh#t usually like to be talked to directly. Again, great article!

  74. Going to help me a lot. Because I am a patient person, I have been using long term content over things to do immediately greatly.

  75. Sonia

    The headline made me laugh, but the principles are sound. we like to think humans are sophisticated, but we respond to the same innate basic stimuli as our fellow members of the animal kingdom.

  76. Great advise as always. It took me 2 hours on Saturday to go through the bookmarks I had made for your content :) Love your work and excited to hear more!

  77. I just realized all my favorite newsletters do this. Thanks for the delicious cookie.