This is a guest contribution from Iniobong Eyo.
You can admit it.
You think the headline is outrageous. Is he in his right mind?
In fact, you’re surprised – or even shocked? But you’re reading this anyway. Because it got you thinking: How can I steal my way to content creation success?
The truth about original content
With well over 150 million blogs online, the blogosphere is a crowded place. So originality has its place. But sometimes, creating “original” content isn’t quite as important as we think it is.
You see, there’s hardly anything you’ll write about that’s new or hasn’t been written about on the web.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the next “Ultimate guide to Facebook marketing.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the next post on “parenting mistakes”.
The screenshots above are the first five results for those search terms on Google. They are just examples, but you’ll find similar results for other topics. So nope, except you’re writing about or creating content based on trending topics/news, new tools (new books, software, etc.), or an essay-like post (sometimes), it’s already on the internet.
Yeah. Cruel blogosphere.
The quenchless thirst for “new,” creativity, and stealing
In business, we want new products, new services, new campaigns, new software, and new marketing techniques. It’s new, new, new.
Yet, to some people, saying you copied or even stole someone else’s ideas would imply you’re not creative. It would imply you’re not smart enough. It would imply you’re immoral.
But what’s the truth?
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
– Pablo Picasso
Does that mean Picasso stole from other painters? I’d bet he did!
For example, he stole the concept of “his” Las Meninas, from the 17th century Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. Picasso painted his Las Meninas by “performing a comprehensive analysis, reinterpreting and recreating several times Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.”
He created 45 new paintings from Velazquez’s painting. Picasso had this to say about his work:
“If someone wants to copy Las Meninas, entirely in good faith, for example, upon reaching a certain point and if that one was me, I would say…what if you put them a little more to the right or left? I’ll try to do it my way, forgetting about Velazquez. The test would surely be to modify or change the light because of having changed the position or character. So little by little, that would be a detestable Meninas for a traditional painter, but it would be my Meninas.”
– Pablo Picasso
Picasso did not plagiarize. His quote explains that. He put some characters “a little more to the right or left.” He added his own personal touch and style, which he called a “test,” to create new paintings. All paintings are fully preserved in the Picasso museum in Barcelona as testament to the fact that Picasso’s work isn’t viewed as plagiarism.
There’s a reason why it seems everyone writes about the same topics – people want to read those topics.
Standing out means:
Choosing a different perspective
You can support a popular post with your own data and examples, or you can disprove accepted wisdom on a particular topic. Example.
You’ll get a comment like this:
Applying your unique experiences (or personality)
Some of your experiences are unique to you. Use them to put your spin on the topic. Example.
You’ll get a comment like this:
Going deeper into a blogging subtopic
This is the most difficult of the three. You’ll need tons of research, and sometimes it may feel like you can’t go on. Applying the first two makes it easier. Example.
You’ll get comments like these:
You will not succeed as a blogger if you do not study the masters and steal their blogging model. Or, for the purpose of this post, their content creation model.
How to steal your way to content creation success
Stealing is hard work.
You need to know where to steal, how to steal, and what to steal. You need to determine:
- Am I stealing the headline? What made a particular headline so successful?
- What is the structure of the post? Is it an essay-style post? A list post? Or a how-to post? How is the post set up for skimmers?
- How is the post developed? What points does the body of the post make?
Essentially, with all the bullet points above, you’re literally studying content. And what good student doesn’t have a notebook for taking notes while studying? Okay, it doesn’t have to be a literal notebook. Maybe you call it a swipe file. But it’s important if you want to perfect your art of stealing.
The three key ingredients to steal when writing
Did you see what I did in the five things you need to consider in the stealing process above? You may want to scroll up and check the bullet points again. In each of them, I’ve bolded a word. They’re basically the four key ingredients you should steal in content creation.
If you don’t want to scroll up, here they are:
- The headline
- The structure
- The body
Let’s take a look at each of them.
1. The headline
It’s no longer news that your headline, or title (since blog posts aren’t the only type of content), highly determines the effectiveness of your content. Well, just in case you’ve forgotten:
- 80% of readers will never make it past the headline. On an average, eight out of ten will read headline copy, but only two out of ten will read the whole piece.
- Your headlines can increase traffic by as much as 500%.
It’s important to study and steal headlines that work. You may have seen this post of mine earlier this year on ProBlogger. According to data from Buzzsumo, it’s #4 on list of most shared posts on ProBlogger in the last six months. As the only post published in January appearing in the top five, it effectively is the most popular post in January 2016 on the blog.
I’m not sharing that to brag (alright, maybe a little); it’s so you can see what I’m saying works. So, want to know the truth? That was a stolen headline.
That’s it. A post that generated over 4,000 shares from Samar Owais on Copyblogger. Now, here’s my headline.
I loved that Samar’s headline mentioned freelancers were making those mistakes at the cost of clients, cash, and credibility. It was intriguing. Because making mistakes resulting in loss of the three means a freelancer will be out of business soon, if he/she isn’t out of it already.
That approach helped me replace “clients” with “time”, but the rest of the headline stayed the same (okay, I replaced cash with money, but they mean the same thing). I used Samar’s headline as a template to create mine.
My point? Study successful headlines and use them as a template to create yours. For example, from Samar’s headline, I could create several headlines. I could easily have replaced freelancing, with say, content marketing, and I’d still have something great:
- 26 Content Marketing Mistakes That Are Costing You Customers, Cash, and Credibility
- 26 Copywriting Mistakes That Are Costing You Customers, Cash, and Credibility
- 26 Landing Page Mistakes That Are Costing You Customers, Cash, and Credibility
Just examples, but it could be better. Or the template can be used to create an entirely new list post:
- 15 Behaviors That Are Costing You Relationships, Confidence, and Privacy
Oh! Well, if you’re thought the headline of this post is anything original, then you’re wrong. Still doubting? See below.
You get the point now. As usual, don’t make empty promises with your headlines. Many headlines out there literally tell us “you won’t believe x is no longer a letter of the alphabet” and you click and find out x is always a letter in the alphabet. Be careful.
Additionally, feel free to grab these five headline resources, if you haven’t done so already.
- Copyblogger’s Magnetic Headlines
- Peter Sandeen’s 101 Headline Formulas
- Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks
- Psychotactics’ Why Headlines Fail
- Hubspot’s Data-Driven Guide To Writing Better Headlines
When you study headlines that do well, you’ll get better at stealing and writing great headlines.
2. The Structure
I simply like to think of a blog post’s structure as not just the form a blog post takes, but its overall organization. Basically (not always), your headline determines your blog post’s structure. It determines what the introduction, main body, and conclusion of the post will be.
When studying the structure of popular posts, consider the following:
- If it’s a list post, how much content is found under each bullet point? How long are the introduction and conclusion of the post?
- If it’s an “ultimate guide” or a “how-to” post, what’s the average word count per subhead? How are bullets used when explaining steps taken to achieve desired results? How is it set up for skimmers?
- If it’s an essay-style post aka “the storyteller”, how personal does the writer get? How does the introduction suck you in and how does the conclusion inspire you?
Popular posts are not limited to the three mentioned above. There are resource lists, expert roundups, and case studies etc. The same principles above would still apply.
For example, in my January post, the structure was similar to Samar’s. She listed her mistakes under eight aspects of freelancing, beginning with “rates.”
I listed mine under four aspects of blogging – beginning with “content.”
That way, it’s easy for skimmers to jump to whichever one interests them most. We ended up having the same structure but the content was different.
The post that shook Problogger
Have you read the most shared post ever on Problogger? Chances are you have. It was written by Jon Morrow. At the time of this writing, it has over 10,700 shares and 493 comments. In Jon’s words, it “turbocharged his career in a lot of ways.”
You’ll think that for a blogging genius like Jon that post is completely original. But it isn’t!
Jon stole the structure of the post from this one by Brian Clark: The Snowboard, the Subdural Hematoma, and the Secret of Life. And you know what else? Jon had earlier written what he calls “the article that shook the internet” by parroting that post from Brian.
In Jon’s words (about “the article that shook the internet”):
“Sure, the story was original, but the headline, the structure, even the cadence of the sentences – it was all parroting Brian’s work.”
Jon’s post was so popular it prompted a post titled: How Jon Morrow Crafted the Most Popular Post on ProBlogger. You can read Jon’s “confession” here. He explains what happened behind the scenes when he first “parroted” Brian’s work.
What’s the point?
Jon applied Brian’s post structure to his own story, and made it even better. So while it was Brian’s structure, the end result was still Jon’s story. That’s why nobody can accuse Jon of plagiarism.
You can go through the same process of structuring blog posts. Find and study structures of popular posts (take notes while you’re at it), and use them to create your post. Your post’s structure will be a stolen one, but it will be your post, not anybody else’s.
I’ll recommend you read the following for more on structuring blog posts:
- Ali Luke’s Six Straightforward Ways to Structure a Blog Post [With Examples]
- Glen Long’s The Only Six Posts Worth Writing (and How to Totally Nail Each One)
3. The body
As mentioned earlier, or as you already know, the headline is the most important part of your post. If your headline is not good enough, your reader may not get to the first sentence of your article or the introduction of your post.
But what happens if your introduction draws a reader in but the body of your post falls short of the expectation created by your headline?
It was a tough choice, but I omitted the introduction and conclusion from the list of ingredients. According to The Nielson Norman Group, majority of your visitors will make a judgment within 10 to 20 seconds of opening your content whether they should stick around – or whether they should bounce.
Readers have become expert skimmers because they’ve commonly been lured in by irresistible headlines, only to click through and find weak content. We’ve learned to skim content and decide if it piques our interest in seconds. If it doesn’t, we’re gone.
That’s why the structure and body of posts are important.
How to steal the body of your post from others
Have you ever finished outlining or writing a post only to find out that it’s eerily similar in thought to another post out there? Or have you ever felt too guilty to steal a point from someone else’s post to add to yours?
Others may call it research, I still call it stealing. Here’s how to do it:
- Find out posts similar to yours.
- Write down points from them you wish to use in creating your own post.
- Find different, current, or better examples, statistics, and expert quotes to support or disprove your stolen point
- Use a personal experience to support or disprove your point (the stolen point).
For example, let’s say I need examples of bloggers who have built audiences despite their disabilities; one of the first that readily comes to mind is Jon Morrow. Only few readers in the blogging world would not have heard about him.
They probably wouldn’t have heard about Jordan Bone, a beauty vlogger. She is paralyzed from the chest down and uses her mouth to help manipulate her brushes. Yet, she has over 180,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, and over 117,000 followers on Instagram.
They probably wouldn’t have heard about Maxwell Ivey, a successful blogger who is blind. He’s a blogging coach, public speaker, and author.
They probably wouldn’t have heard about Lucy Edwards, another vlogger. She is blind because of a rare genetic condition, and can’t see herself in the mirror. Yet she does her own make-up and posts videos to her YouTube channel. She’s got over 27,000 subscribers, and still counting.
That’s just an example, and you can do much better.
Consider Neil Patel. I could use any of his articles, but I’ll use Mastering Content Marketing: 7 Required Principles for Success. In that post he mentions that part of the research behind the post was looking up what had been written on the topic previously.
This is what the search for “principles of effective content marketing” produced for Neil.
This is the #1 result (watch out for the arrow):
Compare this with the fifth principle in Neil’s finished post.
Again, look at the third principle from the #1 result:
Take a look at Neil Patel’s second principle:
They’re basically saying the same stuff, but Neil’s post is different. Below are some differences:
- He writes the content marketing principles in his own words – no copy and paste. So Neil can’t be accused of plagiarism.
- He uses pictures and screenshots to either support his principles, or show how what he’s saying can be done. This is critical because research has shown that content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.
- He supports his principles with the examples of others or sometimes a personal experience. That shows he knows his stuff.
- He writes an in-depth post on the topic. Before his writing, the longest post on the first page of search results was just over 2,000 words, with no images. Neil wrote a staggering 4,000-word post with lots of images and supporting points.
Was it an original idea? No, it wasn’t. But was it an original post? Definitely!
The post was a success. I know because it now ranks at #3 for “principles of effective content marketing”:
Not bad right?
It’s that simple, and difficult.
Try to match (at the very least) or surpass the strengths of other content on the topic you’re writing on. Neil says “your biggest opportunity to stand out is to improve on weaknesses your competition has.”
Now consider my post I mentioned earlier. Since it was a guest post, I had to search the ProBlogger for similar posts.
This is what it looked like:
The #1 result was a podcast. #2 was a post written in 2009.
I wasn’t going to say anything “groundbreakingly new” as one commenter later put it, but I was going to add my own perspective, my own points, and some examples to support them. Overall, I was just going to make the post much more in-depth than the one published seven years ago.
The result? A 3,978-word post!
Here’s what a current site search for “top blogging mistakes” looks like:
And it ranks at #5 for “top blogging mistakes”
Don’t think that quantity = quality. I could easily have added more mistakes to make it maybe, 50. I know blogging mistakes exceed 50.
Neil could have added three content marketing principles to make it not 7, but 10. Afterall, #2 on search results for “effective content marketing principles” has 12 principles. And #4 has 15.
Your first target should be matching the best content on the topic out there, while fixing any weaknesses it may have had. Once any weaknesses are fixed, you’ve already surpassed the best content out there already.
So don’t feel that if “The 14 SEO Tools Bloggers Shouldn’t Do Without”, is the best content on SEO tools; then you must write a post titled: “SEO: The Only 25 Tools Bloggers Need.” Your post could be “SEO: The Only 15 Tools Bloggers Need” and it would still do very well.
But it’s your choice.
The truth about stealing content
Stealing your way to creating content is hard work. No treasure chest of content pearls lies waiting to be heisted on the internet. You need to study content. Carefully.
But you know learning how to steal like you have in this post is a treasure chest of its own right?
You know too well the hard work that goes into creating great content. The time spent on coming up with ideas. The time spent on research. The time spent on writing itself.
Minutes turn to hours. Hours turn to days. Days turn to weeks.
Then ask yourself if that was really time well spent if people do not even click on your headline. Ask yourself if that was really time well spent when the people who click on your headline scan your content for 10 to 20 seconds before they bounce because it’s not structured well.
Now you can make people click your headlines. You can make them devour your content long enough to realize you’re a writer worth paying attention to.
You just need to perfect your art of stealing. If you’ve been scorning stealing, stop it.
All you need is studying how bloggers you admire most create content.
Then put it “a little to the right or left.” That’s where the “test” lies – doing it your way.
And then reap the rewards for the rest of your blogging days.
Iniobong Eyo is a writer and content strategist who helps businesses and individuals grow by planning, developing, and managing their content. You can steal his ideas by hiring him.