Boring content is wrong. It turns off readers, alienates potential customers, bores your fans, and flat lines your content marketing efforts.
Is there any time that you should try to write boring content?
As it turns out, yes, there is. “Boring” content is dry, factual, ponderous, tedious, detailed, slow-moving, and devoid of adventure. It doesn’t excite the imagination at all. It’s so uninteresting that it hurts.
Am I suggesting you write boring content?
Here’s the thing. Boring is in the eye of the beholder. What you might discover as you create technical how-tos, comprehensive guides, and detailed support is that “boring” content isn’t actually all that boring.
Three Kinds of Boring Content
There are three main kinds of boring content.
- Technical how-tos: This kind of content usually starts with the phrase “how to”. You’ve read this stuff before, searched for it before, and maybe even benefitted from it before. The Internet is full of how-to guides. You can learn how to do just about anything, from the innocent to the nefarious.
- Comprehensive guides: Comprehensive guides are the big ones—long, drawn-out discussions that provide everything you should know about a particular subject. I have a small library of comprehensive guides that are among my most visited, shared, and accessed resources. I’ve called them “advanced guide”, “step-by-step guide”, and “definitive guide.”
- Detailed support.
None of these is cruising toward a spot on the Most Mind-blowing Articles of All Time list, and they probably won’t get syndicated by HuffPo. But that’s okay. That’s not really the point.
The point is, you’re explaining, uncovering, or helping your readers achieve a particular goal or overcome a particular challenge.
Here are the qualities of this kind of content.
- It is targeted for a specific audience: Not everyone is going to be interested in your comprehensive guide or technical how-to. In fact, the more focused the audience, the more useful your guide will probably be.
- It is technical to the point of tedium: Forget plot and character development. This content is super technical.
- It is focused on a particular subject: Focus is the name of the game. Stray from your topic, and you instantly lose credibility and trustworthiness. You’ve got to keep these things laser-like in their attention to the subject matter.
The 13 Qualities of Boring Content
So, how do you create this boring content? Here are the features and qualities you should include.
Explain the Goal
What’s the end game? This is an important quality for your content. The reader should have a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve. Every technical how-to is designed to solve a problem or achieve a desired outcome. Make sure that you describe this goal clearly at the outset of the article.
Make the Title Specific
Creating a title for your how-to article sounds easy enough—“How to Do SEO,” right? Not exactly. The more specific the title, the better. Why? Most readers aren’t eager to take on a massive project with nebulous outcomes. They want to tackle a specific task with a concrete outcome. For example, instead of explaining the technicalities of “How to do SEO”, you might want to try “How to Get Google to Instantly Index Your New Website”. Notice that there is a promise embedded in this article. The reader can expect to follow a set of technical instructions that will allow Google to index the website instantly. Pretty impressive, right?
How big is this project? How long will it take? What supplies will they need? If you’re discussing something simple and discrete such as “How to Water Your Succulent”, you probably won’t need a detailed list of supplies or an estimated duration. If, however, the project is a bit more involved, go ahead and provide a complete set of expectations—what to purchase, where to buy it, how much it will cost, etc. The more expectation-oriented, preliminary info you give the reader, the more they’ll be engaged with the rest of the content.
Listing the steps in a numbered sequence makes the content organized and easy to follow. If the reader has to take a break and then come back to the project, a numbered list makes it easy for them to remember what number they were on. Numbers also provide a sense of progress and forward motion.
Provide a Summary of the Instructions at the Beginning and End
Before you dive into the nitty-gritty of the technical how-to, you should give a quick fly-over view of the process. No, the reader won’t be able to finish the project simply by reading this one-paragraph summary. However, the reader is at least aware of the broad contours of the project she’s about to start on.
Make it Step-by-Step
Obviously, a technical how-to should be step-by-step. A comprehensive guide might not be as closely tied to a step-by-step process, but there should still be a logical organization to it. Step-by-step articles make it easy for the reader to follow the process and complete the goal.
Most of the time, readers aren’t using a technical how-to article for pleasure reading. They are reading and doing at the same time. It’s really going to help if you provide quick at-a-glance headings throughout the content. That way, they can quickly find their place again after looking away.
Some readers will be accessing this content on their mobile device. It depends on your subject and industry, but I’ve found that many readers use their mobile device as a secondary screen and do the actual work on their main screen.
Include Every Possible Scenario
Something is probably going to go wrong. Your technical how-to should allow for contingencies and explain what to do in case one occurs.
Details, Details, and More Details!
You can’t go wrong with details. The more detail, the better. Details can seem boring, but it’s exactly this kind of boredom that readers love and crave. If you can think of a detail to insert into the content, do so.
Picture or Diagrams
Again, it all depends on your subject matter. Most of the time, however, you’re going to want to include pictures. A subject matter such as “how to tie a windsor knot” begs for the use of pictures. You can’t go wrong by providing images, even if your subject matter isn’t exactly “visual”. Images help break up content and make it more interesting.
Be Absolutely Clear
You don’t want to use flowery language, metaphors, or shocking expressions. This is the place to use boring words that describe exactly what the reader should do, see, click, or touch. Don’t color outside the lines.
Explain What the Reader Should be Experiencing for Every Step
For example, if you are explaining how to build a transistor radio from scratch, then you should describe what the reader has done so far, including any functionality that the radio now has. Readers want to know that they’re on the right track and have done everything correctly so far.
Technical how-tos aren’t the world’s most exhilarating content. You probably won’t break out in goosebumps while you’re reading it, or reach for the popcorn bowl in excitement.
But that’s not the point. The point is, you’re giving your readers something of value: the knowledge and expertise to do something that they want to do.
Let’s take a look at some of this “boring” content in action.
Here is an excerpt from my article, “How to Get Google to Instantly Index Your New Website”. Notice how I’ve included a large bold heading, a “step 4”, and an image.
Ties.com has some content on tying a windsor knot. Notice how the introduction to the article provides some helpful summary information on the knot size, symmetry, and difficulty. This at-a-glance information gives the reader a helpful overview of what to expect.
In this article on “How to Attach Faber Snowshoe Bindings”, Trails.com provides two guides—one for “traditional” and one for “modern”. This is a good example of being prepared for different scenarios in a how-to guide. Their “tips and warnings” section at the end is also helpful for improving the quality of the article.
The Toptal blog has a helpful tutorial on 3D text rendering in OpenGL. The author provides exact details on what lines of code should be included each step of the way.
The level of detail in this support article is exactly what you want to aim for. Notice how the article explains exactly where to click and where to drag. Later in the article, readers are told exactly what keys to press and in what sequence.
As it turns out, boring is a matter of perception. There’s really no such thing as “boring” content.
Normally, “boring” content is the kind of stuff that your readers most crave. They want to know how to do something specific, in all its technical glory. They want comprehensive guides, with every possible step in the process. They want detailed support for their most agonizing issues.
The more of this content you provide, the better you’ll serve your readers. They love this stuff!
Maybe it’s not that boring after all.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!