5 Emotional Triggers to Create Engaging Content

May 29, 2023 | Content Marketing

create engaging content

It’s been repeated for years that “content is king,” but the truth is it’s really not.

The idea that content alone will solve all of your SEO challenges has led to an incredibly noisy web. This is why we see countless websites churning out low-quality content in the hopes that their traffic will magically improve.

It just doesn’t work that way.

In the real world, producing content just for the sake of producing content will have literally zero positive impact. The only content that has any impact is content that your audience engages with, which means that they read, comment on, share, and link to it. In order to do this, however, you’ll need to both create amazing, original, and useful content, and activate your readers emotions.

Writing is the hard part. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or trying to sell you something.

Some people are naturally gifted writers, but for most, it requires concentration, hard work, and lots of practice. Take me for example—I’m often told that I’m a pretty good writer but my brain runs in hundreds of different directions while writing, so I have to be very mindful about my concentration. And I write for about eight different publications regularly, in addition to occasional writing for several other publications and sometimes even our clients at my agency, so I get plenty of practice. Even in my case, I often find myself putting in a lot of work and then editing an article several times to ensure that it’s just right.

Fortunately, activating your reader’s emotions is the easy part. It requires following a few simple tactics that I’ll explain in this article.

1. Take a controversial position

Most people steer clear of controversy because they’re too busy trying to please everyone.

I have bad news for those people—that doesn’t work!

The reality is that no matter what you do, even if you do nothing, you’re going to piss someone off. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—large sections of our population are constantly on the hunt for things to be offended by.

My philosophy is that if they’re looking for something, you should give it to them. If you follow me on social media, you know that I often do exactly that. My intent here isn’t just to antagonize overly fragile people. It’s to get people talking about and linking to my clients’ websites. While doing that, I’m also giving their core audience something to feel passionate about.

That’s something you can never do while playing the middle of the road.

2. Challenge your audience

When you challenge someone, they will often go out of their way to either prove you either wrong or right, depending on the context of your challenge and their situation.

You’ve probably seen examples of this, such as a football coach insisting that his players can beat the opposing team, which motivates them to live up to his inspiring challenge. Or perhaps you’ve seen a drill instructor scream that a particular recruit doesn’t have what it takes to earn the title of Marine, which inspires that recruit to prove his challenge wrong. These are just two examples of challenges—in one case, the audience wants to prove the challenger right, and in the other, they want to prove the challenger wrong.

create engaging content

The idea here is to issue a challenge by making a polarizing statement. Your audience will usually take a stand and either agree and may then share and/or link to your content because it supports their views, or they’ll disagree and may then share and/or link to your content to refute it.

Examples of this type of challenge might include something like:

  1. 3 Reasons Your Link Building Tactics Are Completely Outdated
  2. Why You’re Looking at Content Marketing Entirely Wrong
  3. 3 SEO Tactics that Only Amateurs Still Use Today

After reading an article that issues a challenge, a reader will often do one of two things. They may conclude that your premise is wrong, and then share, and hopefully even link to your article refuting your position, or they may conclude that your premise is correct, and then share, and hopefully link to your article, citing it as evidence to support their opinions.

In the event that they share, but don’t link to it, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed with your premise, I recommend reaching out and asking them to link to it.

If they disagreed with your position, and they appear to have a sizable audience, you might even consider asking them if they would like to publish a rebuttal on your website. It’s a pretty safe bet that they will share that article with their audience on social media, and will almost certainly link to it as well.

3. Tie your subject into a hot topic

Regardless of your political leanings, if you came across an article titled “7 Amazing Tactics to Make SEO Great Again,” you would almost certainly take notice, triggering either a positive or negative reaction in your mind. Especially if the news cycle was focused on Trump. (As it likely will be for at least the next couple of years.)

One of two things would probably happen:

  1. The voice inside your head (and maybe even the voice outside your head) would scream the type of obscenities that would make truckers cover their ears and blush, or
  2. you would grin ear to ear thinking “This guy really gets it! #MSEOGA!”

That would typically be followed by you rushing to social media to share it, either to demand that the author be disemboweled, or to sing his praises . You might mention and link to it from your own website for the same reasons.

All of this can lead to a significantly larger audience seeing it, and many of them will react in exactly the same way, resulting in exponentially greater exposure and engagement.

4. Involve your audience

Good content can be transformed into amazing content by simply involving your audience.

Think about it like this—you are always trying to sell something and you’re audience knows that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but everything you say will be viewed with a degree of skepticism. However, when you involve your audience, by interviewing, citing, or featuring them in your content, it’s often perceived differently because it’s almost as if they’re hearing your message from a trusted friend.

create engaging content

An added bonus is that because they’ll see their name, and/or the names of their friends, clients, mentors, and idols, they’ll be more likely to share and link to your content.

I try to do this whenever possible—especially when I write for publications outside of the digital marketing industry because people in less tech-savvy industries are usually not mentioned in the media as often, so when they are, they are especially eager to share and even link to the article.

5. Refute an industry leader, product, or idea

This approach requires a delicate touch, but when used properly, it can be incredibly effective. When you criticize a trusted leader, popular product, or even an idea within your industry, you’re likely to rally a vocal audience of people who agree as well as those who disagree with your position.

A good example, and one you’re probably familiar with is the ridiculous claim we see resurface every few years that SEO is dead.

It’s critical that you be absolutely correct when using this approach. If you refute something—let’s say a commonly held belief like the importance of link building—then you had better be damn sure of yourself and be able to clearly explain why or you’ll risk making a fool of yourself.


How you approach this is equally important. You should objectively present your position without resorting to emotions and insults because the latter can make you appear petty and less credible. Rely on data when available, and in cases when it’s not, clearly articulate how you came to your position utilizing a solid logical argument.

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