Dear Miss Lonely Hearts – How Thinking Like an Advice Columnist Can Increase Your Web Traffic

Posted on May 22, 2014 by Kate C

dear abby

During her heyday, newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers had, according to the Jewish Women’s Archive, 90 million followers slavishly hanging on her every word. Twin sister Popo, better known as Dear Abby, had nearly as many fans. And remember, back then, the Internet was still just a faint glimmer in Robert Kahn’s eye. “Following” required a lot more from a followee than the simple click of a “like” button. It meant subscribing to a newspaper, sending snail mail with very little hope of a personal response, and faithfully reading the New York Time’s bestseller list to find out when a long-awaited book might make its appearance at the bookstore.

Just what did Ann and Abby touch in their readers to stir up such super-human fidelity? It’s simple: basic human emotions. We, by nature, are emotional creatures. We’re still spellbound by the same conflicting passions that stirred our forebears literally millions of years ago: Love and hate. Jealousy and commitment. Betrayal and compassion. Ann and Abby knew how to tap into these basic human needs in their readers.

You can take a page from the playbook of these two uber-successful ladies. Figure out what people wanted when they flocked to Ann and Abby, and you can have them flocking to you, as well.

  • Advice – Life is scary. Contrary to popular myth, we don’t all grow up into serene, self-assured adults. Most of us still feel, at least some of the time, like that scared little eight year old, afraid to look under the bed. We’re looking for reassurance. We’re looking for the voice of authority to help us make at least some of those thousand little decisions that affect our every-day lives. Offer your readers good, solid advice. Let them know you’re a trusted authority, even if it’s just for information on choosing the best furnace filter.
  • Drama – Maybe it’s not humanity’s best quality, but let’s face it, we’re drawn to drama. We subscribe to Buzzfeed. We follow the Tweets of Cher and Justin Bieber, and watch for the latest news about baby Prince George. Tap into that. Find ways to include drama in your social media campaign, especially if you can tie it to your products or services. Granted, some products lend themselves to drama more than others. If you only sell tent grommets, you’ll have to work a bit harder than some, but it can be done. Hire blog writers to scour the Internet for interesting, human-interest stories, celebrity news or the latest political happenings, and find a way to tie them to your business, even if it’s just to say, “This interests me!”
  • A platform to vent – To paraphrase comedian Maria Bamford, “I just want a witness to my experience!” We laugh when Ms. Bamford says those words in the nasal voice of her hyper-needy alter ego, but the truth is we do want a witness to our experience. If we’ve had a hard time, we want someone to know about it and say, “Gee, that stinks.” Give your visitors the opportunity to let off a little steam. Have a “suggestion box” on your website or a “comments” section on your blog. And be sure to respond to the input you receive. Venting doesn’t feel very good when there’s no one out there to hear it.

Kate C is a teacher, freelance writer and organic gardening enthusiast. She lives in the desert but loves the mountains. She shares her home with her husband of 27 years and a fat, sassy Boston terrier named Tess.


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