How A Site Based On Pictures Will Make You A Better Writer

What in the world do pictures have to do with great writing?

Turns out, a site full of pictures can help you become a much better copywriter.

It did for me, anyways. And it can for you, too.

The thing is, anyone can write great stuff. I don’t know who you are, person reading this right now, but even YOU can write electric copy that captivates audiences.

How do you do that, though? There are so many great writers out there crafting beautiful pieces of prose every single day.

Let me let you in on a dirty secret most professional writers in any field rarely tell you: they weren’t great writers when they started out.

They had to practice. They had to stare down pages that had more words of criticism on them than words they originally wrote. They had to write hundreds of words only to see them cut to a single sentence.

Through it all, they became better writers.

So how do you get to that point? What can prepare you to write witty, essential copy like the pros without having to suffer the brutal edits and hours?

I suggest starting on the training grounds of Imgur.

What Is Imgur?

Imgur is an online image-hosting service that was founded in 2009 by Alan Schaaf. According to Imgur, they are “the home to the web’s most popular image content, curated in real time by a dedicated community through commenting, voting and sharing.” (Also, as a heads up, you’ll run into some NSFW language/content on there occasionally.)

Imgur-Front-Page

On top of an active community that posts regularly, Imgur also hosts all the images from Reddit. (Word to the wise: If you love Reddit, don’t mention it in Imgur. They’ll bombard you with offensive GIFs.)

The main goal, like most other social media outlets, is to get attention for the cool thing you post. Users can either “upvote” or “downvote” your submission, with upvotes giving a point and downvotes taking votes away. Along with voting, you can comment on the image as well. These comments can also gain upvotes and downvotes.

In case you were curious, here is the most downvoted comment of all time:

Most-Downvoted-Imgur-Comments

Your user profile tracks how many overall points you’ve accumulated and you use the points to…um…

Folks. They’re internet points. It’s like the tagline for Whose Line Is It Anyway: “Everything is made up and the points don’t matter.” They’re just numbers. Unless you get over 10,000. Then you’re clearly a superior being.

Yet, as a learning tool, they do matter. These points and this site can help you gain some of the skills professional copywriters use every day.

Let me show you the five ways Imgur helped me become a professional copywriter.

Imgur Helped Me Write Better Headlines

Copywriters, by nature, are witty people. They can twist the mundane into smirk-worthy retorts.  Even technical writers will throw out a knee-slapper every now and then.

One of the most important things a copywriter faces is writing a headline. Headlines, according to David Ogilvy, are $.60 of your dollar, with the other $.40 coming from content.

Comments are essentially the headlines of Imgur. Whenever someone posts a piece of content, it’s a mad scramble to be the first person to submit the wittiest comment possible. While the content generally takes center stage, the comments can easily crush it and steal the glory.

Comments-Imgur

People rush to comment because it’s the most simple way to get upvoted. While the uploaded image takes time to create, a comment is an investment of only a minute, tops.

It’s this very voting mechanism that made me a better headline writer. If popular comments can be upvoted and bad comments can be downvoted, that means you get instantaneous feedback on your “headline” you created.

Mind. Blown.

This is an incredible revelation for a copywriter trying to hone their skills. Forget test groups. Forget back-and-forth edits from bosses and their boss’ boss. You get direct feedback from your intended audience without having to go through traditional, tedious processes.

That, in the end, is the best. After all, it’s not about what you would like to read. It’s about what your audience would read and respond to. In this medium, your audience gives you direct feedback for what they want to hear.

Not only do you get to see how your approach worked, but you get to see the countless other attempts that were successful or unsuccessful. Scroll through a post and you see what was great, what was “meh” and what was just plain downvoted.

The closest you can come to this in the professional copywriting world is email subject lines. You can test one to three subject lines at a time and receive feedback, but even then you can’t see the hundreds of possibilities for that one email subject line, let alone the success rate of each.

These are all the comments on this single image.

This style of writing extends past headlines, too. Tweets, Facebook posts, call-to-action buttons and anything else that thrives on brevity apply. If you can write witty, actionable stuff in short spaces then you’re already on your way to being more successful than half the pros out there right now.

Imgur Showed Me How To Tap Into An Audience

You can always tell when writers don’t know their audience.

For pro writers, it’s a bit tougher. They can “fake it.” Early in my career I was a pen for hire. I’d write ads for weddings, speeches for legislation and scripts for high-end car companies, to name a few odd projects.

I’ve never been married. That piece of legislation never affected me. Not once have I sat behind the wheel of a $100,000 car.

The content I cranked out was alright, but it didn’t resonate with the audience. It just didn’t have that spark that ties memories with the product. It’s a problem many beginner writers find themselves having, and it boils down to one singular point:

I didn’t take the time to get to know my audience.

Each audience has a different set of buzzwords and preferences they respond to. Without getting to know your audience, you as a writer end up crafting cookie-cutter messaging that gets lost in the fray.

Getting to know your audience goes hand-in-hand with writing great comments on Imgur. You might write some clever pun, sure to get all the upvotes, but it will get beat by this:

The reference to a banana means “banana for scale.” They’re asking for a banana to be placed next to these wheels to see what their true sizes are. #imgurtalk
The reference to a banana means “banana for scale.” They’re asking for a banana to be placed next to these wheels to see what their true sizes are. #imgurtalk

After getting to know this audience, a comment like this isn’t a surprise. References from other popular posts that day, known commenters with catchphrases (think Razor10000) and noticing details unrelated to the main topic of the image are near-locks for success.

But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t take the time to immerse yourself in that audience. Speaking your audience’s language is essential to success, and you can’t get to that point unless you dive in and be part of that audience. Imgur is a great way to learn that process.

Imgur Helped Me Develop An Eye For Trends

Ever wonder what’s at the core of a viral…anything?

It’s not just one singular thing. If it were, then we’d all be sitting on mountains of epidemic-esque content. It’s more like a perfect storm of different aspects.

However, one thing does stand out among all viral content — the ability of the message crafter to pick out trends.

Trends are a subjective thing. Once you understand your audience, you can view events and occurrences through the lens of what your audience would enjoy.

Prime example of trends outside Imgur — remember flashmobs? Try not to cringe and bear with me for a second.

Flashmobs weren’t originally the fun “dance in the middle of a Kmart” events you know today. The original flashmob was conducted by a man named Bill Wasik. He organized 130 people to suddenly appear at a Macy’s and crowd around one single rug that was for sale. Ironically, he did this to make fun of the hipster community that wanted to so desperately be part of the “next big thing.”

Then one dance choreographer came along and identified the beginning of a trend. That person combined the love of dance with instant group materialization to make the flash mob we now know.

On the flip side, you still see some flash mobs occur even today. Why? It could be argued these message crafters don’t have a firm grasp on trends. They try to jump on something established, but by then the appeal and grandeur are gone.

So how does this apply to Imgur? If you want to have the top comment, you can’t be like the late adopters I just mentioned. You have to identify trends.

All images on Imgur start out in User Submitted. The most popular posts you see on the default Imgur homepage rise from the depths of this wild west cesspool of weird. These images rise to the top because, unsurprisingly, users upvote them when they like the submission.

Needless to say, the comments on that image receive a big boost in upvotes. The rise in views directly correlates with the high upvote-garnering comments. I’ve seen hilarious comments get buried solely because they were late to the party.

When you’re looking to craft a big-point comment, you have to have an understanding of which images will go viral. Those who can pinpoint what the Imgur community will upvote are much more effective commenters because they only comment on the things that will see the light of day (sort of a weird 80/20 rule).

This is great practice for professional copywriting. As you saw with the flashmob trend, the people who quickly identify trends will have the best success when crafting an idea or message.

The Imgur Community Gave Writing Tips

Imgur is strange.

It’s a weird hodgepodge of submissions. For example, glancing at the front page right now, I can see:

  • A Joel Osteen/Archer mashup
  • A GIF from Pocahontas used to describe feelings towards popcorn
  • A gorgeous photo of a farm in the morning
  • Weird Al Yankovic

That’s just the front page. Dive in to the user submitted section and I can’t guarantee you’ll be the same person you were when you went in.

With all the peculiar randomness of Imgur, you wouldn’t expect to see anything of true substance, right?

That’s where you’re mistaken.

On the contrary, there’s loads of great stuff on this site. Motivational speeches, brilliant original art, emotional stories and so much more are some of the things you’ll see on any given day.

Another thing you’ll find on there: writing tips.

Yep. A site full of meme-loving, “lulz”-typing cat worshipers (that I proudly count myself a part of) is actually big on proper grammar and story structure. Who knew?

This community has a wealth of writing tips. Not only do they create unique writing guides, but they also aggregate and share writing tips from existing pieces of content you may not have read.

Take, for example, Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling:

Pixar-Story-Tips-Imgur

This might not be something you seek out normally. Also, these rules were originally published by Pixar as straight quotes, but the Imgur community created a more visually appealing way to show these tips.

You’ll also find compilation posts with tips on writing from prestigious authors:

Writer-Tips-Imgur

This particular post had ten authors give a few writing tips on what they’ve learned throughout the years. These things tend to pop up more often than you’d think. Some of these posts are taken straight from other sources, while others are a true compilation in the sense of the author grabbing from multiple sources.

Finally, there are the posts that talk specifically about syntax and writing situations:

Other-Ways-Say-Imgur

Like other ways to say common words. Or this next example showing different substitutes for emotions:

Emotions-Imgur

Even ideas on how to be more concise in your writing can pop up out of the fray:

Brevity-Imgur

Writing for brevity is one of the foundations in successful headline writing, so a post like this is greatly appreciated.

These posts help out tremendously for any budding (or even professional) writers. I’ve even favorited a couple of these and referred back to them sometimes for a fresh take on things. But while this is a more explicit way of learning from Imgur, the last lesson is quite implicit…yet extremely powerful.

Imgur Helped Me Be Humble

Have you ever done something in life you were really proud of? Something you created or accomplished that you know you went above and beyond on? You think it’s the best thing you’ve ever achieved, and no one could ever top this gift to mankind.

Then someone does. Almost instantly. They do whatever you did only ten times better.

Seconds after that moment of discovery, you feel something small. It happens in everyone, and starts in the pit of your stomach and moves its way to your head in the form of a singular thought.

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

Things go one of two ways from here. There are the people who laugh, admire the new work and move on, learning from the success of the new creation and implementing it in their own work. Then there are those who feel pure, unadulterated jealousy and dwell on where their work went wrong due to extreme levels of competitiveness.

Guess which one I was?

I once spent nine hours (up until 3 AM) constructing a five foot tall cube man out of 1,000 business cards for a contest just because a few people said they might “try to compete.” There’s no sane reason to do that. I could’ve done something productive like watched shows on Netflix.

Sean-Business-Card-Man
Oh yes. It’s real. And it didn’t even win 1st place.

To be a successful writer, you need to be able to deal with the fact that someone will always make something better. Even if you write a headline that’s the apex of the craft one day, someone else will come up with a new way to take what you said and make it better. That’s how the profession evolves, and it’s a completely healthy and organic occurrence.

Nothing prepares you for this better than Imgur. Everything could go perfectly: you found a great post and crafted a hilarious early comment. That post rises to the top of the front page with upvotes galore.

Yet your comment isn’t the best one. It’s not even in the top five.

Weird cat comments always win out. The top one is a reference to a cat walking on a keyboard.
Weird cat comments always win out. The top one is a reference to a cat walking on a keyboard.

Very rarely will you be the top comment. There are just too many witty people out there for any one person to dominate the top spot consistently. Commenting successfully on Imgur means learning from the comments that DO gain the most upvotes so you can keep working to eventually hit the jackpot.

But you have to be humble and be willing to learn if you want longevity as a writer, let alone any other profession out there. Patience on Imgur will translate to patience and humility in professional writing, which will give you that much more appreciation when you have that moment of writing something brilliant.

The (Sort Of) Imgur Challenge

I’ve got a challenge for you. And this challenge comes with a prize.

I call this the (Sort Of) Imgur Challenge. You can learn a lot from commenting on Imgur images, and I highly encourage you to give it a shot if you’d like to improve your copywriting. For now, though, I want to host an Imgur-inspired contest right here on the LeadPages blog to save you some time.

Here’s what you have to do:

Dog-Comment-Imgur

  1. Comment on the image above in a witty, clean way.
  2. Upvote other comments you find funny in the comments section.
  3. Come back August 26th to see what comments were upvoted the most.

The top two (2) comments at 1pm Central on Tuesday, August 26 will receive a free lead magnet assessment from yours truly. In this assessment, I will:

  • Analyze the lead magnet (or “opt-in bribe”) you’re currently offering anywhere on your site.
  • Assess the placement, design and effectiveness of the lead magnet.
  • Help optimize your headline and call to action.

If you win, I’ll notify you via email and send you this assessment in the form of a comprehensive PDF.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  • matt

    It doesnt take a 1000 monkeys to re-create shakespeare.

  • bigbrother

    Just wanted to let you know Fartharder’s comment is almost -3x that score now (-31k) http://i.imgur.com/B9EbVTz.png

    • bigbrother

      Math is not my strong suit. 🙁
      I meant -4.38x

      • Sean Bestor

        Wow. I can’t believe it just keeps going down. It must be a right of passage for all Imgurians.

  • RoLoTrololol

    Takatakatakatakatakak *paws* takatakatakatak.

  • Marnyka Z. Blair-Buttry

    Do you have something better to add?

  • Great article Sean! I love that.
    Not sure why “Edward macaroni fork” was downvoted so hard though!

    • Sean Bestor

      Thanks, Kevin! Aw, well, it’s the internet. Once things get going, it’s hard to stop them…

  • ‘Bring me my Scotch, Human.’

  • Tony Collins

    …and my most important writing tip – is to use paws for effect.

  • Hipster dog does not care about your modern . . . Ooo Shiny.

  • Who else did you expect was behind this blog?

  • Simon James

    Whaddya mean, that’s the worst Snoopy impersonation you’ve ever seen?

  • Shan Withnell

    Paws for typing, bark for effect

  • Shan Withnell

    Green eyed muttster stole the show

  • Shan Withnell

    Return of the paws improves great writing

  • Hemingwolf

  • Gary

    Southpaw Copy Writing Service Is Top Dog

  • Beards and tattoos are so yesterday, it’s all about matching contacts and typewriters, anyway I’ve already done the beard thing.

  • Sean Bestor

    Congratulations to Tony Collins and Sweeney Daniel! You’re the winners of The (Sort Of) Imgur Challenge! Email me at sean at ave81 dot com (sorry about the format. Bots, you know…) with the lead magnet you’d like me to review and we’ll go from there.

    To everyone else, thanks for playing along! Very witty stuff in there, and I hope you all check out Imgur!