Blog

What The Great Outdoors Can Teach Us About Writing Even Greater Content

Today we have a guest blog from Victoria Greene, on two subjects close to my heart: the great outdoors and blogging.

Waterfall

 

credit: unsplash

When we’re working in an office for 8-10 hours a day, writing, honing and editing our content in our own little business bubble, it can be easy to forget that there is a world outside our company doors. But we should remember to take time to appreciate the great beauty of the outdoors we Brits are blessed with.

While no-one could argue that getting out and about, breathing in some fresh air, and stretching those legs can do our health a world of good, it’s surprising just how much we can learn from our environment in terms of producing content. As copywriters, nothing may feel further from our laptop-driven lives, but nature is packed with insight when it comes to creating our very best work.

Be inspired

For centuries, writers have waxed lyrical about the tremendous power of inspiration one can gain from a rolling mountainside, a babbling brook, or a rather lovely tree – and writing content is no different.

You may not hope to write an epic novel that examines the human condition, but at the end of the day, you are a creative, you are a writer, and great writers need to be inspired – no matter what the subject. After all, content marketing is a predominantly creative process.

Next time you’re suffering from a dreaded bout of writer’s block, take a walk, look around you, and gather your thoughts. Sometimes, something as simple as getting out of the office for an hour can unearth creative possibilities and open up new ways of thinking. Your legs will thank you, and your content will reap the benefits.

As copywriters we can forget that, just like poets, novelists and songwriters, our work feeds on inspiration. More often than not, creativity is often born of a calm mind. A new winning idea could be waiting for you on your next nature walk.

Celebrate diversity

When we think of the great outdoors, our minds may be automatically drawn to rural surroundings: trees, rivers, and anything else heavily featured in Enid Blyton novels. But just like digital content, nature is vast and varied. As with the great outdoors, great content means different things to different people.

Look out of your window. You may be blessed with a view pretty enough for a Windows screensaver, but for some, the outdoors equates to nothing more than the backend of an ALDI car park. My point is: content is everywhere and is used for a range of platforms. There is no one formula that will work for every piece of content; this means that every new project you take on should be approached from a slightly different angle.

There are endless, diverse possibilities when it comes to creating content. You could generate video on RendrFX, design an infographic on PiktoChart, or create interactive media such as quizzes on Qzzr.

With so many fabulous tools, generating great content is far from purely focusing on the written word.

Have the right equipment

Have you ever tried running a marathon in a pair of wellies? How about scaling a mountain in a pair of flip flops? I’m guessing that unless you’ve lost a very unfortunate bet, the answer is no. We all know the appropriate tools we’ll need to take on different environments, so why are you creating content without the right tools?

Luckily, there are reams of brilliant resources to help you to achieve your very best content. There are literally hundreds, but below is a short list of my personal favourites.

 

Trendspottr
The perfect way to optimise your content is to intertwine it with what your audience are actively engaging in. Trendspottr analyses live data, identifying trending topics across social media and predicting what will be big, before it’s even become popular.

Trendspotter signal

 

Mailchimp
An oldy but a goodie, Mailchimp goes above and beyond when it comes to email marketing. The software allows you to create a subscriber base and generate personalised emails for your audience, taking the hassle out of getting your content to your users.

Mailchimp

 

Shopify Blogs

A great resource for anyone wanting to boost their content skills is the vast collection of blog posts featured on Shopify. Written by titans of the industry, there are dozens of lists, how to’s and general advice on how to make the most of our content and connect masterfully with your audience. From the basics of blog writing, to how to start your own podcast, you’re sure to be inspired, whatever level you’re at.

Shopify

 

Hemingway

A desktop app that helps clarify your content. The app highlights long sentences and suggests areas where you can trim the fat and improve. Perfect for those who find themselves overwriting and maxing out word counts.

Hemingway

(Or you could, more accurately, use a shorter word; perhaps they should take a leaf out of their own book.  Ed.)

Take risks

No matter if you’re a modern day Bear Grylls, or more of a nice cup of tea in front of the telly kind of fella, breaking out into the great outdoors has risks. From snakes to soggy sandwiches, a day out in the countryside can be testing. But more often than not, taking the road less travelled is when things become most exciting.

When it comes to content, the same rings true. Playing it too safe can prevent your content from ever reaching its full potential, leaving it destined to fade into the sea of thousands of other pages – and ultimately boring your audience.

If you are serious about taking your content to the next level, it’s time to make that jump. Whether it’s adding character to your tone of voice, revamping your design, or investing in a new online shop management system, taking that risk may just pay off in the long run.

 

Writing effective copy need not be an uphill struggle. By creating tailored, diverse content using the correct tools, and taking risks wherever possible, you’ll soon be on the path to creating content that’s worth going the extra mile for.

 

Victoria Greene: Writer & Content Marketer

Victoria Green

I’m a content whizz who enjoys nothing more than helping brands create unique content to reach their business goals. I spend my time dreaming up effective content strategies and love tackling subjects from a new angle.

 

 

 

 

 

How to start a business blog

If you’re just setting out on your blogging journey and haven’t even decided on a name for it or organised your site, then this excellent infographic is for you.  It covers the basic why, how and what of blogging.

This isn’t a subject I’ve covered before – and I’m not covering it myself today, either, because it’s really not my forte.  I’m leaving it to Robert Mening and the team at WebsiteSetup, who can talk about all the technical stuff with proper authority as they does that sort of stuff for a living.  The infographic maps out all the basics you need to think about:

How to start a business blog infographic

 

You can read the whole, in-depth article here.

The thumbnail of the graphic was sent me by Rose Cameron of WebsiteSetup, who announced it as a “Wonderful infographic for your site” and told me it would be great exposure for their content.  I’m afraid my reply was a touch acidic, but her chutzpah won through.  Oh, to be 29 again!  Then again, maybe not …

Once you’ve followed their advice, come back and read my posts about writing the content!

Of narrowboats, floods and copywriting

It may not quite be Prunella Scales and Timothy West, but I’m spending 10 days of my summer holiday driving a narrowboat.  A pair of original working narrowboats owned by the Narrow Boat Trust (NBT), to be precise, one of which (the butty, Brighton) has no engine: it’s towed by the other (Nuneaton).  I’ve driven  a 57-foot-long narrowboat for several holidays but I’m still expecting a steep learning curve.

Narrow Boat Trust's working boats Nuneaton and Brighton
NBT’s working pair Nuneaton and Brighton

As each NBT boat is 70’ long, the tow-line is 70’ long, and you drive from the stern of the boat, that’s a lot of manoeuvring space to think about when you’re going round a bend in the butty.  And, as boats use reverse gear to brake, there’s the small matter of how to stop the butty, since it has no reverse – or indeed forward – gear.  Like everything else, there’s a technique to it.  I’ll be with experienced NBT volunteers who’ll show me the ropes, but I’ll need to be able to do it by myself asap.

The locks on the Oxford Canal, where we’ll be travelling, are all narrow, so only one boat can go through at a time.  That means the second boat has to be “bow-hauled” (pulled by rope and human power) into each lock and out the other side.  On a staircase of locks, that’s a lot of hard physical work, on top of which we’ll be delivering coal to other boats as we travel.  I expect to be much leaner and fitter when I get back!

What have narrowboats to do with copywriting?  Just that, as with every skill, there’s always something new to learn, techniques that other people take for granted but you must pick up; and that sometimes it’s just plain hard work and not a lot of fun.  There isn’t time to be precious about writing, you simply have to knuckle down and make it work.

It does get easier – as I’m sure driving the NBT boats will get easier – if you keep at it.  Not just finding your voice but learning the techniques that make your writing work, like how to push the emotional buttons that get readers interested and make them buy.

The other day my sister sent me an award application that a voluntary flood-prevention action group she’s involved with were about to submit.  Under the heading “Tell us why you should be considered as a Local Hero” (or words to that effect) they’d put just a bare statement of what they’re doing, rather than telling a story that captures the imagination.  If I’d been a judge, I wouldn’t have given it more than a passing glance.

So I rewrote the application for them, giving examples and injecting a bit of emotion into it, and hopefully they’ll be shortlisted for the award.  That sort of writing requires a certain technique – but anyone can learn it.  I’ve been using it for nine years now, so I can make it look easy; like any skill, you need perseverance, regular practice and a desire to achieve it.  (Like controlling a pair of narrowboats: by the end of my holiday, I hope to be able to make that look just as easy but I think it may take a bit longer than a few days…)

So if you’re struggling with your writing, keep at it: persevere and one of these days you’ll realise that it’s become easy.  If you can’t wait for that day, you know where to come!

 

Set it and forget it? No: promote the hell out of it!

Have you ever felt you were talking to a void?  That the audience you thought was hanging on your every word isn’t even there?  That you’re writing your pearls of wisdom for yourself, ‘cause no-one else is listening?

It’s not a great feeling.  In fact, it’s one of the most depressing and frustrating feelings I can think of.

But you could be right, at least when it comes to your blog.

There’s so much information on the internet, so many great insights, discussions, exposés, revelations…  So much stuff written by celebs – which will be read however inane it is, just because someone more famous than you wrote it.

Most non-celeb blogs get fewer than 8 views.  Ever.

Hardly worth the time and effort, is it?

So how do bloggers become famous?  How do they get heard above the racket?

They promote the hell out of themselves and every word they’ve ever written.  Over and over again.  They re-promote posts as “evergreen” whenever and wherever they get a chance.  They guest blog, post articles on other channels, tweet about them, advertise them on Facebook … and rinse and repeat.

They work bloody hard to get found and get heard.  And eventually other people start doing the promoting for them; that’s when it all starts to take off.  And maybe – just maybe – they have a post go viral and people really start to take notice.

It takes a lot of concentrated effort, at one end or another.  You can either become a celebrity before you start blogging, or become a celerity because you blog – it’s up to you.

But if you want your blog to reach an audience, you have to promote your posts and get other people to promote them for you.

There’s now an easier – and much less time-consuming – way to do that.

Missinglettr blog promotion tool logoI’ve mentioned Missinglettr before, when I first signed up for it.  It’s a great tool that promotes your posts for you via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, for a whole year, with only about 5 minutes’ input on your part.

It’s working so well for me that I signed up as an affiliate and I have a very special offer for you.  If you sign up before July 25th 2017, you get 6 months’ membership for the price of 1.  Yup, you read that right – not 2 or 3, but 6 for 1.  Go here to find out more.

Yes, I’ll get a few pennies if lots of people sign up. But I wouldn’t be promoting it if I didn’t think it’s a great tool as well as a great bargain.

Missinglettr saves me literally hours of tedious, repetitive work, racking my brains for different ways to promote my blog posts.  I usually have to tweak their suggestions, but once that’s done, that’s it.  For a year.  (Though I can tweak them again later if I want to.)

No more faffing about with CSV files for Hootsuite.  No more being told “you can’t repeat yourself” by Buffer.  No more doing it manually, every day, when you have many far more urgent things to do.

Just set it and forget it.  Your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook friends will promote the posts on down the line to their connections – often two or three times over the year – and the word spreads.  With zero effort on your part.

Ever fancied becoming a blogging celebrity?  This could be your moment!  Simply click here and try it for yourself.

I use it for every single post I put out on my Scottish Visitor blog (www.scottishvisitor.co.uk; thank you for asking!) and views have increased, for some posts, by several hundred.  When you think how many blogs there are about Scotland, that’s really no’ bad.  And, as the campaigns continue through the year, I expect it to rise.

Who knows, views may even get into the thousands – hundreds of thousands – millions!  That would be exciting …

But here’s the point: whatever dizzy heights I reach, it would definitely never happen if I had to do it all manually.  I just can’t be bothered; there’s too much else to do.  I manage it for about a week and then fade away.

If that’s your experience too, you really should try this package.  Using tools like Missinglettr and Quuu (which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and still also love) is like having a social-media-savvy assistant take over all the grunt work for you.  Bliss!

So head on over and pick yourself up 6 month’s worth of that priceless assistant’s time for the price of 1 month.  No HR problems, just results.

You’ve only got until 25th July to get signed up, so do it now, while you remember.  If you’re too late for the offer, sign up anyway; you’ll be glad you did.  Who knows, you could turn into the next blogging sensation!

What quilts are blogging about

I did a training session on blogging the other day for a local group and, as ever, the biggest problem most of them faced was getting ideas.  I mentioned a site I’d had recommended to me which looked like a really useful tool to solve that problem.  I’ve since had a chance to use it in earnest, and it lives up to its billing.

The site is answerthepublic.com.  It’s free to use (so that’s not an affiliate link!).  They don’t even ask you to sign up, though you will have to if you want to take advantage of their mini course to help you get the most from the site.  I found it quite easy to use anyway, though there may be hidden depths you only discover with the course.

How it works

You type in your keyword (in this case “blogging”) and it comes up with a list of headings.  Not just any list, though – a pretty list!  They arrange the answers to look like a flower.  Nice.

anwerthepublicblogging ideas results
Screen-shot of answerthepublic results “flower”.

They don’t only give you one list, either.  The first one focuses on questions, so the answers are based on who, what, where, when and so on. That’s where I found the delightful “What quilts are blogging about” – surprisingly (to me) they blog quite a lot! – and 138 other ideas.

The second list uses prepositions (with, versus, for, near and the rest) and produced 120 options.  And then there were 149 alphabetical ideas, though some of these were pretty odd (“r blogging”, for example – it turned out to be Reddit) and/or in foreign languages.

“Touring Scotland” didn’t produce much in the first two sets of results but the alphabetical list came up with plenty of great blog topics – enough to keep you going for several months – so it’s worth scrolling down the page even if the top results don’t look promising.

Whichever set of options you choose, click on an idea and it takes you to a Google page of links.  I think that’s the real advantage of this tool: it doesn’t just give you a rough idea, it sends you to what’s already been written on the subject so you can avoid repeating it and create something original.

Once you think you know where you’re going with the idea, you could take it to SocialAnimal or SocialMention  and see which has been the most popular of the items listed.  Then you can work out what take on the subject would get most clicks and choose other relevant keywords, on those two sites and / or at Storybase.

After which, naturally, you do your headline homework at Co-Schedule or the Advanced Marketing Institute site.  And then write your blog.

Time is of the essence

There is, of course, the very real possibility that you’ll never get the thing written at all, having spent all your time following the rabbit down the hole and all round the warren.  Like a good dictionary, one thing leads to another, you follow a branch-line, glimpse another rabbit … and come up for air three hours later.

And most of us can’t spare that much time out of our fraught schedules.

But the more steps you can cope with, the more chance you have that people will open and read your blog and click on your links.  And there’s really no point writing it unless someone reads and engages with it, is there?

However, even if you only use answerthepublic you’ll save yourself a lot of head-scratching and effort.  Sometimes it doesn’t come up with much (it didn’t register any results for “headline analysis”, for example, but then neither did Storybase) and you may have to change your terms until it does that “aha!” thing. So if “touring Scotland” doesn’t produce the results you need, try “visiting Scotland”.

I hope that helps cure the no-ideas blues.  Have fun with it – but don’t let that rabbit get away with your day!  And if you really don’t have time for all of that, you know where to come …

 

 

Why blogging doesn’t work

Are you wasting your time?

White rabbit from Alice in Wonderland worrying about wasting time

“There are millions of people out there who get very frustrated with content marketing. Many of them have great content. They optimize their content in every way they can. But since they expect their great content to magically attract an audience on its own, simply no one knows about this great content.”  So wrote Susanna Gebauer of The Social Ms, way back in April 2015.

Nothing’s changed.

Writing a blog is a great outlet for your creativity.  It’s a good way to keep your web content fresh.  But, on its own, it’s a lousy way to reach an audience.  Why?  Because the people you want to reach aren’t even peripherally aware of it.

So why would they read it?

Content creation does not equal content marketing.

Content creation + promotion does.

Aaaaargh, I hear you scream – I already have way too much to fit into my day.  How the hell am I supposed to do that too???

There are several ways to get promotion out of the way without wasting daily hours over it.

  1. Buy billboard space all over town, or newspaper, magazine, radio or TV ad spots. OK, they’ll blow the budget but you’ll definitely get your message out there. Whether anyone will pay any attention to it is another story.  (How do you react to ads?  I ignore them or swear at them; I don’t buy.)
  2. Post links to your content on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and/or whatever other social media channels work for you. This is much easier and cheaper – and usually more effective. The easiest way to do it is via Hootsuite, Buffer or one of the other posting services, where you can set up a week’s worth of posts on a spreadsheet in about an hour and then forget all about it.  You still need to post as yourself, as you normally would, but your blog post will be promoted regularly without you having to remember to do it.
  3. Sign up to MissingLettr which takes all the work out of thinking about how to promote your posts. They work out hashtags for you, which images to use and what blurb should go with each – but you can edit all the suggestions before you give your campaign the OK, so you’re not stuck with what the computer dreams up.  The great thing about it is that each campaign lasts a full year – and you don’t even have to think about it!  I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it seems to be very effective.  It’s still quite new, so it only posts to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook at the moment, but other social channels will be available soon.  As with Hootsuite and the rest, you still have to post your normal stuff regularly, too.
  4. I’d also recommend you sign up to Quuu and get enthusiastic people to promote your content for you. (You should, of course, promote theirs in return; that’s only fair.) Basically, Quuu allows you to leverage other people’s audience to drive traffic to your content.  It’s worked well for both my GreatCopy and ScottishVisitor blogs.  The good news is, it’s just about to become available for a mere $39 from those nice people at AppSumo and you can get it for a short time only from May 29th 2017 (yes, it’s an affiliate link). This is the same package I signed up for, and I’m very glad I did!
  5. Make sure you capture names and emails of visitors to your site. Don’t have a pop-up that covers the screen as soon as they arrive (one of my pet hates).  At least give them time to see whether what you offer is what they’re looking for.  My pop-up appears when visitors are about to leave the site, and gives them something of value in return (a free ebook) if they sign up to my newsletter.  It’s really easy to set up – at least, it is with WordPress and Mailchimp: it took about 10 minutes.  Your enthusiastic newsletter/blog readers will then, hopefully, help promote your content to their contacts.

If it still all sounds very complicated and time-consuming, take heart: if you use even one of these methods to do the promoting for you, it really isn’t.  If you use all of them, you’ll extend our reach hugely and it’ll only take you a couple of hours a week, on average.

If you don’t use any of them (or something equally effective), do yourself a favour: stop creating content. Because you’re just wasting your breath upon the desert air.  Ain’t no-one gonna find it.

The systems all quite easy to set up, even for non-tech-savvy people (I speak from the heart).  They’ll save you hours of bother.  And they work.

Over to you…

 

Do you feel a fraud when you write content?

Do you feel a fraud when you write content?  Do you think “one day somebody’s going to find out I’m really not good at this”?  Even pro copywriters do.  Strange but true; I read it on the Professional Copywriters’ Network blog only the other day.

Maya Angelou fraud quote

I certainly felt a fraud when I first hung out my slate as a copywriter.  I went freelance because I didn’t think an agency would employ me (OK, that was partly because I was a beginner in my 50s; I also didn’t want to work for a boss any more).

It wasn’t that I couldn’t write: I’d been writing features for magazines and newspapers for years.  There’s a book about Alsace with my name on the cover (I only wrote the wine section; travel writing came later for me).  I’d just written a big exhibition for the tourist attraction where I worked.  I’d felt the exhilaration of writing “in the zone”.

And when I told people I was a copywriter they accepted the fact.  They asked me to write for them.  They paid me.  They even recommended me to their colleagues.  Suddenly I was a professional copywriter.

But I didn’t feel like one.  I felt like an impostor.  I thought “one day, someone’s going to find me out”.

The same thing often happens when people write for their business.  Maybe it’s happened to you.

At first you feel a fraud.  You tell yourself “I can’t write” or “I don’t know enough about this business to explain it to anyone”.  But as soon as you start doing it, you become someone who writes about your business.

You can’t possibly be a fraud because you’re actually doing it.  That’s logical and incontrovertible.  You are a writer.

Whether you’re good at it or not is a whole different question – but there’s an answer to it.  The more you practice, the better you get, like anything else.

Small children don’t learn to walk in an instant: they fall down – a lot.  Sports people don’t win their first matches: they have to learn to be winners.

Singers don’t (usually) go platinum with their first record – and if they do, it’s because they’ve put in a lot of hard graft before they ever went anywhere near a recording studio. Musicians play scales for hours before they tackle the hard stuff.  Even Mozart didn’t write his first concerto until he was about six: he practiced.

Great writers aren’t born great, either.  They work at it – refine their style, polish and prune and perfect.  Rewrite, edit and prune some more.  Rip it all up and start again from a different angle.  Wish they hadn’t.  And do it again.

Practice, time, patience, desire, passion are the drivers to success.  Or possibly just necessity, because you can’t find another poor sap to do it for you.  (If that’s how you feel, give me a call!)

So don’t feel bad if you aren’t Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Dana Stabenow rolled into one.  You just haven’t had quite as much practice as them (yet).  That doesn’t make you a fraud.  (Actually, it’s probably just as well: can you imagine a blog written by their combined forces?!?)

So if you’ve been putting off getting started because you aren’t yet good enough – don’t take your own word for it.  Publish and be damned, as the 1st Duke of Wellington said to his ex-mistress: turn pro.

And let the world tell you how good you are.

We’re back!

Many apologies to anyone who’s been trying to use this site for the past month or so.  I was moving it to a new host and, not really knowing what I was doing, I made a mess of the technical stuff.

The site will be getting a revamp shortly, and getting an SSL (which means it will start with https instead of http, and will therefore be more secure for you to use).  Me, I don’t understand a word of it!  But if it makes the site safer and prettier, I’m all in favour of it.

Meanwhile, normal blogging service will be resumed shortly.  GreatCopy starfishGreatCopy starfish

GreatCopy starfish

10 Top Tips for effective web content

Writing effective web content

You’ve got a beautiful, shiny, new website just waiting to go live.  How are you going to get the best return on your investment?  It’s all in the content.  Here are my 10 top tips.

Think about how you use the internet.

Effective web copy makes surfing easier
Effective web copy makes surfing easier

You usually want to either solve a problem, find information, read news, buy a specific item, or decide between two competing suppliers.  What does your reader want from your business?

Does he already know about you or do you need to grab his attention?  Best to assume the latter. On average you have 7 seconds to hook him before he exits your site.  So keep your copy punchy and to the point.

People read differently on the internet

They scan, so you need plenty of sub-headings to give them the gist as they go.  They’re looking for key words, so you need to get them in, preferably a couple of times per page, without cramming the text. If you put important words in bold it helps them stand out as your reader scans.

You can find out what terms people are using to find your service or product by Googling “keyword tools”; there are plenty to choose from.  Many of them will also suggest other words or phrases that have been searched for, so you can mix and match the keywords in your text.

Don’t put too many keywords in, though – people are looking for answers, not a muddle of keywords, and the search engines don’t like keyword-stuffed text either.

Write as though you’re talking to your reader

The web’s not the place for business-speak or gobbledygook unless you’re writing technical stuff for technical readers.  And write to one person: only one person is reading your limpid prose at any one time (or so she likes to think), so talk to her directly rather than saying things like “those of you who’ve been to our premises”.

Clarity is everything.  Make life easy for readers and they’re more likely to stick around.

Write about what your reader wants to know

… not about your fabulous premises or 65-year history.  If your premises were designed by a famous architect, or your company history goes back to 1345, by all means mention the fact on your About page as it may be useful to some student doing a project.

Otherwise, unless it’s relevant to the quality of your widgets or will help you sell your services, leave it out.

Do have a page for staff details (About Us, Meet the Team)

People buy from people, not corporations.  Also one reason people look up companies online is to find out who to contact with a particular problem or proposition, so make it easy for them.  You won’t get that many time-wasters.

This is also the page where you can crow a bit about your wonderful training scheme, how many people have gained qualifications this year and so on.  Make your company sound like a great place to work.

Remember to update the details when staff move on!

Refresh your content regularly.

Not only does it keep the site interesting for your readers, it’s also good for SEO.

And there’s nothing more likely to make readers distrust the rest of your site than reading about events that were due to happen 2 years ago: they think “Is this company still in business?” and look elsewhere.

You can’t make the mistake of thinking, “I’ve got a website, so that’s dealt with”.  Make updating it a priority, so interested readers will come back.  It will help you win the battle for customer retention.

Have one page per product or service

For example, a travel agent could have pages for winter sun, cruises, sun-sea-and-sangria jaunts, specialist holidays, flights-only offers, last-minute deals, hen- and stag-party cheapos and so on.

Each page should have a minimum of 300 words, though.  If you can’t write enough about one product, combine it with a similar one.

A Home page needn’t be about your company

In fact that’s a liability because it’s where people feel they should have the stuff about “Our company was founded in 1923 and is still run by the same family”.

Much better to have your best-selling product on your front page, where you can sell it, and tuck the history onto the About us page.

The most important thing on your website is the reader

Everything should be designed for him or her first.

What does she need from us?

How will it help her?

Why is that important to her?

Get an outsider to read it for you as though they were a prospect.  [Better still of course, get an outsider to write it for you (just saying)!]

Get someone who hasn’t written it to proofread it for you.

Far too many websites are completely ruined by glaring typos, wrongly-used words and grammatical mistakes.

It’s very hard to spot your own mistakes – you see what you expect to be there, not what actually is – so get fresh eyes to look it over for you.

Your website is your 24/7 sales-person: make sure it sells.

How to find free-to-use photos for your blog

Every one agrees: you need great images to bring your blog alive. But where’s the best place to find them, without it costing too much or contravening copyright laws?  The good news is, there are plenty of sites online where you can get great images that are free-to-use, in both senses.  And not all of them provide dull, same-y stock photos.  Equally, not all the photos on all the sites are free – check before you download.

GreatCopy starfish

Here are some suggestions; I’ll tell you my favourite at the end – it may surprise you!

The best free-to-use photo sources

pixabay.com – highy recommended by a lot of people

morguefile.com

freedigitalphotos.net

join.deathtothestockphoto.com (they’ll send you freebies every week if you sign up, some more useful than others)

https://en.fotolia.com/  (ditto)

unsplash.com (ditto)

freerangestock.com

publicdomainpictures.net

Red Sea anemone fish

sxc.hu

dreamstime.com/free-photos

stockvault.net

freestockphotos.com

freeimages.co.uk

freephotosbank.com

New Old Stock

focusfitness.net/stock-photos/ (for health and fitness images)

Flickr.com is an odd one: some of the photos are usable, others aren’t.  Not everyone makes their family snaps “Private”.  Here’s how to find photos you can use commercially on Flickr

Go to Flickr.com

Click  on the magnifying glass to get the Advanced Search option. Scroll down the page and tick the “Creative Commons” and “Find content to use commercially” boxes; if you want to modify or adapt the photo, tick that as well. Then click Search and you’ll see only photos you can use without infringing copyright.

smiley face

And now my favourite: Google images.

Yup, the one everyone tells you not to use.  Again, you MUST make sure the image you want to use is available for commercial use.

Go to https://images.google.com and enter the word you want your image to reflect.  Thousands of potentially useful pictures appear.  Don’t bother even looking at them yet.

In the middle of the task-bar above the images click Settings, then Advanced search.  A new window opens. Scroll right down to Usage rights and choose the appropriate option: “Free to use or share, even commercially” or “Free to use, share or modify, even commercially”.  Click on “Advanced Search”, which returns you to the (now much-reduced) page of images.

You could just right-click on the image you want and select Save, but you may find it’s saved at a much smaller resolution than the size given on Google.  To get a full-size image, left-click on it in Google and, when it opens, choose “View Image” and save it from there.

Choosing the right image is still something of a rabbit hole – you can spend hours locating exactly the right one.  I find Google the easiest source because it collects images from so many different sites, including some of the ones in the list above.  But make sure you choose a Creative Commons (free to use) image for your blog.

Who reads your content when? How? And where…

They may have taken The Generation Game off TV now, but it’s still playing out in the unlikely arena of content marketing.  There are big differences in how, when and where the generations consume content but, interestingly, smaller differences in what content they enjoy.

As an aside, I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit perplexed by the labels marketers give to the generations.  If you’re the same, here’s the official breakdown:

Baby Boomers (BBs) were born in the years 1946-64

Generation Xers (GXs) date from 1965-1980

Millennials (Mills) are 1981-1997 vintage (aka Gen Y).

The latest batch are, of course, Gen Z.  What happens after that is anyone’s guess – presumably the end of the world as we know it.

BuzzStream and Fractl recently did a major survey of the three groups (though they altered the relevant dates to 1946-64, 1965-76 and 1977-95 for reasons best known to themselves).

Respondents were asked about their preferences of content and genres, the times they accessed content and what device they read it on, among other things.

Who reads most?

Oddly enough, BBs came out top in the quantity stakes.  In fact they spent twice as much time reading content online, on average, as GXs and Mills.  That did surprise me.  I know print newspapers are dying off and everyone reads books on Kindle these days, but I expected younger generations to read more online than their parents.  Maybe it’s just because I’m an old fogey and still prefer to feel the paper between my fingers…

Or maybe the younger generation just reads less of anything they access and therefore consume the same content faster.  Research by the Nielsen Norman Group (https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/) shows that “on the average web page, readers have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely”.

But that shouldn’t lead you to write fewer words.  The graphs of article length peaked at 300 words for all three generations, but there was an extra peak at 500+ words for GXs (less so for Mills and definitely not for BBs: 300 was the tops for them).

So all those articles you read about long copy being the answer to your marketing prayers are absolutely right – if you’re marketing to Gen Xers.  To be fair, many of us probably are, as they now  make up the largest proportion of the population.  But even they will probably only read 28% of your carefully-crafted prose.

What type of content works best?

Who reads what
Image courtesy BuzzStream and Fractl

So what do your readers want to read?  All three generations had blog posts at the top of their list, which I find very cheering… until I think of all the competition that preference generates.  They also agreed on the next three categories: images (including infographics) came second, comments third and ebooks fourth for everyone.

The fifth winner was different for each generation, though: Mills like audio books, GXs prefer case studies and BBs like reviews.  Bottom of the whole list for all groups was white papers.  Slide shares also did badly and so, astonishingly, did webinars.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t switch on my computer without tripping over someone trying to teach me how to create and sell webinars – and they come fourth from bottom in everyone’s list.

And I’m not totally convinced about the 5th from bottom result: Mills and GXs both said they didn’t enjoy quizzes.  That’s not what I see on Facebook!  Maybe they just said it because they thought they should  (“No, no – I never waste time on FB.  Who, moi?”)

Preferred genres

Other insights include: entertainment is the most popular with all generations, technology goes down best with Mills, and news and politics are the preferred reading for BBs.  Politics is a no-no for Mills, though, who much prefer sport.

Business is about even for all three, but it comes a long way down the list.  That supports the idea that blogs should entertain and provide news and views, not sell or discuss the nitty-gritty of business. Then again, it could also reflect the fact that people are reading content away from work and don’t want to be reminded of it in their leisure hours.  The fact that healthy living and comedy came fourth and fifth in the list tends to back this up.

The least-favoured genres were interesting, I thought: style came bottom, followed by the environment (both of those did better with Mills) and parenting was third from the bottom, most popular with GXs – well it would be, wouldn’t it?

Timing matters

When’s the best time to post your content, or tell people you’ve posted it?  For BBs it’s late morning (defined as 9.00-11.59 am), and that’s quite a good time for the younger groups too.  Then there’s a dip for everyone through the afternoon.  Early evening(6.00-7.59 pm) is a good time for BBs but lousy for GXs.  They peak sharply, along with Mills, in the late evening (8.00-11.59 pm), when BBs are pacing up for the night.

Midnight to 5.00 am(the start of the “early morning” slot) is not a good time for any of the groups which, again, I found surprising at first sight.  But I guess even the youngest respondent probably has to get up for work.  And the research was done in the States, where “early to bed and early to rise” is still something of a mantra – hence the 5am start to the research day.

What do people read your content on?

Laptops and desktops beat all other devices for all three groups, with BBs using both of them more than the other two groups.  It wasn’t a shock to discover that Mills read over a quarter of their content on mobiles – in fact, they make up over 50% of the people who use mobiles as their primary device for content.  BBs, on the other hand, make up only 14%, and read only about 7% of content on mobiles. Something to do with failing eyesight, perhaps?

Tablets don’t seem to be very popular with any of the groups.  They’re neither fish, flesh nor good red herring: don’t fit in your pocket or handbag and don’t have the capacity of a laptop, so that’s hardly surprising.

But clearly, optimising your content for mobile is vital – even without taking into account Google’s approach to search listings.

Where is content shared?

Facebook wins hands down: it’s used for around 60% of shares by all three groups.  YouTube, in second place, manages only 10-15% of shares and Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest all struggle along at 0-10%.

Inevitably, though, there are generational differences. GXs use Twitter for over 70% of their shares, while BBs prefer Google+, apparently, using it for 92% of shares.  (Really?!?!?  I hardly know anyone who uses it.  Is it much bigger in the States than over here?)

What are they sharing?  Mainly images and videos.  Blogs weren’t mentioned, which suggests that you need a darn good image for your blog and a link attached to it if people are going to find your words of wisdom through someone else’s share.  And Twitter posts with photos get far more shares than plain text ones, in my experience, which is another good reason for an eye-catching image.

So there you have it (and if you’re a BB you’ve statistically very unlikely to have read this far): the nitty gritty of who reads what, when, where and how – and maybe even some of the why.

So can you create a one-size-fits-all campaign?

Yup – keep on blogging and using great images.

It would be worth segmenting your mailing list by age group, if you have that information, and sending your emails out at different times of day.

Definitely make sure your content is mobile-friendly.

Make ‘em laugh.

And keep business right out of it.

Easy-peasy!

 

 

Save

You know what they say about planning?

They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and it’s as true of blogging as of everything else.  So if you’re blogging regularly but getting little or no response, or people are unsubscribing from your list,  it would be worth looking in  detail at how you plan your content marketing.

There are two elements to planning content marketing:  Planning for growth

  • what you want to achieve from it
  • who you’re aiming it at

You need to be clear on both before you even open that new Word page and start writing.

 

What do you want to achieve?

Let’s take them one by one.  Firstly, what do you want your content to achieve?

Your readers may be at any point in the sales funnel, from “getting to know you” at the top to “I want it now” at the tip.  Your content can only address them at one stage, so decide which you’re targeting before you start.

Targeting is where content calendars come in useful.  They help you plan what sort of content you’ll write when, and, if you have a team of writers, who’ll write it.  If you’re a solopreneur or freelancer you can use your calendar to see where you might like input from a guest blogger.

There are free content management calendars all over the internet.  Many of them are designed for large teams, so take a good look before you download – there’s only so much wall you want to cover!

A calendar is only worth as much as what’s written on it, of course.  This is where the various stages of the buying funnel come into their own, in helping you decide what content to post.

Get emotional

Most of your output should be for the people right at the rim of the funnel, who aren’t yet clued up about you.  It should explain how your product or service can help them: save them time, money, hassle or all three.  You’re creating a need, a desire, in your readers.  They may never have heard of your product or service; it’s your job to make them want it real bad.

A lot of business writers are very factual about their products but it’s worth remembering that at least 80% of purchases are made with the heart, not the head.  Logic is normally brought in to justify a decision that’s already been made.

Part of the “heart” side of the equation is you: your business, your personality, your brand.  Nobody buys Nike or Adidas trainers just because they need trainers; there are plenty of cheaper alternatives that do the job equally well.  It’s all image – smoke and mirrors – but by golly it’s profitable.

Your story is another emotional element: how your business started, why it turned out the way it is, what your guiding philosophy or idea is (think Costa Coffee’s Italian theme, Body Shop’s early recycling/organic philosophy).  You don’t need a tear-jerker – in fact you’re better off avoiding those unless you’re a charity – but you do need a story that people can relate to.

If you can’t write a story so that it touches your reader’s emotions, find a writer who can.  It will pay you!

The most effective emotional buttons are, in no particular order:

  • fear of missing out
  • wanting to be popular/respected
  • keeping up with the Joneses… yet still wanting to be unique
  • worry about the future, especially if it involves money, old age or children
  • greed
  • amusement (but humour needs a very delicate touch – irony, for example, is very often misunderstood)
  • lack of time and/or money
  • too much hassle/not enough sleep
  • wanting to be fitter/slimmer/healthier
  • avoiding stuff we don’t like (visiting the dentist…)
  • being happy

In other words, you’ve plenty of choice!

How do you press these emotional buy-buttons?  Very gently.  With information, not a sales pitch (that comes later).  At this point, as I said, you’re just creating need and making your product look like the answer to prayer.

Baiting the hook

The second stage, which obviously needs a different tone and approach, is more educational.  Now you’re talking to people who know they need a product or service similar to what you offer, and who probably know you exist.  Yours may be only one of several solutions they’re investigating, so you need to give them details.

You still need emotion in your posts, because the decision to buy from you hasn’t yet been made, and may not be if you don’t bait the hook and give them a good emotional reason to come to you.

Further down the funnel, your reader has finished their research into the available solutions to their problem.  Now it’s a question of who they buy from, so you can get less educational and let a bit of real promotional talk come through.  This is where your special offers come in, and anything else that differentiates your product from your competitors’.

USP: Ultra Special Product

So what does make your product stand out from everyone else’s?

Why should people buy from you rather than from your competitors?

It’s dispiriting how often I get a puzzled “I don’t really know” from clients in response to these questions.  If you don’t know, how on earth can you expect your prospects to?  If you don’t know, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

If you don’t know, find out.  Before you write another word.

It’s the difference between getting rich and going bust.

Who’s your friend?

As I said at the beginning, sorting out what you’re going to write and when is only half the battle.  The other vital element is knowing who you’re writing to.  Who is your perfect customer?

Have you ever sat down and visualised them?  Do you know which of the emotions above will work for them?  What keeps them awake o’ nights?  What makes them buy a product or service like yours?  If you don’t know, you could be aiming at entirely the wrong target or using a scattergun instead of a rifle, if you’ll excuse the analogy.

And that’s a total waste of your time, money and effort.

Back to the drawing board

If you’re unsure who your audience are, take some time before the New Year to sit down with a pencil and pad and make a list.  Make a drawing, if you’re gifted that way.  At least picture them in your head.  (Do this before you plan your content!)

What age are your ideal clients?  What sort of house do they live in, and where?  What car do they drive?  What are their hobbies?  Do they have kids?  Aged parents?  Are they dressy or scruffy?  Larks or owls?  Analytical or empathetic?  Which social media platform do they mainly use?  Where will they read your words of wisdom, and where might they share them? …  And any other questions that might be specific to what you sell.

There isn’t space here to discuss what different age groups prefer to read, where and when they do that and how it makes a difference to your marketing, but I’ll be covering it in a future blog.  It does matter, though, so it’s worth taking the time to do the exercise.

It may be that your product or service is applicable to a wide range of ages and lifestyles (think B&Q or supermarkets).  If so, do the exercise for different age groups.  If you run Tesco, for example, you might compare and contrast the needs and habits of schoolkids, students and young singles, young families, and so on.

You’d also think about Tesco in relation to Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and your other competitors, and that’s another exercise that’s worth doing over the holiday.  What differentiates you from your competitors?  Why do people buy from you rather than them, or vice-versa?  What opportunities and threats does that create?  (Yup, a good old-fashioned SWOT analysis.)

An alternative to trying to work it all out yourself is to ask your colleagues (if you have them).  Better still, do a survey with your customers, either by email or in person.  Your response rate may not be very high (it will rise if you offer an incentive!) but the answers should at least be accurate.  You won’t be able to ask some of the more personal questions, so you’ll still have to use your imagination/experience for them.

Planning your content marketing needn’t be a chore; in fact it can be fun, especially if several of you get together to do it.  And if you want to get a worthwhile return on your investment of time and effort in content marketing, it needs doing (as does the back-end work: the promoting – but that’s another story).

I hope you’ll come to love it and I look forward to hearing your results through next year.  Please comment below or email me (see side panel).

 

Inspiration for this post came from

  • https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/12/screw-up-content-marketing/?utm_term=READ%20THIS%20ARTICLE&utm_campaign=12%20Ways%20You%20Screw%20Up%20Your%20Content%20Marketing&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email
  • https://www.chat-marketing.co.uk/2016/12/13/improve-your-business-by-understanding-your-customers/

Save

5 things to do when you’re bored

I do a lot of work for a company that has a very successful business doing a very small range of things: they’re real specialists.  That makes it hard to write interesting, relevant and different blogs on a weekly basis and, to be honest, I sometimes get a bit bored covering the same subject over and over again.  boredom

If you’re in the same situation, here are my 5 top tips to cure the writing blues.

 

1. Write a blog in verse. You don’t have to be Shakespeare or Shelley – I said verse, not real poetry (though if you write real poetry, go for it!). You also don’t need to write as much as you would for a normal blog, because verse takes longer to read than prose.

Use whatever metre springs to mind and fit your own words to it; alter a well-known song; and make it rhyme or write blank verse – it’s up to you.  If you can’t fit your words to a metre, you could follow the lead of William [Topaz] McGonagall, or of the young man of Japan whose poetry never did scan (when told this was so, he replied “Yes, I know, but I always like to fit as many words into the last line as I possibly can”).

2. Create an infographic (they were called diagrams in my young day). There’s lots of free software available now online to help with layout, fonts and images. This one will take a bit of time and effort, but it’s a great way to explain a process or to make stats less indigestible to a wider public and you need only a tiny amount of text.

You can make your infographic as sophisticated or plain as you like and as your subject matter allows.  The less info there is, the clearer the result will be: it should be at least 50% graphic.  So you need to distil the information down to dram-sized chunks and you’ll probably have to spend quite a bit of time finding enough images of a similar style to make it look good.

3. Make a video. Again, you won’t need to write nearly so much; you can probably ad lib quite a lot. All you need is a mobile, plus a stand or some way of fixing your selfie-stick, good lighting on whatever you’re filming, and off you go.  And then you do it again, and again, until it looks professional enough to post.  (Or you get a pro to make it for you.)

Alternatively, if you’ve nothing particularly visual to promote, make a podcast.  Same idea as a video but with more words and nothing to look at.  A lot of people find them great, but I’m afraid I usually start thinking of something else when I’ve nothing to keep my eyes interested so they don’t work so well for me.

4. Have a stunning image and … that’s it. Your image is your blog post. It probably works best for photographers and graphic designers, and even then most people will want to talk about the how and why of the image.  But if that’s your line of work, try it.  See what sort of reaction you get and do it again if it works.

5. If none of the above appeal and you’ve completely run out of inspiration, find anniversaries or important events to hang your blog on, even (especially, perhaps) if they’re only loosely related to your business. I use an extraordinary book called “Odd Dates Only”, by William Hartston (Souvenir Press, 1998), which has some truly mind-boggling entries.

For example, most people in the UK think of today (November 11th) as Remembrance Day, but it’s also the feast day of St Menas, patron saint of sheep caravans (could be a useful topic-starter if you’re a taxi-driver or run a transport company), and the anniversary of the announcement by the British Government in 1947 that vegetarians would get higher potato rations than everyone else (what potato farmer wouldn’t like that?).  Alternatively, you could use modern news if it’s not too depressing (the US election, anyone?).

So clamber out of your specialist rut, strike out into the far blue yonder with these five tips and see where you end up.  Who knows, you could replace your blogging boredom with a whole new career!

I’d love to hear what you try and how you get on; do share below.

 

Well, there’s a surprise!

It’s a typically grey, drippy autumn day – thank heavens.

Maybe you weren’t expecting those last two words.  A gripe would be more normal, a depressed reflection on the shortening days growing chillier and more dreich as we head into winter.

But no.  I welcomed the grey drippiness.  I surprised you.

One of my copywriting mentors, Peter Thomson (www.peterthomson.com), talks about “surprising Broca” to get readers to sit up and pay attention.  Broca’s area is part of the left frontal cortex of the brain, named after the Frenchman who studied it, Paul Broca.  Broca’s area, in conjunction with Wernicke’s area, deals with speech production and language comprehension, among other things.

Broca's area

In particular, it’s the bit of your brain that finishes sentences before the speaker has got there.  We all do it.  If someone says “Oh I do like to be beside…” we know the rest should be “…the seaside”; “season of mists and…” inevitably brings up “…mellow fruitfulness” for most people, even if they can’t quote a single other line from Keats.

That’s what Broca’s area does.  It fills in the blanks and allows us to switch off, because we already know what’s coming.  It’s one reason every writing manual you’ll ever read advises you to avoid clichés.

Surprising Broca turns the brain’s reflex on its head.  Giving the reader a bit of a shock, something unexpected, makes him or her focus again on what you’re really saying.  So how do you use the technique?

Let’s take as an example “Where there’s a will…”; read or hear that and we’re already thinking “…there’s a way”.  One Will-writer I know turned it on its head: “Where there’s a Will there’s a family” was his motto.  Neat, huh?  It grabs your attention straight away.

“Season of mists and general drippiness” may not evoke quite what Keats meant, but it’s a better representation of large chunks of autumn in most of Britain and, again, drags your attention back to the present if you were expecting the original version.

You can surprise Broca with puns, too.  I remember my great uncle, when I was small, singing “It’s a long way to tickle Mary, it’s a long way to go”; it tickled my sense of humour.  The funeral director who states “I’m the last person to let you down” and the dentist whose strapline is “The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth” are doing the same thing.

When you surprise Broca effectively you don’t just wake people up.  You create stickability.  People remember surprising things much better than normal ones, precisely because they stand out from the ruck: it’s 50-odd years since I last heard my great uncle singing “tickle Mary” instead of “Tipperary”.

Many people groan when they hear a pun but, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, they won’t miss it.  A well-placed, well-thought-out pun or unexpected twist of phrase turns a piece of workaday prose into something individual.  It cheers your readers up, too – one reason they remember it (we remember emotionally-charged experiences better than dull ones).

So go ahead – surprise me.  It’ll do us both good.

There is no “wrong” way to blog

“I don’t think I’m doing it right,” my caller mourned.

The wrong way

“No-one seems to read my blogs – or if they do, they don’t respond.”  But there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to write a blog, just the best way for you.  It’s what you do with it after you’ve written it that makes the difference.

As I may have mentioned once or twice (OK, I keep banging on about it), your blog should sound like you.  Maybe you being a bit more grammatically correct than you would be over a pint in the pub, and without the ums, ers and pauses, but you.  It’s personal.

Just write as if your intended audience was sitting next to you and you were chatting to them.  The only way you can get it wrong is to try and sound like someone you’re not or to write inappropriately for your audience: like writing a University assignment in text-speak, it won’t go down well.

To take a current example, is Donald Trump getting it “wrong”?  He’s certainly using language that roughly half the world finds inappropriate, but it seems to appeal to his intended audience and – unless he’s a much stupider marketer than I think he is – he’s showing us the real Donald Trump.

Maybe you’d rather not be compared to “the Donald”, but it’s a serious point.  You are your USP and writing as yourself will help your blog stand out from the crowd in your industry (along with top-quality information and strong opinions, natch).

But that’s only the start of it.  You may know the expression “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.  It wasn’t true when it was coined and it’s not true now.  Because unless people have heard of your mousetrap they’ll have no idea they need it and you won’t get a new front path.

It’s the same with blogs.  You can write the best blog in the world, but unless you tell people about it they won’t read it.  You can’t just write it, post it and forget it.  It pays to advertise, as the old saw goes.  How?

Put a link on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, or whatever social media channels and forums you favour.  Post the blog as an article on LinkedIn and on any relevant industry sites, as well as on your own site.  Fill your Buffer/Hootsuite/whatever feed with subtle and overt links to it (but don’t make it your only topic of conversation).  Get it promoted by the nice folk on Quuu.  Convert it into slides and put it on SlideShare.

If your blog is not hosted on your website (which I don’t recommend, by the way), make sure there’s a link from one to the other and back.  And put your blog address on your business card, just as you do your website and email addresses.

Mention your blog when you do a podcast, talk or webinar, go to networking and training events, and anywhere else you meet people.  Ask your friends, colleagues and family to share it.  Send a link to someone you respect in your industry with a compliment and a request for them to give you feedback on it.

In other words, promote the living socks off it, just as you would if it were a new product.  You want it to become this month’s blockbuster best-seller.  Once this post has found enough readers, some of them will follow you and promote future ones without being asked.  And then you’ll never have to mourn that “nobody sees it”.

Yes, it takes a lot of effort, but only for a short while.  Isn’t it worth it?  Or, to put it another way, is it worth not doing it?  You’re putting a lot of work into writing the blog, and that’s wasted time and trouble if no-one reads it.

In short, as long as you sound like you, there’s no wrong way to blog, just poor publicity.

Do you want to help your clients?

It’s a loaded question, of course.  But do you really want to help your clients?  I’m sure you both want to and actually do.  The reason I ask is that I was re-reading Andy Maslen’s extremely useful book “Write to Sell” and, in particular, the chapter on getting to know your reader.

He writes about “away” and “towards” motivation.  You’re probably familiar with the terms; the concept’s been around for a while.  Maslen suggests using them as the basis for writing to your clients.  Away or towards?

The exercise he proposes is that you start off with three adjectives describing people, for example “busy”, “tired” and “ambitious”.  Then you decide what a busy person might want to get away from (their endless to-do list) and what they want to go towards (more time), and do the same for all the other adjectives you’ve come up with (for example, tired: away from stress, overwork/towards sleep; ambitious: low status/money, power).

So what adjectives describe your clients and potential customers?  What are they heading towards?  Away from?  The more you can come up with, the better you’re getting to know your target customer.  And the easier it will be to write to them.

OK, you say, but I’m not just writing to one client; I’m writing to hundreds.  Maybe they are all tired, busy and ambitious, but they’re not all going to have exactly the same motivations.

Fair enough – but you can’t write hundreds of different newsletters every week, you’ve got a business to run. So you have to write to an aggregate of your mailing list, the client you want to help: someone you can chat to and make friends with, even if only virtually.

You could draw a picture of him or her, if you’re good at that sort of thing.  If you’re really arty you could add all sorts of bits of their life, especially the bits where they’re using your product or service.  If you’re not, “draw” the picture in your head (as someone once said, all the best pictures are on the radio!).

It’s a bit like having an imaginary friend.  Perhaps you had one as a child.  This one won’t get you into trouble as that one may have; in fact they could well be your saving grace.  The better you can visualise them, the easier it is to write to them, to the point where it becomes like having a conversation with a chum – the sort of conversation that comes to a temporary halt one day and picks up where you let off next time you see them.

(And while we’re on the subject of writing to friends, may I climb on a hobby horse for a moment?  Thank you.)  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing to a business and don’t even know the name of the person who’ll open your missive: it’s still a person who reads your words, so write in human language.  If you’re a lawyer writing to other lawyers by all means use appropriately legal language (and obviously that goes for any other conversation with a technical audience).  If you’re writing to people who don’t talk the talk, just write English!

And only one person at a time will be reading it, so avoid “some of you”, “many of you” and other such disorientating phrases.  (OK, I’ll get off the hobby horse now.)

If you want to help your clients you have to get to know them and then write to them as personally as possible.  That’s it.  It’s simple really.

And it’ll save you – busy, tired and ambitious as you are – loads of time and effort in the not-very-long run.  “Write newsletter” will be off your to-do list almost before it’s on it, you’ll have oodles of time to sleep and socialise and plenty of money to do it with, your peers will fall over themselves to pay you compliments, your boss will recognise your talents and promote you…

Do you boast enough?

Do you boast enough?  Most of us don’t, but it’s a good habit to get into.  Do you boast enough?

If that runs against everything your parents, teachers and friends told you when you were younger, bear with me.

I don’t know about you, but I was brought up not to blow my own trumpet.  I think it’s a very British habit, but I gather Australians also suffer from what they call “tall poppy syndrome”, maybe due to all those British immigrants taking their culture over there.

“Who does he think he is?!?”

“Look at her!  Thinks she’s so special!”

Playground taunts – we’ve all heard them; and they don’t stop with the playground.  And we still cringe…  I think it’s beginning to change, mind you, and about time too: many of the teenagers I meet now seem to have much more confidence in talking themselves up (in the best possible way).

If you still cringe, getting your clients to talk you up is a brilliant way round it.  It also carries more credibility than boasting for yourself.  And it gives you a really easy subject for an occasional blog, in the form of a case study.

Case studies are dead easy to write: a client came to you with a problem, you sorted the problem using your skill and experience, and they went away happy leaving you with a big cheque – and the all-important testimonial, of course.  All you have to do is get all that on paper, and you’re done.  Easy-peasy lemon squeezy.

Case studies don’t have to be long, they require no imagination and very little energy, and they make you look fantastic.  What’s not to like?

But they’re not common, and I often wonder why not.  If you’re writing a blog for your customers and potential customers, a case study is an obvious way of proving you know what you’re doing.  Which builds the trust element of “know, like and trust” very nicely.

I guess a lot of people still think of that sort of article as boasting.  “Look at us!  We’re so special!”  Back to the playground…  Yet businesses are happy to spend money on advertising; isn’t that bragging, too?  A blog or newsletter is more personal than an ad, of course, but the intention is still the same.  It’s all marketing.

If your clients have given you testimonials, it’s because they think you do a great job and they don’t care who knows it.  And you know something?  It would be churlish not to pass their message on to the world.  If a client’s taken the trouble to write that testimonial, then it’s up to you to publicise it and make your client look like the all-round nice person they obviously are.

Looking at it like that, how could you not use the testimonials customers are kind enough to give you?!?  It’s quite clearly your obligation to write a case study and promote your client… and yourself, of course.  But you’re not boasting, not really.  Oh no.  Not enough to upset the playground bullies in your head, anyway.

So go ahead: blow your trumpet with someone else’s kind words.  Set off a whole brass band of them, one after another, if you like.  Send them out to your subscribers.  Plaster them across your website, while you’re at it.  As long as you call them case studies, you can boast as much as you like and everyone will think you’re wonderful.

P.S. If you’ve never written a case study and don’t know where to start, get in touch.  I can help you DIY, or do it for you if you prefer.

You can’t please everyone

As one respondent to my last newsletter said, you’re never going to please everyone – and nor should you try.  Not everyone is going to want what you sell, though that needn’t stop you aiming for world domination if that’s your desire.

You make your products for your market and you tailor your blog or newsletter to people who are interested in your products.  Good – but you still won’t please all of them all of the time.  Not unless you’re the writing equivalent of a Stepford wife.

So don’t worry about it.

Stand out
Image courtesy of geograph.org.uk

There, isn’t that a weight off your mind?

Maybe some of your readers will un-subscribe from your list.  No problem.  If they aren’t interested, they’re not going to be good customers for you anyway.  You’re going to rub them up the wrong way whatever you do, because even if you make your writing “plain vanilla” you’re still a fully 3D personality in real life, and that’s what your real-life customers see – and want to see.

So let your hair down.  I think that trying to please Teacher and, later in life, everyone else who might possibly read your pearls of wisdom, causes more writer’s block than anything else.  “Oh, I can’t say that, it might upset someone” is a real killer when you’re staring at that blinking cursor.

If you truly think something, say it (unless, of course, it’s bitchy or libellous; there’s no joy in being unkind just to get attention).  If people disagree with you, they’ll either start a conversation or walk away.  You can work with that; at least you know where you stand.  The customer is, of course, always right – so the people who walk away aren’t your real customers.

They may end up being your competitors’ real customers of course, but life and business are meant to be fun, not anodyne: who wants to spend their whole life being all things to all men just to hang on to a few customers?  (Well yes, I have too, back when I started my business, but it was never going to last!)

Once you stop trying to please everyone, writing becomes much more of a pleasure.  Write first and tone it down, if necessary, later.  It’s remarkably liberating to turn off your inner censor.

While you’re at it, break the rules of grammar the Victorians imposed on us.  I know, I know: I’m on record as saying that grammar matters and I still firmly believe that.  But lots of the rules never really mattered.  Firefox had a very apposite quote as their thought of the day recently: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is nothing to be afraid of”.  Indeed not!  And you can start sentences with conjunctions – if it was good enough for Shakespeare, Dickens and Burns (and they all did it), it’s good enough for me.

Play.  Have fun with the language.  Turn it on its head.  Invent new words.  Surprise us.  It’ll keep us much more interested than the plain old same old.

I’d advise keeping the punctuation right, mind you, or you might end up with misunderstandings like the glorious one Lynn Truss produced: “Dicks in tray”.  An apostrophe and a hyphen make all the difference …

But try something different with your next newsletter or blog post.  Be outrageous, let the skeletons out of the closet, ruffle a few toupees.  I dare you!

Do you dare be controversial?

Today’s blog may be a bit controversial, but it’s always good to stir up opinion somewhat – or so say many people.  I often read comments like “the blog where I really let rip was the one that got the most response ever”.

Controversial

So often we play it safe, try to keep our opinions to ourselves so as not to offend anyone.  We want to be known, liked and trusted, after all, don’t we?  And who’s going to like someone with whom they disagree strongly?  “Will they ever trust me again if I go out on a limb?”, you wonder.

But if you want people to get engaged with you, to comment on your blog or your LinkedIn article, the best way to do it is to get a bit controversial.  Andy Crestodina, strategic director of Orbit Media, suggested at the recent Content Marketing Institute conference that people concentrate on strong opinions and research, because as research leads to links, opinions lead to shares. He suggested two ideas for identifying opinions that will get shares:

  • What do you believe that most people disagree with?
  • What questions is your industry afraid to answer?

That may be a difficult challenge to rise to: not everyone is naturally feisty.  But it can be a lot of fun too, to stick your brass neck out and ask the awkward questions.

One of the awkward questions for a lot of bloggers is “should I write as me or as Ms (or Mr) Corporate?”.  If you write for a big company, you could be told what tone of voice to use.  Is it a good idea to write as a company?  I would say not.

Think about your own experience: do you like being addressed by a corporation or do you prefer to talk to a person?  Me too.  That’s why I always recommend keeping it personal.

And if you’re keeping the tone personal, then you have to sound like a real person with real opinions. Why bother writing if you’ve nothing different or interesting to share?  A little controversy will stimulate you as much as your audience.

Where does your industry need shaking up?  What time-honoured shibboleths would you like to see broken down?  Which new idea do you see taking the business by storm, or failing spectacularly, in the next wee while?  What industry issue are people muttering about behind their hands?

Address them, discuss them, get them out in the open and start a conversation about them.  You never know where it might lead – you could change careers as a result (would that be a bad thing?  Discuss).  Or you could be promoted.

But at least it wouldn’t be dull.  And an awful lot of corporate blogging is very dull.  Safe, mildly informative, and totally lacking any vital spark.

So get out there and light a fire under your industry today.  It’s a great reason for getting this week’s/month’s blog written!

What are you writing for?

I’ve received several emails from different sources this week that have all covered the same material for their own reasons.  Some of it may sound familiar… content writing

First up was Anne Farr of the Rothera Group, referring to Public Sector tender applications (but it’s equally applicable to all content writing).  “Many companies write a flashy sales-style executive summary which highlights many great features from their company.  What most clients actually want to read about are the unique benefits they will gain by engaging with that supplier.  Ensure your executive summary is written for your readers and not to impress your own senior management.”

Next, from a BuzzSumo newsletter covering the Content Marketing Institute conference, comes advice from Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs: “Developing empathy with your customers by constantly asking [yourself] why customers would care about your product or service is a good example of beneficial slowness. Content marketers need to create audience-centred content, not brand-centred content.”

She continued, “Your readers are looking for a reason not to read. Don’t give them that reason. Toward that end, lead with your best bit of writing. Keep your writing revolving around the “screw” or central idea that matters to your audience. And be ruthless in your self-editing.”  Indeed!  As trainers in all sorts of arts disciplines say, tear up the bits you like best because they’re probably over-blown.

Drew Davis, quoted in another email about Content Marketing World, suggests “You have to give away all of your best advice.   The pages on your site where you give away great bits of content marketing strategy give you a search, social and email bump. That bump is necessary to get people to your transactional pages…  You don’t need to create a lot of content. But what you do create MUST be niched and helpful as hell”.

Now, I hate to say “I told you so”, but doesn’t all that sound rather familiar?  Nice to know I’m not alone in promoting these ideas!

What are you writing your content for?  To get your audience on your side.  To give them information and news that looks at your world through their eyes.  To get them engaged with your business, on their terms, and keep them engaged.

To help them know, like and trust you.

And – hopefully, maybe far, far in the future – to do business with you.  But that’s a secondary consideration in what you write.

Moving on…  Did you spot the phrase in Drew Davis’s quote, “give you a search, social and email bump”?  What he’s saying there is that you also have to make sure people find your content.  You gotta promote it.  I found a great tool the other day to help you do just that: Quuu.

If you’ve never heard of it, go to promote.quuu.co and take a look.  How it works is that you sign up (it’s about £30/month), post links to your content and say what category of business it applies to.  Other members then tweet your link to their followers.

I only signed up last week, and I only have one post listed, but already it’s had about 5 times the number of clicks any previous posts have had, courtesy of Quuu’s members.  Worth a punt (and no, I’m not getting anything for promoting this or any other tool).

PS Want help getting your blogs and other content written in the first place?  Join the Content Confidence Club – just ask for details!

 

 

How creative is content marketing, really?

When you say “creative writing”, you probably think of fiction, poetry and the like.  If all you ever write is largely factual content for your business, can you consider yourself a creative writer?  Is content marketing a creative process?Creative process

I think so.

Yet Chambers Dictionary defines create as (among other things) to “bring into being by force of imagination” and creative as “showing or relating to imagination or originality”, and most content marketing doesn’t appear to rely on the imagination.  It presents facts, relates true stories, comments on events.

On the face of it, that’s really not a very imaginative procedure.

But think about it for a moment…

  • You have to decide what’s worth writing about, which means you have to understand what your readers will find interesting.
  • You have to decide how you’re going to frame it: will you tell it straight, as a story, as an allegory, penny plain or tuppence coloured?
  • If you’re using research, you have to include it in a way that’s new and relevant to the rest of the matter in hand.
  • You have to write so you fire your readers’ imagination, or at least inform them in a not-too-dry fashion, and keep them gripped ‘til the end.

That all requires you to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see your business with their eyes, which means you have to exercise your imagination.

They say “everyone has a book in them” but I learnt a long time ago that if and when I write a book, it will not be fiction.  I can’t do plots.  Dialogue, yes; description, yes, as long as my prose doesn’t have to be too purple.  But plots -?  Nope.  Nothing longer than a short story.

I just don’t have that sort of imagination.  And for years I thought that meant I didn’t have any.  Then I realised there are many different types of creativity.  Just as you can be a musician without ever writing a note, or a dancer without wanting to choreograph, you can be a creative writer without needing to write a novel or poem.

Even a good academic essay is creative: if you’ve got anything worth saying, the thought behind it has to come from your own thought processes, and that’s a work of imagination.  You make the leap from what everyone already knows to something new (at least, you do once you progress beyond the undergraduate phase).

Thinking of something fresh and interesting to say about your service, process or product every day/week/fortnight/month is a stretch when you first start.  Like developing any other skill, it requires effort and application to get your imagination working for you.

The funny thing is, the more you do it – so the more you’ve already written about your subject – the easier it becomes.  You’d think you’d run out of ideas after a bit, but they actually come more easily.  It’s like learning a piece of music: the more technically adept you become, the more you find in it and the more you can give it by way of interpretation.  It’s the creative process in action.

Some very well-known novelists honed their skills in advertising agencies (Dorothy L. Sayers, Faye Weldon and Salman Rushdie, among others); nobody told them it wasn’t creative.  So never let anyone tell you that producing content isn’t creative writing.  It requires just as much imagination as any other writing, just a different form of it.

Want to learn more about the creative process? Join the Content Confidence Club – just email me for details!

 

Did curiosity really kill the cat?

Curiosity killed the cat, they say.  But they never tell you why.  And I don’t believe them – none of the moggies I’ve known perished from curiosity.

Old age, yes.  Being run over on a road they’d crossed hundreds of times before, sure.  Illness, yup.

Curiosity?  No.Did curiosity kill the cat

Curiosity is what makes life worth living.  What’s the point of grinding through life without discovering anything?  Where’s the interest in that?

Curiosity changes lives (remember the baby elephant with ‘satiable curtiosity in the Just So Stories?  That’s how elephants got their trunks.  Definitely life changing!).  It’s how we learn as children and continue to learn into old age, at least until we start forgetting everything again…

Where was I?  Ah yes:

Curiosity, aka nosiness, is what makes people watch telly, listen to the radio, travel, and read novels, magazines, text books – and blogs.  They want to find out about how and why you do what you do, who else does it, how it works, when it’s happening and how it affects them.

There’s a series of ads on TV at the moment, with a young chap chatting to disabled athletes and trying out their sports.  He whets your curiosity, proves how much it takes to achieve what those athletes have achieved, and promotes the Paralympic Games very successfully; only at the end do you discover that the ads are promoting Samsung.

That’s the essence of content marketing: informative, fun, interesting, quirky, with a gentle reminder at the end about the product/service you offer.  You whet people’s appetite, appeal to their curiosity, give them something to think about, and then slip them a nudge that you’re there when they need you.

Don’t try and satisfy their curiosity – never give away all the answers, even if you could. You still want your readers to need you when the time comes.  Just give them enough to prove you know your stuff and you’re excited by your business; to prove your passion and pass on a bit of it.

To help them up their game a notch or two.

And keep their curiosity alive.

That’s all you can do – and possibly the best gift you can give anyone.

Curious to find out more about writing great content?  Ask me about the Content Confidence Club!

Show me the money!

The other day I attended a presentation about applying for funding.  Although this one was aimed at businesses going through the ScottishEDGE process, a lot of the advice is good for any grant or award application.  So if you’ve always wanted to do that Jerry Maguire “Show me the money!” thing, here’s how to get started.

Show me the money

One thing that really stood out was that the judges aren’t just looking for facts.  Sure, you have to show that you’re worth giving the money to – your business is sound and growing, and you know exactly what you want the money for and the potential risks from growing too fast, etc.  You have to prove that you have a product or service people want, too.

But what they’re really interested in is why your business gets you out of bed in the morning.

Your passion.  Your vision.  Your energy.

The “why” of your business.  The what and how are important too, of course, but what they long to hear is why customers do (or will) beat a path to your door, rather than your competitors’.

Above all they want a story, and they want you to “sell” your story to them.  They want to be made to care so much about your business that they start to see it with your eyes and are falling over themselves to give you the funds.

They’re also looking for something that makes you stand out from the other dozens of applications, a reason to put you on the shortlist: something that grabs them by the short and curlies and says “Wow!”.

The ScotEDGE guys said what they look for is a pitch that’s aimed at an intelligent lay audience – people who need your product or service explained in a way they can understand:

  • simple
  • clear
  • original
  • relevant and

It also helps to have a final note: something to remember you by.  Two examples they gave were “Just one more thing…” (like a PS on a letter) and the visual-thought “Just imagine…”.

Does all that sound like a tall order?  The key to hitting the right note is starting the application process early enough, so that you have time to do several drafts.

For the first draft, just write down the bald facts.

On the second one, get in your what, where and how points.  “How” should cover not just how your product or service works but also how it benefits the buyer.

On the third draft, add your why.

On the fourth and subsequent drafts, work on the why element and the personal passion.  Over-do it, go all out, say everything you’ve always wanted to say to anyone who’s asked why you do it.  You can always prune it later, if necessary – but if you’re like most people you’ll probably need to beef it up even more, ‘til it feels totally OTT.  There are a few people who just love blowing their own trumpets, but most Brits still have a bit of stiff-upper-lip reserve to overcome.

Once you reach this stage, you can start showing it to other people, both in your business and outside.  Get feedback: if they were judges, would what you’ve written make them “buy” your application?

Edit and re-write accordingly and ask again.  When the verdict is that you’ve got it right, STOP.  Don’t edit any more, but make sure you proofread it.  Don’t be tempted to tweak.  Send it off and forget about it until you hear the result.  And look forward to showing everyone the money!

P.S. If you need any help with the writing, critiquing or editing, just get in touch 🙂

Do you need a Golden Thread?

How often do you hear “oh, s/he’s just a one-trick pony” or “so-and-so’s totally one-track minded”?  It’s usually said dismissively, as though it’s a bad thing.  Yet other people might say the same person was absolutely focussed – a good thing, if sometimes hard to live with, and vital if you’re to win an Olympic medal or grow a successful business.  In copywriting, being one-track minded is the ideal: having just one idea running through each piece. It’s sometimes called a “Golden Thread”.

And yes, to answer the question in the headline, you definitely need a Golden Thread.

The Golden Thread is the big idea that holds your whole piece together, whether you’re writing an 20-page mailshot or a 500-word blog.  You can side-track from the idea, as long as your diversion is related to it.   But stick with one idea per piece of writing if you want your readers to have a clear concept of what you want them to do.

It’s the same as writing an essay (I hated writing them and left school vowing I’d never write another.  How wrong can you be?).  When you’re writing an essay, you start from one question and you (should) arrive at one conclusion, having looked at the question from every possible angle.  You don’t start discussing something quite different in the middle.  You stick to the point, even if you take a broad approach to it.

So often when we find a piece of writing unsatisfying it’s because the writer has gone off on a tangent and never returned to the original matter.  Our questions aren’t answered, we don’t get a considered opinion and we’re left hanging in mid-air, thinking “But…  Come back…!”.

I was recently leafing through a wonderful compilation of old ads, sold as “Divers in Advertising”, and wondering what the big idea was in using deep-sea divers to advertise (among other things) cigars.  Watches, yes.  Underwater comms, by all means.  Cars – OK, they have big boots for all the gear.

But cigars?!?!?   (The ad was used in Playboy magazine, UK, in the 1970s, and is probably © Embassy Cigars, or whoever owns the brand.)Diver cigars

Another ad had a diver looking ecstatic at finding tins and boxes of Fry’s cocoa underwater.  They’ve obviously never tried putting cardboard or metal in the briny for more than a few nano-seconds.  Bouillon cubes was another one – they’re quite salty enough already, thank you.  Microsoft even used an image of a diver in a goldfish bowl on an office desk to promote Office; I have no idea what the relevance was, even after reading the ad three times.

Once you start looking at these ads, it’s amazing what people thought they could shoe-horn divers into.  Obviously they’re working the “sunken treasure” idea, but it’s forced, unnatural and weak in almost every case.

Your big idea needs to flow naturally from what you’re trying to promote, not be shoe-horned in because you like an image or a simile and you’re darn-well going to make it fit.  Like shoe-horning your feet into ill-fitting shoes, that’s just painful and impractical (especially if the shoes in question have 5” spike heels.  No, let’s not go there!).

So, as well as spending time choosing your headline, you need to spend time working out exactly what is the Golden Thread for each piece you write.  It doesn’t matter whether the piece is 5 words or 5,000: know what you want to say, stick with one theme per piece, state it clearly, and your audience will know what you want them to do or think at the end of it.

Which gives you a much higher chance of them actually doing it.

Which is, after all, the big idea of writing content in the first place.

 

P.S. The Content Confidence Club is opening up to new members from September, so if you want help support, tips and all sorts of other “sunken treasure”, get in touch.

How to get from “can’t do” to “want to” in 10 minutes

We finally have our phone and broadband back (yeeaayyy!) – just in time to head south for a family reunion.  I hope it’s still working when we get back…  In the end, the problem was a very minor one: a dodgy connection in a little back box on the side of our neighbours’ house, where the line makes a brief stop on its way to our house.  Fixed in five minutes.Tick

It’s like all those jobs we tend to put off thinking “I can’t do that now”, and when we finally get round to doing them they only take five minutes.  Should have done it yonks ago – why did we put it off so long?!?   Maybe it was more a questions of “I don’t want to do it now” -?

For a lot of people, writing a blog is one of those jobs: you know you should do it, but there’s always something more urgent, and the blog’s going to take so long to plan and write, isn’t it…?

Well, no.

You just need to get started.  And the more you do it, the faster you’ll get.  It used to take me hours to write one blog.  Now my own blog gets done in about half an hour.  Client ones take rather longer, but that’s mainly because of the research I need to do for subjects I’m not an expert in: the actual writing is pretty fast.

Learning to write is like going from couch-potato to 5km runner: tough at first, with plenty of days when you just have to bully yourself into it.  Then it gets a bit easier.  You may even find you enjoy it and use it as a release valve.

When I started training as a copywriter, I was told “If you want to call yourself a writer, you have to write.  Every day.  At least an hour a day.  If you don’t write, you ain’t a writer – period”.

Good advice.

Write every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.  Put it in your diary.

Just spend 10 minutes thinking and writing about one subject: your journey to work, the ideal candidate for your next MP, exactly what makes you fancy your personal trainer – doesn’t matter what, but chose a different subject every time and spend no more than 10 minutes on it, including choosing the subject.

Try to get 50 words written in your 10 minutes.

(You can delete the file if it’s too personal, or save it for later editing if it’s business-related.  No-one need ever see it but you.)

The first few days you probably won’t get more than 10 words written; maybe not even that many.  That’s fine.  Just keep at it.  By the end of the first week you’ll be finding it easier; by the end of the month you’ll wonder why you left it so long or found it so hard to start.  Like the running, you may even find you enjoy it and use it as a release valve.

That’s the way that blogs get written.  Not by worrying about them, or putting “write blog” on your to-do list.  By sitting down every day and exercising your writing muscle ’til it becomes second nature and, maybe, even enjoyable.

And , as a bonus, you can do it indoors, sitting down, without any special clothing, loud music, or needing a shower afterwards.  What’s not to like?

N.B. If you want help and support with your writing, the Content Confidence Club is there for you.  I won’t bully you but I will challenge you and offer you tips, comments and congratulations.  It’s not one-to-one, so you’ll learn from other members as they will learn from you and it’s not scary!  Want to know more?  Email (charlotte@greatcopy.info) or phone me (01307 830331) and we can chat.

It drives me to distraction

We’ve been without a landline or broadband connection at home for two weeks now, apart from one brief and glorious day when it functioned before dying again.  So I’ve been trying to work in a variety of different environments this week (and I’m not just talking about the “lawn-mower hotel” we built in the garden during our enforced down-time!).

It’s made me realise how difficult I find it to concentrate when there are other people moving and talking all round me, and how lucky I am to have an office to myself with no view out of the window*.  It’s definitely harder to work with all the distractions than without.Distraction

I’m guessing that people in busy offices learn to zone out the noise around them, but your brain is still multi-tasking (i.e. zoning out as well as working) and psychologists say that there’s inevitably a reduction in effective thought when you’re multi-tasking (yes, even for women!).

That got me wondering whether some people have trouble writing simply because there’s too much going on around them, too many distractions, to be able to write comfortably.  It’s a long time since I last worked in that sort of environment, and your memory softens unpleasant recollections after a bit, so I’d be interested to hear what you think: do you feel your environment affects your writing or do you thrive on noise and bustle?

I know some students feel they can only work when they have their music playing (what do they do in exams?); I could do that as a teenager but the ability seems to have left me in the past 20 years or so.

Right now, behind me there’s someone talking about pensions and another person discussing her friends/colleagues, the baristas are chugging out coffee and clattering crockery, there’s a chap wandering around tidying up the house-plants, and the man next to me is tapping at the keyboard of the resident computer.  Oh yes, and muzak chuntering away just above audible level.  (This probably less-than-sparkling edition comes to you courtesy of the Apex Hotel, Dundee).

That’s way too much for my country-quiet brain to cope with!  So I’ll stop wittering and hope that BT will have restored the service as usual by next week (though I have my doubts: their idea of “urgent” is not the same as mine.  The call-centre staff are very charming and apologetic but the engineer never appears).

Meanwhile, if you need to get in touch – and I’d love answers to the questions above – please either email me at charlotte@greatcopy.info or phone my mobile, 07718 593057.

 

* When we bought the school, our neighbours had had nobody next door at all for 7 years, and only had anyone around during school hours for 16 years before that, so they weren’t keen on us looking out the window at them.  Consequently all our downstairs windows on that side of the house, including my office window, have opaque film on them.  It certainly cuts down on distractions!

Improve your SEO with keywords

Everyone will tell you that blogging helps your SEO – I’ve done it myself – but often they don’t say why or how it works.  Now I’m not going into technical SEO-speak (I wouldn’t know how!), but there is one thing that you really can improve your SEO with: Key

Keywords.

It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned them.  There’s a reason for that: they really are – er – key.

You should decide on your keywords not just because they appeal to you but because your research shows that they are words or phrases that people actually search for.  So check on Google, Buzzsumo and all the other sites I’ve mentioned in past issues, and see what’s being discussed and what people are looking for.

Key phrases (also known as “long-tail keywords”) are often easier to rank for than keywords, so I’d look at using a 3-5 word phrase.

Having chosen your keyword or phrase, how and where do you use it?

In the title (so it’ll show in the URL of your blog), the first paragraph of text, somewhere in the middle and at the end.  Depending on the phrase, you might break it up, as I did at the end of my first paragraph.

Google is smart enough to recognise similar words and expressions, especially singular/plural versions or variations like “improving your SEO with keywords” instead of “improve …”.

It’s smart enough to pick up on word-order changes like the version in the previous sentence, too (see what I’m doing here?!?).  So you don’t have to use the same parroted version of the key expression every time, whatever some people will tell you.  Things have moved on since those days, which means you can be more natural in your writing.

Something else that’s moved on is that your keywords have to be an intrinsic part of the text, not just stuck in so you’ve got x number of iterations of it, and definitely – absolutely – categorically not stuffed into every sentence.

Keyword stuffing used to work for the search engines.  Now they want content to be relevant and interesting before they rank it, so writing the same keyword or phrase over and over again won’t cut it with them.  In fact they’ll probably downgrade you.

It won’t cut it with your readers either (it never did, to be fair).  You’ll have seen pieces that have the same word repeated ad nauseam, I’m sure; I bet you stopped reading after a few sentences.  What’s sauce for the goose works for the gander too, so don’t inflict keyword stuffing on your “ganders”!

Again, that means you can write more naturally and keep things interesting and lively – which, again, is appreciated by the search engines (if robots can “appreciate” anything; I’m not sure how far Artificial Intelligence has gone down that route).

So that’s how you can improve your SEO with keywords and phrases.  Use them cleverly and they really will help you rise up the rankings.

 

Was I wrong?

The other day I was talking to a friend who’s struggling to learn a foreign language.  Like most people who start down that road, she understands much more of the language than she speaks.

In fact she struggles to speak at all.  Partly it’s a matter of confidence (“is that really the right word?”), but a lot of her trouble stems from not wanting to make a fool of herself, not have people look at her as though she’s an idiot (she’s not).  It’s not uncommon.

But if you think about it, when we hear foreign visitors trying to speak English we can usually work out what they’re trying to get at, even when their grammar is far from perfect and they’re not always choosing exactly the right word.

I told my friend a wee story:Tomorrow fix

When we were doing our house conversion, we had a Polish builder on site.  We pointed out one afternoon that something wasn’t quite right; it was late in the day so he wasn’t about to start sorting it out.  Instead he said, “Tomorrow fix”.

Now that may not be great grammar, but it’s completely unambiguous.  We wouldn’t have been any better informed if he’d said “OK, no problem, we’ll fix it tomorrow”.

“Tomorrow fix” became a catch-phrase for the remainder of the build!

What has that got to do with writing for your business?

When people tell me they struggle to start writing, I often suggest they use the “tomorrow fix” system.  By that I mean, write what they want to say just as it comes out.

So was I wrong to bang on, as I have done so many times, about good grammar being important?  Am I contradicting myself?

No.

I firmly believe that good written grammar is important if you want people to take you seriously in business (good verbal grammar is too, but less so; you can get away with saying “tomorrow fix”, just not with writing it – in your native language, at least).

But you’ve probably heard the expressions “Good enough is good enough” and “Perfection is the enemy of  action”.  I believe they’re true.  Don’t let trying to get your writing perfect first time get in the way of doing it at all.  Perfect grammar and precisely-nuanced vocabulary aren’t important in a first draft.

Just start writing.  Then, once you’ve written everything you want to say, edit it.  That’s when “tomorrow fix” becomes “we’ll fix it tomorrow”.

(That’s when a translation turns into proper English, too.  I’m currently working on a web site for a client who imports goods from Italy.  The “English” on the suppliers’ sites is a direct translation from the Italian; it’s not good English.  They stopped at the “just start writing” phase, and didn’t edit.  Maybe there’s an opening for me there…!)

So if you’re letting “tomorrow fix” writing get in the way of communicating with your customers, don’t.  Write whatever comes out.  Then get your metaphorical blue pencil out and edit it into shape.  You can take as long as you need over that process.

It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.  Some of the top copywriters in the world write the whole of their first draft, however many pages that is, without allowing themselves to edit, so that nothing impedes the flow of creativity.  Very little of the draft may survive the first edit, but they will at least have got their ideas on paper and can shape them properly afterwards.

It can feel like a lot of hard work, as though you’re writing the whole thing twice (or more), but it’s worth it.  If you’ve never tried it, it’s also curiously liberating.  Give it a try – and let me know how you get on.

Planning to get ideas

I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks, and the whole “going on holiday” thing set me thinking about finding ideas for blog posts.  A bit left-field, you may think, but bear with me…

When I used to sing in my local church choir years ago, the vicar had just two wedding sermons.  We knew them both pretty much by heart.  In one of them he commented that many people spend more time planning their wedding than they do their marriage.

And I think the same’s true for holidays.  We spend hours (days, weeks, months…) dreaming about them and planning them, organising transport, places to stay, money, maybe setting up tee-times or, in my case, diving days.  Most people spend far more time planning their holidays than they do their work.

If we spent as much time planning our blogs we’d never run out of ideas!    Even much less time – say an hour a week – of brainstorming would probably give us enough ideas to cure those sleepless nights for good.

Re-reading “A Technique for Getting Ideas” the other day [have you read it yet?  I do hope you agree with me about its brilliance!], I found the section about ideas being like South Sea atolls.  Atolls seem just to appear, almost overnight, but they’re actually the work of thousands of tiny creatures that have been building the coral upwards for thousands of years.

Now we haven’t got thousands of years to build our blogs (thank God!), but it’s the regular work of thinking about them – even if it’s only sub-consciously – that sets us up to have ideas pop into our heads. It may seem random, but it’s actually the result of good preparation.  As whoever it was said, “the more I prepare, the luckier I get”.

Rudbeckia hirta

Gardening would be another analogy: you dig the soil, manure it, and generally make everything nice for the plants you want to thrive, then sow your seeds and – with no further effort on your part – up pop your runner beans or rudbeckias.

Then, of course, you have to keep the soil nice so they can continue to thrive: weed it, tidy it up at the end of the year and start the cycle again.  The work doesn’t finish.  With a blog, of course, there’s less seasonality – or maybe your business is very seasonal.  If it is, you can plan accordingly (I’m already writing about Christmas and Hogmanay parties for one of my clients).

Whether it’s seasonal or not, the work doesn’t finish.  You have to keep at it, keep finding new ideas or recycling old ones, keep your audience interested.

So get planning for ideas – and enjoy your holiday, whenever you take it!

 

How to find ideas for blogs

Eureka

The one thing that comes up over and over again when I do trainings is “how do I find ideas for blog posts week after week?” (or whatever period there is between outpourings).  It’s been a problem, in different guises, for marketing folks since marketing first began.

And not just marketing, either – Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell both wrote about creative thinking and producing fresh ideas (though, obviously, not for blogs).  The process has become neither easier nor harder since their day: it still takes practice and application.

The terror of the blank page

To quote Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB Worldwide, “The blank page or screen that awaits a transforming idea today is just as intimidating as ever.  Maybe more so, because our advanced environments demand even better ideas and more of them.”

I have on my bookshelf a small paperback with a mere 48 rather thick pages and quite large print – in other words, it’s not a heavy tome that takes weeks of study to absorb it.  Actually, that’s not entirely true: it doesn’t take long to read it, but getting the most out of it does take time and effort.

It was written by a man who made his living in advertising in America in the 1930s and ‘40s “by producing what were alleged to be ideas” (his words, not mine), and for whom the struggle to find ideas was of daily relevance.

A Technique for Producing Ideas

The man was James Webb Young and the book’s called “A Technique for Producing Ideas”.  It’s never been out of print since it first came out in the 1940s and you can now get it as a free pdf download from any number of sites – the first one I found was www.tds.tu.ac.th/jars/download/jars/v10-1/13%20Bookreview_archan.pdf, but just Google the book with pdf at the end of your search term and you’ll find plenty of other sources.

Better still, buy a hard copy, which won’t set you back more than about a fiver – and would be £5 very well spent.

I highly recommend it, not just for finding ideas for blog content but for any other problem solving you may need to do – next time you want to build a bridge, say, or achieve world peace, or find a way to get your 14-year-old to keep his/her room tidy.

The creative process

To quote Keith Reinhard again (from the introduction to the book), it is “the most concise and illuminating description of the creative process I had ever read. … Young offers both guidance and the assurance that coming up with an idea is a process, not an accident.”  As with every other aspect of business, life’s much simpler if you have systems to follow and don’t have to redesign the wheel every time you do something.

I urge you to get hold of a copy, read it and re-read it, think about it, and use its principles whenever you need a bit of fresh thinking in any area of life.  It’s small enough to keep in your pocket or handbag and read while you’re waiting for a friend to join you for coffee.  But its premise is potentially life-changing.

And it will make finding ideas for blog posts sooo much easier.

I hope you get as much from it as I have down the years.  Do let me know!

 

P.S. This is positively the last call for the new writing group – there’s space for one more person if you want to get in on the ground floor and help create the perfect course.  Get in touch today if you want in.

It’s all in the numbers

It's all in the numbers

Searching for inspiration on what to write about this week I took a quick look at Buzzsumo, as I’ve often recommended you do.

I was immediately struck by the number of “list” subject lines among the marketing blogs: 7 big trends…, 5 up-and-coming tools…, 8 tips…, 7 ways to prove…, 12 e-commerce tips… – and so on.  Yet starting your headline with a number instead of “how to” (for example, “7 tips for finding blog subjects” instead of “How to find blog subjects”), gives you much lower scores on CoSchedule’s headline analyser.

Strange, isn’t it?  Going by the plethora of blog titles that start with a number, it must work for lots of people.  Or you’d think so anyway – maybe they’ve just never run the figures and don’t know whether they work or not.

Have you ever done the research to see which sort of headline works best for you?  I’d be interested to hear the results, if you have.

If you’ve no idea how to do it, the answer’s A-B testing.  It’s an absolutely classic marketing technique, going right back to well before the days of the original Mad Men.

Here’s how it works.

Divide your list into two segments.  One segment gets headline A and the other half gets headline B, and you see which one gets most people to open your newsletter or share your blog, or whatever other metric you normally compare.  (You do check your metrics, don’t you?  ‘Course you do!)

A-B testing is just the beginning, though.  You can try the same headline with different body copy, or a different image, or a different time-scale for an offer – whatever options you want to test.  If you divide the list into more segments, you can mix and match – though you can take it so far you don’t really learn anything.

You can also divide your list into groups, classified by what type of product people have bought from you or by membership of various bodies you belong to or whatever, and tailor your offering to each group.

Then you can segment your groups…

… and so on – as long as there’s a reasonable number of people in each sub-segment.

It’s probably not worth going below about 20 people, unless you’re talking about something that only concerns them.  For example, the segment of my list for people who’ve said they’re interested in beta-testing the new writing group has fewer than 10 people in it, but I’m sending them very specific information.

N.B. If you want to join the group but haven’t yet got around to telling me so, time’s running out – it’s starting in just a couple of weeks!

The key to marketing success is grabbing people’s attention, and research shows you have about 7 seconds to do that.  If you can keep your audience engaged for at least 7 seconds, they’ll read the next bit; keep grabbing them and they’ll read on … and on …

You need to write stuff that will attract each segment or group – which might require a completely different approach for each one, or might just mean a few tweaks.  But unless you know what gets people to open your piece in the first place, you can’t run those deeper tests.

Whatever CoSchedule thinks of using them in headlines, numbers matter.  Know your numbers, use them wisely, and you’ll be able to solve the age-old conundrum of how to get the best return on your marketing investment.

 

 

Blog Your Way to the Top of Google

This week’s  log is an excellent SEO-angled blog from Shauna Doherty of Vitalhike.  Thanks, Shauna – over to you! 

SEO

I’m part of a team at Vital Hike, a creative digital agency that develop strategies and online solutions for businesses. A major part of what we do is creating websites. We love crafting great-looking websites with a purpose, so we have a real dual focus: technical performance, and user experience.

And it goes without saying that the creative half of the team always argue the benefits of a blog, because it’s more juicy content for people to read and enjoy!

But it may surprise you to know that the technical half of the team are always eager for our clients to have a blog too!

Why?

Blogs reap major technical benefits for your website.

To get more specific, having a blog on your website should help your website perform better on Google, getting you higher up the search results, which should result in more website visitors, and therefore more customers!

Did you know that 71% of Google Searches result in somebody clicking a result on page 1?

So only 29% of searches result in somebody going past page 1 to search subsequent pages for results… Now you can see why there’s a whole industry devoted to getting people on page 1 of Google!

Here are just a few ways your blog will help you get closer to page 1 of Google:

1. Each new blog article adds more content to your website. And the content of your blog article is treated with the same importance as content elsewhere on your website.This means you can add more juicy keywords to your website any time you like, just by adding a new blog article, and Google will start associating those keywords with your website and business. Over time, you should start to rank better on Google for your newer keywords as well as your older, more established ones.And ranking better means you are higher up the search results, and therefore users are more likely to click on your website over others.

More content on your website is like having more tickets for the raffle (with less chance involved!).

2. Each new blog article counts as a brand new page on your website. People can be dismissive of blog articles, thinking “it’s just a blog article” and must therefore count as less than a page of your website.However, technically speaking, a new article is the same as a new website page to Google.And new pages are great!The more pages you have on your website, the more chances you have to rank well for different keywords. Just imagine if Google sees you adding page after page about travelling around France; the search engine is going to start strongly associating your website with this topic and associated keywords, because it’s clearly important enough to warrant a page on your site!

As a result, when someone does a search on Google for information on travelling around France, your website has a greater chance of appearing in the results, and also, of appearing closer to the top of the list in the coveted number 1 spot.

3. Each time you add a new blog article, it counts as you ‘updating your website’.  What sort of message are your customers going to get if your website looks like it hasn’t been updated in the past 12 months? Is anything new happening with you, or have you been on holiday the past year?Search engines try to anticipate the needs of your customers. If your website hasn’t had anything new on it for years, and your competitor has brand new shiny pages from last week, which business looks more exciting? Which business is going to get more notice?When Google notices you updating your website in any way, you get a thumbs up and the potential to rank higher in search engines.Don’t assume you need to redesign your website in order to ‘update’ it; as long as there’s activity on your site (e.g. you adding a blog article), preferably regular activity (e.g. weekly blogs), then Google will decide you’re more likely to be a worthwhile website for people to look at, and rank you higher!

4. Blog articles act as new, highly-targeted landing pages for your website.  When you create a blog article which has a very clear topic, your words will naturally focus in on that topic and you’ll create a range of key words and phrases related to that topic. Such a highly focussed page stands a strong chance of ranking highly for related terms on Google.We call these ‘landing pages’ because it’s a page your new customers are likely to find on Google, and therefore it’s likely to be the first page of your site they visit or ‘land’ on.Landing pages are fantastic at getting people into your website, leading them to look around and get in touch.

5. Longer content with at least one image has been shown to correlate strongly with first page search engine rankings.  The message is clear: create long blog articles with at least one image. Result = potential to rank higher on Google.You just have to balance Google’s desire for a long blog, with the user’s expectation of something short and digestible, which is a constant balancing act for us.People read webpages differently compared to how they would read a book, i.e. word after word. Instead, people tend to skim webpages looking for stand-out words and phrases relevant to what they are interested in. So remember to structure your article into short paragraphs with clear headings.

A website is essential for all businesses in this age of smartphones, with 53% of searches on mobiles linked to local businesses, but once your website is up and running a blog is a fantastic starting point for your ongoing marketing strategy to gather more and more new customers over time.

Now get on your laptop and start typing up a good ’un!

 

Shauna Doherty
Project Manager at Vital Hike Vitalhike logo

shauna@vitalhike.co.uk

Bio: With my Psychology and English degree, I started working at the website company Vital Hike in 2014, and worked my way up from an intern to a project management position. Over the years I have tried my hand at a variety of work within the business including content writing, SEO, website analysis, website maintenance, blogging, managing websites on behalf of customers, creating guides for updating your website, and so much more… before finding my niche in managing our projects!

 

 

What’s the big idea?

One World.  Just one cornetto.  One life, live it.  All for one and one for all.Golden 1

One is a powerful number.  Especially in writing.

Way back in the mists of time, when I was a wee baby copywriter (OK, I was never that wee!), I was taught about the Power of One – the single idea that runs right through your copy to get your reader to act.  It’s also known as the Big Idea or the Golden Thread.  You can add other colours to the tapestry to make the golden thread stand out better, but the golden thread is the single idea you want people to focus on, the one that everything else depends on, the whole thrust of your argument.

It’s another version of Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.

If you want people to do something, tell them so, tell them why it’s a good thing to do, tell them all the research that backs up your claim of why it’s a good thing…  But all the telling must be about one thing and one thing only: the thing you want them to do.

Don’t confuse your readers with by-ways: stick to the straight, narrow and well sign-posted route.

Or to put it another way, your call to action should follow your introduction and body copy as a child follows an ice-cream van’s tinkling: single-mindedly, allowing no distractions.

So when you start writing, ask yourself these “one” questions:

  • What’s the one big idea you want to put across? (Don’t do anything until you have an answer to this one.)
  • What’s the one big emotion you’re trying to excite in your readers? (Fear, pride, loyalty, disgust, love, joy?  Desire?)
  • What’s the one powerful story you want to tell to back up your idea? (A testimonial, scientific research results, whatever you’ve got that makes your subject or product more credible.)
  • What’s the one thing you want readers to do? (Remember to tell them – so many people forget to put any call to action in their content!)

Get your answers to those questions sorted out in your head before you start writing, and you’re half-way to getting the result you want.

Sometimes it can be a slow process but don’t let that force you into starting to write until you’ve got your answers.  I know I’ve said in the past that one of the best cures for writer’s block is just to start writing, but I’ve also said that another one is to know your subject thoroughly.

Finding your four “one” answers comes under the heading of research and will make for much better content than just writing any old thing, getting frustrated because it doesn’t really hang together, and hitting Send before you can scrumple another tree’s-worth of paper into the round file (or the computer equivalent).

So that’s your challenge for this day/week/month/whatever interval you have between newsletters or blog posts: ask and answer the four “one” questions.

Long or short?

The argument over long vs short copy has raged for as long as there have been copywriters.  What works best?  Well, the answer is definite: it all depends!

This morning I read two very different posts about writing. Long or short?

One was on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/writing-often-thinking-too-much-loic-le-meur?trk=hp-feed-article-title-channel-add) promoting the idea of writing little and often and not going into too much depth: taking a snapshot idea and running with it, and stopping when you run out of things to say.

That’s one approach.

The other post was published as a pdf by Splash Copywriters, “How to get 1000 shares from your next blog post” (www.splashcopywriters.co.uk) and included these two, apparently contradictory, statements:

  1. “Remember that we’re all short of time and, essentially, lazy…”
  2. “… aim for 1500 words (and at least 1000). Research has shown that the longer the content is, the more likely it is to rank higher and get more shares.”

The long/short argument is actually quite simple.  If your idea has neither arms nor legs that need investigating (in other words you’re not “thinking too much”), keep it short.  If it has, investigate all the arms and legs and then stop.  Whatever you do, don’t waffle.

The reason long copy helps your post go viral is that it stands out above posts that cover the subject in less depth.  That means you’re giving your readers more value and they’re more likely to share it.  People won’t necessarily read every word (lazy… time-poor… whatever) but they will see that you’ve put your little all into it and that makes them more likely to reward you by passing it on.

As long as they’re interested in it, of course.

How can you find out what posts people are interested in?  We’re back to our old friends at BuzzSumo (app.buzzsumo.com).  Run a search for your subject, read the articles and, if you’re writing a longer piece, follow the links to see who’s shared it.

[Some people are worried about including links to other people’s work, in case it takes their readers away and they never come back.  I don’t think that’s a real problem.  They may go off and read the other stuff but if you make sure to have the links open in a separate page and you’ve got something interesting to say, they’ll come back to your piece.]

Whatever you write, long or short, you still have to promote it.  No-one will find your piece if you just stick it on your site and wait.  Get out there and shout about it.  If you’ve written a nice meaty piece, get in touch with people who’ve promoted similar copy and tell them about yours, as I’ve said in previous posts; with a bit of luck (and no pushing) they’ll share it for you.

If no-one reads it, you’re just writing for your own amusement.  Which is fine, if that’s what you enjoy, but it won’t help your business.

So – long or short: what works for you?  Have your say below.

My bit on the side

Everyone needs a bit on the side.

Red Sea anemone fish
Red Sea anemone fish. (C) C. Fleming

It may be a passionately-pursued hobby that earns you nothing but quite often costs a lot – and I don’t mean someone else’s wife.  I go scuba diving, as you may know (if you’ve never tried it and fancy a go, let me know!).

Or your bit on the side may actually earn money: wood carving or photography you sell through a local craft shop, or playing the pipes at weddings, perhaps

Some people love those sorts of thing, others loathe them and wouldn’t touch ‘em with a 30-foot pole.

Like Marmite… scuba diving…

… or writing.

And that’s the point of this blog.

You may love writing or loathe it, be enchanted to sit down and tap out today’s 2,000-word blog, or raise a hollow groan when I say “Happy writing!” and struggle to compose a tweet.

To help me find out, I’d be very grateful if you could tell me what you think here https://www.riddle.com/a/58846.

It’ll only take a few minutes of your valuable time – 10 short questions – but it would mean a lot to me.

And it could – via my new bit on the side – help you.

Thank you very much in advance and – er – happy writing!

Solve your greatest content marketing challenge

What’s your greatest content marketing writing challenge?  Mountain climber

How would it feel to solve it – for it to just fade quietly away and never bother you again?

You could achieve that very soon: I’m starting a mentoring group concentrating on writing for content marketing.  This will be a monthly online meeting, with a private Facebook group for questions and answers between meetings, downloadable resources and – yes – a bit of homework.  Nothing too strenuous, just a wee monthly challenge.

I’m aiming to get the group up and running within the next month or so, and I’d like to know what you struggle with most so that I can prepare content for the course that you personally would find helpful.

  • Maybe you’re not a confident writer – can’t find the right word, or your grammar’s a bit rusty
  • Or you can never think what to blog about
  • Perhaps you’d like help with keyword research
  • Or deadlines are always looming, and your writing is rushed to meet them
  • Or maybe you’re just not getting the results you’re looking for.

Whatever problem you grapple with I can guarantee you’re not the only person suffering from it, and I promise to cover it in one of our monthly online get-togethers.  I’ve faced many of these challenges myself over the past eight years.  I know what you’re going through and I know how to turn it around.

But the meetings won’t just be me spouting; there’ll be plenty of time for questions, discussion and your progress reports and, as I said, there’ll be the Facebook group for questions and answers between monthly sessions.

So let me know your worst bugbears and let’s face them down together.  We’ll get your greatest content marketing challenge sorted and take you up to the next level.

Meanwhile, happy writing!

Charlotte.

P.S. If you want to be part of the group, get in touch soon.  I’m only going to accept six people!

What do copywriters really do?

What copywriters do

At a networking event the other day I was asked (not for the first time) “Er – what does a copywriter actually do?”.  So, just in case you’d been wondering, I thought I’d tell you what this particular copywriter does.

First, a few things I don’t do.  I don’t write ads, like the copywriters in Mad Men, or direct mail (alias “junk mail”) or medical/technical/legal copy, all of which are copywriting niches.  Oh, and I don’t have anything to do with copyright law.

Nor do I copy.  I’m very strict about plagiarism, especially since a lot of my clients want me to rewrite articles they’ve seen elsewhere; I always rewrite them completely and add information from other sources, so that what I produce is an original piece of text even if it’s not an original concept.  The “copy” bit of “copywriter” is a technical term borrowed from journalism; it just means written matter.

OK, that’s a lot of things I don’t do.  So what do I do?

Well, despite the fact that my title includes the word “writer”, that’s really only a small part of my job.  I spend at least half my time researching and another chunk editing, so probably only about a quarter of my time is spent actually crafting copy.  A typical blog will take one to one and a half hours to research, 30-45 minutes to write, and another 45-60 minutes to edit.

The research could involve interviewing people, looking stuff up online or in books or trade journals, finding relevant keywords and phrases, and sourcing images that can be used commercially.

Once I understand my subject, I jot down points and block out what I’m going to say, especially if it’s a long or complex piece.  Finally I put fingers to keyboard and actually start writing.

Then I edit: correct the typos (I try not to do that as I write, as it slows down my thoughts), move chunks of text around to improve the sense and/or the flow, clarify anything I haven’t explained properly and generally tweak and polish.  I try to leave it at least a few hours (preferably a day) before proofreading it, tweaking a bit more if required, and sending it off to the client.

As a freelancer, I’m also chief-cook-and-bottle-washer for my business, so on top of writing I do the accounts, the networking, the social media posts, the client meetings, and everything else involved in running a micro-business.  And, of course, the Continuing Professional Development; I’m working on my SEO knowledge and skills at the moment.

What sort of people hire my sort of copywriter?

People who lack the time, or the skill, to write for themselves.  Writing doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and even those who can write usually have many more urgent tasks clamouring for their attention.  Taking 3-4 hours to write a good blog post every week is way too much for their busy schedule.

My clients want blogs, newsletters, emails, Facebook posts and the like on a regular basis.  They need one-off handouts and brochures for exhibitions.  They want occasional scripts for videos, case studies, web content, awards applications, reports and white papers.  One client even wanted an autobiography.

Whatever they need, they want it in their style (what’s technically known as TOV, Tone of Voice), so that it sounds like them speaking and/or fits their brand qualities.  That’s why you won’t find my name on it: everything I write goes out under the client’s name.  I’m the “ghost in the machine”.

Sometimes clients hire me for copywriting training – teaching their staff to write good copy – which is great fun and very satisfying.  I love helping people become more confident and imaginative about using their new skill.  I’m aiming to do more of it in the future, both one-to-one and in groups.

I hope that clarifies what a copywriter really does – this variety, anyway.  Was it what you expected?  Maybe there’s a bit more to it than you thought?  Let me know in the comments below.

6 ideas to keep your blog fresh

It’s been an interesting week.   Fresh thinking

So far I’ve written an 1800-word report on the comparative merits of geo-engineering and low-carbon energy technologies in the fight to reverse global climate change, which had me hunting through scientific papers ‘til all hours of the night for quotable chunks; I’ve written 8 pages of content for a funeral director’s website, which was pretty harrowing; and I’ve done 15 pages of metadata for the website of a landscape designer for which someone else wrote the words (and left out most of the apostrophes – bah!).

You can’t say the life of a writer-for-hire is dull. If you know any budding freelance or agency copywriters, you can reassure them that, whatever other struggles they may encounter, they won’t be doing the same-old same-old for the next twenty years.

Sometimes though, if you’re writing for your own business, it can feel like Groundhog Day. Here we go again … How can I make Subject X fresh when I’ve already written about it 25 million times?

Here are some tips:
1. Get someone else to write it for you. It saves you having to think of anything to say, it gives your readers a new outlook on the subject, and it gives the writer a chance to speak up. You could ask a new member of staff, a client, your family – or a professional copywriter (just sayin’…).

2. Write about something completely off the wall for a change. Books you’ve been reading, places or events you’ve been to, politics, funny things your kids have said or done, your latest challenge for charity, whatever. (On second thoughts, maybe keep politics out of it.) This shows you’re a real person, with a mind of your own and maybe some amazing hobbies. Often posts like this are the ones that get most reaction.

3. Challenge your own product or service. Ask what could be improved, or dispensed with, without altering the business radically? Or maybe changing it radically would actually be a rather good idea -?

4. Turn to your thesaurus: for every hackneyed word that you’ve used a million times already, try to find a new one. Warning – the result may be appalling and only fit for the bin! But it could jolt you into a new line of thought.

5. Don’t write anything, just use photos. That’s a bit of a challenge if you offer a desk-bound service or everything you do is deeply confidential, but it can work very well for some businesses – just look at Pinterest and Instagram.

6. Create an infographic. You don’t need great design skills: use a template from a site like Canva. Find some interesting stats from your business or industry and lay them out in a readable way with some pretty pictures. (Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it will probably take you longer than writing 5-600 words. Fun, though.) Again, these posts tend to get shared a lot (note to self: try doing one!).

Give one or more of these ideas a go, and let me know how you get on and what sort of response you get.

P.S. If you have any other ideas on the subject, do share them – comment below.

But I’m no expert in…

I know I’m always talking about doing content marketing to prove you’re an expert at what you do, but a lot of people ask how they can do content marketing when they’ve only just started their business.

My response is that you must know something about it, otherwise you wouldn’t (shouldn’t!) have chosen to start a business doing it, so you’re already way ahead of most of your readers. If you don’t yet have people asking you questions to give you ideas of what to write about, look at your competitors’ sites. What are their FAQs? What sort of comments and questions do they get on their blogs? Or check out BuzzSumo.com: what articles in your field are popular?

But you don’t have to be an expert in the field to write about it: I currently ghost-write blogs for clients on all sorts of subjects. I know very little about internet security, I’ve never arranged a wedding or gone on a campervan holiday in Scotland, but I write blogs about all of them. So how do I go about it?
Online research

A few years ago I’d have had to spend hours in the library trawling through books and newspapers, or on the phone trying to get people to talk about the subject. Now I just thank God for the internet. It’s amazing what you can find out about if you ask the right questions [says the old-timer who still has shelves full of expensive reference books. I find the whole concept of the internet – freely-shared information – truly awe-inspiring. And most of the information is pretty accurate].

Working out what questions to ask gives you a good idea of the key words and phrases you should be using when you write your content. And maybe subjects for future blogs. Write them down and keep them somewhere handy.
It always fascinates me what a difference changing one word can make to your search results. You get a completely different list of suggestions if you look up “planning a wedding” rather than “organising a wedding”, for instance. Both might be completely valid options for the content you’re going to write – and they’ll give you ideas of how to write it from different angles at different times. A Theme with Variations, if you like.

Sometimes the answers take you down a rabbit-hole where you waste hours following up cross-references and getting nowhere (that happens with dictionaries and encyclopaedias, too, of course. And maps…). Usually, though, you end up sparking a really good idea and start writing on all cylinders.

So don’t think of research as a chore. It’s fascinating and fun, as long as you allow enough time for it. I look forward to doing it even for what feel like really dry subjects, because once I get started, and they begin coming to life, they don’t feel so dusty any more. You gotta love research.

Do you love research – or loathe it? Share your insights below…

Do your readers understand you?

When you’re writing for the web it’s important to write so that all your readers will understand you. That may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often people forget that the internet is international and that many of the people who access it have English as their second, third or even fifteenth language.

Web users by language
              Web users by language

I’m guilty of this myself: I always assume that all my readers are native English-speakers, but the chances are that they’re not. If I look at the statistics for my blog, I regularly have readers in India and various European countries, as well as in the United States (where they’re as likely to speak Spanish or Chinese as English).

The writer’s dilemma

I do try and write clear, plain English all the time, but I use a lot of idioms too. They make the language so much richer that it seems a shame not to, and perhaps it’s helpful for foreign readers to learn them – but the risk of readers not understanding them is quite high. So it’s a toss-up (thinks twice before saying that) between writing naturally and sounding stilted in a possibly-misguided attempt to be understood.

You’ve probably noticed the same thing when you try to speak English, or your own language if you’re not a native English-speaker, to someone for whom it’s a second or third language. You tend to slow down, and maybe use the grammatical construction of the language the other person speaks, if you know it.

You try to use simple words, too, though the Greek- and Latin-based ones we tend to think of as posh would often make much more sense to a French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or, indeed, Greek person. It all gets rather silly, and probably much harder for the other person to understand than if you stuck with proper English. It’s probably rather irritating for them, too. (Note to self: stop doing it!)

The internet as language teacher

English has become the lingua franca of modern times, even taking over from French in Diplomatic circles, and it’s all due to the internet. So much of what’s on there is written in English, you just can’t escape from the language. But what sort of English?

Websites by language
                      Websites by language

I find it fascinating how many varieties of English there are: US, UK, Australian, Indian – Microsoft Word offers 18 options. I had no idea that Irish English was sufficiently different from UK English to warrant a separate spell-checker.

That must make it very hard if you’re not a native speaker of any version of English. How do you know whether what you’re writing will be understood in the country for which you’re writing it? How do you know whether what you’ve read is correct in a different version of English than the one you’ve learnt, or whether the writer has made a mistake?

We Brits are often very careless in using our language; are other nations as bad?

English is a living language

One way of looking at this multitude of versions of English is that that’s how a language grows and changes. Many people wish it wouldn’t. They’re sometimes called the “grammar police”, which I think is unfair; they just don’t like hearing a language they love mauled.

There are so many words in UK English that have come from other countries, often as a result of conquest or war, and often changed so that the original country wouldn’t recognise them. Others come out of new technology, or what might be called internal forces: there’s no word for what someone wants to express, so they make one up and it catches on. English evolves constantly.

All of which, to get back to what I was saying at the beginning, makes it very hard to write clear English that everyone will understand. All you can do is try. Make it as clear as you can, and hope it will work its magic on the reader as intended. Good luck!

P.S. If you think I’m one of the grammar police, you could be right. Long live the subjunctive and the Oxford comma!  Comments welcome below…

Are you confusing your readers?

A guest post today from Kirsty Major – I hope you enjoy it!

Are you confusing your readers?

Whether you’re writing a blog article, an email or a report, it’s important to:  Are you confusing your readers?

1. know your audience and choose your words accordingly;
2. know your reason for writing – for example, whether you want to inform, persuade, entertain or cause your reader to do something after reading your text;
3. make it as easy as possible for your reader to understand you.

If you are not clear and you confuse your readers, they may miss important points, or they might not take the action that you want them to take.

If people can’t understand your text, they may just disengage and not want to read it. If they have to read it, they may end up missing a key point or not doing what you want them to – so it always pays to be clear.

Here are some points to consider so that you don’t confuse your readers.

1. Structure the text

Some people like to write out bullet points or headings first, whilst others want to get everything out of their head and then sort out the structure afterwards. Whichever way you do it, make sure that when you’re finished, the text follows a logical structure and doesn’t jump about from subject to subject with no clear line of thought. This will make it easier for your reader to understand your point, follow your story or see how a series of events in a process fit together.

2. Be consistent

A document that I recently proofread kept changing from “you” to “customers” to “they”, although the writer was talking about the same group of people all the way through. I think the problem came about because parts of the document had been cut and pasted from other sources. The end result was that it kept distracting me and taking my attention away from the important information.

For example, if I am writing a piece about one of my English courses, I have to decide whether I’m going to address potential buyers as “you”, or whether I’m going to explain what course attendees will learn. Doing both is just untidy and it will confuse people.

3. Acronyms and abbreviations

We use these all the time, particularly when we’re writing for an audience that is familiar with the topic. However, it’s still good practice to write them out the first time that you use them. I think that everyone knows what the RSPCA stands for, but maybe one of my readers who isn’t from the UK will not have heard of it. You may think that everyone in your office knows what a certain acronym or abbreviation means, but what about the new person who joined the team last week?

4. Avoid the trap of the long sentences

Some people seem to think that the longer the sentences, the better the writing will be. Whilst it’s true that longer sentences can allow you to give further information, provide more detailed explanations and sound more interesting, you can have too much of a good thing. If the sentences become too long, they are often more difficult to read. If your sentence is snaking its way over several lines, try to read it aloud and see whether it really does make sense, or whether it would benefit from being chopped into several smaller sentences.

5. Don’t assume that everybody knows what you’re talking about

Although you don’t want to clutter your text with unnecessary background information, if this information is necessary for someone to understand what you’re saying, let people know where they can find out more. This is why it’s important to know your audience. If you are writing for a more general audience, try not to exclude people by making assumptions about what they already know.

6. Make it easy for people to identify what you want them to do

Sometimes people aren’t being unhelpful – they just didn’t realise that you wanted something from them. If you’re making a request or you have a call to action in your text, find a way to make it stand out so that people don’t have to hunt for it.

7. Be consistent with dates

There are a number of ways to write dates. I’m not going to say that one is better than the others, but it makes it easier to read your text if you choose one format and stick with it. Otherwise your text can look untidy and inconsistent.

8. Make sure that all the words add value

It’s good to have your own writing style and I personally don’t like it when texts have been edited so much that they’ve been stripped down to the bare bones. However, people are more likely to read to the end if you keep it to the point and avoid rambling, going off on a tangent or saying in five sentences what could have been said in one.

Background information

Kirsty provides online training for adults who want to improve their business English. She blogs at https://englishwithkirsty.com/blog and her Facebook page is https://facebook.com/englishwithkirsty

Guesting, guesting, one, two, three

A question that comes up regularly when I do trainings is what to do about your blog when you go on holiday. Should you write extra ones and schedule them to go out while you’re away, get someone to write a guest blog, have a couple of weeks blank, or what?Holiday luggage

I think the answer is, “it depends”. If you’re taking a Christmas break, for example, most other folk will be on holiday too, and they won’t necessarily have the time or the inclination to read your musings. I know that this past Christmas I didn’t open any of the newsletters I normally read.

No doubt they were as well-crafted and interesting as usual, but I had other things on my mind and, quite frankly, I wanted a holiday from work. So all that effort was wasted on me. There may, of course, have been other people who lapped them up because they finally had time to read them in peace.

If it’s a summer holiday the answer’s less clear cut. It used to be that certain industries shut down for the same period every year, but that doesn’t happen any more, and anyway, you’re probably writing for a wider audience than just your industry colleagues. So most of your readers will still be panting to read your words of wisdom.

If you have time to write some extra posts and schedule them, that’s ideal. If you’re rushed off your feet trying to tick everything off your list before going on holiday, as most people are, the best answer is to say so in your last blog before your break. “This will be my last blog for a couple of weeks, as I’m off to sunny Benidorm/the Maldives/the Arctic for my hols” will remove any confusion from your regular readers’ minds. Just make sure your home address hasn’t appeared anywhere where nasty people can make the connection between your post and your empty house.

[Maybe you haven’t yet scheduled a post and aren’t quite sure how to do it. I don’t know about all sites, but on my WordPress site above the Publish button it says “Publish immediately” and next to that there’s an Edit option. Click on Edit and you can set the date and time when you want the post to be published. Mailchimp has a similar set-up. Whatever programme you use, there’ll be a schedule option.]

Possibly the best idea is to get someone else to write the posts for you while you’re away. If you have someone at work who could do it, that’s easy. If not, ask a guest. Someone from inside your industry but a different part of it will give a different angle on what you normally write about. A good customer could write about how they use your product, or what your service does for them: an extended testimonial, if you like.  (Nice trick, huh?!?)

Guest posts are good publicity for the writer, as it spreads their name out to all your readers and you’ll include a link to their website, which is good for SEO. They make you look good too: you know all those industry insiders, and you have all these clients who love you! Most guest posters will ask you to write a post for them in return, which also helps to spread your name a bit more widely and get back-links to your site too. So getting someone to guest for you is not just an easy way out of a dilemma, it’s a Good Thing to do.

All this is partly by way of alerting you to the fact that I have a guest post coming soon, so watch this space…

P.S. If you’d like to do a guest blog for me, to tell all my readers a bit about what you do (as long as you make it marketing-, writing- or language-related in some way), please get in touch. I’m particularly looking for someone to write a post towards the end of May, when I’ve got an Open University exam.

The key to blogging results

Keys to success

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find out exactly what your audience were reading, where they were going online, who they followed – you know, all the things that go to make up the avatar you’ve probably been told you should create for your ideal customer?

Actually, you can. It’s usually made out to be some sort of black mystery, but it’s really not complicated. It’s called

Keyword Research, and it’s the most important thing you can do to get your site visited: find the keywords that grab the attention of the people you’re targeting.

How do you do that?

Most people know about Google Keywords, which have their uses if you’re looking for variations on keywords you already know, but they lack imagination. All the answers you get for the word or phrase you’re looking up will be very similar to it. But Google Keywords has one great trick you can use.

When you look up a word there’s a box for you to enter the address of your landing page. If you put the address of one of your competitors’ sites instead, you’ll find out what keywords they rank for – and you can use them yourself. Keywords can’t be copyrighted (unless they’re registered, of course).

Another good source for keyword ideas is Pinterest. Look for the subject you’re thinking of writing about, and see what other people have used that’s got results. Ditto Wikipedia, other people’s blogs, and news articles. Best of all to see what’s being shared, where, by how many people, and in what languages, is Buzzsumo.com: it’s a very powerful tool, even the free version.

Google does have its uses, but it’s Google search you want, not the keyword tool. Again, look for the subject you’re considering blogging about and see what makes it onto the first page. You may find that the most popular ideas are a bit different from yours – a list, for example, or a “how to” guide, or a raft of images with captions, perhaps, rather than a narrative.

Read a few of them to get even more ideas. Don’t copy what they’ve written, obviously (that’s plagiarism) but there’s nothing wrong with borrowing ideas and writing your own version (that’s research).

Great, now you’ve found your keywords. How do you use them?

Don’t stuff the text with them, for a good start. That’s the quickest way to turn off your audience, as I’m sure you’ll have discovered for yourself once or twice! Use your keyword in the title, at the beginning of your text and in the last paragraph. (You know the drill: tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them it in full; and then tell them what you’ve just told them.)

Use variations in the main text, especially keyword phrases – the sort of thing people actually type when they look something up online. You very seldom search using just one word, do you? So, in the context of your subject, what would your readers be likely to use as search terms? Maybe some of the ideas you came up with earlier…?

They’ll probably appear naturally as you write – they belong to your subject, so it’s actually quite hard to write without using them. But you’re not playing Just A Minute: repetition is allowed, as long as it isn’t constant!

So there you have it: keyword research demystified.

P.S. Let me know if you have any other favourite methods – I’m always delighted to learn about new tools.

Have you started yet?

Just start

So, you made your resolution to write your blog regularly in 2016. You may have sorted yourself out an editorial calendar, however simple. You’ve probably done a brainstorming session to get ideas for subjects.

So far so good.

But have you actually started writing the blog? Or are all these ideas mocking you from wherever you put them three weeks ago, without a single tick to break the cleanness of the page?

If you’ve started writing, I salute you. You’re one of a very small percentage. If you’re still finding reasons why you haven’t yet started writing, here’s my best advice (with apologies to Nike):

Just do it.

Open a new Word document (or whatever programme you prefer), choose one of your subject titles at random – preferably one on which you’ve plenty to say – and just start typing. It doesn’t matter if what you write is irrelevant, ungrammatical, or even plain rubbish. Get something on the page. You can edit later. Ignore the squiggly lines for the moment: they’ll only distract you from the task in hand. Forget it being “just right”.

Just write.

Perfection comes later – preferably a day or so later – when you’ve got something to perfect. You can’t edit a blank page.

All writers go back over their work and edit it. Many people will tell you that they can usually remove at least their first two paragraphs without damaging the rest. They lead themselves gently into the task – do a warm-up, if you like – and then let rip with what they really want to say, and go back later to remove the warm-up bits. There’s no shame in it.

There’s no shame in learning on the job, either. Writers, like athletes, artists, performers and parents, get better with practice. Maybe you won’t feel that your first couple of efforts are worth publishing; that’s OK. Have you any idea how many first novels by writers who later became famous are sitting in a drawer somewhere because the author doesn’t feel they’re worth publishing?

Doesn’t stop them writing, though.

So make that your resolution for today: I will write my blog. And I’ll write it next week, and the week after, and the week after that… That makes it sound like a life sentence, but the funny thing is that once you actually get started you’ll probably find it becomes a pleasure, and soon you’ll look forward to getting it written and reading the feedback. It’s great to be able to express your thoughts and know that other people read them, agree or disagree with them, and tell you so. It’s even better to see them starting to understand what you do and, eventually, buying.

Choose a nice easy subject for your first go, a subject that gives you plenty to describe or that you hold a strong opinion on. Don’t set yourself a word limit. If you run out of things to say after 150 words, stop. If you’re still writing after 1500, great.

Write ‘til you’re done, then leave it for a day or two before you go back and edit it. You may have thought of more you could say, or you may want to chop bleeding chunks out of it: a couple of days will give you the perspective to do that. Read it from an outsider’s perspective (or, better still, get someone else to read it for you) so you know it all makes sense.

Then – don’t be shy – publish it. And tell the world you’ve done it: promote your post on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and whatever other channels you use for your business. Do that again every day until you write the next one, and then repeat while still promoting the original one from time to time (Buffer, Hootsuite etc, are very useful for this). And so on. You’ll be amazed how quickly they pile up; you’ll soon have enough to create a freebie to give people in exchange for their email address, so you can grow your mailing list.

But only if you get started…

P.S. Do add me to your mailing list so I can read the results!

Singular “they” wins Word of the Year

He She It THEY

“Singular “they”, the gender-neutral pronoun, has been named the Word of the Year by a crowd of over 200 linguists at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.,” said the report in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/donald-trump-may-win-this-years-word-of-the-year/).

It beat off stiff competition from “ammosexual”, apparently a term for someone who feels love or affection for firearms, and “on fleek” (the quality of being perfect/looking great), neither of which has come my way, and “thanks, Obama”, which I wouldn’t have thought counted atall since both words are in common usage.

While grammar nerds may deplore the use of “they” as a singular pronoun, they’re (OK, we’re) fighting a losing battle. I find it hard to use in written English, but I know I use it a lot when I speak. But it’s not just as a lazy way of saying “he or she” that it got the linguists’ vote. It has a bigger role than that to play.

As the Washington Post (who officially adopted the word into their style guide in 2015) says, not everyone wants to be known as male or female. There are a lot of transgender/transsexual, hermaphrodite and gender-fluid people who prefer not to be classified one way or the other. Germany now recognises the fact legally. Using “they” helps them by leaving gender open in the same way that “Ms” leaves a woman’s marital status open.

Linguist Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who presided over the voting, said, “We know about singular “they” already — we use it every day without thinking about it, so this is bringing it to the fore in a more conscious way, and also playing into emerging ideas about gender identity”.

Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh explained that the singular they is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun”. It’s not quite true that English has no gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun. We have “it” – but I can’t imagine anyone using it without intending to imply total contempt for the person in question. Most animal lovers won’t use it for animals, either, for the same reason.

The article also pointed out that we use the singular “they” all the time in speech. To many people, writing “he or she” feels clunky now. Undoubtedly there are moments when the phrase is appropriate; certainly there are times when gender-specific words are required. But singular “they” is so common now that I can see the day when even “Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells” won’t choke over his or her (oh, what the heck – make that “their”) cornflakes on reading it.

What are your thoughts? Do you love it, loathe it, or not even notice it? Or perhaps you hate it in print but happily accept it in speech? Do you find it hard, as I do, to write it, but use it without thinking in conversation?

Let me know!

Have you got a better plan?

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 will be very successful for you and you’ll achieve whatever you want to.

[bctt tweet=”Probably one of the things you want from 2016 is greater awareness of your business, and more sales as a result. So how are you aiming to achieve that?”]  Probably – since you’re reading this – one of the things you want from 2016 is greater awareness of your business, and more sales as a result. So how are you aiming to achieve that?Have you got a plan? You know the old saw “If you fail to plan, …”.

Content planning

So if you haven’t done it yet, now’s the time to set up your Editorial Calendar. It sounds very grand but, if there’s just you doing the marketing, it needn’t be anything more fancy than a note to yourself every Wednesday (or whatever day works for you) to write your blog, or every morning to do some updating on LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram/pick-a-platform.

The point is to get it in the diary so that you don’t forget, because if you forget to do something once or twice it suddenly becomes much harder to do. On the other hand, if you do something every day for 30 days, it becomes a normal part of your routine so you don’t even have to think about doing it. And if it’s in the diary and it’s part of your marketing plan, it definitely doesn’t count as “wasting time”.

The time when a proper editorial calendar really comes into its own is when more than one person is involved in the marketing. The left hand has to know what the right hand is doing, or you’ll waste time and energy (and therefore money) doing things twice – or not doing them at all.

A wall planner is a good start. You can get all sorts of fancy-schmancy editorial calendars online, but they’re really not necessary unless you have a cast of thousands falling over themselves to write your content. All you need is something everyone can see, with enough space to write on.

Once you’ve got it, and stuck it up somewhere nice and visible, you need to fill it in. So bat some ideas around until you’ve got enough to get started, and write them in, preferably in some sort of logical order. I wouldn’t advise trying to do a whole quarter’s worth at once: it’s too rigid, doesn’t give you scope to react to items of interest. But do have a theme per quarter and use it as a hanger for relevant, newsworthy ideas as you go along.

Don’t be afraid to go off-topic from time to time, if there’s something in the news that’s relevant to your business but doesn’t fit the quarterly theme. As long as it’s still relevant to your business and your clients, it’s worth writing about. It makes a pleasant change from time to time for both you and your readers. Just don’t rely on the news to give you ideas instead of making a plan, because there will come a time when the news lets you down. I’ve seen some desperate shoe-horning in my time – I’ve done some, too. Trust me, a plan is worth spending an hour or two on!
And if you’ve been putting off starting writing a blog until the perfect moment, that moment’s arrived. There’s never going to be a better time to start.[bctt tweet=”If you’ve been putting off starting writing a blog until the perfect moment, that moment’s arrived. There’s never going to be a better time to start.”] It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect when you start, or you have to re-write the whole thing three times before you think it’s fit to be seen. (You think I don’t edit? Think again!)

Just start.

Then do it again next week, and the week after. By the time you’ve done it 30 times, it will be part of your weekly routine (see above) – and you’ll have done more than six months’ worth. That’s more than most people ever get done, so you’ll be one of a small elite and can pat yourself smartly on the back.

But only if you start. Now.

P. S. If it still feels too daunting, give me a call. I do monthly blog packages at a surprisingly reasonable cost – I’ll even do the research for you. If your editorial calendar is on the back of an envelope at the bottom of a pile of stuff that needs doing some day, get in touch today and let me take that burden off your shoulders.

How to market a great story

Everyone and his dog is writing predictions for how marketing will look in 2016, so I won’t weigh in with my two-penn’orth. Instead I’d like to consider (tongue firmly in cheek) how the birth of a rather important baby was “marketed”.  If you’re easily offended by such gentle joshing, please look away now.

First things first: management arranged that the event would take place in a newsworthy manner. The Sun and the Mail would have had a field day with it: “Pregnant woman travels miles by donkey for census”; “Mother forced to give birth in stable”; “Child’s bed eaten by ox and ass”.

Then the news was literally shouted from the skies by a chorus of angels. Now that beats a Geminid shower any day – though maybe the two are not unrelated… The event was made very public, though the only people who apparently noticed were some shepherds who, against all advice from the Department of Agriculture, left their sheep unguarded for several hours while they hot-footed it into town. You’d think some of the townsfolk would have spotted the commotion…

Shepherds at manger
Image courtesy of Wikipedia “Christmas in the Ukraine”.

 

 

Next – hang the expense and inconvenience – management laid on a comet to take the news further afield. This is where the marketing started to get a bit out of hand. Three wise men (or kings, depending on your source; highheidyins, anyway) saw the comet and followed it on the understanding that it was a portent of great things. They asked for directions at the Palace, as you do. Bad move.

The ruler wasn’t keen on competition. Instead of welcoming the baby, as potentially increasing the fan-base for potentates, he ordered the wholesale slaughter of any child who might be the right one. Obviously his Intelligence weren’t terribly intelligent, or they’d have known exactly which baby was the right one, what with all those shepherds (and the tabloid reports about the family’s appalling living conditions). It all got rather messy and decidedly tragic. The ruler’s reputation has never recovered.

Anyway, management laid on another angel [they’re awfully handy, aren’t they?] to tell all the right people to get out of the way, so the kings (or wise men) hied them home and the baby and his family headed off to Egypt for a wee visit ‘til the ruler took himself out of the story and they could get on with their lives.

The story then went quiet for a bit – some 30 years – before the next round of marketing began, mostly by word of mouth, but also using the talents of some seriously effective copywriters whose work is still studied today.

So that’s how you get the good news out: shout it to the skies, get in the (social) media, lay on all the special effects you can manage, and tell the right people. Just make sure that they really are the right people.

P.S. If you want help shouting your story to the skies, just give me a call. I may be no angel, but I can sing!

Why do content marketing (6)?

We’ve reached the 6th of 7 reasons why we do content marketing: building business relationships and getting sales. Of course, that’s the whole point of any marketing effort, but content marketing, and especially the social media side of things, make it easier because through them you can start having real, and real-time, conversations with people.

Business2People

Prospects can ask specific questions about your products or services before they buy, and they can come back to you for customer service afterwards. Increasingly businesses are using Twitter for customer service – but that’s another story for a different blog.

It doesn’t matter whether you think you do business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B). You’re actually doing B2P: business-to-people. To people who want their questions answered, their problems sorted, their pain cured. People who know what they want and those who don’t, or don’t yet know that what they want exists. Real flesh-and-blood people, with all their foibles, interests, stories and desires, their intelligence, knowledge and passions.

People with whom you could have a really interesting conversation, if you could only get it started. And the best ways to start it are either to ask them questions or to say something that makes them ask you questions.

So it’s good to be a bit outrageous, over the top, controversial or, like a QI elf, myth-busting. Or weird… Did you know that today is Upside-Down Unicyclists’ Day? Or that tomorrow’s the 394th Anniversary of the Battle of the Lunan Water? [No, it’s all right, I did just make them both up. Though I quite like the idea of the Upside-Down Unicyclists…]

As a small aside, today (December 11th) really is the 19th anniversary of the day fans of Gillingham football club were warned they risked a life-time ban if they brought celery to the ground*.  Celery?!?  I’m sure the authorities had their reasons, but I cannot for the life of me think what they might have been.  Did they crunch it too loudly?  Hit people over the head with it?  Throw it at the opposing team’s supporters?  Was it some sort of insult?  The mind really does boggle.  If you, or anyone you know, can enlighten me, I promise to share the answer.

It doesn’t really matter if the subject’s irrelevant to your business, from time to time. Many bloggers report that they get more engagement after a personal post than after a “regular” one. The point of content marketing, after all, is to show you as a real person; it’s hard to “know, like and trust” an automaton, despite recent developments in robotics. (Did you see that there’s a robot “actress” now in Japan? Mind you, I’ve seen a few of those in my time – and they were supposedly human!)

So let your hair down, show people your personality as well as your expertise. Have a conversation and build your relationship, person to person. Then you’ll find yourself, naturally, doing B2P.

P.S. Remember: if you haven’t time to do all that yourself, get in touch and we can have a chat about my Blog and Newsletter monthly packages.

* From “Odd Dates Only” by William Hartston (Souvenir Press, London, 1998).

PPC and content marketing

Do you use Pay Per Click (PPC) ads? They’re a really useful tool, and needn’t be too expensive if you target them properly.

The twin keys to a successful PPC campaign are focussed keywords and great landing-page copy. So let’s look at them individually.

PPC screenshot

How do you find the best keywords for your campaign?

Say you’re selling books. You wouldn’t use “books” as one of your keywords, because it’s far too general. There are probably thousands of online booksellers and you’d just get lost in the crowd. Far better to do a specific campaign for a particular book or narrow style of books (“A Christmas Carol” or “Christmas fiction”, for example).

The best place to look for keywords that will work and not cost the earth is Google: https://adwords.google.co.uk/KeywordPlanner. You have to have (or create) an Adwords account, but you’ll need one anyway to run your ad campaign and it doesn’t take long to set up. There’s an online tutorial on how to get the best out of the tool.

Some of the suggestions Google comes up with may surprise you; you’ll see “alternative” (i.e. wrong!) spellings of your keywords, phrases with lousy grammar, and so on. But that’s how people search. You don’t have to use the ones that make you wince: Google is clever enough to recognise near-matches, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from your own searches.

But the numbers are what you should be looking at: how many people have searched for this keyword and what the competition is like for it (which will determine how high you’ll have to bid for it). The more focussed and specific to your business, as opposed to your competition’s business, you can make your keywords, the less you’ll pay and the less each conversion will be costing you.

OK, so you’ve found your perfect keywords and written a zingy, powerful ad. What will people find when they click it? What sort of copy are you sending them to?

There are two sorts of landing page: sales and information. If you’re selling books online, to use the example above, and you’ve mentioned a specific book in your ad, a sales landing page would feature that book and a “Click to buy” button. You could put in a brief blurb about the book but basically the page is just the briefest of stops on the way to the reader’s wallet.

The information page, also known as a “click-through” page, is where your content marketing comes in. This is where you tell your readers more about the book, the author, other books by the same author or in the same genre, reviews of the book, suggestions that “people who bought this also bought …” and so on, before they click through to the “Buy now” page.

If you’re not selling directly, the click-through page is there to tell people about the freebie or newsletter you want them to sign up for and encourage them to click through to your sign-up page. It’s still a step on the way to the “checkout”, but it’s a longer one and helps build more of a relationship.

Whatever the purpose of your click-through page, it needs to be well-written, friendly, informative, personal, helpful and un-pushy, while still making the reader want to buy your product or get hold of your freebie or newsletter.

So there you have it: reason number 5 for doing content marketing is having decent copy for people to land on from your PPC ad.

If you want any help creating content for your landing page, get in touch!