I hope you'll forgive me for the radio silence (I'm sure you haven't noticed, but still — I apologize anyway). I have a pretty good reason, though: We moved again this month!Read More
In this post on email copywriting, I explain a super-simple, actually-kind-of-fun way to keep your web copy on-brand and on-point, even if you're feeling miserable, irritable, and foggy-headed — like I was just last week.
The TL;DR version: I got my butt royally kicked by the flu this month, but thanks to this 2-minute writing hack, I was able to deliver content my client (and their customers) loved. Read the full post to see how I did it.Read More
It seems like 99.9% of us have the same guilt-ridden, dysfunctional relationship with writing, be it copywriting, academic writing or creative writing.
We love it … and we hate it.
We make plans to write more, write better, write daily. Then, every evening, we find some irresistible reason not to.Read More
Whenever I take on a new project, the first problem I usually have to deal with isn’t the content. It’s the *workflow for creating* the content. Because more often than not … there isn’t one.Read More
One of the biggest misconceptions about web writing is the belief that great copy is the product of a single person: the writer.
Not true. From print ads to magazines to full-blown novels, high-quality, high-volume copy has always been the product of a multi-person production line — an editorial workflow.Read More
I’m not sure when I let it happen, but I did. At some point within the last year, I broke one of the Cardinal Rules for Content Creators:
I let my blog die.
Letting your blog die is really just a modern-day variant of The #1 Rule of Writing, which is:
“Yay, Verily. You Must Sit Down and Write.”
Clients always tell me they don’t maintain their blogs because “they don’t have any time.” But, having let my own blog die this year, I’ve come to realize this isn’t really true.
When we say “I don’t have time to blog”, what we’re really saying is:
“I don’t have the time to conceive, write, edit, and publish a quality blog post in one sitting.”
For most people with jobs and families, this is true. After working and/or chasing after your kids all day, the idea of sitting and writing for several hours (yes, a thoughtful, properly-targeted blog post can take this long) is about as appealing as sitting through a root canal.
This is why it’s crucial to break blogging up into strategic, manageable chunks. If your blogging strategy is nothing more than “I will get everything done tonight or tomorrow” — your blog will die, if it hasn’t already.
So I thought I’d share my own weekly blogging strategy (below). Aside from the Setup Stage , which you do only once, the rest of the schedule follows a very simple Monday-to-Friday routine, with no weekend work.
Because let’s face it, saying “I’ll do it on the weekend” is content-creation suicide.
MONDAY: Pick a Problem to Solve.
Ask any content marketer what makes for good web content, and they’ll probably say that good web content is, above anything else, useful.
So on Monday, spend 30 minutes to an hour listening to the conversations your customers & clients are having online. (If you don't have a list of websites where you'll find your customers talking, take another 30 minutes and work through my previous post on this topic.)
Make a quick list of the kinds of problems people are talking about this week.
Ideally, one of them will be an issue you feel quite strongly about, one you can help with. This will be the premise of your blog post.
TUESDAY: Write a 1-Sentence Solution (or Thesis).
Tuesday is the day you summarize your solution or thoughts with regard to the problem above in 1 sentence. Just one.
This might take longer than you think. It can take quite a bit of time to distill and refine a clear, actionable point to add to the conversation that's genuinely unique, new, and valuable.
WEDNESDAY: Write Your Headline(s) and the Intro.
Any copywriter worth her salt will tell you you should spend 80% of your copywriting time on your headline. For blog posts, you can ease up on this ratio a bit, but the fact remains: headlines are important, as are your section headings and intro paragraphs.
There are a billion resources out there on how to write effective headlines, so I’m not going to get into this here. (That said, if you need help on writing zippy headlines, I personally recommend Copy Hackers Book 3.)
It’s also a good idea to write a few versions of your headline and publish some alternate versions of your post using split-testing software. See which ones convert better. Knowledge is power.
THURSDAY: Write the Body.
It might seem a bit weird that you only get one day to write “most of the blog post”, but if you worked through the steps from Monday to Wednesday, you should be champing at the bit to get it all down by now.
When writing a first draft, try to refrain from editing or rewriting anything. Just get your point down in its entirety, and don’t worry about clarity — yet.
Just sit down with a cup of coffee / glass of wine and write. Give yourself an hour and time it, if that helps.
FRIDAY: Edit, Optimize, and Schedule.
Friday is the last day where you take that first draft, and with a fresh set of eyes, edit & optimize it. Again, there are a billion articles and posts online about how to write and edit great web copy, so I’m not going to get into it here. But here are a few good rules of thumb:
1) Highlight the immediately actionable content in your post (i.e. the content that enables people to carry out a task). This is your priority copy. Try to prune as much of the rest as you can.
2) Get someone else to read your post and tell you what sucks about it. It’s painful but it works.
3) If you can do this without butchering the flow & clarity of your copy, front-load your headlines, subheads, and descriptions with a few relevant SEO phrases. But try not to think about SEO as a way to “game Google”. Try to think about it as adding a few helpful “sign-posts” in the right places for your readers so they can instantly figure out if your content is relevant to them.
Finally, don’t forget to schedule your post to publish at the right time and through all the right channels, depending on where your readers are (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, email campaigns, etc.)
Set it and forget it on Friday, and you’re ahead of the game for next week.
Now ... that wasn’t so hard, was it?
This short tutorial is designed to help small business owners write properly targeted blog posts their customers will actually appreciate (instead of those all-too-common sporadic, shot-in-the-dark company blog posts no one reads).
In the midst of reviving your own business blog? Before you dive back into it, take 30 minutes and work through the following exercise. It's worth it.
1. List 1 or 2 Skills or Tasks You’d Love to Help Your Customers With.
If you sell a product or service, chances are the skills you pick will be related to it. But maybe not. Just make sure to choose stuff you’re genuinely passionate about.
For example …
I like helping people:
- Organize & plan unmanageable tsunamis of web content
- Write & edit web content more effectively and enjoyably
2. List 3 Types of Customers That Would Benefit From Your Help.
If you’re a carpenter, you might write content for DIY-spirited homeowners, or other carpenters, or furniture designers.
If you’re an accountant, you might cater to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.
Take a moment and identify exactly who will want to listen to what you have to say. Once you’ve identified these people, ask yourself: What’s in it for them to read my content? How has this post made their life easier? Put yourself in their shoes.
For example …
As a content strategist and copywriter, people who would appreciate my skills would be:
- Marketing managers
- UX designers
- Startup and small-Business CEOs
3. List 5 Influencers Who Already Target These Customers.
I hate marketing buzzwords like ‘influencers’, but you know what I mean. List 5 people within your field of expertise who have a vibrant online presence and are already engaging with your target audience.
For example …
Five kick-ass online personalities in the field of web content that I might list:
4. List 5 Content-Rich Sites That Are Already “Doing it Right”.
Finally, identify 5 web publications that provide great, useful content to your target audience. You should check these sites regularly, for a number of reasons:
1. They give you a sense of the kind of content your readers are interested in
2. They provide great, topical material to learn from and follow up on in your own posts
3. They help you get a sense of what’s already out there, so you can brainstorm ways to cultivate your own voice/brand
4. Eventually you’ll be familiar enough with these publications that you might successfully guest-blog for them later on
For example …
My list of 5 web content & copy-focused sites would probably be:
Keep these lists on hand whenever you’re brainstorming ideas for good content. Scan through them whenever you’re stuck and listen to what these people and publications are saying. Before long great, relevant ideas will start popping into your head and you’ll be pumped to get your next post ready.
D Bnonn Tennant recently wrote a fantastic blog post called Why Don’t Most Web Designers Know Anything About Business? that I just had to share.
According to Tennant, every web page you create should have 1 (one!) central, revenue-generating (or at the very least supporting) objective in mind, or the page shouldn't even exist. In other words, each page on your website should play a clear, unique role in helping a new visitor make a decision about whether to engage further with you and your business.
If this role isn't 100% clear to a website visitor within about 5 seconds of them landing on the page — ie:, if they can't figure out a) where they are b) what they're supposed to do there and c) why they should bother doing it — the web content & design of that page is failing. (Talk about a tough-love assessment, no?)
Haven't read Tennant's article yet? Seriously, check it out. It may change your whole perspective on page layout, web content planning, and the importance of oh-so-critical calls-to-action.
Has anyone noticed how, despite a ton of hype about Google Penguin & Panda ‘changing the SEO landscape,’ blogging and marketing tips for small businesses really haven’t changed all that much?
Small business blogging tips: Then vs. Now
A few years ago, ‘how to blog’ articles went something like this:
“SEO is critical for getting your page seen on the Web today. Here are some tips you can use to get the traffic you want …”
- Think of some keywords related to your business
- Verify your keywords using a keyword tool
- Create / write your content
- Add keywords and metatags to your content
Today, ‘how to blog’ articles say some variation of:
“These days, SEO is only part of the equation when it comes to creating shareable / viral / high-traffic content that will accelerate growth for your business and drive revenue. The key to online marketing today is creating awesome, engaging, high-value content that matters to your customers. Here are 5 Tips to Help You Create Incredible Content:”
- Think of some keywords
- Verify your keywords using a keyword tool
- Create / write some awesome content your customers will love
- Add keywords to your content
- Share on as many social channels as you can manage without losing your sanity.
Apparently the content marketing game has changed, but content marketing tips for small businesses still sound pretty much the same (with the exception of appending some variation of ‘oh and remember to make your content awesome and valuable.’)
So how do you create awesome, valuable content on a limited budget?
Great blog posts come from your customers, not you
Here’s probably the most common-sense, cost-effective content marketing strategy for small businesses that I can think of:
Create content that solves a problem (or answers a question) that your customers are actually talking about.
So many startups and small businesses are perpetually at a loss when it comes to brainstorming topics to write about for their blogs, when in fact, the hands-down best topics are literally spilling out of their customers' mouths, 24/7.
Your customers have problems they need to solve, and they’re talking about them online ALL THE TIME. They talk about them everywhere: in LinkedIn groups, on Quora, on Twitter, in Amazon reviews, in blog comment threads, and through their Google search queries.
Instead of sitting around trying to brainstorm ‘cool topics’ to write about for your business blog — and then invariably being discouraged because it’s not nearly as ‘cool’ as the high-budget campaign some Silicon Valley superstar put out last week —spend time brainstorming places where your customers are talking online instead. Then spend 30 minutes every morning listening. Not promoting yourself, not spamming people; just listening to what your customers are saying.
Before you know it, you’ll invariably hear someone complaining about something that you feel really passionate about, that you know you can help them with, that you realize so many people in your industry — customers and competitors — are getting dead-wrong.
That is the topic of your next ‘high-value’ business blog article. And the next one. And the next one.
Got it? Good. Now, go find those keywords and get writing!
If you're a small business or a startup with a limited budget and resources, stop chasing Facebook likes. Seriously. Yesterday morning I spent time checking out some small business groups on LinkedIn and was stunned by the number of small business and startup owners who were (consensually) hounding each other to increase the number of Facebook likes on their pages. It was surreal:
This thread had nearly 400 comments, consisting entirely of people adding their Facebook page links and saying 'Thanks! Like me and I'll like you back!" This like-trading behaviour then rippled onto the businesses' Facebook pages ...
... which included one comment that has now become my personal favourite:
This is madness. Sure, these people may have superficially increased their Like count, but I doubt any of them made any extra revenue from this silliness.
You'd be astounded at how intricate some people's calculations of Facebook's marketing value are*, but when it comes right down to it, the basic equation of business value doesn't change: the value of your campaign = the revenue generated by the campaign - the time and cost involved in making it happen (including the opportunity cost).
If you're a small business owner and you can't afford the luxury of hiring someone to do your marketing for you, recognize that time is your most limited resource. Don't waste it making noise just for the sake of having a high noise count.
* For the record, Dan Zarrella's equation for 'the value of a Facebook Like' got shredded in the comments thread of his post. If you're interested, one professor wrote a pretty comprehensive breakdown of Zarrella's miscalculations/misrepresentations worth reading.