Resolutions, challenges, realizations… are you tired of reading about them yet?
Because it’s what we all do. And, by “we,” I mean those of us writing blog posts and creating content online.
There’s a crap load of it out there – some of it good, some of it great, and some of it that’s about as appealing as that can of 3 year old pinto beans you just found hidden in the back of the cupboard.
Here’s something with the shelf life of a Twinkie but without the “resolutions” aftertaste… well, maybe
So, I’ve decided to give you something that kills two birds with one stone (so to speak.) I’m putting together a roundup of the 5 best copy and conversion posts I’ve read from around the interwebs. It’s got a whole lot of value if you’re interested in improving your copy and conversion rates.
And, if you’re a business with any kind of presence online, you should be.
Plus, it’s another way for me to connect with all of you without writing another deep dive, chunky post that makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. This is where my veiled attempt at ignoring any kind of resolutions just left the building. Keep reading and you’ll see.
Writing guest posts on larger sites has been one of my keys to success with my business so far. It’s given me exposure and authority I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten.
The only problem with these posts is that:
They tend to be long, exhaustive and uber time consuming.
I can’t always have as much fun with them as I’d like.
That’s why going forward, I intend to experiment more with my own blog. Write a “best of” post from time to time (by the way, I promise you’re almost to the juicy, value added part which is why you probably clicked in the first place.)
You may see some shorter posts, opinion pieces, and the standard how-to variety thrown in for good measure.
And, I’ll be looking for suggestions from you. Message me. Email me. Carrier pigeon… whatever works.
Without further ado… some “Best of” reading to get those wheels in your head turning
There’s so many terrific articles online. These are just a few of my favorites I’ve read recently and think you’ll appreciate.
This post is all about email subject lines. There’s a ton of posts out there about this but this is the first one I’ve read recently that stuck with me. It does a good job of breaking down what makes one email clicked over another.
To be honest, I rarely read this blog but this post caught my eye. Glad it did. If you’ve got a website, you should have at least a basic understanding of how to use your analytics. This post does a super job of helping you do that.
This is a mega long post from a couple of years ago. But, like all good Twinkie content, it never goes bad. It spells out how to think through the optimization process. Keep it bookmarked for a rainy day.
My friend Lacy Boggs is a professional blogger and has some terrific ideas on how to come up with new content. This post does a fantastic job of walking you through how to think of content ideas by looking at your customer’s buying journey. Brilliant!
So, there you have it. These posts should give you some new ideas and help with your online marketing.
If you have any problems that have been cropping up with developing your copy, let me know in the comments. You might just get a blog post out of it.
That is – if you’re tasked with writing content for your business – they’re a handy little tool to have in your arsenal.
And these days, I’m all about keeping my arsenal full of tools that’ll make my life easier.
What’s a swipe file, anyway?
Originally, swipe files started as collections of advertising copy or marketing materials. Copywriters, especially, would keep files of tried and tested ad letters to draw upon for ideas and inspiration.
These days, it’s more than just copywriters putting together files of great pieces of copy they come across. The guys over at Vero, an email marketing SaaS startup, talk about swipe files as one of the top things anyone interested in improving their email marketing should be doing.
Anytime you see a great subject line, a good offer, a beautiful design or great copy, just add the message to your swipe file. Pretty soon, you’ll have a repository of inspiration that you can tap into when you are working on your own campaigns.
I can see the wheels turning in your head as you’re reading this… and you’re saying to yourself, “You mean I’ve gotta make one more thing for my business?”
“Is this going to involve spreadsheets? Because if I have to come up with one more spreadsheet I’m going to scream.”
No, I’m not not psychic. I’m just bootstrapping it like the rest of you and that’s what would be going through my head.
Swipe files are definitely worth the minimal amount of effort because they…
1) Help you get past a mental block
Whether you can’t seem to find the right words or you’re having trouble coming up with a structure for a sales page, looking at good examples from across the web can get the creative juices flowing.
2) Make great topic generators
For those of us who need to write blog posts, articles, or just about any other type of content, having a stash of easy to access files at our finger tips can do wonders when trying to put the pieces together.
3) Keep voice of customer data close at hand
Whenever you’re doing a bit of research on writing something for a new product or service you’re interested in launching, making the rounds of places like Amazon reviews is helpful. Take screenshots of reviews of comparable products so you can go back over them and pull out recurrent themes and phrases to inform your own copy.
Types of content to swipe
You can find inspiration from just about anything online… but the best things to keep stashed are ones that:
Provide some sort of intrinsic value – namely they’re the best examples to follow
Support the kind of work you’re doing
Otherwise, they’re just making your cyber footprint larger by warehousing them and more difficult for you to find the items that actually will help you when you need them.
If you’re developing online marketing for your business, think about creating swipe files for:
Emails you’ve received with memorable subject lines or content
Landing pages or sales pages where the design elements and the copy work especially well together
Individual website pages that you feel do a good job and are representative of your style
Blog posts with topics you might like to cover
Any bit of copy with rock solid headlines
Use Evernote to organize your files
So, how do you create these swipe files?
Using a bookmarking tool for the Internet is the way to go. There’s no need for spreadsheets – unless you can’t live without them for everything.
Create Notebooks then Notes
Think of Evernote as your online filing system. You can create notebooks and then individual notes to stick in them.
Here’s just one set of notes grouped in a notebook in my Evernote account.
What makes Evernote so great for creating swipe files is the nifty little bookmarklet that you can attach to your browser. Go to whatever page on the Internet you like, click on the little elephant head icon, and get a smorgasbord of options how you’d like to save the content.
You can add tags to each note to make searching easier. Plus, you can add remarks and even highlight.
Swipe like a bandit…
The purpose of your swipe files are to inspire, give you ideas, show you how the masters of great copywriting and marketing put their content together.
I’ve spent hours pulling apart well performing sales and landing pages, blog posts and email campaigns. I’ve dissected headlines and button copy that have outperformed their control counterparts.
It’s not been to copy or lift pieces outright but to understand the why behind what’s worked and what hasn’t. And, that’s the benefit of having all these bookmarked and curated items to refer back to.
I can make the connections between what’s been done successfully before and how that might be instructive to what I’m trying to do.
How to get started with Evernote
I have paid for the Premium version of Evernote. It’s only $45 for the year and it allows you to search PDF documents and put your notes in a presentation mode (like Powerpoint.)
But, there’s so much you can do with the free version – simply start with that.
Here’s a couple of helpful articles that will give you the lay of the land.
Just enough to get you through a 30 minute meeting before your blood sugar drops again and you’re ready to start gnawing at the plastic cover of your Venti latte. A bite only stops the mutiny going on in your stomach for so long.
At some point, the “fun” in fun size content is gone. Sustainable trumps quick and easy in the long run.
Your business needs more than bite size online content
There’s a time and place for the short blips of information to be shared. Think Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social networking platforms. These are the vehicles for generating conversations, connecting with customers and staying front and center on people’s radar screens.
Being able to consistently tell your brand’s story in 140 characters or less has become a necessary skill. Between technology and dwindling attention spans, people expect easily digestible chunks of information.
“Great!” you say. “I can get on board with shorter attention spans. Who needs all this labor intensive, detailed content anyway?’
If you’re a business owner, you do.
The case for long form storytelling
Every time I talk to small business owners who tell me they can’t afford the time or expense to create content for their websites, I ask them one simple question.
How can you afford not to?
Beyond crafting high quality and well optimized copy for the static pages on your business website, you need to be doing the same for your blog.
Yes, that four letter word so many of you don’t want to hear. BLOG
And, what are all of these people looking for? They want answers to questions that someone just like you can be providing.
Inquiring minds want to know and Google has figured out how to send people to websites with the content that brings forth the best results. Websites with continually updated high quality content are the ones that come up in the search results, get the visits and shared on social media.
Your blog can do this provided you make a point of answering the types of questions that your target market needs the answers to and you do it in a thoughtful and compelling way.
Yeah, you really need to be doing this… here’s how
I read a lot of online content. I see the good, the bad, and the downright abysmal. Make it worth your time adding content to your site by following a few simple guidelines:
#1: Give people a reason to read by digging deep
The best posts I’ve read online have been filled with detailed examples to back up cogent arguments. They provide screenshots to depict what’s being said along with links to more information.
One of my favorite blogs is on the Help Scout site.Gregory Ciotti consistently does a phenomenal job of providing useful information and answering the kinds of questions his customers are interested in.
He will cite research studies and experts findings to illustrate his point. When you’re done reading one of his posts you feel like you’ve gotten something out of it that you can actually apply to your business.
#2 Speak your customer’s language
I’m talking tone here. It’s the words you choose and how you put them together that resonate with the people who buy from you. The key in doing this well has to do with not only knowing your target market but your own brand.
What values does your business represent? How can you express them in a way that informs while providing a connection with your customers?
Take a look at The Middle Finger Project. The tone is brash, the copy peppered with words that will make some people cringe. But, for this business a major part of its appeal is its take no prisoners kind of attitude.
Extreme? Maybe. And, no I wouldn’t necessarily recommend mimicking them. Find your own style that you can live with and keep it consistent.
#3: Add something to the conversation
More is not necessarily better. Creating content merely to get something new floating out into the ether rarely does anyone any good.
It’s time to circle back to knowing what your customers questions are and positioning yourself to answer them. This goes well beyond the SEO argument. Being able to provide value added information regarding the things they care about positions you as an authority.
Authority builds trust. Trust builds relationships… I think we all know where this is going.
Don’t just tell people what they want to hear or what’s convenient for you to spit out on the screen. Give them what they need to know.
Believe it or not, it’s been the best way I’ve found developing my business.
What are your thoughts on dwindling attention spans and generating content? Do tell…
And, when I say “your” I’m talking about the collective you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make any one of you stand up in the front of the class and pull your site apart.
Word by word.
That’s just wrong. I’d rather not be that elementary school teacher who always singled some unfortunate kid out because she read one too many poorly written book reports and couldn’t take it anymore. Although, can you imagine what reading an endless amount of terrible essays about Tom Sawyer could do to a person?
Now, replace the part about terrible school essays with website copy and take a moment to ponder its effect on a potential customer.
Suddenly, we’re dealing with people who don’t have to read what you’ve written to pay the rent. They can run for the hills as fast as it takes to click a button.
And, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
You’re fighting a losing battle
You’ve only got a few seconds to draw people in once they land on your site. Statistics show that as of 2012 the average person has an attention span of 8 seconds. Goldfish make it to 9. Our ability to stay focused on one thing has devolved to the point that we’re comparing ourselves with pets that get flushed down the toilet after they end up in that big fish bowl in the sky.
This is not good. In fact, it’s more than not good. It’s a disaster for those businesses that don’t make their website content and design a priority.
Stack the deck in your favor
Within all of this doom and gloom, there’s a bright spot. Write compelling copy and put it where it needs to be on your site.
Easier said than done. I know. Here are a few things you can do to make your copy start pulling its own weight on your site.
1) Clearly articulate the why
As soon as someone lands on your site, make sure they know exactly why they are there. Your header should have a tagline with an indication of what you do and for whom. With an 8 second window, the last thing you want is for people to be left guessing.
Create headlines that signify to the reader what differentiates your business from the competition and how it can provide value. Then, continue on with subheads and copy that reiterate your value proposition.
To help you do this, answer these questions:
What is the best attribute of my business? or Why would someone choose my business over another one?
How does my service or business solve a problem for my customers?
What are the benefits to someone using my service or product?
Who is my target customer?
2) Leave the jargon speak to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory
No one wants to sift through a bunch of technical terms just to try and understand what you are selling. You can be professional without being boring and unintelligible to everyone who hasn’t gotten a PhD in quantitative physics.
Be direct and steer clear of the cliches. You don’t get extra brownie points for cleverness if your audience has no idea what you’re trying to say.
3) Make every word count
There’s only so much real estate on any given landing page, whether that’s your homepage, short form sales page or even an About page. Think about what you need that page to do for you. Sell a product. Gather emails for a newsletter. Whatever it is, each word along with the elements on the page have to be providing value in some way and inspiring people to your call to action.
Cut the crap from your copy. If it doesn’t instruct, inspire or motivate, it needs to go.
4) Content drives design
Know what your message is, how you want to articulate it and all the moving parts that go along with it before you even think about putting your website together. For instance, to make a good decision on a coherent navigation structure you’ll need to know how you want the features and benefits of your services or products framed.
Great website copy works in tandem with great design. Remember the goldfish? Website bells and whistles might appeal to our lizard brains for a few seconds but poor writing and an unclear message will turn people off as soon as they realize why they stopped tapping the keyboard.
The elephant in the room
I realize I haven’t said anything about SEO. It’s important but so is coming up with copy that resonates with your audience. It’s all well and good to get people hopping on your site because all the keywords are in place but if your writing stinks and makes people want to leave before they’ve taken any action, all the SEO in the world isn’t going to help you.
Write compelling copy first, optimize second. Then, test it out and go from there.
How happy are you with your website copy? More importantly, what do your customers think?
If you’ve spent any time developing a business online, I’m sure you’ve heard from one marketing guru or another that creating free content is a must. Websites need blogs. Email lists need newsletters. Oh, and don’t forget about having a free download available to entice people to sign up for your email list in the first place. Before you know it, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to get paid for an original idea or make anything other than free content.
When is enough, enough?
I’ve been asking myself that question recently. A major reason for me starting this business is to help other small businesses and solopreneurs sift through the morass of information and find a few nuggets that actually make sense to apply to what they’re doing. For all intents and purposes, I’m in the same boat. The difference is that I’m the one sifting through all the online detritus and making heads or tails out of it.
The Road Less Traveled
I don’t want to be another knucklehead regurgitating the party line. The easy thing to do is to tell you what almost everyone else is telling you. I’m going to go out on a limb here and not do that. Let’s move away from the generalities and acknowledge the fact that it’s not one size fits all with our businesses.
Sometimes more is just more
Generating content, good value added content, takes time. Last I heard, time is money. Continually, I have to remind myself of that fact. I spend an hour writing a blog post, an hour on newsletter content, bits of time here and there posting on social networks, responding to comments, I’m losing time I could be using on other parts of my business.
Depending what you read, you’d think that if you’re not putting out fresh content online somewhere every few hours, your business is never going to get off the ground. It’s enough to make anyone apoplectic. I’m the first to say that high value and well delivered content is key to building a brand and helping convert leads into sales. The problem becomes when delivering so much free content tips the scales from adding to your business to sucking it dry.
Where are you in your business?
This is where getting really specific about goals and bottom lines comes in. I met a woman the other day who was at her wit’s end trying to figure out what route to go with integrating social media into her business. She had gotten quotes from a couple of large PR/Social Media management agencies that included services she neither could afford or thought she really needed. I asked her a bit about her business, where she finds clients and what social networks she likes to use. Her answer, “I really like to blog and use LinkedIn.” My response, “Terrific!”
She was already connecting with potential clients on LinkedIn and creating well thought out content on her own website. For the kind of business she has and the amount of time she can devote to social media, spending excessive brainpower and energy someplace like Facebook doesn’t make sense. Having some sort of presence is okay but creating lots of original content specifically for that network is not going to pay off.
Give until it hurts, then give some more
This seems to be the mantra these days. Just about everyone expects something for free. Long gone are the days of simply broadcasting a message. People can easily go online and comparison shop. The upshot is that competition is fiercer than ever. There’s always going to be someone else working for less and providing more.
Stop! Let’s put the breaks on for just a minute and think about what we’re all doing. The free webinars, the free monster sized downloadable PDFs, infographics, and the list goes on and on. So much rich content is being produced and distributed for free that it’s mind boggling.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if I think none of these things should be part of a small business’s marketing game plan. Something like a webinar can be a great tool in giving people actionable advice while promoting a product or service. Contributing valuable content creates trust and helps convince a prospective customer or client to try what a business has to offer. I just hate seeing small businesses fall into the trap of continually giving away the milk for free.
Just say no
I’m a huge proponent of networking, making connections, and helping people with the knowledge that I have. Giving is good. Jumping off the cliff with the rest of the lemmings isn’t. This brings us back to coming up with a plan to get your business noticed online and off that doesn’t involve feeling like a chump. Writing five blog posts a week and coming out with a new free download once a month may be overkill. Are you really generating more revenue and whatever else you want for your business from all that effort? If you are, fantastic. You’ve found you’re sweet spot. If not, don’t do it just because some internet marketing “expert” said you should.
What are your thoughts on all the free content out there? Do you feel as though you’re stuck in a revolving door of content creation with little payoff? Let me know in the comments.
Get Finding The Right Message on Amazon
“What Jen Havice explains in this short book is nothing less than a degree in message mining—what messages you need to share, what words to use, and how to find them. It’s an easy read that packs a major marketing punch.”
—Rob Marsh, conversion copywriter and strategist, Brandstory