But these days, with so many PR reps trying to squeeze sales out of email marketing (Salesforce, if you’re reading this: leave me alone!), sometimes it’s easier to blog about emails that don’t work, rather than the ones that do.
The Word ‘Tangible’ is Anything But
My boyfriend John read this mass email aloud to me this morning just to rant about how irritating it is (highlights my own):
As soon as he got about a paragraph into this, the following soundbite started running through my head:
The fact that we found this email such a turn-off speaks volumes, as we are both big fans of Jeffrey Zeldman (and are pretty certain he would never write an email like this).
Here’s the thing: If one of the unique selling points of your product or service is that it’s *tangible*, you should be able to say what it is, or better yet, show an example, prototype, or screenshot of it. That’s pretty much what ‘tangible’ means.
If you have to use the term ‘tangible’ to emphasize how tangible your product or service is, believe me: it’s not tangible enough.
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 …”
1. Think of some keywords related to your business
2. Verify your keywords using a keyword tool
3. Create / write your content
4. 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:”
1. Think of some keywords
2. Verify your keywords using a keyword tool
3. Create / write some awesome content your customers will love
4. Add keywords to your content
5. 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 topics 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!
Someone asked the following in an online discussion group yesterday:
What are small businesses looking for from a digital perspective?
There is a lot out there for small businesses, but what exactly do these businesses feel they need?
There are 5-page websites, business listings, Search, Digital Coupons and much more out there for small businesses to take advantage of.
What excites them?
This question struck me as really odd: I don’t know anyone who “gets excited” about websites, coupons, or search. In my experience, business owners [a.k.a. real human beings] get excited about things like:
making more money
getting recognition for their awesome work & accomplishments
not having to deal with hair-tearing logistical hassles
having more free time
Predictably, this discussion thread went nowhere. No one answered, probably because from the perspective of real people, the question didn’t make any sense.
It was the digital equivalent of asking business owners what kind of paper gets them “really excited.” (I mean, there are so many kinds! 8×11, A4, photo paper, recycled paper …)
But as silly as this question might seem, it struck me as the perfect example of a problem I see all the time in the world of web copy: Focusing your message on the product, rather than on the outcome from buying the product.
If you want to get your customers excited about buying something, draw their attention to the things that actually excite them: greater freedom, wealth, ease or enjoyment.
When writing your web copy, Sell the Dream, Not the Product.
- Momoko Price is a writer, editor and content strategist based in Toronto. Need help with your web copy? Shoot her an email or sign up for the Copy/Cat newsletter below.
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.
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.
I have to admit, while I’m not a huge fan of most of the mailing-list announcements I get first thing in the morning, I do quite like the ones I get from Quandl — they’re brief, unstylized, and always surprising.
I think the last one I got announced that you could now merge data sets on Quandl — a pretty tough technical nut to crack, from what my back-end dev. boyfriend tells me — and today I just got one announcing that all 4 million data sets on Quandl are available for Python:
Just a quick update today:
Thanks to Mark Hartney and Chris Stevens, Quandl now has a Python package. The package gives you direct access all 4 million Quandl datasets from Python. Like the R and Matlab packages, this package is just a Python wrapper for our general purpose API. See: www.quandl.com/help/python
One other minor thing: I have added an orange “About” tab on the home page where you can get additional news and updates more frequently.
As usual, thanks for your support of Quandl. I am always available by email.
When I heard about Draft, a non-technical, version control-enabled word processor app, I was, erm, pretty excited:
I had just come off a giant multi-website content management contract, during which I swore — out loud — at MS Word pretty much every day and pined for some kind of reliable version control system that my client and coworkers could learn easily.
I started using Draft immediately for a small web copy project. I found the UI a joy to write with, but despite my excitement (and eagerness to be the first to introduce my peers to a cool new writing app), I stopped short of inviting anyone to actually use it with me. Why?
Sigh. Markdown. That’s why.
My client doesn’t care about Markdown
Don’t get me wrong, I dig Markdown and I have friends and colleagues who appreciate when I use it. But the people I usually need to consult during the content creation & approval process — especially for larger enterprise projects — are business and marketing executives, not developers. Usually (though not always) the stakeholders that review and approve the copy I create are not the ones who turn it into a webpage.
These people don’t know what Markdown is, and they don’t care.
I know that compared to HTML, Markdown is highly readable, and compared to what WYSIWYG editors spit out, it’s far more predictable. But compared to standard word processors, which most professional content creators & stakeholders expect, it’s pretty limited and alien-looking (‘what’s with all the hashes and asterisks?’ ‘Why can’t I change the font size of this headline?’).
Moreover, the application of judicious formatting and spacing to your copy, even drafts of your copy, can communicate the kind of detail-oriented professionalism that helps you stand out to your clients. For a client-contractor writing workflow, formatting, even in drafts, matters.
Ultimately I ended up using Draft to write the copy for my project, but when it came time to share it with my client, I had to export it to Google Docs (note: to get an editable version, you need to right-click and explicitly select opening the exported file with Google Docs, not the default Google Viewer), manually replace all the Markdown with formatted text to make it look more presentable, then invite her to review it. Which, clearly, is a backward-ass workflow.
I had to admit that, despite Draft’s lovely UI and the exciting potential of version control for writing, using Google Docs or Track Changes is still the better option for my professional copy-writing & review process. For now.
Postscript: Who is Draft really for?
While thinking about this last night I explained my issues to my boyfriend, John, a web developer. His reaction was, “Well, yeah, but you’re not Draft’s target user.”
Huh? But I’m a writer — the tagline of the product is “Easy Version Control and Collaboration for Writers”!
To John, Draft isn’t designed for a client-contractor copywriting workflow at all — instead, like Svbtle, it’s meant for people writing direct-to-web-publish content who wouldn’t mind paying for a professional sanity-check on their work before posting.
In his eyes, the most attractive selling point of Draft is its pay-by-the-minute editorial service, not its collaborative editing & version control features. Maybe this is true, and I’m just not the kind of customer Nate Kontny‘s going for.
But I still hope that disrupting the MS Word / Google Docs enterprise-market oligopoly is on Nate’s radar. And I think adding just a few more formatting & exporting features (such as differentiated, hierarchical styling for h1, h2, h3 and the ability to export formatted text) will go a long way toward making this possible.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Google-gaming content marketing tactics. I mean, as a web writer I obviously keep up with SEO best practices, but for the most part I tend to get a lot more jazzed about researching human beings than I do about researching keywords.
That being said, one connection I never made until recently was how effectively you can do the former with the latter. That is, how effectively you can uncover REAL unmet consumer needs (ideally, yourcustomers’ needs) with a little cursory keyword research. This is a simple and powerful content-marketing trick I recently picked up from Joanna Wiebe‘s fabulous Copy Hackers e-book series.
Create valuable content before shelling out for ads
Next time you find yourself heading to Google Adwords to price keywords, why not try using it to look for customer pain points first? Then, invest a little time in developing quality content that eases that pain, instead of shelling out for an ad. Or, best of both worlds: create some pain-easing content first, then buy the adwords that target people already Googling for it. So simple!
For example: let’s say I generate some keywords related to “web writing” (I use MarketSamurai for keyword research, but Google Adwords Keyword Search works just as well). Rather than filtering for low-competition keywords to wrestle into my copy, I keep my eyes peeled for search queries specifically related to solving a problem. In this case, common keywords include “web writing tips,” “how to write for the web,” and ”web writing jobs.”
Personally I’m not too interested in developing content for people looking for writing jobs, but I’m totally into helping people write for the web more effectively.
Voila: Not only have I just uncovered an unmet consumer need I’m qualified to fill, I’ve also found hard evidence of a highly motivated segment of the population that has a specific interest in my professional services.
“If you summarize your idea in your first sentence, writing ‘TLDR’ is superfluous.
The English language already has tools to summarize and communicate your thoughts. Leverage existing conventions, which are accepted by a larger population, and you will engage more users and succeed in communicating your idea.
‘TLDR’ stands for ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read,’ and began as a response to the ‘wall of text’ style of writing that would appear on sites like Reddit. Over time, it became a shorthand way of saying: ‘Here’s a summary.’
However, if you actually wrote the article, it is asinine to preface it with ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read.’
Of course you read it. You wrote it.
Instead, edit your article, and make sure to summarize your point in the first sentence.”
A post like this just makes an editor’s heart sing. Thanks, Douglas!
In a recent blog post called ‘Toronto is Broken,’Upverter co-founder Zak Homuth wrote that Toronto’s startup community suffers from an overabundance of ‘small ideas,’ implying that ‘thinking small’ is somehow intrinsically less valuable than ‘thinking big.’
I’m not a web startup founder, but I am an entrepreneur and many of my clients are web startups. And as a writer, sometimes I can’t help but focus on how the wrong word ends up detracting from the soundness of someone’s argument. This is one of those times.
So let’s clear something up right now: There is a world of difference between a ‘small’ idea and a shitty idea. Let’s please stop equating one with the other; it’s not helping to solve the problem (ie: a cultural aversion to creative & original ventures).
Zak isn’t the first person to complain about small uninspired ideas, and derivative product pitches certainly aren’t unique to Toronto. But trying to combat an epidemic of ‘small ideas’ by being ‘frighteningly ambitious’ instead is, well, not exactly great advice. Here’s why:
1. ‘Small ideas’ can be built and launched more quickly.
Creating a successful product involves much more than just the idea, or even the product itself. Testing, marketing, financing, selling, scaling, management — these factors will often end up playing a far more critical role in determining your startup’s success over the long run.
So rather than worry about whether or not your idea is ‘big’ or ‘game-changing’ enough, why not bite off something you know you can chew now, whatever it is, and start getting some real-market experience as soon as possible? That way, you’ll actually know what to do (and what not to do) when that crazy, once-in-a-lifetime idea strikes you.
2. Traction, not ambition, defines a ‘world-changing’ idea.
I often help entrepreneurs structure and refine their pitch decks, and it never ceases to amaze me how frequently they include 5 or more slides about their idea or product, and none about whether the idea is actually taking hold with anyone.
A product or service doesn’t have to be complicated or even tech-based (as Derek Sivers points out in his popular ‘Ideas vs. Execution’ clip). The important thing is to gauge its market traction.
After all, an idea or product can only change the world if people actually use it. In business, if your solution takes off, then it was a great, world-changing idea. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t. Simple as that.