Category Archives: Writing Tips

‘Click-bait’ headlines won’t help you in the long run

MockClick-baitWe’ve all been there. You’re scrolling down a page, and there it is: a cryptic headline that promises to reveal something shocking, life-saving or unbelievable … all you have to do is click.

Sadly, the content behind the link is usually as disappointing as the headline was mysterious.

As marketers, we know that measurable results are key to any strategy, so anything that drives clicks – and potential advertising revenue – is very tempting. But there is a big difference between a good headline and “click-bait.”

A good headline incites a click with accurate, relevant information that attracts readers to engaging content. “Click-bait,” however, refers to any sensationalized or mysterious headline that misleads or provides irrelevant content for the sake of driving traffic to a website. If you don’t have the content to support what your headline is selling, getting a lot of clicks won’t matter in the long run.

3 ways click-bait will kill your numbers

  1. High bounce rates. Exciting, click-worthy headlines are great for driving traffic, but if they’re misleading or the content doesn’t live up to visitors’ expectations, they’re not going to stick around. High bounce rates are a surefire way to get flagged by search engines as untrustworthy.
  2. Low engagement. Page-rank algorithms are increasingly favoring websites with more than just high time-on-site. Even if a click-bait headline is enough to get a visitor to read the content, the page needs links and shares to prove the quality of the content.
  3. Bad reputation. Sensational headlines are bound to get clicks at first, but every misleading link is a chance to make a bad impression. Eventually, potential visitors will just ignore anything they think will disappoint.

In the age when relevant content is king, marketers have to make sure that the right audience is visiting their sites and engaging with their content. If you feel like you’re in a rut, try refreshing your approach to content marketing or spicing up your messaging. Just don’t fall victim to headlines that overpromise and content that underdelivers.

Have you seen click-bait from any surprising sources? Let us know in the comments below.

How to turn mediocre copy into tantalizing content

OK handWe’ve all been there.

You write the best blog post, ad, white paper, story or (fill in the blank) ever. And then someone dumps all over it. The red sea of edits and corrections makes you wonder what went wrong.

The thrill is gone.

But you can bring it back. Here’s how …

Know the five signs of copy drivel and avoid them like the bubonic plague. They’re content killers and they’ll take you down every time.

  1. Long sentences
  2. Wordiness
  3. Jargon
  4. Passive voice
  5. Random capitalization

Let’s explore these in-depth so that you’ll be able to recognize and fix them in your own writing.

#1: Long sentences

The shorter your sentences, the more readable they are. Aim for a maximum of 15 words per sentence, but don’t be obsessive about it. Look for opportunities to cut when you can. This sentence from a daily writing tips blog (for real) screams for hedge clippers:

“Although variety of sentence length occurs naturally, it’s a good idea, when it’s feasible, to recite your writing aloud to ensure that stacks of sentences of repetitively equal or nearly equal length aren’t slipping through.”

Whoa! I dare you to get through that without stopping for a breath.

How to fix it

Short sentences pack a punch. Use them liberally. You can even write one-sentence paragraphs to help readers breeze through your content.

Push yourself to trim your word count. Turn a 100-word e-blast into 50 words and then slash it to 25. If you’re feeling brave, cut another 10 words.

Now, let’s rewrite the tip above:

“Vary sentence length to grab readers’ attention. Read your copy out loud and then rewrite any monotonous sections to spice it up.”

Got it? OK, let’s move to the next sign.

#2: Wordiness

You can’t help yourself.

You fall prey to deadwood like “in order to,” “in need of” and “at the present time.”

Does this look familiar?

“If you’re in need of a refund, please contact the corporate office immediately in order to get your money back. The local branch is closed for repairs at the present time.”

How to fix it

Resist the temptation to use three or more words when one will do. Trim wordy phrases and your readers will thank you.

Use this cheat sheet to get started:

Avoid Replace it with
As a result of Because
At the present time Now
At that point in time Then
At this point in time Now
Due to the fact Because
In close proximity Near
In need of Need
In order to To
In the event that If
Make use of Use
Subsequent to After

Prune as many words from your copy as you can. It becomes easier the more you do it.

Ready for the next one?

#3: Jargon

Your audience expects you to use inflated words, right?

Wrong.

If you use business and industry jargon, you could alienate readers who aren’t familiar with those terms, as well as bloggers, journalists and others whose attention you’re trying to attract. You want your audience to read and act on your message. That won’t happen if they don’t understand it.

Try decoding this banking jargon:

“We must effect a needs assessment of the downturn in commercial lending package applications.”

Huh?

Translation: “We need to find out why no one is applying for loans.”

How to fix it

Impress readers with clear, concise and benefit-driven content – not bloat. Simple words are approachable and meaningful.

For example:

  • Choose “rules” instead of “methodology.”
  • Use “improve” instead of “optimize.”
  • Select “think” – not “conceptualize.”
  • Pick “avoid” rather than “circumvent.”

OK, on to #4.

#4: Passive voice

Fizzle or sizzle? It’s your choice.

Passive voice goes down like a can of pop that sat open on the counter for three days. It’s impersonal and unfriendly, and often produces ambiguous, unsatisfying sentences.

Here’s an example:

“The database contains 1 million veterans’ records and can be easily viewed and searched online.”

The first half of the sentence is fine. The rest doesn’t tell readers who can view and search the database.

Check these out. They’re all in passive voice:

  1. “Mistakes were made when the cars were produced on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “It was heard by Susan that a companywide audit was scheduled.”
  3. “Pat’s new car was driven too fast and the fender was scratched.”

How to fix it

Rewrite your copy in active voice. It’s easy: Determine who or what performs the action and use that as the subject of the sentence.

Now, let’s try those again:

  1. “The welders made mistakes when they produced the cars on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “Susan heard that the CFO scheduled a companywide audit.”
  3. “Pat’s son, Blake, drove the car too fast and scratched the fender.”

Last but not least …

#5: Random capitalization

“Hi, my NAME is [fill in the blank] and I have an overwhelming Compulsion to capitalize RANDOM words in my copy. Even Worse, I do it inconsistently. I Need HELP.”

Here’s the thing: Capitalization within a sentence implies a proper name, such as Anita Job or Acme Widget Co.

It confuses readers when you capitalize words or letters at will, such as “our Financial expertise,” and “I TRUST that you have Integrity.”

TRUST me – random capitalization doesn’t make a word inherently important.

How to fix it

If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, use bold text or italics, but don’t go overboard. Emphasize too much and you’ll diminish your point. Better yet, use plain text. It promotes readability and comprehension.

Take this example – it’s jarring to your audience:

“I’m happy to report that we’ve made excellent progress in reducing our PRICING MISHAPS, SHIPPING ERRORS AND BAD DEBT.”

Capitalizing these words is unnecessary and is the equivalent of SHOUTING AT YOUR READERS.

You’ve got this

The first step to turning ordinary copy into irresistible content is to apply these five fixes to your own work. It might take some practice, but everything worth doing requires a commitment. If this list intimidates you, master one or two and then work your way through the rest one at a time.

You can do it!

Do you have tips of your own for making middling copy magical? Let us know in the comments below.

How to take charge of a public relations crisis using social media

focusBusinesses that experience a public relations crisis often turn to social media to help them manage messaging around the crisis. The companies that do it well follow a carefully considered PR crisis plan. In contrast, those that are unprepared could face a difficult time maintaining their brands’ reputation.

Here are three tips to help your organization survive a community or reputational crisis using social media:

  1. Do your homework. Investigate the situation and get all the facts before responding online, but act quickly. It’s best to respond within 24 hours of a crisis, even if it’s only to say that you’re aware of the situation and will provide updates as soon as you get more information.
  2. Be honest. It’s never a good idea to be misleading, but you don’t have to fall on your sword, either. Be upfront while keeping in mind that situations often change. Always leave room for the unexpected.
  3. Keep it professional. When responding to questions and comments, don’t argue or debate with posters. If possible, turn a negative into a positive. For example, you may want to thank a poster for bringing the situation to light and then talk about how you plan to make it right. Make sure your response is thoughtful and not defensive.

If you don’t have a PR crisis plan, start working on one now. At a minimum, you should know who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to social media comments when things go wrong. Make it clear who needs to be notified and who has the final decision about what gets posted.

Have you changed the course of a potential PR disaster using social media? How did you turn a negative into a positive? Let us know in the comments below.

Use humor sparingly in your marketing or the joke will be on you

SONY DSCHumor can help your marketing stand out from the crowd and show your company has a personality – if you do it right. Consider these tips before putting your brand on the line:

  1. Tailor messaging to a specific audience. What’s funny to one group of people might not be funny to another. Rather than using a scattershot approach, narrow your market and focus. For example, if you want to reach lawyers, use “insider” humor that would appeal to them. Here’s an example of a humorous, targeted ad.
  2. Show some personality, but not too much. The humor should be a good fit for the products and services you’re promoting.
  3. Keep it relevant. Don’t make your audience struggle to figure out what you’re promoting. Use humor to reinforce your message and brand, but don’t make them laugh so hard they forget who you are.
  4. Hire a pro. You might have a natural funny bone, but it’s still a good idea to rely on a professional when launching a humorous campaign. A pro will know what works best for your demographic and won’t offend or annoy your potential customers. If you can’t afford one, get a second opinion from someone outside your company in your target market.

The point of using humor in marketing is to be remembered. If you bring a smile to your customers’ faces, you’ll get even more mileage from your efforts. Use cute, tasteful, and lasting humor to engage your customers and they’ll keep coming back for more.

How have you used humor in your marketing? Let us in the comments below.

He chose … poorly. What does your word choice say about your business?

Malapropism is one of my favorite words. It sounds like a deadly disease for old boats, but it means you said something that was really close to – but not quite – the word you meant … and people laughed.

Named for Mrs. Malaprop, the character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, “The Rivals,” the most commonly identified malapropisms come from literature (for comedy) and the world of the rich and famous (for a different kind of comedy).

Unfortunately, the hilarity of poor word choice is lost on the world of the busy and working.

Woman angry with word choice

So many words are so close, but not right – and that can jeopardize a lot more than your ego if you make one of these errors in a professional setting.

Word choice can make or break a sale, a piece of marketing or an email to the boss.

These commonly incorrect word choices have two dangerous characteristics: they sound or look very similar to the correct word, and spell-check usually won’t catch them, because they are all real words.

If not corrected, frequent mistakes such as these could give the impression that, for you, close enough is good enough. If you’re worried about these kinds of mistakes slipping through the cracks, we’d be happy to help!

Here are a few unfunny mistakes I’ve heard or seen recently. Can you spot the errors?

1. Rose makes spinach lasagna with a blend of mozzarella and regatta.

A regatta is a boating competition. Ricotta is an Italian cheese often used in lasagna.

2. Just as he was ready to leave, Bob realized he had displaced his wallet during the day.

Displaced means one thing was moved when something else forcibly took its place. Bob probably misplaced his wallet, which will be lost until he remembers where he put it.

3. She follows a strict training regiment so she’ll be ready for the marathon in August. 

A regiment is a combination of military battalions. A regimen is a systematic plan.

4. The mail delivery riled up the dog every morning, but delivery trucks didn’t phase him.

A phase is an aspect or stage. To faze is to embarrass or disturb.

5. The consultant was able to keep an objectionable point of view since the decision wouldn’t affect him either way.

Objectionable means disagreeable or offensive. Objective, in this case, would mean he was able to guard his perspective from personal bias.

Have you seen or heard any word choice blunders recently? Let us know in the comments below.

Save yourself from hiring headaches – learn how to write job posts that work

How to write job posts that work

Trying to find a job is a terrible experience. Anyone who’s been through that particular circle of hell – and I’m assuming that includes everyone currently employed – knows that for a fact. Networking can help, but we midlevel guys inevitably land on the job boards wondering when our secret decoder ring will arrive to help break the cypher.

In my own searches, as well as those I’ve assisted with in a professional capacity, I’ve used my writing and business language experience to try to flesh out the critical lines from each post. Unfortunately, companies don’t appear to put the same level of effort into job posts and internal marketing as they might toward external marketing. Because of this disconnect, many companies’ posts fail to accurately describe the desired candidate and/or provide misleading information about the company culture.

As frustrating as job searches can be for the hunters, it’s equally tedious for the gatherers. This job market requires hiring managers to wade through hundreds of résumés for each open position, often relying on keyword filters to pare the search down that far. At that point, the complaining begins.

Hunters complain about little to no feedback; gatherers complain about not being able to find an appropriate candidate.

One solution: Ditch the job post formula and have someone who knows the position talk to a writer. Just because your new employee may cost you money now, doesn’t mean they won’t save you money later – especially if you find the right person quickly. Even though there’s no way to weed out all the yahoos immediately, this is your first impression with someone who might be your ideal employee. Make it count.

Stuck on how to write a quality job post? Use these tips for attracting your perfect candidate:

Keep the post short. Concise writing shows that you care enough to spend time figuring out exactly what you want. Short, specific posts will also weed out underqualified applicants by reducing the wiggle room that accompanies vague or too many requirements.

Match your company’s style. Most marketing initiatives focus on the target. This time, focus on you. Use language and voice that matches your company’s culture. Avoid industry jargon. Candidates want to know about you as much as you want to know about them, so present your company in an accurate light.

Differentiate between needs and wants. Qualifications are tricky for some positions. Education, experience and personality are the big categories to nail down. Figure out the two most important things your ideal candidate would have, and be specific. Then, list what other qualifications would be helpful for the job – not your preference, but rather what might affect the employee’s performance.

Don’t try to be clever. Witty? Sure. Clever? No. Nothing screams, “Applicant Beware!” like blatantly missing information or obscurity surrounding basic details. Build trust with the applicant through transparency – you know what the issues are. Salary, benefits, travel and location are all deciding factors when it comes time for an offer, so be upfront about what your company can provide. If something’s lacking, put a positive spin on it – but don’t hide it.

Do you have any tips for how to write job posts that attract the right candidates? Let us know in the comments below.

Create a following with copy that sticks

Letter pressTraditional advertising still does volumes in boosting brand awareness, but the influx of flashing lights, bold fonts and “Click here!” buttons leaves us all feeling bombarded by messaging that screams “Buy me! Buy me!”

We adapt to it like we do to any constant frequency, and accept it as ambient noise.

The remedy: content marketing. Content marketing, by definition, attracts, acquires and engages a clearly defined and understood target audience through generation of relevant and valuable content.

So, what does that have to do with writing?

Copywriting is the delivery system for all content marketing. It’s the SEO keywords that improve your search engine rankings. It’s your latest tweet or status update. It’s your quarterly newsletter. It’s every message that your company deliberately puts out into the world.

Generating the right audience-specific messaging is critical to the success of your content and showcases your company’s knowledge and accessibility.

Having a reliable, trained writer on your side will help your company stand out as a thought leader and a friendly information authority. How? Copywriters know how to connect with your audience.

Here are some pro tips you can use today:

Engage with content: Your audience is tired of hearing about you; start listening to their stories and use that as inspiration for content. Use a mix of traditional and topical information to show that your company is both knowledgeable and up-to-date on new trends.

Hook with headlines: In content marketing, the headline is your first call to action. Entice readers with headlines that quickly explain the content and get readers to follow your link. Good headlines will get your audience to check out all your forms of content – written, audio and visual.

Inform with body copy: Body copy could be a white paper, infographic notes or a video script. While it may seem contradictory, the purpose of this copy is not to directly sell your company’s products or services. Instead, prove to your audience that you not only care about their interests, but also that your company is an approachable authority on those subjects.

Build relationships with calls to action: Content marketing calls to action aren’t your standard “Buy now!” buttons, but they’re still critical to your success. Get your audience to take the next step in your relationship. Ask for their feedback. Link to related content so they can dive into your site. Use your analytics, your social media and your creativity to make your audience feel involved and heard.

Do you have writing tips for generating or promoting compelling content? Let us know in the comments below.

Embracing new trends for the new year

3d illustration: Mobile technology. mobile phoneLately, I’ve read a lot about what’s to come this year and what we should expect. I thought I would share some of these predictions with you as we begin 2014.

Mobile continues to be a strong marketing component for many. More and more people use their smartphones to not only call loved ones but also to search products, follow local news and much more. If you haven’t thought about creating a mobile site, it might be time – and did I mention The Simons Group can do that for you?

Once you have that mobile site in place, pay attention to audience comments on all your pages, including social media. People want to see that you maintain your website by updating it periodically, and that you also pay attention to what your customers are saying. If someone has negative things to say on your social media, do not discuss the matter on the main page. Be sure to take that person’s email address or send a private message to personally, and privately, repair the situation.

This year, you are also sure to see more storytelling in PR. The public resonates with brands on a personal level when they both give facts and share stories that demonstrate the benefits. For example, share user experiences or explain the philosophy behind a certain idea.

Have you noticed any new trends in 2014? Tell us what you plan to do differently this year in the comments below.

Beat blogger’s block with 4 tips

QuestionAs you develop an identity for your blog, consider some offbeat options or creative ways to present your content. Keep a list of topics handy when you begin to write so you don’t struggle for content at the last minute.

Here are some ideas you can use immediately:

1. Stand out from your competitors by taking a fresh view. For example, one company posted a blog for an engineer in the perspective of a guide dog. The dog talked about what the engineer did throughout the day. You can also keep things interesting with video, audio, infographics, pictures and links.

2. Make the customer a hero. Write a story that explains how a customer used your products or services to save the day.

3. Satisfy inquiring minds. You know what people ask, so be proactive and answer the questions in detail. You can post one question and answer each week to get more mileage from your blog. Capture readers’ attention by making each question the headline.

4. Showcase your employees. Introduce the team and what they do. Inject personality by including their favorite quotes, sports teams, foods, etc. Here’s an example of how to have fun with employee profiles.

Blogs are a way of expressing yourself. Tell your readers what you feel and what you’ve experienced. Teach them something about your company or share a unique perspective on a topic. Get more blogging tips here and here.

How do you keep the blog content machine going? Let us know in the comments below.

Build your blog one story at a time with these 7 tips

BlogIt’s time for another blog post, but you stare at a blank screen and can’t figure out what to write. Many bloggers get writer’s block at some point. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Have fun — just tell your story. Skip the headline and introduction, and start writing about the topic. Once you have something on your screen, it’s a lot easier to continue writing.
  2. Post regularly. Whether you publish three times a week or 10-15 times a week, stick to a schedule.
  3. Find inspiration from other blogs. Can you think of exceptional blogs that keep you coming back? Learn from what they do.
  4. Focus on quality content. Make sure your posts are well-written and error-free.
  5. Plan ahead. Think about future blog posts and what you would like to write about. Keep a list handy so that on the days you’re stuck, you’ll have a grab bag of topics from which to choose.
  6. Include a picture. Photos draw readers in and through your post. Bonus: If you share your post on social media sites, they’ll pull from your most recent picture.
  7. Share the wealth. Include a share button and add your blog link to your social media accounts.This will send traffic back to your website.

Where do you get ideas for your blog? Do you have favorite bloggers you read regularly? Let us know in the comments below.