Archive for October, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New

out-with-the-old-in-with-the-newThink about the last two years. A lot has happened in your business. You probably have new services, new staff members, and new customers. So why do you have the same website copy?

You want your website copy to help your business, not hurt it. So right now, take the time to go through it and make notes of the following:

What do you offer?

Do you still offer all the services on your site ? Do you offer any new ones that are not on your site? If someone comes to your site and reads about your offerings, can they understand exactly why your business is worth their time and money?

Do you have the same customers?

Think about those people who hire you day in and day out. Does the copy speak to them? Or does it speak to a customer that used to hire you? Have you updated your copy since the recession hit? Things are different now, make sure your content reflects that.

Do you have a hook and a call to action?

Don’t try to pass old, stale copy by such a web savvy society. It’s not going to work. Updated content with a nod to the times we’re in will represent you and your company in a better light.

Keep your content fresh to attract smart customers who can tell the difference.

How often do you update your web copy?





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How to Master the Writing Process in 5 Simple Steps

how-to-master-the-writing-process-in-5-simple-stepsThe writing process is an important tool to master.  Having a guide to follow makes writing feel less daunting and more manageable.

Do you have a press release or newsletter you’ve been meaning to write for weeks or perhaps months? Do you blame it on being lazy, but really, you just have no idea where to start (plus, maybe you’re a little bit lazy)?

So where to begin? I’m going to break this down into five steps.

Brainstorming

The first step doesn’t even require you to write! You’re welcome. This step is simply to identify the message you want to get across and the best way to accomplish that. Is it an announcement about your company? That would work best in newsletter form, or perhaps a press release. Is it a musing on a new development in your industry? That works best as a blog post.

Once you know your message and your format, it’s time to write a topic sentence. You remember those from 7th grade, right? Write down once sentence that encapsulates the main idea you’re trying to get across. A lot of times, you can repurpose this for your headline.

An example: when thinking about this blog post, my topic sentence was:

To provide an informative, useful, and easy to follow guide to the writing process.

Writing

So now it’s time to do the writing. I always think of this time as rough draft time. It takes the pressure off. Another trick I use? I am not allowed to stop until my first draft is done. No coffee breaks, no phone calls, no email, and no bathroom breaks (unless it’s a true emergency).

I suggest you start the process by organizing your thoughts. Use headers as a guide.

An example: I knew my five steps before starting this post. It helped me corral my thoughts and be more effective.  Plus I write faster when I already know my main points and structure.

Revisions

This is where you’re going to spend the most of your time. Writing is time consuming, but revisions are legendary. So where to begin?

This is the time to take a good, hard look at what you’ve produced. Is part of it funny but the rest professional? That is going to confuse readers. Did you use jargon but forget to define it? Is it too long and nobody will get through it without losing interest? Is it too short and you didn’t get your point across? Do what you need to do in order to rework it, even rewriting parts if necessary.

An example: See the paragraph directly above this? Where I ask 4 questions in a row? It used to be 7. Way too many. I took some out and reworked the others to include everything I wanted to say.

Editing

The difference between revisions and editing is now you’re not changing the content, you’re perfecting your grammar, syntax, and word choice.

This is the stage where reading out loud to yourself is extremely helpful. You’ll catch weird flow, and if you use the same word too many times. You may even catch a stray comma that doesn’t belong.

Occasionally during this stage I’ll print out what I’m working on and read it off-screen. That’s usually for longer pieces, but it can be effective for catching mistakes.

And anyone who has previously read my posts knows I’m a huge proponent of the 24/48 hour rule. What is that you ask?

After I’m done pre-writing, writing, revising, and editing, I sit on my post. Not literally, but I close my word doc and I don’t open it for 24 hours. At that time I read the post again. If necessary, I rinse and repeat steps revising and editing.

If I’ve got the time, I wait another 24 hours and rinse and repeat again.

An example: I caught 2 grammar mistakes by reading out loud.  I used to instead of too.  And the second is too embarrassing to share.

The Finale

Congrats! You get to put all that hard work into the world for everyone to read. Or perhaps just 2-3 people, depending on who it’s going to.

If it’s a blog post, format it to the blog.

If it’s a newsletter, drop it into whatever e-mail marketing tool you use. MailChimp, Constant Contact, whoever.

If it’s a press release, make sure you know how those are supposed to be formatted and then submit it.

An example: You’re reading this, aren’t you?

This 5 step process is the one I use and the one I advocate. Is it too much for you? Did I just scare the bejesus out of you with too many steps? Do you have a process you use that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.





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The Secret to Writing Online Copy

The-Secret-to-Writing-Online-CopyThink about the last book you read. Unless you’re into picture books, it probably had long blocks of text. Now imagine those same blocks of text on the web. Did you just shudder?

Writing for the web is much different than print. I like to think of it as the difference between what you expect picking up a book vs. a magazine. There’s a reason there is only one New Yorker.

The secret to writing online copy that is commanding and effective is knowing the tricks:

- Split it up. Avoid large blocks of text. Break up your message with lists, bullets, headers, white space, pictures, videos, etc. The easier your content is on the eye, the longer your visitors will stay.

- Keep it short. Unless you have the storytelling talent of Dooce, the rule is to use as few words as possible. If you need to explain something in detail, link to it. That way people will be able to find the information they need without their eyes starting to bleed.

- Only make promises you can keep. There is so much content on the web that makes ridiculous promises. Use engaging, compelling headlines, but make sure you deliver.

- SEO Optimize. Write for the web in a smart way. Use keywords whenever possible, incorporating them in a discreetly.

- Tell a story. Since there is so much content out there, one great way to hold attention spans is to tell a story. It’s not always appropriate, but when used, it’s very effective.

What are your tricks for writing for the web? Do you have a formula that works for you?





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7 Writing Tips to Connect with Your Prospects

7-writing-tips-for-connecting-with-prospectsThis post was originally going to be titled: Writing From Your Reader’s Perspective. But I decided that just didn’t encompass all I was trying to say.

The point is you are writing for potential customers. Whether it’s through a newsletter, blog post, website, or brochure, you are sending your message because you want to connect with your current and potential customers.

That means you need to draw your prospects in, keep them wanting more, and forge a bond. Here are 7 writing tips on how to create connections:

1. Write compelling headlines. The five or so words in your headline are the most important text of your message. This applies to blog posts, newsletters, even your web site headline. It doesn’t matter how good your newsletter is if nobody reads it. Make it relevant. RebeccaOsberg.com June Newsletter — boring. RebeccaOsberg.com Writing Tips — a little better. Still too generic. 3 Signs Your Website Needs Updating — best. Because it provides value.

2. Keep it short and simple. Tell readers what they want to know and stop writing. Try to use short paragraphs, short sentences, and stay away from confusing industry jargon.

3. Make it personal. It’s not about you. It’s about your customer. Write with their goals in mind. How will you help them achieve their goals? Why are you better than the competition? Write down the answers to these two questions. Refer to them while writing any promotional material. It will keep you focused.

4. Be passionate. Nobody wants to read dull writing. Be conversational. Be friendly. Use humor. Formal writing doesn’t automatically equal effective writing. Be real and sincere and more readers will relate to you.

5. Organize efficiently. The rule of journalism is to put everything a reader needs to know in the opening paragraph. Try to follow that rule as much as possible. Important info first, and details further down.

6. Provide testimonials. Where and when it is appropriate. Throwing a quote at the bottom of a newsletter, or devoting an entire web page to testimonials gives prospects the confidence they need to take action and is appropriate. An entire e-mail blast on why your mom loves you is not.

7. Include easy to find contact info. Put your contact info at the top and bottom. Make sure your email address is prominent. Include a “call to action.” Let prospects know you will be there if they need you. It will encourage a next step instead of an automatic delete.

Creating a connection through the written word is easier said than done. But using these tips you will have a fighting chance.

How do you connect with your readers? Do you have any writing tips that work? Please share, I’d be eternally grateful.





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Writing 101: How to Write Like an Expert

Writing-101-How-to-Write-Effectively Can I let you in on a little secret? In order to be involved in social media, you have to write.  A lot.

I just blew your mind, didn’t I? You had never really stopped to think about it.

You knew you had to be on Twitter (writing tweets), Facebook (writing posts), Blogging (writing blogs), E-mail blasts (writing newsletters), but you never took a step back to realize how much writing was involved.

If you are writing your own social media content, your writing needs to be easy for readers to understand and act on.

How do you make sure to deliver such a lofty goal? By following these five tips for writing effective content:

1. Write for your ideal customer

Sit down for five minutes and envision the person you’d most like to work with. Think about their age, marital status, location, buying habits, personality, and lifestyle. If you’re really having a good time, decide on their hair color and shoe choice.

Because the honest truth is….if you are trying to write to everybody, your message is going to lose its meaning and its marketing value.

No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get vegetarians to eat meat, or convince a devoted Cubs fan that the Sox rule. It’s just not going to happen. So trying to market niche products to everyone is a waste of time and energy.

Knowing your target audience, your ideal customer, the crouton to your ceasar salad means you can put your time and energy writing and marketing to them.

Figure out who you should be talking to, and hold them in your mind while writing. And remember one of my favorite quotes:

“If you try to write for everyone you write for no one.” — Brain Clark

2. Write in a proficient but human voice

Think of it this way, do you prefer talking to an automated customer service rep or a human one?  I am going to guess your answer and move on.

You want to be human when you write your content. A warm, welcoming voice is going to entice a lot more people than a cold, professional one.

3. Edit, edit, and edit once more

Do not let your message get overshadowed by a silly mistake. You are human, but you are a professional, so check your work.

There are several ways to edit effectively.

Sit on your work for 24 hours, then go re-read it and correct any errors in grammar, spelling, flow, and content.

Read it out loud to yourself. It really is an effective way to catch mistakes, especially after you’ve been reading it over and over to yourself.

Ask a colleague to read your writing out loud to you. This way you can hear how it will sound and see if you are satisfied.

Use spell check, use common sense, don’t rush and your content will thank you.

4. Don’t Assume

You are an expert on what you are writing, but that doesn’t mean your readers are. Write your message in a way that draws customers in, rather than scaring them with industry jargon.

Even if you’re an enginerd (an affectionate term for an engineer), if your audience doesn’t know about your crazy tech terms, you’re going to have to find a way to work around that.

(p.s. Assuming makes an ass of u and me.  Sorry, I had t0).

5. Be concise

Use the minimum word count for quick reading — Jakob Nielson

Nielson is an established authority on how people read the web. His advice? Use bulleted lists and lots of white space.

Because readers tend to read short sentences.

And skip the long ones.

Keep this in mind while writing your content.

You could attempt changing the font color.

Or making certain words bold to draw attention.

I really hope these tips are helpful to you. Especially since I am planning an entire series of blog posts on how to write effectively. Over the next two weeks and six posts, I am going to cover everything from the writing process to writing etiquette to writing revisions. I hope you’ll stop by and soak up all the advice I’m about to shoot your way.

Do you have any writing advice you’d like covered? Do you think you’re writing more than you used to?

If you found this helpful, I’d really appreciate if you would retweet this post or leave a comment.  Just trying to spread the word!





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