- by Alyson Shane
Being a writer is hard work.
Writing, like a lot of jobs in creative fields, isn't something that we can do day in and day out without developing a healthy habit (or habits) that allow us to flex our creative muscles while staying on-brand and not burning ourselves out.
If you've ever sat down with the intention of working on a project and found that no matter what you do, the words just don't flow... then this is the post for you.
Whether you spend your days writing web copy, blog posts and newsletters, social media content, or a sales page, these tips will help you develop the best copywriting habits so you can crank out high-quality copy every time you sit down to write:
Don't Get Too Hung Up on the Headline
Writing good headlines is hard.
Unfortunately, the struggle to write headlines that grab attention and generate the click-throughs we're aiming for as marketers can suck the wind out of the sails of even the most creative copywriters.
Instead, start by writing a draft headline - no matter how vague or bland - and get it out of the way before diving into developing the body text for your piece.
Doing this step gives your mind a mental break, and creates space in your creative process for you to "chew on" the headline as you're developing the rest of the copy. And, generally speaking, it tends to yield more creative and interesting results because you're removing the pressure that's likely keeping you from writing your best copy.
If you're still stuck, use Coschedule's Headline Analyzer tool.
Keep Intro Sentences Short and Sweet
In the Oxford Guide To Plain English, Martin Cutts suggests: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words.”
As any writer knows, this is often easier than it sounds. But putting in the effort to keep your sentences short can make a big difference in whether or not your reader decided to stick around to read everything you have to say.
This, by the way, makes a huge difference in your website's bounce rate (the percentage of visitors to your website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page) because if the website feels like a chore to explore, people will leave.
Here's why this works:
1. Huge sentences and large words remind people of reading textbooks. Most academic reads are dry and uninspiring. Don't give your readers a reason to assume your copy will be by formatting it in hard-to-understand language and huge blocks of text.
2. Clear, shorter sentences make your copy easy to understand and apply. This is especially important for web copy, blog posts, and any resources (ebooks, etc.) you create. Make the learning process as simple and easy to understand as possible.
3. Short copy reads better on mobile. Mobile will likely account for a full 2/3 of all traffic by the end of 2018, so keep smaller screens and narrower fields of view in mind when writing your copy. Keep paragraphs short, and sentences even shorter.
Rewrite When It Doesn't Feel Right
Writing under pressure is tough. Multiple deadlines, writing to keywords, maintaining a consistent voice and tone while keeping things clear... it's tough, but that's no excuse to start slacking off on your rewrites.
You know: when you're proofreading something you've written and you realize that something in the sentence isn't sitting right. It feels a bit sloppy, maybe, or unfinished.
It happens to all of us from time to time, and one of the best habits you can develop is to take a moment to revisit it and rework something that doesn't feel right.
Trim Your Copy
This comes back to short sentences and paragraphs. Once you've written a snappy draft, go through and cut out as many unnecessary words as possible. Be brutal if you need to.
Cutting words out of your text dramatically improves clarity, and looks better on mobile, so the more you trim the clearer your copy will be.
Struggling to cut out the chaff in your copy? Use the Hemingway Editor.
Don't Pigeonhole Yourself Creatively
One of the easiest ways to become a horrible writer is to write things you don't care about.
The easiest way to write about the things you care about is to find ways to write about that thing.
This may mean pursuing specific kinds of clients, writing a blog, finding opportunities to get published in an online magazine... there are lots of ways to flex your creative muscles when it comes to your writing.
Even better: challenging yourself to write in different contexts will make you super-adaptable, making you a faster and more capable copywriter.
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- by Alyson Shane
Websites exist for the same reason: to get the visitor to take action.
Whether that's reading a blog post, subscribing to your newsletter, buying your product, or learning more about what you do, there shouldn't be a single page on your website that isn't there to generate an action from the person viewing it.
But if your page copy isn't set up to convey information in a way that offers value and inspires the action you want someone to take, you're leaving customers at your digital doorstep.
As content experts, we spend a lot of time working with our clients to hone their copy and keep their pages converting and consistent. With that in mind, today we're going to review some of the most common reasons we find our client's content wasn't converting, and unpack how we approach solving their issues:
You Use Empty Words
One of the most common issues we see when developing a voice and tone guide with many clients with many of our B2B clients is a tendency towards verbosity in their copy.
Often we'll run into sentences that sound like this:
"Our team of exceptionally qualified experts with decades of experience in their respective fields who are fiercely committed to delivering exceptional results that exceed expectation and reimagine the potentiality of our client's portfolios."
... So, how did reading that make you feel? Cross-eyed? Us, too.
Often, we find that in an attempt to sound professional, people will stuff unnecessary words into a sentence that detract from the point they're trying to make.
The Solution: Write Like Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was famous for his short and quippy prose. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hemingway's sentences were concise and to the point, and conveyed the maximum amount of information in the fewest amount of words.
When we write for our clients, we edit our work and ask "would Hemingway leave this sentence? Or can we be more concise here?" Try it for yourself and see what the results are!
Bonus: there's even a Hemingway Editor tool that's super handy.
You Lose Focus in Your Copy
If Hemingway was able to hammer home a powerhouse story in just a few hundred pages, your web page copy can be snappy and concise while still conveying your brand voice and communicating value.
But why does this happen in the first place? In a lot of cases it's because the writer is trying to up-sell the reader on something.
Think about it this way: if you have two related products - say, a bicycle and a helmet - it may be tempting to try and sell both on the same page.
People think: "if they don't buy the bike, they'll buy the helmet!" but this tactic often backfires because you're splitting your reader's attention.
But by splitting your audience's attention you reduce the likelihood they'll buy either item. The more things you stuff onto a page, the more divided your reader's attention (and incentive to purchase) is separated and diminished.
The Solution: Focus on the Subject Matter
The key to writing concise copy is to stay laser-focused on the subject matter on the page.
For service pages, write one page per service.
For item pages, write one page per item.
For blogs, write about one idea of topic.
This will keep your audience's attention focused, and will keep your brand's voice and tone from sounding inconsistent and confused.
Oh, and by all means use embedded links to link to related topics when necessary, but be careful to focus on one topic per page.
Reading it Feels Like Work
Have you ever seen an attention-grabbing headline, clicked over to the website, and then clicked away immediately because you didn't feel like putting the work into reading the whole thing? Yeah, us too.
Typically "hard work" pages happen because they've been stuffed with empty words and sentences, like the example we showed earlier.
These pages are dangerous because they increase your bounce rate (people who leave your website after only looking at one page), make your page look less appealing to read.
Worst of all: these pages fail to communicate value because there's so much fluff in the copy that the real points - the ones that are valuable to your audience - are lost in there somewhere.
The Solution: Optimize for Mobile
Gone are the days when crowds used to gather to hear Abraham Lincoln read a four-hour rebuttal to an opponent's platform; our modern society likes when people are to the point and communicate clearly.
This has mainly been driven by the explosion of mobile phones and smaller screens. Lots of text is hard to read on a smaller screen, and how we write our copy has to change to adapt to these trends.
By always writing your copy with mobile in mind, we apply these principles:
- Avoid large paragraphs and try to keep sentences short.
- Use shorter words to communicate your message.
- Cut out empty words.
Your Copy Sounds Wooden
We've noticed this tendency in the B2B space much more than the B2C space, probably because of that perception of fanciness we discussed earlier. Unfortunately, the most significant consequence of this style of writing is that not only does it tend to get filled with empty words, it often sounds wooden and unapproachable.
Two words a business owner should never want to hear are "wooden and unapproachable."
Why? Because people buy from brands and people they like and trust. Let's think about it this way:
You're a farmer at a networking event, and you meet two business owners, Robert and Stephen. Robert is wearing a three-piece suit and is standing with his arms crossed and talking but not smiling; Stephen is wearing a suit jacket, slacks, and is telling an entertaining story and moving his hands around.
Who are you more likely to buy from? Robert or Stephen?
If you're like most people, you'll choose Stephen. Why? Because he seemed more approachable and friendly, not wooden and reserved like Robert, and these subtle differences in how we communicate impact how people feel about us.
People (and brands) who seem approachable and friendly make their audience feel comfortable enough to want to buy from them.
The Solution: Keep Your Copy Approachable
Consider how your phrasing makes your page sound.
Read the copy on your web pages out loud to yourself.
Who does it sound more like: Robert, or Stephen?
Copy that sounds like Stephen should sound clear, friendly, and approachable.
Focusing on sounding positive and avoiding complicated language shows your reader that their experience of reading your website is what matters most, and doesn't make them feel uncomfortable, or like reading it is a chore.
By avoiding empty words and sentences, staying on-topic, and by working to be approachable and clear, you can write web page copy that keeps your reader on the page, drives the action you want them to take, and conveys the value of your services to your audience.
Need some help figuring out how to do it? Get in touch and let us know how we can make your brand sing with a content strategy based on data, analytics, and a deep understanding of how to write content that gets results. Get tips right to your inbox, and give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
- by Alyson Shane
The most compelling business websites are informational, engaging, and accessible, but it’s not enough to have great content; your website also needs to be optimized to rank well in search engines in order to help prospects and readers find your content.
With this in mind, building a content marketing strategy for your business which includes a strong Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is necessary in an area when content is widely available, and the market is more competitive than ever, with 81% of B2B Decision Makers reporting that they conduct research on a company’s products and services before scheduling a vendor meeting. This means that your your website copy needs to be consistent in voice and tone, as well as optimized for SEO.
For content creators in B2B organizations, nailing down the phrases that prospects are plugging into search engines can feel tough. Not only can it seem like an endless process, but some content developers may feel as though they don’t have the necessary tools or expertise to get the job done.
The good news? Content creators in B2B businesses don’t need top-notch tools or years of experience developing high-quality SEO content.
Crafting great content that is SEO-driven for potential leads doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing or frustrating process. Here are some helpful SEO research tips to save you time and convert prospects into active leads:
1. Copy Social Media for Keywords Straight From Your Clients
For both B2B and B2C companies, your social media platforms are a hotbed of useful information and prospect engagement. These channels are commonly used by businesses to share their experiences, thoughts, and opinions.
As a B2B company searching for keywords that your clientele relate to your business, you can use these communication platforms to your advantage by tapping into your network and creating leading questions that allow B2B prospects to share their thoughts on your brand and business.
Twitter polls, for example, allow your online community to weigh in quickly and easily on the topic you’re researching. This means that you can gauge which keywords your audience associates with your brand while allowing for further discussions you can use in other areas of your content marketing strategy.
2. Use Technology to Find Relevant Data
Tools such as Google Analytics and the associated Keyword Planner have been tools of choice for B2B businesses for years. Whether you’re a large organization or a smaller vendor or a product or service, these tools are essential for a successful foray into SEO keyword and content development.
Often used for providing cost-per-click information, average search volume data, and creating paid search campaigns, these tools provide you with measurable data so that you can see what SEO tactics are working, and which you can further refine.
This data helps B2B business’ research and discover opportunities for greater reach, relevant keywords, and move deeper into creating a unique content plan that stands out in your chosen industry.
3. Complete Relevant Keywords Searches in Incognito Mode
If you’re a marketer then you probably have an ever-expanding collection of keywords that relate to your company’s product or service.
When you enter these keywords into your chosen search engine to see where your content is on the results page, you may be surprised to find that you’re close to the top. However, this probably isn’t a coincidence: browsers can use your history or cache to impact the results to make them as relevant to your experience as possible.
In order to conquer this system, you can perform an incognito search. Input your priority or high-performing keywords and then check where your page shows up. Take a gander at the content that fills up the first 5 spots and take notes on their keyword use, spacing, and other SEO factors that may be pushing them up on the results page.
4. Writing SEO Content Based On Keywords
When it comes to actually creating the SEO content, best-in-class content is that which plays into what a prospect wants to read and the specific keywords you should be targeting. Keep your list of developed keywords closeby as you’re creating content and reference back to Google Trends every once in awhile to ensure that your topics and keywords are relevant.
Get ready to gain traffic, earn prospects, and close more B2B deals with content that is SEO-driven and ready to perform. Have you used any of these tools to up your SEO game lately? Tweet at us and let us know!
Want more insight and tools to help your brand stand out online? Download our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand now.
- by Alyson Shane
Whether you’re a B2B startup, franchise, consulting agency or full-fledged enterprise business, your online content game is what marks your place as a unique and authentic company, and helps convert those prospects into lifelong customers who believe and trust in your brand.
You can have an eye-catching headline, a lead that sparks interest, and values that people can get behind, but without content that builds a case for why your customers should care about what you have to offer, you won’t be converting nearly as many prospects as you might imagine. Remember: 96% of buyers who visit your site are not initially ready to purchase what you’re selling.
The best content cases are the ones where you’ve anticipated potential rejections and have taken preliminary steps to eliminated them from your conversations. Risk Reduction is the name of the game in an engaging content case.
Advantages of A Strong Content Case
This is where effective content marketing comes in: in order for your content to begin converting your prospects from the first point of contact, your marketing efforts need to be backed by personalized, data-driven content that speaks to their pain points.
In fact, 56% of marketers think that personalized content leads to higher engagement rates, according to an IBM Digital Experience Survey. The right content case and content strategy promotes genuine brand recall, helping your prospects remember your brand when making purchasing decisions.
Mastering how to develop a well-rounded and persuasive content case means that you’ll connect with leads naturally and positively, in a fashion that feels genuine to them. This starts with your web copy, and how readers and prospects interact with it.
Want to create a content case that works for your businesses unique client profile? Use these tips and tricks throughout your content marketing strategy to attract new leads, and convert prospects into sales:
1. Include Relevant Data
When you’re generating any long form content on your website, blog, or perhaps even your social media posts, find relevant data that backs up your assertions and claims. By including information that’s scientifically or mathematically sound, you’re showing readers that you have the answers they need, and that you truly care about the honesty behind your words.
2. Back-Up Your Points with a Respectable Third Party POV
You’re already a professional in your chosen industry, and work hard to share that knowledge honestly across your content. But as you’re developing a content case, sharing a similar recommendation or review from a third-party that your ideal client engages with regularly allows you to demonstrate your position amongst other leaders in your market.
For content marketers like us, we like to link to reliable resources like Marketo's blog, Buffer's blog, and other sources like Social Media Examiner, HubSpot, and Sprout Social to lend some gravitas to a point we're trying to make.
3. Display Social Proof + Testimonials
As you can see from the above points, social proof of your claims makes your content more accessible and valuable in the eyes of your prospects. You know that you’re amazing at what you do, but by tying in testimonials throughout your website and content, you’ll be solidifying your claims with social proof of your amazing-ness.
When asking previous clients or employers for a testimonial, guide them to focus on a certain area of your expertise to keep the testimonial concise and accurate. Other testimonial providers can cover other aspects of your services so that you’re equipped with a well-rounded display of expertise.
4. Keep Only the Essentials
This doesn’t mean that all of your copy needs to be quick and to the point, but rather, that any additional information you include in your web copy coincides with your original promise or claim.
Prospects want to know that the decision they're making by purchasing your product or service is right for them. Providing them with enough information ensures that every prospect can gauge your value-add based on the amount of information that they need to feel assured.
5. Remove the Risk
Removing the risk or providing a guarantee: whatever you want to call it, giving your prospects proof that you take responsibility for your claims provides them with a powerful reason to genuinely trust you. Whether you’re guaranteeing complete satisfaction or full refunds if your product or service doesn’t match your claims, your sales volume is bound to increase when take the weight of risk off of your prospect.
Keep an eye out for more blog posts to help you convert prospects, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to get your copy of our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand, chalked full with worksheets and questionnaires to help you master your brand and build a community!
- by Alyson Shane
Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop or an enterprise-level organization, determining who you’re talking to and how you want to talk to them is essential for long-term success, sales, and growth. However, even the most established businesses can have a hard time figuring out how their written content should sound, never mind being able to nail it down perfectly every time.
How can you avoid this problem?
It’s simple: develop a Voice and Tone Guide for your brand. These documents should be foundational for your marketing department and social media managers, as they set the standards by which your copy and content should read, sound, and feel.
However, trying to determine all of these attributes can be a challenge, especially if you’re a busy business owner who doesn't know where to start. Today, we’ll explore some of the foundational elements of Voice + Tone Guides, why they matter, and how to build your own:
Finding Your Voice
The ‘Voice’ of your business refers to who you are throughout all of your written content.
As a business, your job is to sell yourself, literally. You’re selling your perspectives, your beliefs, and your passions, just as much as you’re selling your products and services. In fact, 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders, which means there’s a huge opportunity for businesses who spend the time to cultivate their brand’s voice and messaging.
Consistency is key when you’re cultivating your voice online, and a well-developed voice and tone guide will act as your go-to material when you’re in need of a refresher of your business’ cadence.
Who you are and the way you talk demonstrates your brand’s personality, which shouldn’t change day to day, in the same way that your own personal voice and personality doesn’t go through drastic changes when you wake up each morning.
‘Voice’ refers to who you are when we are speaking as your brand. Some example attributes include:
- Making decisions using well-researched data and statistics.
- An inclusive, positive, and supportive place to work.
- Forward-thinking, cutting edge.
- Tech-focused and lean.
… you get the picture. These qualities will vary depending on your brand, what you do, and the qualities you want to showcase in your content marketing copy.
Mastering Your Tone
Your ‘Tone’, on the other hand, is how you convey your Voice throughout your copy. This varies depending on your audience and each unique situation or piece of content you’re creating, and should sound different when writing for consumers (B2C) and for other businesses (B2B).
“Tone” allows you to share convey knowledge, industry insight, “value adds” of your products and services by relying on the characteristics outlined in your Voice document. Your Tone allows your brand to align your business with the needs of your ideal customer as they read your content.
Important: Your tone may differ as you’re sharing exciting news or speaking out on an issue the world is currently facing.
Examples of Tone include:
- Using words like “our friends” when referring to local companies.
- Conversational and personal; the content we share should always feel as though it’s coming directly from one of the founders.
- Sharing blog content which is reflective and personal and shows deep thought + insight into industry trends.
A solid Voice and Tone Guide also allows you to save time both when developing content internally, and as you work with outside freelancers and agencies, as well. Without a guide as to how they should be developing content for your business, freelancers are left to try and piece these elements together based on your existing copy to try and get a hold of your voice and tone.
As a result, this can lead to lackluster first drafts that don’t match your brand, which can create bottlenecks in the content creation and distribution process. By spending the time to develop easy to understand guide, your employees and contractors not only gain an understanding of your voice and tone, but of your audience and how to speak to their needs, as well.
Help Your Business Thrive With a Personalized Voice + Tone Guide
The key to nailing voice and tone for any business is staying consistently authentic. In the same way that people’s perceptions of you vary depending on the voice and tone you use as you speak out loud, the perception a reader has of your brand changes drastically based on the voice and tone you use in written content.
Having a Voice and Tone Guide helps you steer your content in the right direction right from the get-go. A well-developed guide allows you and your team to reference back to the foundation of your voice and tone, and modify based on the audience, platform, and type of content.
Think of your business’s voice and tone as it’s personality: do you think of your business as funny and casual, or professional and formal? What are the unique perspectives your brand can offer? What kind of impression do you want to make with people who engage with your content?
Additionally, think about the people who will be engaging with different kinds of content. For example, the CEO of a major organization won’t have the time to read a ton of in-depth copy about the benefits of your service, but a mid-level manager may have more time to sink their teeth into a PDF, case study, or white paper.
Conversely, if you’re a B2C business you’ll want to write different kinds of copy for different customers on different social platforms which takes age, household income, personal spending habits, and other key contributing factors into consideration. For instance, a Millennial with no kids who is entering the workforce out of university will respond to a different tone and calls-to-action (CTAs) than a Boomer single dad raising two kids on his own who had worked in the same office for several years.
What to Include In Your Voice + Tone Guide: a How-To
We've been working with Skaled, a tech and process-based sales consulting firm in New York City which helps organizations use the latest sales tech, tools, and processes scale to their highest potential, to deliver social and blog copy which is on-brand, capture their unique voices and perspectives, and highlights their position as ‘Thought Leaders’ within the modern sales landscape.
The team at Skaled knew that they wanted to be both professional and knowledgeable, but didn’t want to blend in with the status-quo of stuffy B2B business content that’s already available. Instead, they were in search of content that showcased that they were knowledgeable and cutting edge while being personable and easy to work with.
As we worked with their executive team to develop their Voice + Tone Guide, we identified key areas which needed to be included in order to create a useful, effective, and comprehensive guide that both teams can use and reference.
Some of the key components we developed included:
- A clear definition of their ideal ‘Voice’, including necessary attributes such as who they are, and how they want to position their business.
- A ‘Tone’ section which breaks down the necessary attributes outlined in the ‘Voice’ section in greater detail. Existing marketing materials, pitch decks, and other internal content is especially helpful here.
- A description of their ideal tone and listed attributes including everything from the importance of keywords to the type of positioning statement necessary at the start of long-form content.
- Examples of previous written content which aligns with the intended voice and tone.
- ‘Personas’ for various individuals for use when writing from multiple perspectives (this is especially helpful with blog content.) These should include areas of education, professional expertise, and personal qualities to highlight in “their” copy.
- The perspective of the company and a detailed outline of their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Personas.
- A comprehensive list of industry terms and keywords that relate to your business to demonstrate that their company is operating at the “same level” as their B2B customers.
Not only has developing this document helped eliminate bottlenecks with content creation, approval, and distribution, but we've we've been able to ensure a high level of consistency across all of Skaled's social platforms, blog content, as well as newsletter and Gated Content material.
Having a dedicated document outlining your unique business's Voice and Tone, allows you and your creative team to dive deeper into your own brand, discovering key elements which may have gotten lost in the chaos of developing and running a business.
At Starling Social, we’re dedicated to sharing company stories through engaging copy and content. Have you sat down to develop your brand’s own voice + tone lately? We’d love to hear your strategy or tips, so make sure to tweet at us at @starling_social.
Want more insight and tools to help your brand stand out online? Download our free ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You & Your Brand today.