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Category Archives: How to write

How to write really bad content

be impressive like a marble statue

Content, content, content. We’re swimming in the stuff, and yet we’re still being told to create more, more, and still more.

The web is awash with shoddy stuff. Thoughtless filler copy, words without meaning, copy without substance.
If you don’t want yours to join the tide of second rate content flotsam, then slow down, and take a deep breath. Our not entirely serious guide to how to get content wrong will help you make sure yours is top quality.

Be impressive. You know what’s really impressive? Long words, that’s what. And industry jargon. They show you’re terribly clever. Fill your content with words that show how much more you know than other people, and they will admire you. No matter if they don’t understand it. Don’t bother to explain it. If your readers can’t keep up, that’s their lookout. You are impressive, like an awesome marble statue, and that’s what counts.

However, if you want content that engages potential clients, you might want to try writing as though you’re talking to them. Talking in a helpful way, using words to connect with readers, not to distance them.

Key words are everything. All you’ve got to do is repeat your KEYWORD a lot, and Bob’s your uncle. KEYWORDS are the holy grail. KEYWORDS are king, queen and the rest of the royal family. SEO is all about repetition, say KEYWORD enough times in your copy and you will rise to the top of the KEYWORD pile and everyone will KEYWORD find your KEYWORD site and KEYWORD love you forever. KEYWORD. KEYWORD. KEYWORD.

Of course, that’s not the case. Knowing the search terms your clients are using will help you shape your copy, and you do want to use them, especially in titles and headers, but not at the expense of writing something useful and making good sense. Google’s not dumb. You won’t get points for ramming repeated phrases into your content.

Be vague. Who needs a point? You write for the love of it and carry your audience with you. You have a lovely turn of phrase, and readers delight in the clever way you string together words and sentences with such charming ease. What was I on about? No matter, you’re here, on my website, reading my copy, and I’m entertaining you. Lovely lovely me.

Or not. If you’re not being useful, people won’t stick around. Write copy with a point, and stick to it.

Be very serious at all times. Business is important. Your business is uber important. Your content should be heavyweight. It’s wearing a tie and very neatly polished shoes. Lecturing is good. Imagine you’re standing behind a lecturn and addressing the nation with some really serious news. That will strike the right note. There’s no place for light heartedness, and certainly no room for jokes. Don’t crack a smile. Stop sniggering at the back.

We say, relax a bit. A little humour will get you a long way. Everyone likes to smile, so don’t be afraid to have fun with your content.

Design is unnecessary frippery. Your content speaks for itself. A great big slab of unbroken text is just what your readers want. Pictures are for primary school kids, white space is wasted space. Fill all the available area with your wonderful words. A good look to aim for is an old fashioned encyclopedia page. Readers just love to roll their sleeves up and get stuck into heavyweight content like that.

Or maybe not. Make your content easy to read, choose images that lift the text, let the words breathe, scaffold your content with helpful headers that let readers scan and guide them through to the end. Yada, yada, yada. You know what works for you.

But if you need help creating valuable content, then get in touch.

How to just do it!

stop procrastinating with writing

Writing – whether it’s blogs, newsletters or longer pieces of content – is the smartest way to spread the word about what you do.

However, getting down to the act of writing is difficult if you’re running your own business. It’s impossible to just drop everything and focus on writing alone – there’s so much else that needs your attention. And even when you do get the time, suddenly other things seem more pressing. Should I check my email? Tidy my desk? Have a cup of coffee?

Here are some things that help get writing done:

1. Think of the bigger picture.
The words you are writing are part of your big marketing plan. An easy small step in the right direction, not a huge unsurmountable hurdle. Get it into proportion and it won’t feel as hard.

2. Stop wasting time shivering on the edge, just leap in!
Open your computer, don’t turn on Twitter, don’t look at Facebook, don’t open email, just start writing. Once you start, you’ll get into the flow.

3. The sooner you start the sooner you finish.
Anticipate the end. Once you’ve done it, it’s done, and it won’t have to be done again. Get on with it!

4. Promise yourself a treat.
It works for small children and for grown ups too. 400 words and I can go for a walk/have a cake/make that phone call.

5. Remove yourself.
Write somewhere different, away from the distractions of your usual working day. A quiet meeting room, a café, a library, even a different desk. 

6. Make a commitment.
Deadlines work, (it’s the only way we ever get our writing done!)

7. Carve out some real time, and protect it from other demands.
Five minutes a day to record your ideas in a blog diary, half an hour to plan a blog (and write one too, once you’re really up and running), an hour and a half to write something that addresses the question that keeps coming up, and get it up on your website.

Writing really will make all the difference to your business, so set aside the time, and keep to it. What works for you? We’d love to know.

How to find stuff to write about

pebbles on a beach

Creating the kind of content that your clients want is the best way of raising your profile and winning more business, but knowing exactly what to write about can feel like a hurdle. How can your make your valuable content hit the mark?

Five ways to get your content on target

1) Listen What kind of questions do clients ask you? This blog post was prompted like that. People are always asking us ‘but what can I write about?’ so we’re confident this post is going to find a readership of people who are thinking about their marketing, who may want help from us at some time, or who would be happy to refer us people who know useful stuff about content.

Keep a notebook. Jot down the questions you’re asked. Answer them with 5 bullet points. Each question will form the basis of a short blog post.

2) Research What are the big questions in your market? A quick jaunt around the relevant LinkedIn groups, or the liveliest forum in your industry will show you the issues that are raising a stir. Look at upcoming conferences – what are the speaker topics?

Pick the topic that catches your eye. Draft a simple Q and A blog post that deals with the topic from the point of view of your customers. Don’t worry about being a ‘thought leader’ (you don’t have to give the lecture!) Write about the subject as if you were explaining its relevance to a favourite client. What would they want to know about it?

3) Interview Uncover your inner journalist and interview a client, an expert from your team, or someone in your industry that you admire. Ask them the questions your clients would ask you.

Use the interview as a podcast on your website, or the edited transcript as the basis for a blog post. Or two.

4) Survey 92% of people believe everything they read in surveys. Okay, so we made that up, but there’s nothing like some interesting data to grab headlines, and make an interesting read.

Try LinkedIn or Surveymonkey. There are plenty of web tools that will let you do this for free. Frame the questions in terms your target market cares about. Use what you find for a blog post, or as fuel for an email marketing campaign.

5) Repurpose What content are you sitting on? Most companies, if they do a quick audit, will realise they’re sitting on valuable nuggets of content gold e.g presentations, research created for a different context, information your wrote for sales proposals – even printed guides lying around.

With a bit of reworking you can get these online and make them available to a wide audience. Make the most of what you’ve already got!

Quick tips to keep ideas coming your way

1. Ask your clients and prospects – there’s nothing better than a direct, face-to-face chat.
2. Listen in to the top commentators or bloggers in your field – they have their ear to the ground.
3.Set up Google Alerts on key terms to find out what’s being talked about on the web.
4. Twitter Search tools (e.g.Twilert) are useful – see what’s trending on Twitter.
5. Which of your blog posts get the most comment? Write more on that subject.
6. What questions do you get frequently asked by clients in sales meetings? Answer them with a blog.
7. Guest blog. Ask a related expert to write on your blog, and return the favour next month.
8. Share an infographic that explains things clearly from a different angle- look at Pinterest for inspiration.

How to write content so that search engines will find you, and people will like you

search engines and people love your content

The rush to make the most of SEO has led to a plethora of not so great websites, and a few good jokes.

Have you heard the one about the SEO expert who walks into the bar, public house, pubs, bars, public houses, Irish pub, liquor house, drinks, beer, ale, wine, wines………?

Stuffing your web copy with key words might fool a search engine into ranking you highly (although Google has wised up and won’t rate you if you look like a key word stuffing spammer), but it won’t make a reader stick around for long. No one likes copy that doesn’t make sense. Writing becomes meaningless when it’s overloaded with phrases that add nothing to the flow of an argument, so squeezing in as many keywords as possible won’t win you any friends. The key to pleasing search engines and people is to create well targeted valuable content, written in a natural and engaging tone of voice.

1. Start with people, not Google.

A keyword search can help you plan your article, but your first point of reference should always be your clients and customers, as your aim is to create content that’s genuinely useful to them. Google can help you do this, by showing you the terms that people are searching for in the wider world – throwing up some related search terms that you hadn’t thought of, maybe offering a sideways route into your subject that you didn’t initially think of – but it can’t replace the real people that you deal with, and that you build your business around.

2. Keep your article focused on the issue.

You’ve defined the problem that your clients want help with, and you’ve checked with Google that there’s an interested wider market searching for material on your subject, so write that article succinctly. Both readers and SEO bots like content that sticks to the point. You don’t need to hammer home all the key word search terms, but do use them as a framework for whatever it is you’re writing. Use your keyword research to keep you on a tight rein. Don’t wander off!

3. Be natural.

Write as if you were talking to someone sitting next to you. When it comes to putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, write for a real person. Keep the real person in mind, not a SEO bot. Your SEO keyword research has framed your thinking and planning, but it shouldn’t influence the phrases you use, or the tone of voice you adopt. If you’re writing helpful content that answers a genuine need, it will please everyone.

4. Use your keyword in the title.

Headlines need to grab attention, they have to cut through an awful lot of chatter on Twitter and all the other places you’ll be publicising your blog. Make it easy for people to find you by crafting the search term they’ll be using into your title. For example, if you were writing about the benefits of reclaimed flooring, say so upfront. SEO bots search for relevant titles, so your article will be found and ranked if it’s called – ‘How reclaimed flooring cuts renovation costs’ – but not if it’s called ‘Flooring it – a guide to cost cutting.’ If you keep the title short, you can give yourself room to add some funny/punny words around it to give it a lift on social networking sites, but make it easy for people to see exactly how relevant it is to their query by giving it a clear title upfront. Don’t be too clever.

5. Use keywords in sub headings.

Web readers skim read, so guide them through your writing with sub headings to keep them on track, and show them what’s coming up next. Tying the headings to keywords helps Google see that your article is relevant, in the same way that it reassures readers that your article is targeting the promised issue.

6. Keep producing relevant helpful content.

One well written, targeted and engaging article is great for customers and your website’s ranking. Ten is good, a hundred is even better. Adding more and more pages of genuinely useful content will make your site more attractive to your customers, and it will help your site get found by more people. The thing that will help search engines find you, and will make people like you, is quality content that serves a real purpose. Both Google, and your customer, want you to help them. At heart, it’s as simple as that.

As Adrian Knight, SEO expert at Digital Websites UK says,

“Google’s mission is to serve the highest quality and relevant material to its searches. Help them to do this by producing high quality, valuable content created with the user in mind, and you will do well.”

Related posts

The Seven Deadly Word Sins
Writing for websites
6 ways to get your business voice right

Stop, look, and edit

wait before you publish blog

If your New Year’s goal was to blog more for your business, then we congratulate you. Creating a steady stream of valuable content really is the best way to carve out your niche and get your message out to the right people.

Once you’ve got into the swing of writing, you’ll come to recognise the euphoria that accompanies the finishing of a great blog article. There will be five minutes when what you’ve just written is the most important thing that’s ever been written in the entire world on that subject. There’s not a moment to waste – you have to share it now, this very second, your life and the sanity of the world depends upon it!

There’s also a drive to be finished with it, particularly if you’re in the grip of the resolution fuelled New Year’s spirit. Ticking it off your things-to-do list would make you feel better, so you’re itching to upload.

The very best thing to do now is not to press send, but to save the document, close it, and go back and look at again tomorrow with clearer, more cynical eyes.

Just a few hours distance should make you better able to check the piece for the following common mistakes.

Five things to do before you press ‘publish’

1. Is it on target? It felt like it was at the time, but writing can be deceptive sometimes. Ask yourself if it is genuinely useful for your clients?  It might be that some simple tweaking is all that’s needed to pull it back in line, or it might be that you need to put it on hold for longer. Great ideas are never wasted, but they do need the right format to fly. Don’t be scared of pulling something if you know it’s not right.
2. Have you missed any words out? Easily done when the prose is flying. Check your copy slowly and carefully to make sure it makes sense.
3. Have you repeated words? Again, it’s a common mistake when you’re writing fast. Check again.
4. Is it spelt correctly? Is it the right word? Spell check picks up most errors – but it won’t pick up mis-substituted words. Don’t let something go out until it makes perfect sense.
5. Is the grammar right? Developing a natural and engaging tone of voice doesn’t mean you can stop writing proper, like.  Inaccurate grammar halts readers in their tracks, and it makes your writing hard to understand.  If you’re not sure, ask someone else to check too. Even if you are sure, a second pair of eyes is never a bad idea.

So, do start writing, and keep at it, but make sure you build a window of editing and reflection time into your blogging schedule. And Happy New Year!

Related posts

Apostrophe catastrophes and how to avoid them

The 7 deadly word sins

How to write less, and say more

How to write a good enough article.

old fashioned type writer and blank page

You know that writing articles is a sound, cost effective way of building your reputation, and getting more inbound leads to your website. You’ve got a couple of ideas of things you could write, but still, there’s something holding you back. And it’s the big one. How do you actually do it?

This blog was originally going to be called ‘How to write a brilliant article,’ but I realised that  I’d be adding to the pressures holding you back if I threw being brilliant into the mix. So this is a guide to how to write a good enough article, because that’s all you need. Here’s everything you need to know to get you started – a quick checklist to structure your writing and keep it on track. All you need to do is roll your sleeves up, and get writing.
1. Know who you’re writing for.
It helps with relevance, tone and focus. Keep this real person in mind throughout the process – what questions do they have? What issues can you solve for them?
2. Be useful.
Choose a subject and angle that will help your readers with a real problem, and they’re more likely to want to read it.
3. Keep it focused.
The temptation when you start writing is to try and get everything into your article. All those ideas buzzing around suddenly pour out onto paper, and you find you’ve written something that dashes from A to B via L, Z, P and Q.  Tighten your focus, and write clearly about one thing. Save your other ideas for the next one.
4. Use simple words.
It’s not dumbing down to make your writing easy to read, it’s kind to your reader. Pick the shorter word over the more longer one. Make it easy to read, and easy for people to share with friends and colleagues.
5. Beginning, middle and end.
a) Start with a clear introduction – who are you writing for, and why? Set up the question you’re going to answer, or the problem you’re going to solve.
b) Answer it. Structure your thoughts, step by step. Imagine taking the reader with you – you’re guiding them on a journey. Changing track suddenly is like chucking them out of a moving car, so keep things moving smoothly
c) Sum it up. Readers like to know they’ve finished. And they all lived happily ever after isn’t necessary, but it’s a good idea to reiterate your main point again at the end. Add a call to action if you’d like your readers to get in touch. Add a question if you want to keep the conversation going.
6. Basic grammar and spelling matter.
I’m all for freedom of expression and playing with words, but the articles on your website need to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly. If your spelling is a bit wonky, ask a friend to read through and check before you press ‘publish’. Spell check will only pick up mis-spelt words, not mis-substituted ones. Even if you’re confident about your writing skills, getting a friend or colleague to check is still a good idea.
7. Think about headlines.
Your headline is your hook to pull readers in, so give it some thought. (Article on writing headlines for you here)
8. Break it down.
Busy web readers skim using headers to pull them through. Break your writing down with signposts that sum up your points throughout your article.
9. Size matters.
Around 500-700 words works for us as a good length for a website article – room for some useful detail, not so long it’s a chore to read. No longer than it takes to drink a cup of tea is a good rule of thumb.

And that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, the important thing is to start. (It might make you feel better to know that Sonja and I are both a bit embarrassed about our early blogging efforts – I fell into the trap of trying to say too much, Sonja slipped up on trying to be too clever.) Once you start writing, it will get easier. The more you write the better you get. And once you start seeing results, it will become more rewarding.
So, now there’s no excuse. What are you waiting for?

You might like this too:

Stop, look and edit, five things to do before you press publish

Writing rules you should break

Five reasons not to blog

closed sign - reasons not to blog

You don’t have to write a blog. It’s not the law. Here are five popular reasons not to do it.

1.You can’t be bothered. Really, what’s the point? Your marketing is working fine, you don’t need any more clients, thank you very much.

If you’ve got a steady stream of leads, and more of the kind of work you want to do than you can handle already, then maybe you don’t need to blog. But if you’d like to pull in additional leads, get referred more, and build your business, then maybe you should give it a go.

2. You don’t want to give information away. And why would you? You worked hard to learn all this stuff, publishing it for free is a crazy idea.

People buy from people they trust, and it’s hard for people to trust your expertise if it’s all locked away in your head. Sharing some of your ideas and experiences in a blog is a great way to show not only what you know, but your individual approach. Being helpful and sharing pays off. As far as know I haven’t lost any writing work through writing about how to write.

3. You’ve got nothing new to say. The internet is awash with blogs. The world doesn’t need another one.

Well, yes, that’s true. But you do have something original to say. Think about the way you solve your particular clients problems and write from that perspective. Don’t worry about being a world authority on your subject, just be the great guy who knows his stuff and gets it done.

4. You’re not a writer,you’re a lawyer/architect/IFA/designer/*insert your own job title here.

True, but you probably can write well enough. Be clear, to the point, and avoid jargon. Don’t think of it as an essay written to impress, write it as you would say it, and you’ll find your voice. (And if that doesn’t work, you can always cheat and get someone like me to write it for you.)

5. You’ve got writer’s block. You know you need to do it, but the blank page is staring at you and try as you might, it just won’t work.

We’ve all been there, but the way to get out of it is to take action. Write something silly, write something provocative, write anything. The act of crafting ideas into words will get things moving, and once you’re in the flow you can switch back to the subject you’re supposed to be writing about. Or not. The best blogs sometimes start in the strangest places.

This blog was supposed to be ‘How to write a brilliant article,’ but I was distracted by helpful Twitter responses to my question ‘what holds your writing back?’ That one’s coming next, so watch this space.

Apostrophe catastrophes and how to avoid them

the wrong 'it's' sign

I saw this today, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I wondered how many people had okayed the copy before it got made into a sign, and how many people who walked past noticed. And does it even matter? I still understood not to walk down that path, so you could argue that the sign did its job just fine.

As a writer, I think it does matter. Getting it wrong muddles the meaning. This sign is confusing, and signs should be clear.

And I know there are bigger things going on right now than apostrophe catastrophes, but it’s just as easy to get it right as get it wrong, if you think about it like this.

The it’s/its rule

It’s is short for ‘it is,’ while its is possessive. Its is just like his or her or their or your – think of them as a family. Reading your sentence aloud should make it clear to you which it’s/its you need. In this case ‘it will seriously damage it is health’ doesn’t make any sense, so it must be the other one. To check, try substituting another of the possessive family of words, and read it aloud again. ‘it will seriously damage his health,’ is a clear sentence, so that’s the one you need.

And the you’re/your rule

Another one it’s easy to get wrong is your and you’re. I see it a lot in blogs, and on websites that you would have thought would have known better. And it’s such a silly mistake to make. Your means it belongs to you, while you’re is short for you are. Again, if you’re not sure, say the sentence out loud. Test ‘your gorgeous, darling,’ by substituting a different possessive word. ‘Her gorgeous, darling’ won’t get you the girl, while ‘you are gorgeous, darling’ just might do it.

Of course, even people who know this get it wrong. I get it wrong in first drafts. We type faster than we think. So always check, and re-check before sending something off to print, pressing publish on your blog, or whizzing off that email.

How great content gets you referrals – six rules to follow

We all want to be remembered and recommended. The best leads come via our contacts, because the ground work is already done; you’ll already have been talked up, so there’s less explaining to do. Lucky sixes die

Your website should fill this role of referrer too, it should be full of useful content – tangible examples of how you help, so it’s easy for potential clients to remember you as ‘the people who….’

Writing memorable copy is what copywriters are paid to do – we create those catchy little phrases that hook brands and products into customers minds. But there’s more to it than that. You don’t need to be a copywriter to create unforgettable content, you just need to pay attention to the following rules.

Six rules for memorable content

Rule 1. Get to the point fast.  You know the way it is when someone asks for directions. ‘Left at the Queen Victoria pub, straight on, right at the second lights, third exit at mini roundabout, second on the right.’ All we remember is the ‘left at the Queen Vic’ bit. When you’re writing about what you do, be succinct. Don’t add too many layers to what you’re saying.  Say the most important bit, clearly, and deal with the rest separately. 

Rule 2. Shine a light on interesting details. There are hundreds of IT consultancies that deliver better systems and an abundance of leadership consultancies that help businesses develop their management teams. So how do you stand out?
a) Who do you work for? We met a Financial Advisor recently whose clients included many premiership footballers.  That kind of detail is great for referrals – he’s the man who advises top footballers.
b) What campaigns are you proudest of?  Be known as the people who got deliveries to customers in the harshest winter Britain has ever known.
c) What’s unique about your service? Is there anything you do very differently to your competitors that will improve the lives of your clients?  

Create content on your site that breathes life into these details, so that readers can quickly understand them and relate them to their own situations, and those of their friends and acquaintances. I mean content like case studies, Q and A’s, blogs – well written information that roots your offer in the real world. It’s show not tell, again.

Rule 3. Think heart not head when constructing your messages.
We remember things that pack an emotional punch more easily than those that are purely rational.  Do your potential clients care most about implementing their HR strategy, or do they just want a day when the phone isn’t ringing off the hook?  Consider how your services connect to your clients on a human level, and give these messages top billing on your website. Use these emotional hooks as the basis for strong home page messages with clear calls to action, and people will remember them. 

Rule 4. Engage, don’t preach. Back up your messages with content that demonstrates how your service makes their working lives easier – think about creating an ‘is this you?’ quiz, ‘service health checks’ video blogs as well as more traditional testimonials from happy clients. Engaging content will make your message stick.

Rule 5. Use memorable analogies.  Analogies and metaphors are great for bridging the gap between head and heart quickly.  They’re useful when you’re thinking about your key messages, and also when writing blogs that develop and deepen your theme. A word of warning though, similes and metaphors are powerful stuff. If you compare your help desk to a box of cats, no one’s going to forget it, so do think of comparisons that are useful as well as memorable.

Rule 6. Make people smile. Humour can be a tricky one on websites, and we wouldn’t advocate filling your site with a stream of ‘have you heard the one about the…..’ and Youtube viral funnies. But using wit in headlines and body copy,  and creating engaging content that surprises is a great way to get people to want to share your site with others.

Content is key to getting referrals. It’s the proof you need to show what you do, and it’s memorable material for your contacts to spread the message for you.

We help our clients create unforgettable messaging, and work with them to develop creative content that makes it come alive. Call us on 07985 01530

Drop the goldfish

goldfish shoal

As cliches go, it’s top of our list. We’ve got nothing against goldfish, (in fact, we used to like them) but they make pretty boring pets and equally dull pictures on your website.

Over recent years they’ve come to represent ‘we’re different’ in a very samey way, particularly in the consultancy space where we have lots of clients. Now, whenever we see goldfish on a website, we don’t think, ‘they’re refreshingly original,’ we think, ‘zzzzzzzz.’

Goldfish aren’t the only offenders. Other visual snooze buttons include:

Jigsaw pieces to represent ‘we make connections/we’re a crucial part of a bigger whole.’

Molecules to represent ‘what we do is technical/scientific/so complicated to explain that we won’t even try.’

Chain
to represent ‘we’re the missing link between x and y’

Handshake to represent ‘we are as good as our word.’

Stock shots of offices that aren’t your own to represent ‘we work in an office.’

Magnifying glasses on newspapers
to represent ‘we pay attention to detail/your news page.’

Hands on a computer keyboard to represent ‘we work on computers/we’re up to date technology-wise.’

This list goes on. We’re sure you’ve got your own un-favourites, please do share them below.

The serious point to this is that design and content need to work together. The right words can explain exactly how you are original and different far better than a hackneyed visual cliche. Clever design engages and makes connections so you really can drop the goldfish.

And just like a good writer has an extended vocabulary, good designers look beyond page one of the stock shots to find arresting and relevant ways to illustrate your message. It means a longer thinking phase, with writer and designer working together to find new metaphors to illustrate your proposition, but that’s good news for you and your business. Thought and collaboration creates stronger brands and smarter websites – and that’s got to be good.

At Valuable Content we work closely with excellent designers. If you’d like us to help with your web project, call me on 07985 015300

More articles to help you with your website:

Seven signs you website needs spring cleaning

How to make your homepage a hit

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately

How to write your About Us page