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A really quick guide to the main 4 social media platforms

Alphabet - Number 4 from old Manual Typewriter.

Not all social media channels are the same; different channels have their own rules of engagement. You’ll be using them all for the same aim – to pull people back towards your website, and to expand your network- but it’s good to know the terrain so you can blend in like a natural.

Twitter

As a business this is likely to be your number one marketplace for sharing your blogs, networking, engaging with potential clients. At present it’s by far the most popular way of sharing a business-related blog article. Twitter is a really broad church: it can work as well for professional services firms as party planners. You choose who you follow, so you can build up a targeted list of people that you’d like to connect with. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so there’s no room for waffle. It’s possible to build really powerful connections on Twitter, fantastic both as a way of attracting people to your content, and expanding your network.

Facebook

The biggest social sharing networking site in the world. You’ll find big brands there, as well as pages for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Facebook works by sharing your content with your friends, who in turn share it with theirs and so it spreads. ‘Like’ something on Facebook, and potentially it will be seen by thousands.  Fun, lively, crowded. Great for some businesses, not so good for others (see: Should your business be on Facebook?)

Linkedin

The professional networking site, much less frivolous than Facebook, space to say more than on Twitter. A great place to publicise your blogs, connect with peers and potential clients. Commenting on other people’s discussions, and starting your own threads is great for raising your profile, although our ‘help, don’t sell’ mantra still holds. With over 100 million users worldwide, and highly ranked by Google, it’s invaluable for business networking.

Google+

Launched in 2011, this is currently big in the States, and becoming bigger in the UK too. Secure a presence here if you want to make the most of Google’s enhanced search function. Social sharing is going to dominate search engine rankings over the coming years – Google will deliver results search results based on what people are saying and recommending to each other, over and above simple keyword searches, so it’s useful to make a start here. We like the way it allows you to choose who you share information with, and it’s very intuitive to use – easy to update, easy to upload pictures and videos. Much less cluttered and intrusive than Facebook.

We’re conscious, writing this, that the landscape is changing fast. There are many other tools and the ones we mention today will date, but one thing we’re confident of is that embracing social media is crucial to the success of marketing your business with valuable content.

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.”

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6 ways to get your business voice right

Reflect and learn from the highs and lows

iceberg

In the rush to get things finished off this time of year it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Reviewing what’s working best in your business is important, so if you can spare some time to look back and reflect on your successes and the things that haven’t gone to plan, it will stand you in good stead for starting 2012 with renewed energy and purpose.

Jot some ideas down – the act of writing will help you think. And to get you started, here’s a very rough list of the highs and lows of the Valuable Content year – and the lessons we’ve learnt.

Highs

Getting your message straight is the single most important thing you can do. This year we’ve developed and refined a process that helps businesses see their services from their customers point of view. Translating this message into compelling content has created the basis for some great websites that are bringing in new business for our clients.

We’re going to push this service more in 2012.

Getting a book deal. It’s a big pressure, but we know it’s going to be worth it. Writing the book on Valuable Content Marketing will raise our profile, and the process of writing will really sharpen our thinking.

We’re going to publish the book in 2012.

Getting to grips with the importance of design. Of course we knew design was important, but we’re completely converted to the crucial part design functionality plays in making your content accessible.

We’re going to to build our connections with great designers, so we can offer the very best websites for our clients.

Blogging works
. It’s been lovely to see some of our new converts to creating valuable content really getting to grips with it and pulling in leads for their business. Writing is a confidence thing, and it’s been really rewarding to see happy people making it work.

We’re going to keep spreading the message in 2012, and making it as easy as possible for our clients to keep writing for their businesses.

Lows

Most of the projects we’ve worked on this year have run smoothly, but of course working life isn’t all plain sailing. Where it hasn’t worked so well, it’s been partly because clients haven’t been completely sure about the purpose and benefits of our approach. Maybe we didn’t make our processes clear enough, perhaps they just didn’t like the idea. We know ‘help, don’t sell works’ but maybe it’s a leap of faith too far for some. Our approach demands some serious thinking and information gathering from our clients. If you don’t commit to the whole process, we won’t be able to help you.

We’re going to make sure we’re getting our message across clearly. We’re going to make sure top people are engaged in the process before we start. We’ll choose the right people to work with us in 2012

What’s on your list? What have you learnt? We’d love to know.

Oh, and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Does your website look like the result of panic Christmas buying?

house covered in Christmas lights

So, you’ve left it too late. The shops are closing soon and you haven’t even got half way down your list. What do you do – grab the nearest thing and hope it will do?

If the answer’s ‘yes’, then the chances are your loved ones are going to be a bit disappointed.

There are websites out there that look like they’ve been flung together in a panic too, and they’re a similar let down for users.

Here’s our seasonal guide to making sure your website’s a cracker, not a turkey.

Think about your audience. When you’re Christmas shopping, it’s a mistake to assume the same gift will do for everyone. Auntie May might like the lavender bath salts collection, but will your sister? And your brother-in-law? It’s the same with websites. Give serious thought to the people who will be using it. What content do your customers actually want to find? Take the time to find out, and give them that.

Think valuable, not just any old content. Wrapping something in expensive paper won’t distract from the fact it’s a rubbish present. A value pack of socks from Primark is still a value pack of socks from Primark, even if you wrap it up in the shiniest loveliest paper in the world. Paying for design and forgetting about the content has the same effect. It leaves people feeling a bit short changed.

Less is more. Covering everything with tinsel and fake snow and flashing lights doesn’t automatically make something better. Minimalism can be as effective when it comes to decorations, as it does with websites. Think of those web pages that cram everything in – they leave you with a headache rather than a feeling of goodwill to all men. Less can definitely be more when it comes to page design.

Music quickly becomes irritating on websites, just as Christmas carols played on a tinny loop in a shop make people want to scream. Slade’s Merry Christmas is fun once, okay twice, and any more than that and you’re pushing your luck. We feel that way about music on websites. Anything that blares out when you’re not expecting it is annoying, rather than jolly and fun.

Be surprising. Ever had the same gift, year after year? Does your heart sink at the sight of a hexagonal box? You didn’t even really like Turkish Delight eight years ago, and there it is again, lurking under the tree. Not updating your content can leave users with the same heart sink feeling. Keep your website supplied with new blogs, and they’ll look forward to finding out what you’re giving them this time.

So, the motto is think carefully, and be generous! (And if you were thinking of buying me a gift, steer clear of turkish delight.)

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.

How to get the best results from your content writer


Content writers are greedy. We devour information. This is why.

The best and most valuable content distills your expertise, approach, and experience into copy that connects with readers. All the research, reading, talking and thinking goes into the distillation, so for the best results, give us lots to go on. To stretch the analogy probably one step too far, giving us a rich and varied diet leads to copy akin to the best malt whiskey – interesting, with depth, layers, heritage and a kick. With nothing to go on, the best we can manage is weak tea.

So to get the best from us you need to feed us a lot. Here’s what we like to eat.

1. Your current website. Why are you reworking the site? What don’t you like about it? Which elements are successful? Talk it through with us before you take it down.
2. Any marketing material you’ve produced in the past. We know it’s out of date, but it helps us get a feel for your business.
3. Blogs, articles in journals, anything you’ve already written around your subject. It will help orientate us in your area of expertise, and will also spark ideas and questions for future blogs. Content writers are always looking for connections – to clients, organisations, groups that we can make links with through the new website. The more we’ve got to go on, the better the results will be.
4. Sales letters, recruitment ads. Both useful for helping see how you define your proposition.
5. Back of an envelope stuff. You know that lunch you had, where you had that really brilliant idea about where the business was going, so you wrote it down and you were going to send that memo but something else happened and you didn’t get round to it…….well, dig it out and give it to us. Turning ideas and thoughts into concrete copy is what you’re paying us to do, so share your ideas, and we’ll be able to do it for you.
6. Minutes from meetings. Meetings where you discussed branding, marketing, or finding new customers are useful background. Don’t be shy, let us read them.
7. Conversations with your clients. Really important, this one. We always start content writing from the point of view of your client. How do you help them? How does your business solve their problems? Talking to your clients and customers is the best way of getting to the heart of this, so put us in touch and let us talk.

What if you don’t have any of the above? What if it’s a new business? Then just talk to us. Creating web content is a collaborative process so carve out some space in your diary. We’ll come to you, ask you lots of questions, record our conversation and get the information that way.

At Valuable Content we’ve put together a questionnaire to kick start web projects – lots of structured questions that help us shape your content and define your message. Call me if you’d like to know more.

How content gets you found

illustration of man on top of a mountain

I’m doing some research for a new project – writing landing pages for a Pay Per Click web campaign – and I’ve been assessing my client’s competition.

The pages are for a legal practice, so it’s a very crowded market, yet one firm keep coming up top, again and again. And the thing that’s keeping them there is a very simple piece of valuable content.
This firm has created a straightforward and well written pdf document that answers all the ground level questions that I, (and I presume potential clients) will have on the subject. It’s not flashy, or particularly visual – nowhere near as comprehensive as an e-book – it simply lays out the key areas you need to understand.
Their expertise in the area isn’t explicitly referred to – but is implicit in the fact that they have created this ‘all you need to know’ document, and put their name to it.
For me, and potential clients at the information gathering stage of a project, resources like this are invaluable. We don’t want to ‘ring for a free appraisal’ – talking is something that comes a bit later, when you’ve orientated yourself in the area, and you know what you don’t know, and where you need help.
However their website would be the first I’d go to, if I wanted more information. And were I looking to pick up the phone to someone, they’d be top of my list, because they have already shown themselves to be understanding of my situation, authoritative, and ready to help.

Creating a valuable document to signpost people to your company

It’s not difficult to create this kind of valuable document, it just needs a clear understanding of your potential clients’ problems and a willingness to share your expertise. Here’s what you need to remember

1. Choose the right topic. What terms do people search for in your business? What are the most frequently asked questions from your newest clients? Build a document that addresses this, and get it up on your website as a simple download.
2. Don’t write the book. This law firm’s pdf worked because it answered the basic questions, and laid the ground rules. Going into too much detail would be a mistake here. Signposting documents aren’t the place to show off everything you know, rather they should answer clients first questions, and lead them to the next stage.
3. Think ‘quality’. Had this document been poorly written – stuffed with SEO filler words or simply not good to read – it would have had the opposite effect on me. Constantly being sent to a poor resource is irritating. If it’s going to surface again and again, make sure it stands up to all the attention.
4. Consider design. You don’t need to go overboard and invest in something too polished. Nor do you need images, it’s fine to produce something text only. However do think about typography –
a) pick a user friendly font.
b) consider judicious use of headlines to make your content easy to read on the web.
c) allow enough white space to give the words room to breathe.
d) break the text up into chunks. Potential clients are hungry for information, but they’ll still thank you for making it easy to digest.
e) Clear calls to action. This kind of document is the opposite of a hard sell sales piece, however you do want potential clients to know where you are once they’re ready to talk. Include some suggestions for further reading, and do include your contact details.

If you’d like my help putting together a valuable ‘signposting’ piece, call me on 07985 015300

Related posts:

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How great content gets you referrals – six rules to follow

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