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Tag Archives: content

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.

Why interruption marketing is a waste of time

do not disturb - interruption marketing is a lost cause

Interruption marketing is a lost cause. Here’s why you need to focus on content instead.

Scenario 1
I need a new phone. I ask my friends what models they recommend. I search on the internet, compare prices, features and deals. I make a decision based on the information I find, and I buy a new phone.

Scenario 2
I want to watch something on 4OD. Ads for HTC phones keep popping up. Clicking on the X makes them open, not close. I get annoyed. I’m offered a survey in preference to an ad. That won’t go away either so I end up with 15 open ads/survey windows, and no TV show. I give up, listen to the radio instead, and vow to never ever ever buy an HTC phone.

Interruptions are annoying

Not only does interruption marketing not work for me, it is completely counterproductive. And I’m not the only one. Being forced to watch something when you’re trying to do something else doesn’t please anyone. Why would you want to make potential customers angry?

How great content helps spread the word

The company would have been far better making some brilliant phones, and then creating some fantastic content that tells the story of how their phones work and how they help their users. If they were great phones, I believe I would have heard about them on my social networks. We all love to share good stuff. Great content spreads and takes root on the web, and I’ve have found it at the right time – e.g. the time when I was looking for information about phones, and not trying to watch something else.

Why we love Valuable Content

The reason we put our time and creative energy into marketing with content is because we know it works. It doesn’t turn potential customers off. It’s means you’re there when potential clients want you – being all helpful and useful and saying exactly the right stuff. And it means you’re not wasting your time being all pushy and persistent when they don’t. Interruption marketing makes no sense. Respect the ‘do not disturb’ and just say ‘no’ to it!

If you want help creating the kind of content that won’t make potential clients scream at their laptops, then get in touch.

Why social media is crucial for your content

Hansel and Gretel cottage

Creating fantastically valuable content for your marketing is vital, but great content doesn’t spread itself.  Without help it can sit on your website, untroubled by visitors, and not reach the desks and minds of the people it was written to engage. Something is needed to get your content from A to B, and that something is social media.

Social media is your biggest content distribution tool. If you Tweet about your blogs, you will lead people straight to your website, where they’ll find the article that piqued their interest, and dozens more on subjects they may well be interested in too. The content works to demonstrate your expertise and build trust, generating good leads and sales.

Think of it as the candy-covered cottage that lured Hansel and Gretel to the witch’s lair. (Then stop thinking that, because you’re not doing bad stuff and eating children- you’re good guys.) But by advertising yourself with the kind of things that will attract your audience (like sweets – kids, it’s a no-brainer), you’ll get people to the place you want them to be. It’s a big spooky old wood out there, and you need something that guides people through it. The tasters of your blogs, written in the form of compelling headlines, are the neon fruit gums that will shine in a pathway to your website.

“Social media didn’t create content marketing, but it’s an unsurpassed tool for getting it distributed.”Copyblogger

One of the biggest points of Twitter, or Google+, is as a way of getting your content seen by a really wide selection of people. As a networking tool, it’s hard to beat, putting you in contact with far more people than you could ever hope to meet in the real world. Your growing network of followers will see what you’ve written straight away, and if they like it they’ll share it with their contacts, who in turn might share it with theirs, and so on, and so on. Valuable content creates a ripple effect, spreading your ideas across the web, to your kind of audience and often across the world.

If you’re writing a blog, you need to embrace social media – it’s not an optional extra. Otherwise all your wonderful words of wisdom will gather dust, which would be a big old waste of time. If you write it, you want people to read it – and social media is a great way of leading people to your content.

Valuable content rules for social media

There are many different social media options and there will be others to come, but if you want to get the best results across any social media/social network the same rules apply. Here are 7 valuable content rules to help you, whichever social medium you select:

  1. Be there. Social media IS important – join the conversation or you’re missing a trick – be sociable, communicate on the platforms. And be consistent – show up regularly.
  2. Be valuable. Be helpful, entertaining, educate your clients – not self-promoting, annoying or boring – stop talking about yourself – know your customers – become a valuable source of information for others. All the valuable rules apply.
  3. Be generous, generous in the content and information you share, and generous to others – share other people’s content even more than your own – if it is valuable to your kind of customers, then share it – even if it’s a competitor who has created it. Chris Brogan, President of Human Business Works, and a genuine social media expert says to make 10 tweets about others for ever one tweet you make about yourself. Become known as someone who offers things up to others, and eventually people will come to you.
  4. Be interesting. Mix it up – all sorts of different types of content. Have something to say.
  5. Be human. People want to do business with those they know, like and trust – get people to know a little more about you – not just the work you, but the whole of you, or at least a bit of you – as much as you feel willing to openly.
  6. Be on message. Talk around your business mission – not relentlessly, but let the golden thread shine through your message so it’s clear to those that follow you what you stand for.
  7. Be polite. Say thanks to those that follow and share your stuff. And “remember your ABC – always be crediting.” (hat tip to Charles H Green for this one).

Your stream of tweets or your Facebook feed are bite sized chunks of content – make them valuable to your customers, share yours and others’ stuff, get people to get to know you – to know, like and trust you, and they’ll remember you when the time comes to buy, or recommend you when others need to do so.

 

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 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.

The 7 deadly word sins

apple with 'sin' written on it

(Or 7 words you won’t find on Valuable Content websites, and which shouldn’t be on yours.)

We write lead generating websites for businesses, so we get through a lot of words – thousands of the things. There are some we try not to use any more – either because they’re overused, or because they’re not clear, or because we just don’t like them.

1. Solutions. Offering solutions to a clients problem is a hackneyed way of saying you can help. Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam count the number of vans with ‘solutions’ written on them. Dry rot solutions, office furniture solutions, decorating solutions. Be more specific about exactly how what you do will improve your client’s situation.
2. Facilitate. Don’t use it if you mean ‘set up,’ or ‘organise.’ It’s a bit of a prissy word, sounds like you’re trying to make something simple sound more important.
3. Orientated as a suffix, like results-orientated, or worse, solutions-orientated. Of course you work towards resolving the client’s problem. Just bunging ‘orientated’ on the end of a word doesn’t help show your method or describe your USP. Say how you do it, specifically.
4. Focused as a suffix. Or worse, focussed. See above. Results-focused, solutions-focused, we don’t like it.
5. Dynamic. Maybe we’re getting old, but we don’t really like dynamic agencies. For a start it’s a bit of a cliche, a lazy way of saying you’re not lazy. Plus, if you say you’re dynamic we imagine you wearing patterned socks and running round screaming into your Blackberry like an Apprentice wannabe. We’d rather see examples of original thought and genuinely helpful content.
6. Passionate. Being passionate about customer service makes you look a bit silly. No one believes it, so don’t say it. Caring is good, so is attention to detail, but passion? Save it for your lovers.
7. Synergy. Paradigm. Proactive. Just stop it.

If you want help writing the right stuff, let me know on 07985 015300

Our perfect couple – design and content

royal wedding tea towel

We haven’t quite decked Valuable Content Towers in bunting, but we’re getting into the Royal Wedding spirit by celebrating the perfect couple.

And while we wish Kate and William all the luck in the world, our perfect couple is something quite different. At Valuable Content, the marriage made in heaven is ‘content and design.’

As wordsmiths, you might expect Sonja and I to argue for the supremacy of the written word. But the deeper we get into the world of brilliant content, the more strongly we realise the inseparable link between what we do and design. The greatest words in the world won’t get read if the design’s all over the place. The smoothest design in the world will trip up if the words don’t make good sense.

As Lizzie Everard, one of our favourite graphic designers puts it,

“Flashy, superfluous and self-indulgent design that exists for itself is like having a Prada handbag filled with Superdrug costmetics.

but…

Brilliant, well-crafted words and insights that are not dressed for the party will miss all the fun.”

People won’t take your words seriously if they’re not professionally presented. And they will be equally disappointed if your design makes empty promises.

Iain Claridge, the Valuable Content web designer agrees.

“First Impressions are lasting impressions.

The visual design of a company’s logo, its products, its website, printed matter, etc should not be optional concerns. In a split-second someone can look at a shoddily designed website and decide “This company doesn’t look professional enough.” There is a critical period in the very first moments a potential customer sees a logo, product or marketing material that informs the rest of their relationship with that customer. There is always the danger that without an appealing aesthetic front, a potential client will have written you off mentally before you ever make it to delivering the meat of your pitch. Oh… and consistency is key.

Strong visual design generally promotes a clear, consistent identity, which in turn reinforces trust.”

So, to inspire trust and instill confidence and to give your content the very best chance of being loved, you need both; the great words and strong design.

All our projects start design and content simultaneously – and we run the two together – design and content, back and forward. It means we’re not just thinking of the message, but of the way the words work on the page. We favour clarity and simplicity of both text and visuals, always approaching both with ‘what does the reader/user want here?’

Get the marriage right, and your content will live happily ever after.

Five things to bear in mind when designing your content:

1. Readability. Can your reader quickly find the information they need? Pay attention to the layout and look of your copy. A clear structure and hierarchy, carefully selected typography, use of headers, bullets and call outs all help.
2. Images for interest. Give your words a focus and your readers pause for thought with graphical interest – helping you tell your story and hold their attention.
3. Consistency. As Iain Claridge says, a consistent theme or a thread to your content design will give you a recognisable identity and means the reader knows what to expect. Keep it neat and tidy and make your content more usable.
4. Space. It’s a busy, crowded world. Give your readers some thinking space by not over-stuffing your content.
5. Attractive content works better. Look professional. Show your readers that you care.

That’s our view from the content perspective. We’d be fascinated to know what the design fraternity thinks. What do we all need to consider when designing great content?

7 signs your website needs spring cleaning

fifties housewife

If you’re running your business on Valuable Content principles, then your website is the powerhouse. It’s the engine that drives everything, and most of the time – if you keep the content coming – it all runs smoothly, refining your niche and generating leads. 

 
Every once in a while though, you need to stand back, and ask yourself whether it’s working as well as it should. Peer into those neglected corners, scour the pages you usually skim over, and take a hard look at the way it’s arranged.
 We’re calling it our Valuable Content spring clean – and here are the seven signs that show your website needs one. 

1. You can’t update it yourself.

The best sites are really easy to manage – if you can’t make changes, add pages, and post the kind of information your clients are looking for without a phone call, then you need to do something about it. We recommend WordPress sites, but any content managed system that puts you in control will work.

2. You don’t know how many hits it gets, or how long people stick around.

How will you measure the impact of your valuable content if you don’t know who’s reading it? Get your analytics sorted, and use them to market yourself smarter.

3. You’ve still got too much text on the home page or a really long Flash intro.

We know it looked so good a few years ago, but now the world’s moved on. Your customers want information fast. Cut the distractions and get to the good stuff quicker.

4. It doesn’t make the right first impression.

Your content is static or out of date, or perhaps you have a blog but it is hidden out of sight. High performing websites lead with their content. One glance is enough to tell you that business is buzzing, and that these people can help you with your problem.

5. Your users don’t know where to go next.

Websites designed with users in mind work smoothly with the content on one page leading you to another. If the web copy sparks a question, the next step is a natural click away. Is this the way it happens on your website?

6. It’s not obvious how to get in touch.

Put addresses, phone numbers, email and Twitter details somewhere easy to find.

7. No calls to action.

Be bold about it. What do you want people to do once they’ve read your stuff. Sign up for your newsletter? Download your guide? Call you? So say it, clearly.

So, what are you waiting for?  Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.  If you’d like an independent view of the way your website’s working, we’d be happy to help. And if you’d like to know more about Valuable Content’s high performing websites, give us a call.

Know your audience

cinema audience in 3D glasses

It’s possible to fill your website with a constant stream of content without making more sales. Content alone won’t do your business any good. Untargeted content is just white noise, irritating and easy to ignore.

The valuable kind of content is the type that hits home, that makes people feel you’re talking directly to them. So how do you go about creating that sort?

Understanding why people buy from you is key to creating the right kind of content. You’ve got to know your audience.

Knowing that will help you shape your content. Let’s think of an example.

Greenleaves is an environmental design consultancy. They’ve read a bit about content marketing, they’ve started a blog, and joined Twitter, but haven’t seen any benefit. It’s like nobody’s listening.

And that’s probably because nobody is listening, because they don’t know their audience. They clarify their clients as ‘medium sized companies in the residential, industrial and commercial sector.’ Way too vague. If you try and talk to everybody at once, you end up speaking to no-one.

Understand your USP

Greenleaves’ problem was they didn’t understand what was different about them, so the content they were creating was too generic. There are dozens of environmental design consultancies offering holistic approaches to planning and design so their blogs about planning law and waste management floated unread in the ether.

It was talking to their clients that helped them define their USP. Asking direct questions, ‘why do you enjoy working with us?’ revealed a different answer to the one they had been expecting. It was their connections to other experts that their clients most valued. Working with them was easy and rewarding because they knew the right people. They were a small company that offered a much bigger service through their expert network.

Knowing this gave their content some direction. Writing blog pieces that emphasised their joined up approach was a start. Getting guest blogs from their affiliated experts began to build their site as a hub of environmental design expertise. Understanding their USP gave them a voice and a picture of the kind of person they were talking to.

They discovered their strongest advocates were those in the residential sector; industrial and commercial set ups favoured bigger outfits. More fine tuning of their direction made a difference. Now they could produce content with real readers in mind – the blogs became livelier, more relevant, and gave a clearer picture of their company as the kind who really knew their stuff.

Blair Enns talks about demonstrating knowledge a mile deep and an inch wide. Far better to be an expert in something, than know a little about everything. Knowing your audience means you can specialise and demonstrate expertise.

What does your audience want?

So you’ve specialised. You’re focused on your target. You know who they are, what they look like, what they had for breakfast (okay, maybe not that.) But what do they want to hear from you? How do you make your content relevant for your audience?

You need to see things from your customer’s point of view. Understand their business, and how what you’re offering helps them.

Help is the key here. Making yourself useful is at the heart of the valuable content marketing strategy.

Three ways to get to know your audience better

1. Go to the right places
Networking with your audience, both the real and the virtual kind, is crucial. You need to know the word on the street if you want to be part of it. Learning to speak the right language happens much faster if you immerse yourself in it.

2. Listen
Content marketing is a two way thing. It’s not all about shouting ‘me me me‘, it’s more ‘you, you, you.‘ Take some time to read comments on forums, ask questions at networking events, give people a chance to talk about themselves so that you understand their challenges.

3. Ask your clients for feedback
Put some searching and detailed questions to your existing clients.

Be specific – why did you choose our service? what did we offer that our competitors didn’t? have you learnt anything from us that has changed your way of working?

This kind of feedback is invaluable for businesses. Providing you’re doing a good job, you’ll gather some useful material for your website and marketing materials. If you’re not doing a good job, then you need to know that too so that you can make changes. So ask away.

We can help you define your market and get to grips with you USP, and create the kind of content your audience will love. Call on 07985 015300