Flabby prose. Flat, uninteresting sentences. Trite, cliché-ridden advertising and marketing copy. We’ve all seen it. Heck, maybe we’ve even written it. I’m here to help you turn that fat-ridden body of words into a lean, mean, athletic machine. I’m here to help you turn flabby, 90-pound weakling words into buff Charles Atlas-fit writing fit for kings. These 5 tips will help you write well whether you are writing for print or web, school or work, fiction or nonfiction, but they are aimed at people writing business documents.
Lastly, here are a few rules of thumb for business writing:
If you’d prefer to hire a professional writer, editor, and word wrangler, I’m available, or one of my colleagues here at Seven Oaks Consulting. Until then, may these tips act like vitamins to boost your weak muscles into strong, bone-crunching prose.
By Jeanne Grunert/President and Senior Writer, Seven Oaks Consulting.
If you would like to have marketing writer Jeanne write for your company, please contact us at Seven Oaks Consulting.
Stock photos for business websites are boring. I don’t care which website you’re looking at; most feature one or more of the following
Did I leave anything out?
Looking at this list, I notice one thing: a lack. A lack of zest, of creativity, of energy, of daring!
Unless your business is super conservative – and there are few of those left in this world – these photos are boring, clichéd, and (shudder) safe. So safe they blend into the woodwork like beige-painted walls.
Let’s not play it safe, shall we? Let’s be daring. Let’s talk like pirates. Let’s be bold, free, and most importantly – ourselves when it comes to images for our business websites!
Branding is more than the logo and colors chosen for your business. Branding actually consists of the spaces in between the tangible, the feelings and emotions evoked by a business. Diving deeply into your business through the feedback from your customers is the surest way I know to find your true brand image. Often what you believe is your brand isn’t your brand, but someone else’s ideas about your brand.
We carry with us the images of all of the things we have encountered throughout our lives, and this colors our perception of “what a business should look like.” Most of us are numb to the images we see daily around us. The billboards, the websites, the signs. We are used to what others think a bakery should look like, or a pet grooming service, or a marketing agency.
My own business suffered from this for years. I had vowed a long time ago not to resort to the old-typewriter look on my website. Too many copywriters, marketing writers and freelance writers use the typewriter as a metaphor for writing. But truly, how many companies hiring us these days even remember what a typewriter was, never mind realize it’s a symbol of a writer? The only industry still clinging to its ancient symbolic roots like this is the caduceus in medicine or the draft horses on the teamsters union sign.
Computer keyboards are, alas, a typical stand-in to demonstrate our finesse as writers, but does this truly exemplify what we do? I am no more a typist than I am a red-pen artist; I write and I edit, I create and I craft, I define and I refine.
But how do you visually express create, craft, define, refine?
My customers tell me they love working with me for the solid, dependable experience I bring to the encounter, the warmth of our working relationships, the feeling that I “get” their business and am able to express what’s in their hearts and minds about their own work. How do you express that visually?
Storytellers often use metaphors to express feelings. When metaphors become clichéd, they are boring and detract from the writing.
Visual storytellers or web designers must reach for metaphors, too. It’s easy to fall back on boring and clichéd visual metaphors such as hands hovering over a keyboard or concerned people seated around a conference table. Visual and verbal metaphors remain part of the common consciousness because they work, at least on the superficial level.
To truly stand out, however, you must dig deeply for your next metaphor. Your visual images should convey your brand attributes in ways that feel right for your business. My own brand visual includes references to nature; I am at home in nature, whether walking the woodland trails near my home or tending to my garden. It is in nature that I am myself, and in nature that I am most creative, so in nature do I place my business.
The metaphors I’ve chosen echo what clients say and what our company name reflects: oak, a solid wood, one of the strongest, symbol of the great Norse gods and of strength, durability, and power.
As you choose images for your website, consider your brand attributes.
Creativity? Reach for the creative. Think big! Black and white with splashes of color, interesting angles, close-ups or panoramas. Give your audience the unexpected, the jarring, the unique.
Attention to detail is your brand attribute? Think tiny, intricate photos of the weave of cloth, of frost on a windowpane, or cells in a leaf. All of these are available as stock photos you can license.
Professional? Ditch the men in business suits, please. Consider abstract prints, artistic swirls, or something fun. Consider unusual images that reflect your bright shining personality, not the personality of Big Corporate Culture.
Choosing and defining your brand takes time. Once you’ve figured it out, however, you’re well on your way to avoiding the stock photos for business websites that make you sleep syndrome. Be the wake-up call for your industry. Be the leader.
© Jeanne Grunert/Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne Grunert, also known as ‘the marketing writer’, is a veteran writer, editor, and content marketer. She is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting and can be reached via her website, www.marketing-writer.com
The image accompanying this post is licensed from Morguefile.com
A young friend of mine launched an Etsy business this month. I watched from a distance as she carefully photographed and listed her products. She celebrated her first sales…and then came hot on the heels of those first transactions, her very first return.
She was devastated. She took to social media to share her disgust with the person who didn’t read her listing. The customer thought they were purchasing one type of item, when in fact she did not sell that item.
I don’t know what the final outcome was of that transaction, but knowing my honest young friend, I suspected she eventually refunded the customer’s money and moved on. However, a few things stood out for me in the story, and I thought I’d take a moment to share my perspective on customer service, particularly in an ecommerce or retail environment.
(A note from me first: I worked in retail, in the trenches so to speak, for two years. I ran a successful ecommerce business for over a decade. I managed marketing for an upscale retail store. I have a peculiar love of retail. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s my thing. What can I say?)
Good customer service is often what sets apart similar products. People choose to do business with companies that treat them like valued customers, not like an annoyance. If you have any unhappy customer, accept graciously their feedback, take what you can and leave the rest.
This post is brought to you by the marketing writer, Jeanne Grunert, president and freelance writer for hire at Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne has over 20 years of experience as a marketing manager and a freelance writer. Retail is a particular passion of hers, as is good customer service. Learn more about her company at Seven Oaks Consulting, marketing writer Jeanne Grunert.
I don’t like doing “me too” or “copy cat” marketing for a very important reason: copying someone else is no measure of success. When you look at a competitor’s marketing materials or website, the temptation is to assume they’re doing better than you’re doing. But you don’t know that for sure, and you could be copying a dud of a marketing campaign!
Most people assume, rightly or wrongly, that their competitors are doing better than they are. You may have good reason to imagine that; perhaps there’s an industry survey that posits your company in third place behind others, or you’re privy to their sales figures because they are publicly traded and you can obtain copies of their annual report and investor relations materials. There may be solid evidence to back up your gut feelings that they’re doing something right and you’re doing something wrong.
When that happens, the tendency is to try to chase their coattails, to try to be everything they are to your customers so as to appeal to the same audience. I’d like you to stop for a second, though, before you try to copy their marketing. Consider this: do you know if that particular marketing effort is successful?
So Why Bother to Look at Competitor Ads in the First Place
If you can’t copy competitor ads, then why bother looking at them in the first place? Your customers see them, so you should, too. You need to know what you’re up against as you’re vying for your customers’ money. Customers are the ones choosing with their pocketbooks who they will do business with, so it’s important to at least see what else is out there.
Then try to top it.
When I work with clients on an advertising or promotional project, I start with who THEY are first, not who their competitors are. I first try to understand their clients – who do they sell to? Why do people choose their products or services? Then we talk about what they’re selling. The very last thing I deal is the competition, and I may take a cursory look at their competitors just to understand their strategy in the marketplace.
This approach helps me position your business from a position of strengths aligned with customer needs rather than a “me too!” strategy that so many businesses today want to follow. I don’t want you a bad copy of someone else’s business – I want your materials to be the absolute best version of yourself they can be.
So this is why I don’t do “me too” marketing and why I won’t blindly copy what Company XYZ is doing. They may be doing something right, or they may be doing something wrong. It’s good to know what they’re up to, but it’s not useful to blindly follow the leader. If you’re always following the leader, you’re never putting time and energy into things that may earn you the lead spot!
Written by Jeanne Grunert, President, Seven Oaks Consulting, a content writing and marketing firm based near Farmville and Lynchburg, Virginia. We work with businesses, marketing agencies, and technology companies on top-notch content marketing strategies and written materials to help you acquire, retain and create loyal customers. Give us a shout if you need help with your writing, editing or content marketing. One small blog post or a continual working relationship – we’re up for it. Visit Seven Oaks Consulting.
Do you use the Yoast SEO WordPress plug in on your blog? If you do, then you’ve noticed a few changes lately. It still offers the same convenient traffic-light grading system for your content, showing you at a glance how well you’ve worked your keywords in for best optimization. The new system adds content feedback to the equation – and that’s where Yoast gets a big fat D- grade.
Because the feedback reads like an especially dour nun took a big red pen to your blog post and is scolding you over your use of…good writing.
(I can say this because I survived 12 years of Catholic school and grew up with nuns in the family. And I loved them dearly and they were the most joyful, happy people I have ever met. The nuns who taught me in grade school? Not so joyful. But who would be surrounded by 30 kids every day?)
Yes, the new Yoast content feedback system leaves a lot to be desired.
It scolds you for using complex sentences.
It scolds you for writing more than two sentences to a paragraph.
In short…it seems to want to dumb down blog posts to the least common denominator.
Now, I’m not knocking on Yoast. God knows that as a content marketing writer, I appreciate the ease and convenience of a plug-in. What disturbs me more is the idea that internet readers cannot absorb thoughtful, engaging, and well-written content.
Polysyllabic words, complex sentences with multiple clauses, and longer blog posts are all part of my content platform. They might be part of yours as well. The prevailing wisdom from the SEO gurus is that such content isn’t read, and increases bounce rates because visitors arrive at your site and are immediately turned off by large text blogs.
I’m not so sure about that. I think it depends on your blog and on your readers. I don’t visit political, religious or social commentary blogs for the Cheerios and Sippy Cup version. I want meat, potatoes, steak knives and beer. I want thoughtful content I can chew on in my head the rest of the day, essays that make me think deeply about subjects that I care about.
If I visit a DIY blog, or a home and garden blog, or a pet blog, I want something different. I want big, pretty pictures. I want personality. I want to see the project. I want clear directions. And yes, simple step by step content makes it easier to read.
Everything in content marketing depends on your audience. What does your audience want, need and desire? Then it is a matter of matching your offering in the best possible way to what your audience wants. This is Marketing 101.
The SEO Bot Gods may seek simple content, but if that’s not what your audience wants, in the end it isn’t worth dumbing down your blog for the search engines. You’ll always succeed if your content speaks to the intended audience.
Tools like Yoast cannot differentiate and distinguish between a DIY blog and a deeply philosophical blog that explores current events. It tries to apply an identical rubric to all content. But content is not one-size-fits-all. Content must be personal in order to be meaningful.
My recommendation: Continue using Yoast, but if the tone of the content feedback bot gives you flashbacks to Sister Mary Invincta’s 5th grade English class and the Red Pen of Creative Death, just ignore it. I do.
Fell for it, didn’t you? If you clicked on the link because of the article’s headline, you fell for something called clickbait.
Clickbait is a pejorative term used to describe misleading headlines. It’s used throughout the internet, so you’ve probably seen it before. You see a headline about a favorite celebrity, or television show, or even an issue you care deeply about. The headline promises something emotional – something that makes you curious, intrigued, upset, angry. You can’t help but click on the link. Once you get to the article, however, the content doesn’t pay off the headline. That “shocking” information is nothing more than the usual drivel spit up and served on a silver platter. The “surprising” fact is nothing more than the facts about the issue. And so on….
It’s a truisim in journalism and marketing writing that the headline is the most important aspect of any article, blog post or document. Most writing teachers and marketing writers will tell you to spend the majority of your time working on your headlines because that is what gets people to respond, click, and then read the content. In other words, if your headline doesn’t work well, no one will read the terrific content you’ve created.
Clickbait headlines work on the psychological principle of dissonance. Our minds cannot stand to be uncomfortable, and the curiosity inspired by the headline creates a gap between what we know and what we desire. This gap makes us feel uncomfortable. We are compelled to click the link to read the text even when we ‘know’ in our logical minds that the information is just the usual drivel, or that we’re on deadline for a project and shouldn’t be spending time reading Yahoo! News (King of the Clickbait headlines) (and yes, I fall prey to them all the time) (and no, I won’t be late with your project. I promise!)
These headlines are actually crafty little critters. They’re used because they work. John Caples, one of the most famous advertising writers of the 20th century, offered 35 headline formulas that are still used today by marketing writers and other copywriters to create the best headlines they can for blog posts, articles, website copy and marketing documents. Clickbait stands in its own category, but it’s worth looking at Caples’ headline writing formulas and comparing them to common clickbait techniques. There’s some overlap, although Caples is probably spinning in his grave at the comparison.
There are several lessons we can learn from the purveyors of clickbait headlines. First, we know that they work. They do draw in the clicks. They don’t provide lasting values, and they don’t engender loyalty, two important qualities that any serious business should consider as part of their overall content marketing strategy. But they do follow the AIDA formula – attention, interest, desire, action.
And that’s what we as marketers and marketing writers must remember at all times: AIDA. Without getting attention and generating interest, no one’s going to click on your article. Inspiring desire and motivating customers to take action with an engaging headline complete the split-second decision that occurs in readers’ brains as they scan their newsfeeds. Clickbait headlines get the job done in seconds.
Will I use clickbait headlines? Aside from this blog post, where the headline was actually part of the story, the answer is no. I hate feeling cheated when I click on one of those zippy headlines and they promise me “shocking” photos or news and all I get is an article. Sure, I clicked, and sure, you got the page view. But in the end, you didn’t get ME – you didn’t earn my loyalty. I won’t bookmark your site, and I won’t follow it on social media. Perhaps more importantly, I won’t go there again, because now that you’ve played a trick on me, I’m wise to your trick.
And I hate tricks.
If you want to gain clicks in an ethical way, the secret remains in writing great headlines. That takes enormous skill and practice, something which a good marketing writer has. I’ve been a marketing writer for 20+ years. That’s the kind of writer you need working on your projects, not someone who can catch a reader-fish on the end of a headline-hook.
To write terrific headlines:
It takes time and practice to actually write such headlines. If you’d like help with your marketing writing work, please contact me.
In the meantime…I hope this blog post shocked, inspired, surprised, amazed, and absolutely delighted you.
Marketing writer Jeanne Grunert knows a thing or two about headline writing, marketing copy, and freelance writing. She’s been a full time freelance writer since 2007 when she quit her position as a marketing director for a big global company to return to her roots as a freelance writer. With a background in both marketing and writing, Jeanne brings a unique perspective to all of her writing projects. For more information, please visit her company website, Seven Oaks Consulting | Marketing Writer Jeanne Grunert.
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” – John Wooden
Now I don’t know who John Wooden is, but I do know that I make mistakes – a lot of mistakes.
The picture above is a photo of the stairway in my home. Last week, I had the dubious distinction of being the only person I know of to trip going UP the stairs. I was carrying a cup of coffee in my left hand and a piece of toast in my right and ascending the stairs to start work for the day. My dog, Shadow, raced up to my right just as my left moccasin slipped off my foot. I caught my foot on the stairwell, and pitched forward.
In a split second, I had to decide, “Do I save the coffee, the toast, or me?” Well, the coffee sloshed over, the toast landed butter-side down, and I did a nice forearm-face-butt plant that left impressive bruises on my now coffee-splattered personage.
My dog, of course, looked concerned, then snatched up the piece of toast with glee. So much for man, or woman’s best friend.
I was thinking about that fall today. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone falls now and then. In business, we make lots of mistakes. We hire the wrong person. We invest time and energy into projects that fizzle out. We launch a new website only to realize that it’s not responsive. We make a typo in the annual report, or print a sign that says CHRIS IS RISEN instead of, you know, the son of God, Christ. (I saw that one on Facebook and truly appreciated it as only a writer can appreciate such a magnificent typo.)
After a fall, what do you do? Do you pick yourself up and keep going? Do you nurse your wounds and bemoan your fate? Do you blame others?
When I told my husband later about my fall, he had a good laugh, then asked, “Did Shadow trip you?” I could easily have blamed the dog. Heck, I could even have blamed my moccasins. They are too loose, anyway. But neither caused my fall. I was trying to hurry to work. I was carrying too many things. I’d filled my coffee cup to the brim. It was that kind of a day. It all added up to a spectacular trip and fall that ruined a good piece of toast and necessitated an impromptu scrubbing of my wooden steps.
When mistakes happen, you can blame the dog, your shoe, or your slippery steps. Or you can simply laugh and say, “Yes, I tripped and made a mistake.” Then you grab the paper towels and start mopping up the mess.
Good business people know that grabbing the paper towels, mopping up the mess, feeding the rest of the toast to the dog and giving yourself a refill on the coffee is what to do next. It’s really no use blaming spilled coffee, loose shoes or slippery steps. Instead, take immediate action to claim and own your mistake…then fix it.
I think you can tell a lot about a person by the bruises they wear and the blame they affix on others. We can only progress in our careers and lives if we accept responsibility for things that are our fault. More importantly, when problems and mistakes happen, we have to be the strong shoulders to bear the load and fix the problem.
When mistakes happen, pick yourself up, accept responsibility, fix what you can, and move on. Most mistakes in business as in life are like a spilled cup of coffee or dog-eaten, butter-side-down fallen piece of toast.
Smart business people know that it’s only a piece of toast, after all. There’s a whole loaf of bread waiting in the kitchen.
What is a blog party? Blog parties, also called link parties, are online link sharing opportunities. They’re usually hosted on DIY or “mommy” type blogs but may be on any type of blog.
On a blog party or link party, you’ll have the opportunity to share your blog post via a tool called InLinkz. It’s a WordPress Plugin favored by blog party hosts because it offers an easy opportunity for participants to share links.
With InLinkz, the blogs shared on your party are automatically added and updated as participants their blog posts. You can add one post, but some parties allow you to add more than one. You can add any post — an old post or a new one. I like to add one new post per week and then trot out an old favorite from my blog for other parties.
Whatever post you choose to share, it should feature a good quality photograph that you have permission to share. The more eye-catching the photo, the better. The photos are displayed in a tiny thumbnail, so they should be bright and big. Little details tend to get lost in the smaller pictures.
Once you share your link, what happens? Well, with each blog party, it’s different. Some party hosts request you to leave a comment or share other participants’ posts. Read the instructions on the blog party itself. Hosts set their own rules. Most ask you to follow the blog party hosts on social media, and comment and share at least 1 or 2 other party posts. Some ask you to add a graphic or code to your sidebar.
The best place to find link parties is on your favorite blogs. Start looking for them, because most bloggers in the DIY and “mommy” space (those catering or writing to people who have children, families, craft, garden, etc) participate in at least one or two per week. I’m a co-host for the #HomeMattersParty or Home Matters Link party, by the way, over on my home and gardening blog, Home Garden Joy. You’re welcome to add your blog post to this week’s party or the new on happening each Friday if you fit the profile of party participants: DIY, crafts, recipes, homemaking, etc.
You can also search for link parties online. There are also groups on Facebook dedicated just to bloggers promoting link parties.
Link parties are a good way to generate traffic to your blog posts, but they can be a lot of work. There are numerous pros and cons to participating in link parties:
I have included blog parties in my toolkit this year to boost traffic to my gardening blog, Home Garden Joy. One of my goals for the blog this year has been to boost page views and lower the bounce rate.
I’ve been participating in a link party as a co-host consistently now for six months and have seen my blog traffic double. More importantly, links are being shared. One link to an old blog post went viral last month, causing my traffic to soar. There’s been a continual uptick since then, probably due to the search engines taking more notices of my little blog. At least I hope so.
The bounce rate on my blog, however, remains stubbornly high. I think it’s due to poor naming conventions on my blog from years ago when I considered my blog more of a hobby than a true website. I am still revising many of my old blog posts to make them better optimized and more professional.
My participation in the Home Matters Blog party takes about 3-4 hours per week, which is a considerable amount of time to invest. However, the audience for the party of mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s is perfect for my blog and I have met and made many new contacts thanks to the party activities. If you’re trying to reach a specific DIY demographic, participating in blog parties and link parties may be a great opportunity to boost your blog traffic.
For more information on this topic, see:
by Jeanne Grunert/Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne is a marketing writer and freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, technology and lifestyle content for clients worldwide. She’s the author of several books including Pricing Your Services: 21 Tips and Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden. Learn more about her work or hire her to write for you at Seven Oaks Consulting | Marketing Writer Jeanne Grunert.
Do you ever think about how you can “pay it forward” in the business world?
This may not be an easy question, but I think it’s an important one to ask. So many business people are always looking for what they can get out of a deal that they forget to pay their debts forward.
“Paying it forward” means to do something kind for someone else without hope of recompense. It’s not like paying a debt, which returns kindness for kindness. Rather, it’s doing a kindness without any immediate pay off.
Last week, I was able to offer words of kindness and support to a fellow writer. Most writers struggle with self-doubt, and I am no exception. During those times when I’m ready to throw in the towel and apply to become a Wal-Mart greeter, friends in the writing community have stepped up to offer a kick in the pants or a shoulder to cry on, whichever seemed most needed at the time. Whether it’s someone to commiserate about a yucky assignment or someone to tell me to suck it up and get the job done, I know that I can count on that special group of friends to support me through good times or bad.
One of those friends needed someone to prop her up this past weekend, and I happened to be online when she was sharing how blue she felt about her current work. Her assignments lately had been boring; she felt as if no matter how much she wrote or how hard she worked, she wasn’t making enough money.
I encouraged her, and pushed her, and yes, put on my best New York business woman sense via some of my comments. I felt like I was being slightly harsh with her, but I also felt she needed it. Sometimes people need a kick in the pants more than they need a shoulder to cry on.
The next day after my little coaching session with her, she wrote to me, ecstatic. She’d written an article for a publication she’d long admired and sent it in before she had a chance to chicken out. They accepted it the very same day – and she made more money from that half hour of work than she had the entire day before.
I love this story because it reminds me every day to pay it forward — to encourage, inspire and motivate anyone and everyone I come into contact with. Will I get any immediate benefit out of it? No, but I do believe strongly that what goes around, comes around.
Helping a friend with coaching, giving my time to write an article for an animal charity, sharing a stranger’s great blog post…it all counts. It really does. We pay things forward, and in time, they return to us ten-fold.