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Apr

19

2016

8 Mistakes Even Professional Content Writers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

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I’ve done a lot of dumb things as a writer. But that’s okay. Mistakes are the best way to learn, right? 

When we make a mistake once, we usually don’t make it again. And the less time we have to spend correcting our mistakes, the more time we have to actually get things done. 

I’ve outlined a list of eight common mistakes that professional content writers sometimes make below. The idea is that once you learn about these mistakes, you’ll be less likely to commit them yourself. Let’s walk through them …

8 Mistakes Even Professional Content Writers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

Mistake #1: Thinking that you can’t break through writer’s block.

Some people tend to think that writer’s block is an unbreakable force — nothing can be written until the block is broken.

The truth is, you can break writer’s block. Some people stand on their head, but there are other helpful tools you can use, too. 

Next time you experience writer’s block, try shifting your mindset. Don’t think, “Oh no! I can’t write.” Instead, think, “Okay, I’ve got this. I’m going to make it.”

Want more advice on how to beat writer’s block and actually enjoy writing again? Check out this post.

Mistake #2: Not editing your work.

You need time to edit your writing when it’s cold. In other words, let some time pass before you go back and work on that article again. You’ll view it with a new sense of curiosity, perspective, and insight.

Not everyone loves editing. I get that. Look at it this way, though: Editing turns something great into something even greater. That’s something to look forward to. For advice on how to approach a piece of content, check out these strategic editing tips from HubSpot’s Ginny Soskey.

Mistake #3: Not proofreading your work.

After you edit, you need to proofread, too. Editing is making those big changes to the content itself. Proofreading is making the tiny changes to the grammar and spelling.

I’ve made a habit of never releasing a word of content until it’s been edited or proofread at least four times. Proofread, and proofread again. You’ll be glad you did.

Before you publish your next piece of content, check out this helpful proofreading checklist.

Mistake #4: Not doing any research.

You may be the world’s most brilliant writer and master of your subject, but you should do a little bit of research on your subject matter. People aren’t as impressed by your opinion as they are by a breadth of studies, data, evidence, and other information that corroborate your opinion.

Get ready for hard work, though. Here’s how one researcher described the research process:

Research is not only a science but also an art and it is not easy. It requires honest and hard work with patience and perseverance. Not everyone is a born writer and authors can fall ill with headaches and backaches during the process of writing the research results.”

Research can be fun. When you realize that you’re providing your readers with insight and advanced knowledge, a simple writing project can take on a new level of excitement. Need help uncovering credible statistics to support your content, check out these nine reputable resources.

Mistake #5: Not defining your pronouns.

Huh? What does “not defining your pronouns” mean? Allow me to explain …

The following words are pronouns:

  • It
  • This
  • These
  • Those
  • That

There are a lot of pronouns in the English language. Pronouns are helpful, useful, important parts of speech.

What is the problem? Not defining them:

  • Those are bad. What are bad?
  • That’s no good. What’s no good?
  • It’s a problem. What’s a problem?
  • Destroy these. Destroy what?

You should define all pronouns either within the context of your writing or within the sentence. Undefined pronouns lead to unclear writing.

Mistake #6: Writing too fast or too slow.

There’s no correct writing speed. Each writer should write at the pace that suits them and allows their creativity to flow. However, be aware that your speed of writing influences your quality of writing.

  • If you write too fast, you could make sloppy mistakes.
  • If you write too slowly, you could make clumsy mistakes.

When reading, the mind goes over information faster than while writing. Keep this in mind when you write. Your mind easily processes long sentences or big words when you’re writing them. But to the reader — whose eyes are skimming across your content at 300 words per minute — your writing is dull, ponderous, slow, and agonizing.

If you write fast, your brain is moving at a closer equivalent to the normal reading speed. Of course, you should still pay attention to your words, sentences, and structure. But at the same time, you’ll be able to get down those thoughts in a more fluid and natural way.

Here’s how the The Huffington Post reported on one writing speed researcher:

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process,” Srdan Medimorec, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Arts at Waterloo said in a statement. “It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.”

A 2016 study from the University of Waterloo discovered, “the quality of your writing will likely get better if you simply type slower.”

Does this mean that you should try to move your fingers slowly, type with one hand, or just trudge along at a lazy pace? Not necessarily.

Each person has their own right pace. And different types of content demand a slower or faster pace. You move at the pace that’s best for you.

In some situations, the ideas and words are coming at an incredibly fast rate. You have to type as fast as you can. In other cases, you might be doing careful research, searching for the precise word, or writing about a sensitive subject. Slowing down is a good idea.

Mistake #7: Not understanding who your readers are.

If you want to become a better writer, become a better student of your reader. It’s actually pretty simple.

Great writing is connecting with readers in a meaningful way. You won’t be able to perform that task unless you get in their heads. I challenge all writers, before putting a single word on a page, to do as much research and gain as much understanding of their potential readers as possible.

The process is as simple as going through the exercise of creating a persona, and reminding yourself of that person every time you write. (Check out this free tool to get started.)

Mistake #8: Not outlining an article before you write it.

Outlining might bring back memories of high school English class. Don’t worry. That’s not what I’m talking about here. 

The process of outlining is simply creating a structure for your article.

I do a lot of writing, and one of the things that helps me write with clarity and speed is outlining. First, I jot down a quick introduction and conclusion. This helps me to lead up to my subject matter, and then sum it up. Doing so also makes me fill the empty space between with something relevant and meaningful.

Generally, my outline simply looks like a few bullet points. My goal is to write down the main things I want to talk about. Usually, they aren’t even complete sentences. (No big deal. I’m not writing my article at this point. I’m just outlining it.)

The whole process takes me ten minutes or so, but it saves me hours of time. Plus, it gives my article more clarity.

Ready to Write?

Writing better is about blowing apart old habits and horrible mistakes. Even though I’ve been writing almost every day for ten years, I still make mistakes. Hopefully, my mistakes are becoming fewer and fewer, but I still catch myself making them sometimes.

At the same time, however, I feel like I’m improving. And that’s what becoming a better writer is all about.

What about you? What mistakes are you eliminating in order to improve your writing?

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Apr

8

2016

How to Fall in Love With Writing Again

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“I’m sick of this.” “I hate this.” “Not again.” “Can’t stand it!” “I’m gonna quit.”

If you’ve ever thought — or said — those things about writing, you’re not alone. I’ve experienced those thoughts. As someone who writes a lot, I get it.

After a while, you get sick and tired of writing. You just want to quit. Is it that notorious condition known as writer’s block? It could be, but in many cases it’s a little bit different.

There are a few things going on:

  • You’re bored with what you’re writing about. Boredom kills affection.
  • You’ve exhausted your creative energy. Creativity, like a muscle, has its limits. Push it too hard, and it caves in.
  • You need something more challenging. Lack of challenge — goals, vision, perspective — leads to disillusionment.
  • You need some fresh experiences. Fresh experiences will give you a fresh perspective.

It’s time to figure out how to get your brain back on task. How do you get past the drudgery and enjoy writing again? Let’s talk through a few tips.

5 Ways to Fall Back in Love With Writing

1) Take a long break.

If you’re feeling a little burnt out, it’s probably a good idea to put some time and space between you and your writing. Depending on how much time you have, this might mean a 20-minute break or even a few days off.

When you take a break from writing it gives you time to recharge mentally. And if you’re truly meant to be writing, it’s not going to be long before you’re chomping at the bit again. You’ll feel it. The need to start writing again will surface.

If you’re really at rock bottom, I recommend taking a break longer than one week. Try two weeks … or even longer.

“But, Neil, I need content for my blog!”

Of course. But do you need low-quality content for your blog?

If you can’t write, you can’t write. Why force it? It’s better to take a break and come back with some good stuff, than to fry your brain and produce awful stuff.

If you decide to take a break, but still need to produce content, here are some tips:

  • Recruit a colleague to write the content instead.
  • Use Textbroker or Upwork to find a qualified content writer. (For tips on working with freelancers, read this.)
  • Stop … and see what happens.

2) Write for five minutes about your thoughts and emotions surrounding your lack of writing affection.

Weird. I’m telling you to combat your lack of affection for writing by writing about how you feel about not feeling affectionate towards writing.

Uh, why?

Here’s the point of this exercise. It jogs the mind, and breaks you out of a funk.

Some evidence, please?

In a study published by the Academy of Management Journal, researchers rounded up a study group comprised of people who were discouraged over their job loss. They divided subjects into three groups:

  1. They told one group of people to write about whatever came to mind — the “thoughts and emotions surrounding their job loss.”
  2. Another group wrote about “non-traumatic topics.”
  3. A control group did not write at all.

The results? Read the abstract for yourself:

Those assigned to write about the thoughts and emotions surrounding their job loss were reemployed more quickly than those who wrote about non-traumatic topics or who did not write at all. Expressive writing appeared to influence individuals’ attitudes about their old jobs and about finding new employment rather than their motivation to seek employment.”

When you ignore the feelings of dissatisfaction with writing, you’re just compounding the problem. The solution isn’t to ignore it and keep on truckin’. The solution is to stop, reflect, and face the feelings.

Sure, getting sick of writing isn’t the same as losing your job. But if expressive writing helped people cope with a job loss, it’s likely that it will help you engage with writing again.

3) Change your writing environment.

Your writing environment — the thoughts, habits, preparation, and place in which you work — has a profound impact on how you write. If you make changes to your environment, it could spark changes in how you perceive and respond to the task of writing.

Nate Krueter, writing for Inside Higher Ed, explained it like this:

There is no ideal writing environment. The ideal is the set of circumstances that allows you to be productive. If you’re happy with your own productivity, both in terms of quantity and quality of writing, then perhaps your routines and environment ought not be monkeyed with. But if you’re dissatisfied with your writing patterns, perhaps a set of experiments is in order. Try working in a new environment, different in nature from where you typically work.”

He’s suggesting the same thing that I am: ”Try working in a new environment.”

When I run into a brick wall with my writing, I typically do something totally different with my writing environment — go outside with my laptop, go to a different room, write at a different time of day, whatever. Changes in environment can spark changes in your approach and attitude toward writing.

4) Read more interesting stuff.

What and how we read influences what and how we write. If you are sick and tired of writing, then what about reading? Again, the power of difference can be the catalyst.

If you’re used to reading material that only discusses your industry, try reading something from a different industry. Better yet, take a novel from off the shelf — something that you’ve been wanting to read for a while — and take some time to enjoy it.

You might be surprised by what happens:

  • Your creativity skyrockets.
  • You banish boring content.
  • You’re fired up about writing.
  • You begin to write with a passion.

5) Take intentional time out of your schedule to do nothing.

When you hate writing, your brain is stuck. It’s stuck on the negativity of writing. How do you break the logjam of negativity? By doing nothing. On purpose.

How does this work?

Neurologist Marcus Raichle conducted a study in which he analyzed MRI images of subjects completing various tasks. The study was innocuous enough in its hypotheses, but what Raichle discovered from the study was something he hadn’t expected: During times of activity, the brain’s salience network and central-executive network were hard at work — processing input, and exerting problem-solving skills.

That’s not a bad thing, but because the activity was so intense, it crowded out what Raichle called the default mode network.

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Image Credit: Jeremey Duvall

The default work mode is a discrete brain system that is responsible for self-reflection and self-thought. The crazy thing is, the brain can only operate this way when you’re doing nothing. In Raichle’s study, the subjects were in “quiet repose either with eyes closed or with simple visual fixation.”

In other words, only by mental relaxation could the subjects prompt their brains to involuntarily process the thoughts, feelings, emotions, self-understanding, and presence that help to unlock creativity and greater insight.

What’s the takeaway? Give your brain a break. Chill. Walk. Sit. Do nothing. Visualize. Meditate. Take a nap. Whatever you do, give your brain a chance to return to its “default mode network,” and you’ll discover a refreshing state of creativity that you didn’t realize you had.

Feeling the love?

You don’t have to love writing in order to be good at it … but it sure does help.

When you enjoy your writing, you tend to do it so much better. Readers can tell if the author enjoys her topic. Your writing is clearer, livelier, and way more interesting.

But falling in love with writing is a tricky thing. You can’t force love — especially love for something as inanimate and conceptual as writing. However, you can change a few things in your mindset, your habits, your environment, and your activities to spark a change.

Who knows, you might come back with a passion for writing that makes your content even better than before.

Have you ever experienced a total loss of interest in writing? What did you do about it?

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Feb

26

2016

Overcoming Content Overload: 4 Tactical Ways to Create Content That Stands Out

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We’re kind of having a problem in content marketing right now. You see, everyone is creating content.

In fact, according to Content Marketing Institute’s annual survey, 88% of B2B respondents are using content marketing. But this is just a statistical percentage. It gives no indication of the sheer volume of content that is being produced. 

And that volume is enormous.

With the avalanche of content, it’s hard to stand out. And it’s especially challenging when you look at your dwindling marketing budget, the burnout of your bloggers, and the massive confusion over trying to calculate the ROI of content marketing.

What’s a marketer to do? Let’s explore some options below.

4 Tactical Ways to Create Content That Stands Out

1) Do more.

One possible solution is to do more content marketing.

Yes. You heard me correctly. More.

More matters, and here’s why.

Let’s look at the simple mechanics of search engine optimization. SEO has changed from its haphazard days of link tiers and keyword stuffing, but several key facets of it have not changed.

This hasn’t changed:

  • The more content you produce …
  • The more Google and other search engines index …
  • The more likely you are to rank for certain keywords …

I’m assuming, of course, that your content is solid, authoritative, long-form content that provides value to users.

Don’t forget about Google’s fresh factor algorithm feature:

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Image Credit: Web-sta

Newer content performs better in the search engines, leading to higher rates of organic traffic, leads, conversions, and so on. 

Plus, you have the issue of adding content that is part of the fresh algorithm:

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Image Credit: Web-sta

All things being equal, a website with more (quality) content added to it will likely perform better in search engines. But there’s the user side of it, too. You must consistently produce content on a regular basis in order to keep users interested.

If you’re putting out great content all the time, it keeps users coming back for more — assuming quality and value don’t suffer. This concept has fueled my increase in guest blogging and personal blogging. As a result, I’ve dramatically increased my output over the past 12 months, and my numbers are reflecting the change.

However, there is a dark side to the “more is better” theory. As I mentioned before, this approach only works when the quality of the content remains high. If you allow your quality, focus, and strategy to degrade, then you’ll hurt yourself in the long run.

So let’s talk about that. How do you find your successful sweet spot in a world where everyone’s doing content marketing? You can’t just do more. You have to do better.

Let me explain this …

2) Do better.

“Do better” is a rather shallow recommendation, so I’m going to give you a few tactical points that should help clarify my point. By the time you’re finished reading this section, you’ll know exactly how to do content marketing better.

First, let me get some of the “boring” stuff out of the way. I believe that you need to assess the state of content marketing in order to rise above the competition and overcome content marketing’s weaknesses.

Cue the data.

Truth: Many organizations still don’t know what a “successful content marketing program looks like.”

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Image Credit: CMI

Another truth: A lot of organizations don’t have a documented content marketing strategy.

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Image Credit: CMI

According to CMI’s data, the best content marketers know what they’re doing and they use a variety of content marketing methods: the “most effective” B2Bs use 15 content marketing methods, as opposed to the “least effective” B2Bs, which use 11. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know what a “successful” content marketing program looks like? If the answer is no, then define it.
  • Do you have a documented content marketing strategy? If the answer is no, then define and document it.
  • Are you using multiple methods of content marketing?

Based on these general shortcomings in the content marketing industry as a whole, there are several things that you can do to gain a competitive edge. Now that that is out of the way, here’s how you do content marketing better:

  • Add more visual content. Visual content is a powerful way to boost the engagement, effectiveness, and potency of your content.

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Image Credit: Quick Sprout

  • Add more live methods. Live marketing methods are becoming increasingly important. Here are three live methods that you can use at a minimal cost and at a maximum effectiveness: Periscope, webinars, and Facebook Live.
  • Add more unique data. This is a big one. Stop regurgitating all the data that you’ve heard. Come up with some of your own! Using your own data, statistics, studies, and results is a powerful way to attract more interest.
  • Create alternative means of consuming content. Content consumers are shifting in the way that they engage with content. The Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology have created a stir, and it’s up to us to react accordingly. 
  • Build more social communities. There used to be a time when your brand Facebook page updates would be visible, engaged with, and acted upon … but then Facebook’s algorithm changed. Luckily, consumers still crave engagement and involvement in groups, especially exclusive places where the content is powerful, unique, and targeted.

My point here is that there are a lot of ways to do better with your content marketing. There are a ton of organizations out there that are wandering around in the content marketing arena with an unclear strategy, an unfocused process, and an arsenal of ineffective tactics. To those organizations, consider the above suggestions to help your raise the bar. 

3) Be focused.

Don’t just do content marketing … do content marketing with a focused objective.

What’s the objective?

You and your organization have to define it as a clear and practicable goal. Generally speaking, most businesses want:

  • More leads
  • More revenue
  • More customers
  • More engagement

If you’ve been “doing content marketing” without a goal, then it’s no wonder you’re frustrated with your efforts. I recommend re-focusing your efforts on a goal. While the ultimate goal to focus on is often revenue, your secondary goals will differ based on the nature of your organization. 

Maybe you’re looking for customers to request a proposal. If so, hone in on that goal and use content marketing to reach it.

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Image Credit: Mijital

Maybe you’re simply looking to generate customers who are giving you their money.

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Image Credit: Kuno Creative

Want to know whether or not you should keep doing content marketing? Ask yourself this: Has it made a bottom-line difference in your business’s revenue. Is it making you money?

4) Keep on doing.

So, how do you achieve success in a world where everyone’s doing content marketing?

You keep on doing it.

Maybe you’re not getting the results you once did. Maybe you’re frustrated with your lack of success. Maybe you’re confused about methods. Maybe it’s hard to keep up with the changing tactics, technology, and manifestations of content.

But, maybe, that’s okay.

Nobody said that marketing was going to be easy. Content marketing doesn’t deliver the quick results that we wish it would. When it does though, the rewards are vindicating.

Instead of quitting altogether, give it some time. Keep on doing it in a deliberate and strategic way!

Change is a Good Thing

Content marketing is changing. There’s no doubt about that. And the important questions that we need to answer are:

  • How is it changing?
  • What should we do as a result?

I’m convinced that content marketing is going to be around for a long time. Therefore, I’m committed to continue doing it, whatever that looks like. What about you?

How is content marketing changing for you? What will you do as a result? Share your thoughts below. 

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Dec

21

2015

How to Craft a Compelling Subheadline That Makes People Click

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If you’re in marketing, you know that headlines are important. But did you know that subheadlines are just as important?

Sure, the headline is responsible for capturing a visitor’s attention … but then what?

To give you a better sense of how it all works, I’m not only going to explain what a subheadline is, but I’ll also detail a process that you can follow to use them to inspire action. 

Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to unleash a killer headline, subheadline, and CTA combo that will make people see, want, and click on your site. 

What’s a Subheadline?

First off, let me explain what I mean by subheadline. Here’s a good definition from Wiktionary:

A smaller, secondary headline that usually elaborates on the main headline above it.

Similarly, Merriam-Webster define the term as:

An additional headline or title that comes immediately after the main headline or title.”

But rather than just tell you what a subheadline is, let me show you. Here is an example from Mention. They use a big, powerful headline, and then a little bitty subheadline:

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It’s a secondary line of text that expands, advances, and otherwise informs the user beyond the standard headline.

Here’s another example from Kissmetrics:

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Got it? Now, let’s talk about why they are essential …

Why Do Subheadlines Matter?

Subheadlines are important because you can’t say everything you need to say in just a single headline. 

Your headline should grab the reader’s attention. But what’s next?

Subheadlines have the power to reel the reader in. While the headline may grab the user’s attention, you need to do more than that in order for the user to stay. You want to compel the reader to look, to click, to sample, to scroll, or to do whatever it is you want them to do. That usually takes more than just 10-20 words

The subheadline also gives readers that extra nudge. Or, to put it in the word’s of Gary Korisko, “the often overlooked subhead is really a stealthy and lethal ninja writing weapon just sitting there quietly waiting to be put to good use.”

The Formula for a Winning Headline, Subheadline & CTA Combo

Now, let’s get into the good stuff: the surefire, failsafe, absolutely reliable way to make your subheadline as atomically powerful as it can be.

I want to explain how you can create a subheadline that will do what you want it to do. To do so, you must use your subheadline strategically with two other elements: the headline and the call to action. Together, these three elements work like quick, successive bursts of information and opportunity.

It’s kind of like a three-man basketball team: one person dribbles it in and passes it to the second guy, the second guy tosses the layup, and the third guy dunks it.  

Here’s another way to look at the formula:

  • Headline. Grab their attention.
  • Subheadline. Draw them in deeper.
  • Call-to-Action. Tell them what to do.

Now, let’s walk through what each element does.

1) Headline

The reason why headlines are such a big deal is because they are the first thing that a user looks at when they see a webpage. (Obviously, you want to make that first line really pop.)

Here’s a sample eye tracking study demonstrating the power of the headline. According to the map, more eyes spend more time on headlines than any other part of the page.

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Image Credit: Wholegrain Digital

With your headline, you should say something that grabs their attention, revs up their engine, or makes them excited. If you don’t give them a strong reason to linger on your headline, then your subheadline won’t get read. End of story.

2) Subheadline

Explosive headlines should pull the reader down into the content, making them want whatever it is you are featuring or talking about.

Here are three things that you can do with your subheadline:

  • Explain more. If your product or service needs a bit more explanation, then try expanding on it with your subheadline.
  • Talk about benefits. Benefit-focused headlines are great. By emphasizing how a product or service will improve the user’s life, you can dramatically advance the page’s power.
  • Encourage action. A subheadline is also a great way to get users to do something. If you successfully encourage action, it’s only a short hop for them to click the call to action button below.

The nature of your subheadline depends on your headline. You can choose one of the techniques above, or split test different varieties to see which one is best for your users.

3) Call-to-Action

Your call-to-action closes the deal. Your headline and subheadline should bring the reader to the logical climax of acting on what he or she knows.

Without the call-to-action, the reader is left wondering “What now?” Don’t let that happen. Instead, make the user respond to the message that they have just read.

Let me review the model once more:

  • Headline. Grab attention or spark curiosity.
  • Subheadline. Explain, show benefits, or encourage action.
  • Call-to-Action. Give them a chance to do it.

What’s the impact of this three-step process on the reader?

  • Headline. “What is this?”
  • Subheadline. “I want it!”
  • Call-to-Action. “I’ll do it!”

Let’s take a deeper dive into the five things that will produce outstanding subheads.

5 Elements That Will Make Your Subheadline Irresistible

Here are the key factors that will make your subheadline shine.

The right words. Choose your words carefully because you can’t use very many. Here are some options, taken from Buffer’s “Big List of 189 Words That Convert”: new, sensational, remarkable, secret, take, you, introducing, improvement, amazing, free, because, suddenly, promote, increase, etc.

Here are a few tips to help you narrow your focus:

  • Choose the right length. A good subheadline should take just a few seconds to read. I recommend keeping your subheadline between 10 and 30 words. Double the length of your headline is a good length.
  • Aim for the right amount of information. Tell the user just enough. You don’t want to explain everything. You want some of that curiosity to stay with them so they will click on the CTA below.
  • Include the right amount of persuasion. It’s important to use your subheadline for its intended purpose — to coax the user to convert. Go ahead and pull out the persuasive stops!

13 Examples of Great Subheadlines

Seeing helpful examples of headlines is one of the best ways to learn the magic. Check these out.

1) Spotify

See how Spotify uses the top headline to grab your attention. It’s a short, punchy statement with visceral appeal. The subheadline explains and encourages action.

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2) Scratch Wireless

Scratch Wireless actually uses two subheadlines. I guess they needed to add a few extra benefits. The main headline is a head-jerking command and the subheadline coaxes users with the word “free” and a few more benefits.

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3) GitHub

GitHub’s subheadline is a bit long-ish … but it does a comprehensive job of encouraging action. If you’re ready to sign up, the subheadline tells you what you need to know — product capabilities, scope, and price.

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4) Oscar

Oscar health insurance uses a clean and simple interface to advance their idea of health insurance — smart and simple. They’re subheadline (in black) explains what Oscar is.

Oscar.png

5) Bellroy

The Bellroy shop has a bold three-word headline. Your eyes are naturally searching for an explanation, and the subheadline provides it. The subheadline explains what the product is and why you should consider buying it.

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6) Avocode

Avocode uses their headline to explain the product, and their subheadline advances this explanation with even more information and a benefit.

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7) Kalexiko

Kalexiko’s brilliant site has a simple headline and simple subheading. The subheadline explains what they are: a “digital design & development agency.”

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8) Apple

Apple is the master of compelling subheadlines. Their products need little explanation or introduction, so they woo users with persuasive tactics.

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9) Fitbit

Fitbit produces wearable fitness devices. Their subheadline does a helpful job of explaining the image below in brief terms so users will want to see the product selection.

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10) Chrome

Chrome takes the benefit-focused approach with their subheadline.

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11) Infusionsoft

The main page for Infusionsoft has a three-benefit headline. Their subheadline explains it. And it does it all in 19 words.

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12) Medium

Medium’s two subheadlines explain and encourage action.

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13) Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg is a tool that shows user-behavior on your website. The subheadline helps to advance this concept further by explaining what the product does.

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The most powerful subheadlines are those that speak directly to the user and help them take the next step. By using the combo, following these tips, and writing with clarity, you can watch your website’s effectiveness increase.

What are some good examples of subheadlines that you’ve seen? Share them in the comments section below.

free guide: how to be a better copywriter

Dec

8

2015

A Science-Backed Method for Better Writing: How to Find Your Ideal Time of Day

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Every individual has a unique timeline for work, energy, and creativity. Some work best at the crack of dawn, while others prefer to write into all hours of the night. 

But if you want to do your best writing, you have to find your best time to do it.

Why?

Because science says so.

To learn why this is true, and how you can figure out an ideal writing time for yourself, keep reading. After reading this article, you should come away with a powerful method for finding the best time of day to write so you can leverage that time and energy to unleash your most creative, insightful, and powerful content.

The Surprising Truth About Ultradian Rhythms

Have you ever heard of ultradian rhythms?

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Image Credit: Accurate Expressions

Ultradian rhythms are any biological cycles that recur or repeat throughout a 24-hour circadian day. By definition, ultradian rhythms are longer than an hour, but shorter than a day.

The body has all kinds of biological rhythms. The primary biological rhythms are clumped under ultradian, circadian, and infradian. The body’s ultradian rhythms regulate energy, mood, and cognitive function. A whole medley of hormones, metabolic processes, and cardiovascular functions carry out our ultradian rhythms, but the basic takeaway is this: Our bodies operate according to rhythmic biological dictates.

You might be wondering what in the world does this have to do with writing?

Everything. Here’s why …

Most people do their best writing when they have the most mental energy. More energy means more action. When your body is naturally energized, you will experience your mind firing on all cylinders. You process information quickly, you are more creative, and you possess an ability to synthesize your thoughts into writing. 

You can determine your peak energy phase by being attuned to your ultradian rhythms. As I mentioned, ultradian rhythms typically operate in 90-minute cycles. Thus, your productivity will peak and trough according to 90-minute intervals.

This is what Fast Company calls the Waveform of Life. It’s also why they suggest taking a break every 90 minutes.

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Image Credit: Fast Company

At first, scientists thought that sleep was the only ultradian rhythm. 

“In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC,” explains productivity expert Tony Shwartz in an article for The New York Times

Then, when they studied it again, they found out that ultradian rhythm is exhibited in waking hours, too.

“Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity,” explains Shwartz in the same article. 

The reason for this, as we see, is due to the body’s natural ultradian rhythms. Instead of forcing yourself to write at a non-optimal time, you are working with the body to maximize your most energetic mental time of the day.

This insight will change the way you work. Check out this breakdown: 

  • For 90 minutes, you are in a state of alertness, creativity, mental stamina, and emotional resilience.
  • Then, for a period of 20 minutes, your body needs to cycle down, reenergize, and warm up again.
  • The cycle repeats itself, though your energy will likely wane in every subsequent 90-minute cycle.

It is unwise to push yourself to write when your ultradian rhythm is at a trough point. Why? Because it’s simply not productive time. It’s similar to pushing against a rebar-reinforced concrete wall. Your muscles will not be able to topple the wall, because they aren’t strong enough.

In much the same way your energy, mind, and creative powers are not in a position to overcome the natural slump in your mental energy levels.

Remember this: You will be most effective if you work in 90-minute cycles, in keeping with the body’s natural rhythms and timeline.

How to Use Ultradian Rhythms to Determine When You Should Write

So, you should write when your energy is at its peak, and you shouldn’t push yourself past the average 90-minute ultradian cycle. But when? What time of day?

That’s where it gets a bit tricky.

Everyone’s rhythm operates on a different timeline. Just like my hair, my complexion, my facial features, my eye color, and my head shape are unique from anyone else’s, so too are my peak and rest periods.

Thankfully, we have decades of scientific research and general patterns that can help us narrow down the options of when we should write. 

As I said, ultradian rhythms operate in about 90-minute cycles, but they don’t each provide the same degree of energy. One ultradian peak might provide us with energy to hike a mountain or to hit the dance floor. Another ultradian peak, however, might give us the cognitive ability to have a long conversation or sit at our desks working on a project.

All energy is not equal. That’s why you must identify the specific point in your day when you have mental energy from your ultradian rhythm. Here’s how your ultradian cycles work on average:

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Image Credit: NuTelsa

According to the chart above, we have the greatest amount of energy early in the morning, soon after we awake. You’ll notice that these cycles refer to mental energy– in the chart, it is described as wakefulness. While you may have physical energy at those times as well, it’s the mental energy that I’m focusing on.

Again, this is not uniform throughout the population. Some people wake up at 4:30 a.m. and their productivity and creativity peak at 6:00 a.m. Some people wake up later, and their productivity peaks at a different time.

Lack of sleep and caffeine can also affect the rhythms, but not necessarily in negative ways. Caffeine, for example, might boost the peak of a rhythm or cause it to spark sooner. And lack of sleep can inhibit normal judgment barriers, making us more creative.

When it comes to writing, most people write better first thing in the morning — I know that this is true for me. I carve out substantial time each morning to produce content. The content that I write is better, fresher, more creative, and more insightful than the stuff I try to write at night or in the afternoon.

How to Narrow Down Your Best Time for Writing

Now, let’s get super practical.

You need to figure out the perfect time for creating the best content. To help, check out these two tips from TeamGantt’s article, “Best Time of the Day to Work”:

  1. Identify what time of the day you possess the greatest amount of energy. Ask yourself this question at five intervals throughout the day: 6 a.m. (or when you wake), 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.
  2. Discover what time of day you have the least amount of distractions. Interruptions can destroy creative flow, so make sure you establish a time and place that is totally distraction-free.

Ideally, the two times you have identified should match. If they don’t, then you can either find a time when you’re at your next-best level of energy, or, better yet, change your schedule to eliminate the distractions during your peak energy period.

Now, during this time, schedule a 90-minute appointment to write. This is your magic hour-and-a-half. You’re going to create content that is creative, powerful, smart, intelligent, and unbeatable.

What if you picked the wrong time? Try again.

I would encourage you to pick a time and stick with it for a few weeks.

Why?

Because a second biological phenomenon kicks in — neuroplasticity. The more we repeat an action or behavior, the better we become at it. By writing at the same time each day, you train your brain that it’s time to kick into action. Eventually, your brain will get the idea — to turn on, fire up, and get busy helping you to create great content.

Be Aware That Results May Vary

Don’t let anyone else tell you what time of day you should write. Only you can figure this out.

Keep in mind that there is some truth to the morning person/evening person dichotomy. Some people are truly more creative in the morning, while other people have their burst of creative power at night.

Instead of falling into some preconceived mold, seek to know yourself — your rhythms, your energy, and your times of productivity. Whatever time you choose to write, make it a daily habit.

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Image Credit: Quick Sprout

Your mind will fall into a regular pattern, allowing its ultradian rhythm and neural circuitry to enhance your energy and insight during this time.

Ready to Find Your Ideal Writing Time?

Productivity experts tell us to manage our energy, not our time. This is slightly misleading, as we should manage our energy and our time, because our energy works with time.

If you want to improve your writing productivity, I recommend using the highest peak period in your ultradian rhythm for writing while also maximizing the energy that you have. When you identify the periods of peak power in your biological timeline, then you will unlock the secret to better writing.

What is your best time of day for writing? Share your experiences in the comments section below. 

free guide to writing well

Nov

30

2015

How to Write With Clarity: 9 Tips for Simplifying Your Message

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There’s something missing from a lot of content.

It’s clarity.

Clarity means making your content easy to understand. If people can’t understand what you’re trying to say, then your content is not useful, right?

On the other hand, if you can produce sharp, clear, intelligent, and easy-to-understand content, it become much easier for people to see the value in it. They’ll want to keep reading. 

How do you make your writing crystal clear? I’ve explained nine unbeatable methods below to help you get started.

9 Unbeatable Methods for Writing With Absolute Clarity

1) Know what you want to say.

Clarity goes beyond a few writing tweaks. 

It’s a whole new way of thinking. And it forces you to think about what you’re writing before you start spilling words onto the page.

Before you write a word, you should know the following:

  • Your subject. For example, this blog post is about clear writing.
  • Your point. My point in this article is to explain how to write with clarity.
  • Your outline. An outline is the basic structure of an article. My outline has 9 points.

Seth Godin is a masterful writer. His articles are short because he knows exactly what he wants to say, then writes it. Check it out:

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The lesson to learn from Godin? The clearest content is content with intention.

2) Know who you’re talking to.

Knowing your audience is an important feature of good writing. The better you know your audience, the more clearly you can communicate to them.

Let me improve on this idea. Think of your audience as a five-year-old child. 

To communicate with them effectively, write the way you would talk to a five-year-old. It won’t offend them or insult their intelligence. Instead, it will allow them to process your message easily.

Obviously, when explaining advanced topics, you will need to use bigger words and advanced concepts. For this reason, you should know what topics and concepts your audience is familiar with, and discuss such topics. 

When you write, think to yourself, “How can I help the user understand this better?” 

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Image Credit: SlidePlayer

The brief list above suggests simple ways to help any user understand your content. People want to understand. They want to know what you’re trying to say. The clearer you are, the easier it is for them.

3) Define unfamiliar words.

One simple technique to make your writing clear is to explain your terms.

At the beginning of this article, I defined clarity. If I had just assumed you knew the definition, the article could have been confusing. Instead, I explained it.

If you’re going to write an article that focuses on a particular subject or concept, then be sure to explain that subject or concept. That way, readers know exactly what you’re talking about.

4) Create a sentence outline.

What is a sentence outline? 

A sentence outline is an outline of your article using complete sentences. When your outline consists of phrases or single words, it’s not clear or helpful.

Writing full sentences forces you to think through what you’re saying. Plus, full sentences help the user understand what each point is about.

5) Write one-sentence paragraphs.

One thing that I’ve tried in my writing, especially on my own blog, is creating one-sentence paragraphs. 

Here is an example from my article on webinars. 

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Why do I do this?

Because it makes content scannable.

Most users don’t read every word. Instead, they skip entire words, sentences, and even sections. 

Single-sentence paragraphs cause the eye to

stop …

read …

and understand.

It’s a simple technique, and it increases clarity.

6) Make your sentences short.

Short sentences are easier to understand. If you try to pack a lot of words into a sentence, you lose clarity.

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Image Credit: Charlie Hutton

What kinds of words tend to creep into sentences?

  • Adverbs: actually, currently, really, literally
  • Adjectives: very, real, simple
  • Other filler words: perhaps, pretty, now, that, in order, just, maybe 

 

These words just clutter your writing. The result? Your content loses meaning and clarity.

7) Don’t use long words.

Long words impact clarity. 

Why would you use words like these?

To impress people? To flaunt your knowledge? To most ordinary people, these words mean nothing.

Drop big words from your writing, and your clarity skyrockets.

8) Leverage writing tools.

Over the years I’ve come across a couple tools that make it easier for me to write clearly: Hemingway Editor and Grammarly. 

The Hemingway App is designed to make your writing clear. 

Here are the benefits:

  • The Hemingway Editor cuts the dead weight from your writing by highlighting wordy sentences in yellow and more egregious ones in red.
  • Hemingway helps you write with power and clarity by highlighting adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words.

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The desktop version costs $9.99.

Grammarly is an advanced proofreading software. When I started using it, I found plenty of places where I was using fluffy filler words.

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Grammarly has both a free version and a paid version with advanced features. 

For even more resources, check out this comprehensive list of tools for improving your writing skills.

9) Be consistent.

It’s good to be predictable. In fact, that’s why people come back to your site —  they know what to expect and how your content will speak to them. 

Consider McDonald’s as an example of consistency. Every time you go into McDonald’s, you know how the store will look, the menu options, how to order, and how the food will taste. People go back to McDonald’s because it’s predictable.

Your website’s content is the same way. People want the same experience every time, so focus on delivering a steady and consistent style.

Mastering Clarity

Clarity is a lost art in today’s content-saturated world. If you can write more clearly than most people, then your writing will stand out.

Clear writing is powerful and compelling. It turns heads, changes minds, and encourages action. Although, keep in mind that clarity takes practice. If you don’t get it the first, second, or even tenth time, don’t worry. You will get it. 

What techniques do you use to write with clarity? Share them in the comments section below.

free guide to writing well  

Nov

23

2015

12 Tips for Writing With Unforgettable Personality

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The best writers aren’t necessarily the smartest, the smoothest, or those with the biggest vocabulary. The best writers are those that possess an unforgettable personality.

A writing personality is just as real, unique, and nuanced as your personality in everyday life — expect you only release it when you create content. And if you can create content that brims with personality, I guarantee that people will love reading it. They’ll come back to it again and again. They will share it.

Your personality becomes your authentic signature, a trademark that appeals to your target audience. Not to mention, it’ll serve as a source of incredible brand power and potential. 

Want to let yourself shine through in your writing? Check out these 12 methods for writing with unforgettable personality.

12 Methods for Writing With Unforgettable Personality

1) Embrace your (writing) personality.

The problem with a writing personality is that most people don’t realize that they should have one. Instead, they try to follow the rules and regulations handed down to them by a well-meaning 10th-grade composition teacher. Or, if they do realize the importance of a writing personality, they try to mimic someone else’s personality.

Neither of these is the right approach. You can’t “follow the rules” and expect to have an unforgettable personality. Nor can you try to force a personality that isn’t yours.

You have to discover and shape your own personality in your writing. It takes time and effort, but it’s possible. Each of these tips will help you do just that.

2) Pick a focus and stick to it.

To have a consistent writing personality, you need to start by having a consistent area of focus. This can be something broad like marketing or more specific like social media. The important thing is that you’re not all over the place. 

After all, one of the basic tenets of content marketing is dominating a niche. This aids your SEO and your entire digital marketing effort.

Food blogger Ree Drummond is a great example of a writer who has a clear topic. She could write about anything and do a darn good job, however, she uses her writing personality to focus on one topic, and one topic only.

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3) Break grammar rules.

Some people are inveterate rule breakers. And that’s okay. While we don’t recommend you throw grammar out the window, breaking a rule every once and a while can serve as a great way to amp up your personality.

What kind of grammar rules should you break? It depends. Here are some common ones:

  • Sentence fragments: “Seriously. I mean, people, really.”
  • Punctuation: “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”
  • Starting sentences with conjunctions: “But I’m okay with that.”
  • Using “like”: “It’s not like you’ve sinned.”
  • Using a preposition at the end of a sentence: “You’ve got to get your traffic up!”

Again, be careful with rule-breaking. If you’re frivolous with your grammar, people may start to suspect your intelligence rather than respect your personality.

I like what T. S. Eliot, an iconoclastic poet, wrote about rules:

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Credit: AZ Quotes

4) Get to know your audience better.

The principal group of people who should shape your personality is your audience.

Why? Because they are the ones consuming, accessing, and subscribing to it. Make sure that your personality does not cross their boundaries of proprietary, offend their sensibilities, or rub them the wrong way.

Comedian Milton Berle used to tell five one liners at the beginning of each routine. Based on the laughter from each one, he would know how to shape the rest of his routine.

His overall personality was, of course, funny guy. But he tailored his funnies to the particular audience.

You can do the same thing with your writing. You don’t need to reshape your entire personality, but you should adapt it to your specific audience. And the better you get to know your audience through social media, blog comments, in-person interactions, and research, the better you’ll be able to tailor your personality to them.

5) Highlight a personality trait that you have in real life.

Your writing personality isn’t exactly the same as your real life personality. Writing and in-person interactions are intrinsically different. However, there is usually some overlap.

If you’re known as a smart and serious individual in person, then your writing can convey that. If people know you as “the funny guy,” then let your humor shine through in your writing.

It’s your personality. Own it.

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal creates hilarious content and comics.

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Credit: The Oatmeal

People expect Matthew to be a funny guy. And he is.

The lesson? If you find a way to infuse your writing with your real life personality, go for it. After all, people like reading content that feels like it has actually been written by a human.

6) Talk about yourself.

To truly own your personality, you have to talk about yourself. Many successful bloggers and writers aren’t afraid of using “I,” “me,” and “my.” It’s not self-centered. It’s just a natural way of communicating.

Michael Hyatt runs a successful blog that reaches tens of thousands of people. His writing is personal, and he refers to himself.

Take this recent post as an example. He refers to himself seven times in the first few sentences.

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While this is a great way to show off your personality, it’s important that you also remain focused on your readers. And their wants. And their needs. Inserting yourself into your work makes it easier for people to connect with you, but at the end of the day, you’re creating content for them, not you. 

7) Write like you talk.

Writing like you talk is generally a good idea. Obviously, you want to cut out useless filler words. “Um” and “uh” aren’t necessary in writing.

At the same time, your style of speech is a mark of your personality. If you’re sarcastic, gentle, incisive, crude, bombastic, or use outrageous expressions, shake a little bit of this into your writing.

8) Stay organized.

Don’t allow your personality, whatever it is, to throw off your organization.

Good writing is inherently organized. If you have a disorganized and scatterbrained personality in real life, don’t try to import this into your writing. People don’t like to read scattered and disorganized content. Create an outline and stick to it.

Tim Ferriss is an example of someone who writes brilliant content. Often, his articles are far-ranging, discussing things like chickpeas and angel investing (like this one).

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However, Ferriss maintains a well-ordered structure in each article. His personality is evident in the way that he can move from subject to subject while keeping his outline intact.

9) Find a trademark technique.

To create personality, find a trademark technique that you can use every time you produce content. One of my trademarks is asking a question at the end of every article. 

James Clear’s trademark is starting each article with a true story from history.

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Here’s one of Clear’s articles, in which he tells the story of Robert Wadlow:

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Clear’s next article starts with a story, too.

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And so on…

Clear’s readers have come to know and expect this style. It’s his consistent trademark, and an excellent facet of his writing personality.

10) Write in a way that you enjoy.

When you enjoy the way that you write, you know you’re hitting a personality stride.

Blogger Crystal Paine explains in her book, Money Making Mom, that when she wrote about her daily life, challenges, and similar topics, she found fulfillment and joy.

Her readers could tell a difference, too, and they responded with strong affirmation.

While Crystal still posts about daily deals and giveaways, her best posts are the ones that are filled with her personality.

A post about daily stress garnered lots of shares:

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But a post about a daily deal was less impactful:

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11) Be authentic.

If you’re forcing it, people can tell.

A personality can’t be forced, so use your normal personality to infuse your writing.

Ramit Sethi is completely authentic in his writing. His personality is everywhere. You read a single post, and you practically feel like you know him.

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If Ramit wants to swear, he swears. If he wants to be rude, he’s rude. If he wants to tell someone off, he does it.

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This is his personality, and he’s being authentic. While this might not work for every business or industry, inserting a bit of authenticity into your writing can help to make it more relatable. 

12) Commit to your style.

Once you get into the groove of your personality, don’t change it. Your audience expects you to be a certain way, write a certain way, and convey information in a certain way.

Seth Godin is a brilliant writer. Even though a lot of conventional content marketing wisdom says to create long-form, image-heavy content, Godin doesn’t go for it.

Instead, he creates bite-sized articles with no images.

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Is that okay? Yes. Because it’s his style.

(Besides, Seth Godin is basically the king of marketing, so he gets to write some of the rules.)

Finding your style and sticking with it will serve you much better than flitting off to create a new personality, even if it does seem better.

Ready to let your personality shine?

You won’t write like Seth Godin, James Clear, Tim Ferriss, or Crystal Paine. That’s okay.

You are you, and your writing needs to have your fingerprints, timbre, voice, and personality all over it. Unleashing that personality in your writing starts with knowing it, owning it, and not being afraid to let it loose.

What’s your writing personality? How does this impact your writing?

free internet writing style guide

Nov

2

2015

How to Make Your B2B Content More Lovable: 9 Tips to Try

One of my life missions has been to rescue B2B blogs from their backwater boring status and bring them to the forefront of awesomeness.

Thankfully, I’m seeing the trend grow.

More B2B blogs are nailing it and putting forth the level and quality of content that B2B readers truly crave … but there is still progress to be made.

I’ve assembled this list of tips that can help you bring your B2B content up to the next level.

9 Tips for Creating Content that B2B Readers Love

1) Use jargon appropriately.

Whenever you spend a lot of time in a particular niche, the jargon rubs off on you. If you’re in the military, you’re going to talk about BFO, CFB, BOHICA, BZ, EOD, JO, FTN, and everyone will know what you’re talking about. (I’m honestly not sure. I just pulled those off military.com.)

If you’re into SEO, you expect to be able to use that acronym — SEO — and everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Every industry has its jargon.

Image Credit

While overuse will muddy up your content, using jargon strategically can make people feel included, welcomed, respected, and appreciated for their knowledge.

The first few paragraphs of this Moz article are all that you need to alert you to the fact that this is an insider’s piece. You can expect some jargon, and that’s okay.

Keep in mind that jargon can be seen as pretentious, so make sure you’re using the right jargon, in the right way, for the right reason, and with the right readers.

2) Go deep.

B2B readers are proud of their knowledge, and rightly so. They have invested their lives, their education, their careers, and their time into acquiring professional skills.

They love it when people speak to them on their level — a deep level.

That’s why the B2B content that you produce should go deep. Take this expert excerpt from the Toptal blog:  

The final step is to iterate N elements once again replacing the element by its code for each element: element[i] = code[i]. The complexity is O(N). The complexity of FastSMQT is O(N) + O(2^L) + O(L*(2^L)) + O(N) = O(2*N) + O((L + 1)*(2^L)) = O(N + L*(2^L)) .

It’s gibberish to the average Joe, but it’s pure read-worthy gold to the software engineer.

Bear in mind, you can’t get content this deep from most “freelance writers” you find on Craigslist. Sourcing B2B writers is one of the first and greatest challenges to generating great B2B content.

3) Predict the future.

B2B blogs will thrive when they are dealing with present hot topics and future predictions. Predictive blogs tend to generate viral sharing and excited feedback.

Who wouldn’t want to know the future of their industry or the precursive power of daily trends?

A well-researched, thorough, and to-the-point prophetic piece is the kind of content that will give you a strong ROI. The blog, Acxiom, has an example of this kind of post:

This kind of content is especially popular around the New Year, when B2B readers are particularly interested in finding out what’s next.

4) Get to the bottom line.

Nearly every B2B reader shares an interest in the bottom line: revenue. When you can boil down the trade to this fundamental bedrock, then you’ve landed on a popular topic.

It is possible to chase everything back to this one point. Whether it’s an abstruse coding trick, a marketing move, or some other niche technique, everything somehow goes back to the bottom line.

This blog is a great example of getting down to brass tacks. (Or are those thumbtacks?)

The Proppelr blog uses revenue-driven content to advance the following article. And the title tells all: 

B2B content can and should deal with a wide range of topics. Be sure to trace these topics back to a core concern: revenue.

5) Be an expert.

There’s an alarming trend in B2B content marketing. It’s becoming challenging to find experts in niche fields, especially experts who have the time and ability to create long-form content for content marketing purposes.

According to a report from CMI, more B2B marketers say they are challenged with finding trained content marketing professionals this year (32%) than last year (10%).

It makes sense. If you have an expert, you’re probably using that expert to do great things, not just to write about them.

Toptal has managed to overcome this challenge. Their business model involves attracting and recruiting the finest engineers in the industry. Their marketing strategy includes getting these gurus to create content:

Even if you don’t know what optimized successive mean quantization transform is, you at least know that this B2B blog is getting an expert to wax eloquent on the subject.

6) Create case studies.

Case studies are a linchpin of great content.

Case studies aren’t just advertisements. They are revelations of data, information, technique processes, tutorials, and a bunch of goodness rolled up into a single piece of content.

Most marketers use case studies for their glaringly obvious benefit — showcasing the skills and expertise of the business.

Yet case studies have a broader effect. In addition to acquiring clients, case studies bring value to the industry as a whole. Industry members and participants can learn how things are done, the techniques used, and the processes followed to achieve a certain goal.

Think With Google is a collection of case studies, each showcasing what a good case study looks like:

Beginning with the title, the case study promises to tell a story and bring value. The bulleted section of the case study makes for easy, digestible reading:

Even failure makes for a great case study, as per the following one on JeffBullas.com:

Case studies have immense value, and every B2B content marketing effort should contain them.

7) Be ruthlessly tactical.

The content has to make a difference.

The best B2B blogs will always be those that answer the toughest questions, solve the thorniest problems, and show the clearest solutions.

This article from Cardinal Path exemplifies the tactical approach

The writer explains exactly why he has written the whitepaper:  

“‘But which one is best?’ — We get that a lot too….Our newest whitepaper, A Marketer’s Guide to Finding the Right Analytics Solution, provides an overview of the major analytics platforms and offer insights into ways you can optimize your solution.”

There’s no need to keep your readers in the dark. A good B2B article should do the following:

  • Address a problem. This should be a commonly-identified issue in your field. It’s something that your audience deals with.
  • Sketch the problem for the reader. They’ve got to be able to relate to it — to say, “Yeah, I have that problem!”
  • Solve the problem. This is the meat of the article.

Such articles will be tactical to the bone. They explain clearly how to do, what to do, what it looks like — with data to back it all up. The more specific, detailed, and actionable you can be, the better.

8) Bring forth the juicy data.

Ah, data, how we love you.

When a B2B blog publishes a solid mass of data, the data aficionados, bloggers, ponderers, thinkers, movers, and shakers pounce on it.

The Content Marketing Institute is a purveyor of data. Their research-backed approach gives to their B2B audience exactly what they crave — lots and lots of data.

The more statistics, pie charts, line graphs, and bar graphs you can pack into your article, the better.

9) Just say it, prove it, and be done.

Some writers obsess over style.

How does it sound? Is my tone correct? What’s the best word in this particular sentence? How should I wrap up this paragraph? Should I use a question here, or is a declarative sentence better?

I’m all about stylistic finesse. You don’t want your blog post to fall flat with a can-hardly-read-it style. On the other hand, you don’t want to obsess over it. Great B2B content simply says what it needs to say, proves it, and that’s it.

If you have a flair for style, so be it. But don’t make stylistic perfection your goal.

I’d argue that Invision has one of the leading design B2B blogs in the industry. Their content is typically packed with data and actionable information, but they don’t pursue a sizzling style.

An article that contains the words iterative, prototyping, methodology, articulate, and hypothesis in the first couple of lines?

It’s not exactly a man-bites-dog style.

Let me make the point clear with an example. ViralNova is B2C:

You don’t need this kind of content. You don’t need the “OMG!” approach or the cliff-hanging style for a B2B blog. Your goal isn’t to be Hemingway, let alone ViralNova. Your goal is to be as clear as possible.

Conclusion

This article has focused on articles as the primary portal of B2B content. The reason for this focus is because of the lack of quality I’ve noticed in many B2B blogs.

Keep in mind that B2B content can take myriad forms. For example, advanced and powerful webinars are an explosive source of producing high-value content with the extra advantage of generating direct leads.

Whatever the style, medium, approach, or goal, keep these tips in mind.

What trends, tips, or tactics do you have for creating killer B2B content? Let us know in the comments section below.

content marketing examples in boring industries

Oct

13

2015

Submitting a Guest Post? Here Are 12 Things You Should Know About Editors

After having published quite a few guest blog posts, I’ve figured out a thing or two about editors.

While there are certain elements they love to see in a submission, there are also a number of factors that will land you a spot on their list of people they’d rather not work with. Knowing the difference between the two will make it easier for you to earn a spot on their blog. 

So if you want to experience the power of guest blogging, here’s what you need to know abotu working with editors. 

12 Things Guest Bloggers Should Know About Editors

1) They’re in a hurry.

Most people are in a rush, but it seems like editors are especially so. This isn’t to say that they do sloppy work. After all, an editor’s job demands that they be meticulous and detailed. 

In spite of their hawk-eye attention for the tiniest things, they sure can plow through things. They know when brevity is necessary, and they use it.

2) They want to trust you.

Most editors want to get into a trusting relationship with you. Why? Because reliable writers are hard to come by. It’s pretty easy to find someone who writes good copy. But to find someone who writes good copy and can produce on a consistent basis is very difficult.

If you’ve gotten an editor’s attention with a well-written piece of content, then you can be fairly certain that the editor wants to trust you to produce more.

3) They know their audience really well.

If there’s one thing that editors know really well, it’s their audience. A good editor can tell at glance if an article will be helpful for the site’s readers or a dud.

If you’re invited to produce more articles for a site, ask the editors if they have any advice about the kinds of content that their audience wants. Chances are, they’ll be happy to give you some insight and recommendations.

4) They don’t mind rejecting articles.

If your article gets rejected, don’t be offended. It’s all in a day’s work for an editor. Editors of prestigious websites may receive dozens of submissions a day. They simply can’t publish all of them.

Good editors must decide quickly whether they’re going to accept or reject an article. Often times, by necessity, they have to reject most new submissions.

5) They can spot weak articles in a flash.

I don’t have any official numbers, but I’d bet that an editor can tell if an article will work or not in ten seconds or less. Here’s what they might consider:

  • A great article starts with a killer headline. If the headline is no good, then the article is gone.
  • After the headline, the editor will read the lead sentence or paragraph. If the article doesn’t grab one’s attention from the very start, it’s a no-go.
  • Finally, the editor might skim the outline. Many times, a shaky outline means a weak article, and the article is a goner.


If you have a strong title, cogent opening sentence, and solid outline, then your article merits the editor’s attention.

6) They might check your article for plagiarism.

How can an editor tell if your article is copied or an original work? They can run it through a plagiarism checker such as Copyscape.

A Copyscape analysis determines if your content has been published elsewhere on the web.
If you are stealing content, you will get nailed.

7) They aren’t afraid to ask for massive revisions.

Editors have a tough job. They have to please their audience, serve their writers, and adhere to a set of editorial guidelines.

If your article doesn’t 1) meet the audience’s need, or 2) match the editorial standards, then the editor may ask you to revise it. Hopefully, these will just be quick and easy revisions. Sometimes, however, the revisions are extensive, involving removing or adding huge sections of your article.

8) They will ask you for more if your content is good enough.

If you deliver up a great article, then editors will ask you for more. Remember, they’re constantly looking for good, reliable writers.

Editors are tired of having to chase down good writers, respond to inane inquiries, and field poorly-written articles. They want to get the best of the best producing content on their site. A good first article will get you noticed and producing in no time. 

9) They have to respond to a lot of people.

Be patient.

It may take time to get a response from an editor. They get a lot of emails, and may not be able to respond to you right away.

10) They might ignore you.

Don’t take it personally. With the massive amount of content that editors are receiving, they simply can’t respond to everyone’s inquiries or submissions.

The editor isn’t ignoring you, as much as she is managing workflow strategically. The job of an editor involves selectively responding to the emails and submissions that will be best for the site.

If you don’t hear back from an editor in a week or two, it’s okay to be persistent. Just recognize that they’ve got a tough job that makes it difficult for them to email you back.

11) They’re going to hunt down and root out link building.

If you think that guest posting is a quick way to build links, think again. Editors don’t play that game.

Thousands of would-be guest bloggers have been blacklisted from writing for certain websites. Why? Because they tried to make a buck selling links or gaming the system for some easy backlinks to their website.

Editors are trained to sniff it down and cut it out. After all, their jobs are on the line. Besides, they are trying to protect the legitimacy of their brand.

12) They don’t want to proofread your articles. 

Some bigger websites have full-time proofreaders. Their job is to hunt down typos and fix them.
Other websites just have an editor. This person is typically responsible for getting the best content published at the right time, coordinating teams of writers, and ensuring that it all gets pulled off without a hitch. (Typically, such an editor will have the title “managing editor.”)

Because this is true, they want to see grammatically impeccable and stylistically flawless articles. Don’t send your articles in, expecting them to be copyedited and proofread. Sure, editors have the know-how to correct your silly spelling mistakes, but that’s your job … not theirs. 

That said, go the extra mile and proofread your own work before you submit it to a publication. The editors will respect you for it. 

Conclusion

The best way to work with someone is to understand where they’re coming from. It’s helpful for you to try to see their challenges and understand their role.

Editors are a critical part of the web publishing process. The best way to become a guest blogger is to create great content and become a helpful partner to the editors you work with.

Are you an editor? What’s your perspective on guest blogging and working with contributors?

free guide: how to be a better copywriter

Oct

6

2015

How to Write High-Level Blog Posts That Don’t Overwhelm Your Readers

Many bloggers face a common problem: How do you make an article really informative, but at the same time really easy to read?

In my areas of expertise — marketing, entrepreneurship, SaaS — the topics can get really complicated. If I’m not careful, my articles can be complex, jargony, and really boring. So how do I avoid this?

Here are some of the techniques I use to make ultra-readable articles that are still intelligent and engaging. 

5 Tips for Writing High-Level Blog Posts That Aren’t Overwhelming 

1) Write short sentences.

Every article is made up of paragraphs, which are made out of sentences. Every sentence forms a complete thought. The shorter and simpler this thought, the easier it is to read. Makes sense, right?

You can write on any topic, no matter how technical, and still sound highly intelligent and readable. The key? Sentence length. Here’s some food for thought:

  • The average sentence length in peer-reviewed journals is 60 words.
  • The average sentence length in the Harry Potter series is 12 words.

Now let’s look at an example of a sentence from a peer-reviewed journal. It clocks in at 39 words:

It classically presents with a preceding history of blunt or penetrating ocular trauma, or it may be associated with other ocular disorders such as congenital glaucoma and aniridia, or concomitant hereditary systemic diseases such as Marfan syndrome and homocystinuria.”

And here’s an example of a sentence from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Filch was looking triumphant.”

Which one would you rather read? You’re probably not writing the next Harry Potter or producing a peer-reviewed journal article. That said, your writing may fall somewhere between the two.

So how long should your sentences be? 10-20 words. Here’s what the research says:

  • 8 word sentences: 100% comprehension
  • 14 word sentences: 90% comprehension
  • 43 word sentences: 10% comprehension

15-20 words is the average length for most sentences. So how can you write shorter sentences? Here are three tips:

  1. Fewer words. If the sentence doesn’t need a word, drop it.
  2. Fewer expressions. Sentences often get cluttered with wordy expressions. These expressions get in the way. Drop them.
  3. Fewer ideas. Just as important as sentence length is the sentences complexity. Use one sentence for one idea. That’s all.

You can vary your sentence length. But generally speaking, shorter is better.

2) Ask questions, then answer them.

I want people to follow my thoughts in an article. How do I do this? I ask questions, and then I answer them. I did it in the paragraph above. A question followed by an answer.

Every sentence in an article answers some question. In fact, the question that inspired this article was: How can I write smart articles, but keep them easy for people to read?

If you can anticipate your reader’s questions, then you can simply state the question and answer the question. Here are some of the questions I ask in this article:

  • How long should your sentences be?
  • How can you write shorter sentences?
  • How do I do this?

What does a question do? A question forces the reader to think. The reader may not be trying to answer it, but they’re thinking about it. That’s good enough. That means they’re at least following along with my thought. Now, I can answer the question while I have their attention.

3) Summarize research.

One easy way to sound smart and build a stronger argument is to cite research. In this article, I cite a really boring book published by the International Reading Association. I didn’t have to tell you about the authors. I didn’t even mention the name of the book. I just wrote “according to research,” and linked to the article. As a result, here’s what happened:

  • You, the reader, got the knowledge of good research.
  • I, the writer, got the credibility of citing good research.

Citing and summarizing research is an easy and straightforward way to add impact. It’s also a good way to establish credibility. Most importantly, readers get the benefit of reliable information.

4) Use the right word.

Some writers tell you to use the simplest word possible. According to research, using short and common words is the second most effective way of improving readability. For example:

  • Instead of adjust use change.
  • Instead of accommodate use hold.
  • Instead of substantiate use confirm.
  • Instead of subsequently use afterward.
  • Instead of remunerate use pay.
  • Instead of expedite use speed up.
  • Instead of implement use do.
  • Instead of facilitate use help.

Generally, this is good advice. Of course you want to make your article easy to understand, but you also want to be as accurate as possible. Sometimes, you may need to use a bigger word. 

For some technical articles, using long or technical words is okay. How do you know when to pull out a big word and when to use a short one? Here are the ideas that I suggest for selecting the right word.

  • Use words that are easy to understand in the context. Even if a reader can’t tell you the definition of a word, they can use context clues to understand its meaning. Here’s an example: “Make sure that you backup your WordPress files before updating in order to mitigate the risk of a crash.” Mitigate is not a common word, however the sentence provides enough context to give the reader a general idea of its meaning. 
  • Use words that your audience will understand. Take your cues from your audience, as they’re the ones you’re ultimately writing for. For example, the word pasquinade is not common, but a Hellenistic historian would know exactly what I’m talking about. 
  • Use the word that is most precise. Simpler words often have more general meanings. If I need to describe something that is detailed, I may have to use a detailed word.
  • Use the shorter and easier word if you have to choose between two. Finally, if you’re facing a decision between two words, pick the easiest one. You don’t have to use the word salubrious; you can just say healthy.

When it comes to choosing words, use the right word for the situation. Big words might make you sound smart, but they don’t always communicate well.

5) Break some grammar rules.

Did you notice that I broke a few grammar rules in this article?

  • I wrote some incomplete sentences.
  • I started a sentence or two with a conjunction. (For some reason, some people think that’s wrong.)
  • I probably committed some other grammatical violations.

I know about grammar, and I hire a copyeditor and proofreader to check my work. But I also know that effective communication is better than always following rules. If I need to break a rule or two to make my writing clear, I’m going to do it.

This isn’t to say you should riddle your writing with mistakes or overlook the importance of editing, but don’t be afraid to leverage something simple like a slang word that you know your audience can relate to.

Conclusion

Making an article readable is more important than making yourself sound smart. The goal of writing is to communicate an idea to others. If you can’t do that simply and successfully, then you need to try to write simpler.

Your topics may be technical and your subject matter may be esoteric. And that’s okay. As long as you can communicate those ideas to the right people, you’ve succeeded. 

What tips do you follow to make your writing smart and readable? Share them with us in the comments section below. 

free guide to writing well

Oct

2

2015

Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em: 9 Interesting Facts About List Posts

You see them everywhere. You read them daily. You’ve probably written a few yourself. You’ve also probably gotten tired of them.

What are these ubiquitous rulers of the internet content world?

List posts.

List posts or listicles are articles that are organized around a numbered list. Let me give you a few examples.

  • 4 Ways Animation Can Actually Improve User Experience (ConversionXL) 
  • 11 Great Landing Page Examples You’ll Want to Copy (HubSpot)
  • 50 Split Testing Ideas (You Can Run Today!) (me)
  • 5 Things to Take Advantage of When You’re Starting Something New (Copyblogger) 
  • 12 Really Important Reasons You Are Running Late (BuzzFeed)

You get the idea. These bad boys are everywhere. List posts are a fixture of content marketing.

But rather than merely accept them as being, we should understand them. More importantly, we need to know if they’re effective or simply a tacky way to push content online.

So, here’s a list post that will give you everything you need to know about list posts.

1) List posts get results.

Here’s the bottom line. If you want to stop reading this article at this point, fine. You will have gotten the main point.

The fact is, list posts get results. Heck, even Google (basically) says so!

(Screenshot taken on August 25, 2015; not photoshopped.)

What kind of results? True to my promise, I’ll tell you what you need to know in the rest of this article, but for now, let’s do a flyover of these benefits:

  • More clickthroughs
  • More engagement
  • More social sharing
  • More dwell time
  • More organic traffic
  • More conversions
  • More comments
  • Less bounce rate

See what I mean? List posts work. Let’s get to why.

2) List posts provide a specific number, and the brain loves specificity.

The whole organization of the list post is around a number. The list post, as Copyblogger explains it “makes a very specific promise of what’s in store for the reader.”

The brain loves that.

Why? Psychologists surmise that it’s a result of cognitive functional specialization. What’s cognitive functional specialization? It’s the idea that different areas in the brain are specialized for different functions.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

One reinforcing theory is known as modularity, which states the following:

There are functionally specialized regions in the brain that are domain specific for different cognitive processes … One of the fundamental beliefs of domain specificity and the theory of modularity suggests that it is a consequence of natural selection and is a feature of our cognitive architecture. 

Because our brains are organized in function-specific ways, our cognitive and neuropsychological preference for ordered lists is simply one of the results of this organization.

You know how some people just love to make lists for everything? They are responding to the well-ordered intentionality in their brains. Every human has an innate desire for order and organization. Numbered lists speak to that innate desire.

As a result, we click faster, dwell longer, and anticipate being satisfied with what we view.

Jacob Millen, who contributed to CrazyEgg, said it really well. Advising on the power of specificity, he writes this:

Get super specific … Headlines aren’t the place for ambiguity. Get specific. Get REALLY SPECIFIC.

I think you get the point. The best list posters in the world make super specific list posts. I mean, how specific can you get?

3) People prefer numbered list headlines over any other type of headline.

There’s a simple headline formula to making ultra-clickable headlines: Throw a number in there.

Seriously, it’s that easy. Obviously, you want to do a bunch of other smart things with your headline, but numbers are clutch.

Data proves it. A few years ago, Conductor performed a survey of headline preferences, and, no surprise, numbered headlines came out on top — way on top, smashing the next-best contestant with a 71% increase.

4) Women tend to prefer list posts more than men.

The data tells it like it is: People like lists posts. Yet for some reason — I’m not venturing into the why — women prefer list posts more than men.

Here’s the data:

5) People prefer list posts because the list post is clear.

Conductor’s data gets even better.

It’s great if you enjoy list posts, but why are they so appealing? Answer: Because they are insanely clear.

Based on the study, numbered articles are preferred because they are so clear.

There are two popular models of headline creation: The suspenseful curious headlines, and the ones we’re talking about — list posts.

The curiosity kinds are common on sites like ViralNova.

(Oh geez, now I have to watch the video of the magpie on the dog!)

That kind of headline really works to pull people in. People love to satisfy their curiosity. But clarity is even more effective.

6) Longer lists make people feel like they’re getting more.

Numbered lists in general are great, but really long numbered lists are even better.

Why is this the case? Because people have a sense of greater benefit from bigger numbers. What’s going on is known as numerosity — an unconscious cognitive response to seemingly larger numbers.  

The Atlantic describes this preference:

The basic finding in numbers research is called numerosity, and it refers to people’s tendency to infer larger sizes or “more” of something from larger numbers.

Numbered lists into the 100s are hard to write. (They take a long time.) But the benefits are worth it.

7) Odd numbered lists perform better than even numbers.

In a far-ranging and deeply researched article on Medium, Gilad Lotan explains that odd numbered lists are superior to even numbered ones.

Lotan dove into BuzzFeed’s love for lists, crunched the numbers, and came up with an unstoppable truth:  “Using data, we’ve found statistically significant difference between performance of odd vs. even numbers.”

Image Credit: Betaworks

Other research, thankfully not just from BuzzFeed, confirms the same theory. Steve Davis of Baker Marketing explains, “grouping information in parcels of three or five can help people absorb information better.”

Maybe it’s because we have an easier time processing it. Maybe it’s because we’re just odd. Whatever the case, odd numbers perform better.

8) 25 is the best number for your numbered list.

Back to that BuzzFeed study for a second.

Those researchers, that curious lot, figured out that 25 was the best number for a list post.

At this point, we feel confident about the number 25 being the top performer in “best of” lists. While we can’t guarantee a million views each time you include 25 in the title, we can say that it consistently performs better than any other number.

So if you’re wanting me to just give you the best number for a list post, there it is: 25.

9) Numbered lists might make you unhappy.

Behind every silver lining is a dark cloud. Some people aren’t so happy about list posts. In fact, they declare that list posts can make you unhappy.

Why? Because three reasons, according to Right Life Project:  

  1. They feed your craving for instant gratification.
  2. They give you tunnel vision.
  3. They leave you up to your ears in clutter.

Honestly, I’m not sure that these sad facts are unique to list posts. List posts, after all, aren’t in such a powerful position of clutter-creation, tunnel-visioning, and instant gratification over some other article type.

Whether or not you’ve felt sad after reading a list post, I don’t know. But I do know that I wanted to add another number to my own list post, and this seemed like a good point to add.

Besides, now I have an odd number. 😉

Conclusion

The internet is a place for all things listed. Sure, listicles have been a bit overused perhaps. But they still work.

They are a content marketer’s go-to technique, a masterful method for accomplishing anything meaningful, and an effective technique for organizing your thoughts and message.

So, go ahead and give the listicle a try.

Do you like list posts or loathe them? Why?

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Sep

28

2015

16 Call-to-Action Formulas That Make People Want to Click

Good things happen when you create killer calls-to-action. I would even argue that your website can’t be successful unless you produce great calls-to-action.

The ideal CTA, however, isn’t always easy to think of. Sometimes, you need a little nudge in the right direction.

If you’re sick of “click now” CTAs that aren’t working, improve your game with these surefire call-to-action formulas.

1) Try it free for [TIME].

The word “try” is a soft term. It implies little risk. For this reason, it can be extremely effective, especially for downloadable products or apps.

Many SaaS products use this CTA. Here’s an example from Freshbooks:

Microsoft has the same CTA on one of their ads:

2) Get started now.

This phrase is a simple and short CTA. If you have limited space in your CTA button but want something that makes an impact, this is a great choice.

A user can get started on a signup process, a download, or something similar. Be sure to set the context in the remainder of your CTA so a user knows what they’re starting.

Here’s CreditKarma’s CTA as an example:

3) Order your [PRODUCT] today.

The word “today” is similar to the word “now.” Remember, instant gratification is a universal appeal for just about any CTA. If you are promising something today, it’s much more likely to produce action.

4) Learn more.

This classic CTA is short and direct. It appeals to one of the most fundamental of users’ needs: the desire for information.

A “learn more” CTA works best if you have an information product, or a multi-step funnel that informs users before asking for the sale.

5) Sign up for a free [TRIAL, MEMBERSHIP, ETC.].

This isn’t quite as strong as the immediate benefits promised by the other CTAs, but it is a great technique nonetheless.

The power of the CTA is in that single word free.

Here’s Insightly’s use of this method:

6) Start your free trial now.

This variation on the CTA above adds the word now to put sizzle in the action.

It’s a great option for SaaS organizations that provide free trials.

I prefer the “start…now” approach, because it appeals to the desire for instant gratification. Although a concept like “sign up for a free trial” works, it’s not nearly as direct. The phrase “sign up” sounds like there might be a period of delay. 

7) Send me the [PRODUCT/SERVICE] right now.

Notice the word “me.” First-person CTAs use words like “me,” “my,” and “I.” They are powerful, because the user feels a sense of connection to the concept.

This CTA is heavily first-person oriented, and comes with a dose of the instant. “Right now” reinforces this concept.

8) Get [BENEFIT of SERVICE] today only.

This CTA is really strong because of the “today only” phrase. When you use that phrase, it causes the user to feel that the product might be scarce.

Don’t gloss over the benefit of service. When you explain the direct and positive result that your product can have, people are more likely to respond favorably.

9) Get your free [SOMETHING].

The “free” adjective is on full display in this short-and-sweet CTA. Obviously, you’ll need to offer something free, but it shouldn’t be hard to come up with an ebook, webinar, trial, or some other benefit that encourages users to convert.

HubSpot offers complimentary assessments to marketing professionals. Here’s the CTA:

10) Subscribe now.

It’s common, but still effective.

Some of the best CTAs are just like that — short, sweet, and to the point. You don’t need to say a lot in order to get the user to do a lot.

Ideally, most of your persuasion has happened on in your accompanying copy, rather than in your CTA button. With the stage set, you’re free to set the user loose with a two-word CTA.

11) See how it works.

A discovery-oriented approach can be very effective. The term helps promote curiosity and reduces much of the risk associated with CTAs like “buy” or “subscribe.”

“See how it works” is like taking a car for a test drive. It’s easy, fun, and risk-free.

This CTA works best for SaaS. Check out the example below to see what I mean:

12) Talk to us.

This is slightly more compelling than “contact us.” You can see an example of this on Contently’s homepage:

13) Experience the [BENEFIT OF PRODUCT OR SERVICE]

“Experience” is a sensory word. When you use this term in conjunction with an emotional benefit, then you’ve got a powerful CTA on your hands. This is an example from IMRCorp.com:

Make sure that you provide a highly-desirable the benefit of the product or service. This CTA is only as effective as the benefit that you attach to it.  

14) Get [DISCOUNT] while supplies last!

Increasing urgency is a proven tactic for increasing the likelihood of a user’s action. If you can boost the user’s sense of time or supply — limited, running out, etc. — then you will increase their desire and need to click the CTA.

Print ads use this phrase in mailers and newspapers.

It works equally well as a standalone CTA button.

15) Get [PRODUCT OR SERVICE] today, and get [ADDED BENEFIT OR FREE PRODUCT].

Throw in a free something, and your conversion rates are sure to rise. Adding an additional benefit on top of the CTA allows you to increase the motivation.

16) Only [NUMBER OF AVAILABLE PRODUCTS OR SPOTS] available. Lock in your order now!

Limiting anything is the best way to increase its potential power.

I place limits on my webinars in order to maximize the value and impact that it makes.

There’s a psychological impact to this technique. When you limit availability you raise the perceived value of the product or service.

Conclusion

There are endless options for creating an ultra-compelling CTA. How do you pick the right one?

The solution to finding the perfect CTA is not to randomly try everything on this list. The solution is to sequentially test the CTAs that are most likely to produce an impact on your conversions.

CTAs are the powerhouse of your website’s conversions. Weak, ineffective, and cliché CTAs will give you low conversion rates. Pick one or two from this list, test them out, and watch your conversions rise.

calls to action write design

Sep

24

2015

Your Blog Posts Are Boring: 9 Tips for Making Your Writing More Interesting

If you’re a boring writer, you’ve got a tough road ahead. I hate to break it to you, but in today’s content-saturated world, people don’t have time to spend on content they don’t enjoy reading.

Thankfully, there are some powerful antidotes to boring content. In this article, I’m dishing up some of my favorite.

After you read this article, go write one of your own. If you follow these tips, you’re article will be at least 817% more interesting.

That percentage was totally made up. But still, this stuff works.

1) Tell a story.

I have science on my side for this one.

Stories produce instant brain activation. When the brain hears a story, it engages in neural coupling, a phenomenon that makes the brain actually experience the ideas being set forth in the story. Even the motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for voluntary muscular motion, is activated by a story.

The brain also releases dopamine, the “happy chemical,” at emotional high points in the story.

Clearly, telling a story is a great way to be more interesting. Short, simple stories can be included in any article to up the interest factor.

2) Write in the first person.

Writing is the first person is natural. It’s the way that you talk.

If you and I were going to go to lunch, I would say something like, “I know of a really good sushi place about five minutes away. I’ve eaten there a couple times, and they have great service. Want to go with me?”

I used the first-person voice — the words I, I’ve, and me. It would sound really weird if I said to you, “Neil is aware of a good sushi place. He has eaten there a couple times with optimal results. He is inviting you to go with him.”

Don’t be afraid of writing in the first person. The third person voice, in which you refer to “the author” or avoid all references to the self, is dry and awkward.

3) Foreshadow.

Good writers use a literary device known as “foreshadowing” to hint at what’s coming ahead in a story. They’re not giving away the plot. Instead, they’re setting the reader up for what’s going to come.

Foreshadowing helps increase the excitement and anticipation in a story. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf foreshadows Gollum’s role in the narrative when he says, “My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.”

Readers will notice Gandalf’s prediction and think, “What’s going to happen? Will Gollum do good or will he do ill?” And so they keep turning the pages.

I often foreshadow in my articles by previewing what I want to communicate and the outcome of the article. I foreshadowed the content to this article when I wrote “There are some powerful antidotes to boring content. In this article, I’m dishing up some of my favorite.”

I even promised a benefit for good measure:  “After you read this article, go write one of your own. If you follow these tips, you’re article will be at least 817% more interesting.”

Foreshadowing is nothing more complicated than pointing in the direction you’re taking your article. It helps to prevent boredom by promising the direction of the article.

4) Transition.

A transition is a signal that you’re about to switch directions.

Sometimes, writers abruptly veer from one topic straight to another. The reader, unprepared for the transition, mentally falls off.

Transitions keep this from happening.

The easiest way to create a transition is through visual cues — big headlines, numbered lists, that sort of thing. My best transitions are created through header tags. However, you should also create some transitions in the copy itself, especially if you’re gearing up to make a new point.

It can be as simple as something like this:

We’ve dealt with the importance of transitions. Now, let me show you how clarity can also make you interesting.”

Some publications don’t use headings. Writers for The Atlantic, for example, must use transitions in order to maintain the flow of their articles.

The image below shows a transition paragraph in an article.

Transitions are simple, easy, and a quick way to keep your readers interested and engaged throughout the course of the article.

6) Be really, really clear.

If I had to distill this entire article to one powerful point it would be this: Be clear.

Many times, when writers try to “be more interesting,” they consider techniques like active verbs or sparkling vocabulary. I have nothing against active verbs or cool words, but that’s not the main way to become more interesting.

You become interesting by being clear. Clarity is saying what you need to say — nothing less, nothing more. It’s about using the right words in the right place. It’s about cutting out stuff that distracts. It’s about being plain, not fancy.

If you can be clear, you will be more interesting. It’s that simple.

7) Don’t be longer than you need to be.

Some people get way too worried about word count.

Word count doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. The only people truly worried about word counts are people who get paid per word and some editors.

You’re probably not going to copy/paste this article in wordcounter.net to find out how many words I wrote. Why would you care?

You care whether or not this article is helpful. If it’s helpful, you’ll spend the seven or eight minutes reading it.

If I needlessly make this article long, you’ll lose patience. I only need to make my point and stop in order to be interesting.

Extra verbiage is boring. If you don’t need to say it, don’t.

8) Don’t be shorter than you should.

Content length is a two-edged sword. No, you shouldn’t be too long. But yes, you need to say enough.

Brevity is a virtue in writing, but you still need some flow in your narrative. If you pare down the article to its bare bones, it becomes an outline, not an article.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that outlines are particularly powerful reading material.

9) Write short sentences.

I try to write short sentences. Why? Because people get lost in long sentences. Try this one:

Knowing that millions of people around the world would be watching in person and on television and expecting great things from him — at least one more gold medal for America, if not another world record — during this, his fourth and surely his last appearance in the World Olympics, and realizing that his legs could no longer carry him down the runway with the same blazing speed and confidence in making a huge, eye-popping leap that they were capable of a few years ago when he set world records in the 100-meter dash and in the 400-meter relay and won a silver medal in the long jump, the renowned sprinter and track-and-field personality Carl Lewis, who had known pressure from fans and media before but never, even as a professional runner, this kind of pressure, made only a few appearances in races during the few months before the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, partly because he was afraid of raising expectations even higher and he did not want to be distracted by interviews and adoring fans who would follow him into stores and restaurants demanding autographs and photo-opportunities, but mostly because he wanted to conserve his energies and concentrate, like a martial arts expert, on the job at hand: winning his favorite competition, the long jump, and bringing home another Gold Medal for the United States, the most fitting conclusion to his brilliant career in track and field.

Did you get that? Sure you did. You probably remember the name of the runner — Carl Lewis. You probably got the idea that he competed in the Olympics.

But what a sentence! After you read it, you find yourself panting with mental exhaustion.

Reading a sentence is like holding your mental breath. You can only last so long before you start to pass out.

Shorter sentences help readers take lots of breaths — and that keeps them interested.

9) Break it up.

Ever heard of the wall of text?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve definitely seen one. Just look at that pull-quote above. Not only is it impossible to read, but it’s also immediately intimidating to look at just because of how many lines it occupies on this page.

Don’t use a wall of text.

You can write the most fascinating content on the planet, but if you don’t break it up into chunks, people will think it’s boring.

Why? Because visual presentation matters. The brain process written information visually and spatially, not just textually.

Font, kerning, line spacing, paragraphs, heading, numbers, bullets — all of these are part of being interesting. They help a user to absorb the information and stay connected.

Conclusion

Great writing isn’t as much about your sizzling hot style as it is about simple technique and a natural approach.

When you go to write your next article, just be natural. You’re not writing for your English teacher. You’re writing for me, for your user, for normal people who just want to read simple stuff.

Don’t try to impress us. Just try to get your message across clearly.

What do you do to create interesting blog articles?

free guide to writing well

Sep

23

2015

The Psychology of Checking Your Email

If you’re normal, you checked your email within the past 60 minutes. If you’re even more normal, you don’t even “check your email.” Instead, it’s always there — pinging, dinging, distracting your mind, chewing up your workday, and making you stressed out and unproductive.

Email is a monster. Each of us has our ways of whimpering and giving in to the monster, or rising to slay it with technological indignation.

But whatever the case, email is what it is. And it’s here to stay.

And as a marketer, you need to understand how the email obsession works so you can design more effective email campaigns. If we understand the psychology of checking email, we can create emails our recipients actually want to open and interact with. Here are a few core principles that you should know.

Checking email is addictive.

Many people suffer from email addiction.

Email addiction happens due to something called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is part of the normal way our mind learns things. In the case of email, our mind learns that if we do something (open our email tab, for example) then we get something else (new mail, and the excitement that brings).

Here’s how it works.

Operant conditioning, according to B. F. Skinner, applies to “active behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences” The action — checking email — is reinforced by the consequence — we get email.

Lesson: Even though people may hate email, we love the pleasurable feeling of getting email. Don’t shrink back from sending marketing emails — just make sure you’re sending the right email content to the right people so you’re associating your emails with a good feeling.

Checking email is a huge distraction.

In one experiment, researchers found that technology workers became distracted after only 11 minutes of work. It took them 25 minutes to return to their task.

Email is the primary cause of workplace distraction. Even though we feel like we’re working — email is work, right? — it keeps us from getting more important work done.

Lesson: Distract customers in the right way. If you can use your email message to assure them that it won’t take much of their time, make them more productive, etc., then you are doing exactly what their minds are primed to desire.

Checking email is a form of procrastination.

Procrastination is a close cousin of distraction. Procrastination has the same negative consequence of distraction — not doing what we are supposed to be doing.

We prefer email as a method of procrastination, because we tend to feel better about ourselves than if we were just watching cat videos on YouTube.

Besides, we think that checking our email will “only take a minute.” Usually, the “minute” turns into much longer …

Lesson: Make your emails short, so people can at least feel like they are getting through it quickly. Instead of creating a long email, create a chain of links or steps. Each sequence in the step gives the user a sense of progress and accomplishment.

People check their email more often than they think they do.  

One email study asked users how often they thought they checked their email. The participants said that they checked their email every hour.

Actually, they were checking their email every five minutes (source, source). The irresistible urge of email keeps us checking even when we don’t realize it.

Lesson: Although there is a science to the best time to send emails, don’t stress about it. Most users are checking their email all the time, and they’ll see your email, regardless of when you send it.

Email wastes our time.

This point is obvious. Checking email is a massive waste of time. Various studies have discovered that we spend a quarter of our workday on email.

Even though it’s a waste of time, email is necessary for today’s knowledge worker. We can’t simply ignore our email or leave it alone. We have to return to it, deal with it, and do business on it.

Lesson: Respect the fact that people spend a lot of time on email. They want to get through their email quickly. If you want them to act on your email, then your email must communicate the big idea in the most direct way. Clear subject lines, big headlines, and a brief message are the ingredients for a successful email.

Checking email usually makes us feel let down.  

Nancy Colier wrote this in Psychology Today:

It seems that the urge to check it is disproportionally [sic] high and out of sync with reality and well-being.”

She makes an insightful point. We check our email so habitually and eagerly, but it doesn’t make us any happier.

In fact, it makes us feel let down. Colier calls it the “lottery brain,” a mental phenomenon that makes us do stupid things. Scientific American labels the lottery brain “dangerous,” and calls it “irrational.”

Lesson: Since people often feel sad after checking their email, try to provide an antidote in your marketing emails. If you can improve an individual’s sense of wellbeing, you have a much higher chance of standing out in their crowded inbox.

Checking email stresses us out.

Checking email often doesn’t seem like a stressor. We tend to think that not checking our email would be more stressful.

As it turns out, however, checking your email often could be a cause of stress and unhappiness.

One study group was told to check their email three times a day. The other group was told to keep their email open and to check it frequently.

The outcome of the study was predictable. After testing, researchers compiled the data and determined that “limiting the number of times people checked their email per day lessened tension during a particularly important activity and lowered overall day-to-day stress.”

Simple way to get rid of stress? Stop checking your email so often.

Lesson: Since email causes stress, give your customers a way to escape stress in your email. Selecting the right colors, subject line, tone, and content can subtly reduce stress as they view and interact with the email. 

Conclusion

Overall, the psychology of checking email can be summed up in three statements:

  • It’s an addicting habit.
  • It’s time-consuming.
  • It’s stressful.

To create a successful email marketing approach, you should understand and adapt to these typical responses.

Your email recipients are subconsciously seeking to be distracted. They will choose to be distracted by whatever best promises relief from stress. Eliminating stress, whether through a product or a message, is a helpful way to appeal to customers and to gain their respect and attention.

If you made it to the end of your article without checking your email once, congratulations. And if you learned a thing or two about the psychology of email, then consider yourself ready to go and make your marketing better.

What psychological insights have improved your email marketing?

free guide to creating email newsletters

Jul

30

2015

How to Write an Author Bio That Doesn’t Suck

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If guest posting is part of your content distribution and promotion strategy, you’ve probably experienced this frustration.

Here’s what happens: You write a great article for a guest publication, and at the end, you’re compensated with a tiny, little paragraph about you. 

Unless you wrote the article for purely altruistic reasons, this paragraph, although little, is actually very important. Not only does it connect your name with the article, but it also provides space for links back to your website or social profiles. (Who wouldn’t want that little bit of glory?)

But what are you really supposed to write in that little paragraph? Wow do you make your author bio compelling, powerful, and effective without a whole lot of space?

Read on. You’re about to find out.

11 Tips for Writing an Author Bio That Doesn’t Suck

1) Write in the third person.

Different publications will have different standards, but the general practice is to write your bio in the third person.

Readers will know that you’re writing in the third person … and that’s okay. You can just come out and say it, like Mark John did:

If you find that you start overusing “he” or “she,” try supplementing it with your name to improve the flow.

(Note: Some publications, like Forbes, require that your bio be in the first person.)

2) Remember that it’s not really about you. 

Even though this paragraph is allegedly “about you,” it’s actually not about you at all. It’s about your reader. Sure, you’re the object, but your reader is the subject.

Here’s how Matt Southern created a bio that focuses on him, while also focusing on the reader: 

By explaining that he is in a position to help businesses, his bio serves as a nod to his readership.

Readers are the ones care about it, and act on it. Write for them.

3) Establish credibility.

Why are you qualified to write on this subject? Why should readers believe you?

Your bio should establish credibility. If you write, for example, on conversion optimization, you need to explain that you have some experience with conversion optimization. 

If you have academic degrees, list them, but only if it matters. Typically a bachelor’s degree is not considered outstanding enough to warrant a mention in your bio.

Forbes contributor Ian Morris wrote an this article on Windows 10:

Why is he qualified to write on this subject? Because, as his bio explains, he “covers mobile, internet services and the good and bad of tech.”

4) Explain what you do.

In social situations, people are interested in knowing “what you do.”

Aware that this is a popular question to ask when you’re getting to know someone, think of your bio as an opportunity to answer it. After all, it’s a meaningful fact, and it deserves a line.

Patrick’s bio covers this in the opening sentence:

And Kiel does the same thing in his Harvard Business Review bio:

5) Be personal … if it’s appropriate.

“Cat lover.”

“Coffee addict.”

“Avid outdoorsman.”

You’ll often read bios with little personal tidbits thrown in. But is this okay? Is it smart?

A better question: Is it appropriate?

Not every publication is going to need information about your feline affection or love for craft beer. With that said, tailor your tidbits to the audience and be sure to keep them at a minimum. Readers are only marginally interested in your personal life — this is not the place to divulge everything.

Kevan Lee of Buffer uses his bio to share his hobby: watching football. By placing this bit in the middle of his bio, he’s able to show personality while front loading his credibility and closing with a CTA:

And if it’s not the time or place for personality, don’t hesitate to keep things strictly professional, like Greg Finn: 

6) Focus on value.

It’s tempting to turn your bio into a trophy case — you’ve won awards, started a billion companies, been published in every awesome journal, etc. 

But who cares?

Readers want to know what’s in it for them. They may be impressed by your epic status, but they don’t really care unless it somehow connects with them. That’s where the idea of value comes in.

You want to write a bio that communicates what you can do for them. Peep Laja of ConversionXL does this really well:

Notice that final line: “Peep can help your company grow via his conversion optimization agency.”

That’s the kind of value that will connect you with readers in meaningful ways.

7) Don’t be afraid to brag.

If done right, bragging can be appropriate. (I will say, it’s much easier to brag if you’re doing it in the third person.)

So don’t be afraid to toss out a few awards that you’re proud of. Just make sure that they’re relevant to the subject matter and the publication.

Barry Feldman recently wrote an article on Kissmetrics explaining how to get to the top of Google in 10 minutes.

Is this legit? Is Barry even for real?

As it turns out, yes, we can trust Barry’s article, because Barry bragged:

 Sounds trustworthy to me, wouldn’t you agree?

8) Avoid writing something obnoxiously long.

Writing a super long bio makes you seem full of it. If all the other authors on the site have three lines, and you have thirty, this places your sense of self-importance front and center.

Richard Ridley, an award-winning author, recommends that you “keep it brief.” Here’s how he explains it:

Brevity is the soul of wit. Even if you’re William Shakespeare, you don’t want to write an author bio that fills up the entire back cover. In an odd twist of logic, the more accomplished you are as an author, the shorter your author bio can be.”

You have an ego. That’s okay. Just don’t let it show that much. Here’s a great example of a short-and-sweet bio from Orbit Media Studios’ Andy Crestodina:

9) Customize it.

If the publication allows it, customize your bio. A universal bio that you copy/paste everywhere is okay, but you can squeeze a few more ounces of power out of your bio by tailoring it to your specific situation. HubSpot’s own Lindsay Kolowich does a great job customizing her bio:

By fine-tuning it to resonate with the summer season, Lindsay’s bio stands out against the generic messaging we’ve grown used to seeing. 

10) Create an accompanying CTA.

The CTA is an omnipotent force in the marketing world, and it’s no different in your bio paragraph.

After reading your bio, you want your audience to do something. To start, hone in on what action you want them to take. 

The most common techniques are following on Twitter or visiting your blog. And while these options are effective, you want to be sure that your CTA is strategic given the context in which they are presented. 

For example, the author bio of Heather Hummel contains a link to her Amazon page, thus creating a source of possible sales:

Not a bad idea, right?

11) Steer clear of the word “freelance.”

Freelance writers are an exceptional group of people who are skillful, qualified, and expertly positioned to write great content. But with that said, I need to provide a warning …

Being a freelance writer is not the best way to establish credibility. Often times, a “freelance writer” is understood as a generalist — you may be good at writing, but are you good at the subject matter?

If you’re a freelance writer, you can say so in your bio, but take out the “freelance” and put a point on it. Here are some examples:

  • Fred is a conversion optimization writer, specializing in split testing best practices and cognitive biases.
  • Angie, a Portland-based author, helps people unleash their inner interior designer.
  • As a marketing writer, Todd’s favorite place to publish uncensored marketing content is his own blog.

The term “freelance” can sometimes weaken your bio, so avoid using it when possible. 

Ready to Write?

The best way to create a meaningful bio is to write it carefully and intentionally. Think about your readers, establish some credibility, and make it memorable. But go ahead and have some fun — you want to prove that you’re human, too.

At the end of the day, your little bio matters. People care. They’re going to read it. Make it matter.

And please don’t judge me by my bio.

learn more about INBOUND 2015

Jul

16

2015

4 Simple Ways to Choose the Best Blog Topics for Your Audience

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Once upon a time, I had no idea what to write on my blog. Coming up with blog article titles was slow and painful.

That was 10 years ago.

Now, thousands of articles later, coming up with topics is easy. Not only do I publish articles on my two blogs, but I also publish hundreds of guest posts for dozens of publications.

Wondering what happened along the way that made this process so much easier?

I’m going to pull back the curtain on how I’m able to generate so many topics, and explain what it means to choose great article topics. I think you’ll find it helpful.

4 Simple Ways to Choose the Best Blog Topics for Your Audience

1) Know your target audience.

Let me deal with first things first — the “best possible blogging topics” are the best ones for your audience.

Everything comes down to your audience. In fact, there is nothing more important, essential, and critical to blog success than knowing your audience.

The story of my own blog is a testament to this fact. The longer I write my blog, the better I understand my audience. I read and respond to blog comments. I take time to read emails from my readers. I listen to what they have to say.

It’s safe to say that I know my blog readers. And it would be almost impossible for someone else to come in and write an article — even a really, really good article — that connects with my readers in the same way.

The key issue is selecting topics and writing about those topics in a way that my readers know and are familiar with. So, what’s the key to selecting the best possible topics?  

It’s simple, but not easy: Know your target audience.

One of the best ways to get to know your audience is to define that audience. If you’re just starting as a business, you get to decide who it is you want to reach and how to reach them. For established businesses, one of the best ways to know your target audience is simply to talk to them. Whether it’s online surveys or phone conversations, try to get in the mind of your users and figure out what makes them tick.

Once you get in your user’s heads, you can’t help but pick the best blogging topics.

Need help getting to know your audience better? Check out these free templates for creating buyer personas for your business.

2) Make relevance your guiding light.

I’m going to introduce a concept, and then explain how to do it: Relevancy.

Relevancy is nothing new. It’s popular to talk about relevancy and the need for relevancy in content marketing … but hang on a second.

What the heck is relevancy? What does relevancy even mean in the context of blogging and article topics?

Here’s my answer in five (sorta) simple points:

Relevancy is focused on your audience.

Relevancy is a lot more focused than popularity. Instead, relevancy has everything to do with your specific audience. What are they interested in? What problems are they facing? What unique challenges are they trying to overcome? Trying to be relevant without defining your audience is like trying to go surfing without a surfboard and without a beach. (Refer to point one.)

Relevancy is focused on your niche. 

The narrower your niche, the better you’ll be able to define and develop relevancy. For example, if you’re in the hamster pet care niche, then a relevant article will have to do with hamster care, hamster feed, hamster health, etc. You wouldn’t publish an article on Microsoft SQL Servers on your hamster blog.

Relevancy is focused on your objectives.

Relevant topics are focused on your audience and fall within the parameters of your niche. If you want to go a step further, you need to define relevancy in relationship with your objectives. Every blog has an objective — a goal beyond just attracting eyeballs and getting traffic. You’re trying to get something else. What is it? Conversions? Subscriptions? Identify your ultimate objective, then create articles that help to meet that objective. 

Relevancy is focused on the present time.

One feature of relevancy is its timeliness. You’re not going to be relevant if you’re dealing with old news and outdated techniques. Besides, Google prefers content that is fresh. Trending topics (and in the future, possibly current tweets) are favored in Google’s algorithm.

Relevancy is focused on solutions to problems.

Relevant content starts with needs, and develops solutions. When you can successfully solve real issues, then you’re really nailing the relevancy thing. That’s your goal.

Relevancy is important, but we must make sure that we understand relevancy if we are to come up with relevant topics.

3) Find a blog to steal from.

Someone once said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

If you want to pick absolutely stellar topics, then go to the blogs that are already doing it and pilfer them. Lest you think I’m going nefarious, allow me to explain …

I absolutely oppose anything remotely connected with stealing content or intellectual property. What I do suggest, however, is to identify a blog that is doing it right, and follow their example. Here’s the process:

  • Make a list of five blogs that you admire. They can be in your niche or completely outside of it.
  • Write down their article headlines, and repurpose them based on your own niche and audience.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to steal from Lifehacker. Maybe your niche is SEO, not hacking life. What do you do?

Find an article that’s trending.

Lifehacker-article.jpg
Using this trending article as an example, create your own topic that is relevant to your site and your audience. Like this:

  • 5 Best Free Link Building Tools
  • Top 10 List of SEO Tools
  • 7 Killer SEO Tools You Can’t Live Without

You get the idea. Lifehacker gave you an inspiration, and you did the rest.

Why does this work? Often, great topics are built on the things that universally appeal to people. Lifehacker has obviously figured out a formula for blog topics that are appealing. In this case, they are using the techniques of lists and free (or cheap). The article is also solution oriented — which is yet another reason why it’s so appealing.

Create a list of great blogs, and visit them often to steal ideas, techniques, approach, and style. (But just don’t steal actual content or articles. That’s not cool.)

4) Leverage helpful content tools.

BuzzSumo is one of my favorite tools for identifying trending topics. Essentially, it serves as a place where marketers can discover the most popular topics that are relevant to their business. I use it in a couple ways.

First, I use it to find popular articles in my niche. For example, let’s pretend I’m writing an article on content marketing tools. What do I do? I go to Buzzsumo and type in “content marketing tools.”

I see that an article on Inc.com has pulled in more than 8,000 social shares. And even though the article is eight months old, it’s still earning top ratings from its social virality. What does this information tell me? It tells me that the article is great — I’ll probably want to click through to see who wrote it, what he talks about, and the tools he covers in the article.

Inc-Article.jpg

If I’m going to write on the subject of content marketing tools, I should probably reference this article, link to this article, and deal with some of the same tools as this article.

Why? Because this article is relevant. It is relevant socially, which is the highest form of relevance in the content marketing arena.

The second way that I use BuzzSumo is to identify popular articles on a certain website. Earlier in this article, I mentioned that I write guest posts for several publications. I obviously want to produce quality guests posts so that the website can get more traffic and the site owners will recognize my value as a contributor. 

In order to do that, I figure out what’s hot and take my cues from that article. For example, let’s pretend I’m researching topics for HubSpot. I already know HubSpot’s readers, and I understand the niche in which I’m writing. Now, I want to narrow in on what’s going to be the best topic.

BuzzSumo tells me what’s popular on Hubspot. Since my articles normally appear on HubSpot’s marketing blog, that’s what I’m narrowing in on. I simply search “http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing” and this is what I see:

BuzzSumo_Search.png

BuzzSumo_HubSpot_Blog.png

Apparently, Lindsay knows what’s up. She’s written three out of the top four most-shared articles.

If I want to choose the best topics, I’m going to style them after the winners. They are winning for a reason.

Another tool that you can use for selecting great blog topics is Alltop. Alltop aggregates popular articles on specific topics. Instead of going to all the work of finding trending articles yourself, Alltop does it for you. By creating a free account and doing a quick search or two, you can figure out what topics are popular.

Here’s a snapshot of one of my searches. Instantly, I get 30 topic suggestions. The chances are very high that these are popular articles. I can use them as inspiration and motivation for my own topics.

Alltop-Example.jpg
If I don’t come up with some super awesome topics based off of 30 trending articles, then there’s something wrong with me.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re looking for awesome topics, you’ll need to do some digging. It’s not really that hard to mine up great topics — it just takes some time (and practice). 

Back in my early days of blogging, it was really hard to figure out what to write about. Now, I don’t even give it a second thought. I know my audience so well that topics just come at me, and my problem is narrowing down my many topics — not coming up with more topics.

Your experience can be the same. Follow the suggestions in this article, and I’m confident that you’ll be able to nail it.

What are some ways that you come up with great topics? Let us know in the comment section below.

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May

12

2015

8 Copywriting Tips for Improving Conversions

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Every time you create the content for a direct response campaign, a landing page, an advertisement, or a sales email, you want the copy to be powerful enough to convert visitors to sales. You want the words to roll out of your keyboard in an unending symphony of, ultimately, higher sales.

But writing copy for these marketing assets can be hard. You’re providing users with useful information, yes — but that’s not all you’re doing. You want to create content that has a bottom-line impact. Content that sells.

So, what are the writing secrets that really sells people? Here are eight features that will help kick your conversion copywriting efforts into high gear.

1) Be positive in your tone.

Positivity sells. Big time.

According to Psychology Today, “Positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes.”

What does it mean to be positive? It means creating an upbeat, feel-good, it’s-a-great-day attitude in your writing.

Does this sound cheesy? Not if you do it right. Positivity is basically happiness, the emotion that makes us feel good inside. Happiness can have tremendous effects on our motivation and can dramatically influence the decisions we make. 

Harvard researchers have found that positive emotions had higher viral potential. The reason? Happy people are more likely to share their happiness with others. In addition, happy people are more likely to receive and respond to your marketing message.

For our purposes, the question is this: How do you keep a positive tone in your writing? Here are some tips:

  • Positive content is very personal. Speak directly to the reader.
  • Positive content cuts the jargon. You want to make it accessible, not opaque.
  • Positive content focuses on solutions. If you focus exclusively on the problems you’re trying to solve, you’ll discourage the reader. Stay solution-focused.
  • Positive content uses words that connote happiness. These are words such as “love,” “like,” “up,”  “great,” “good,” “yes,” “awesome,” “sweet,” “reward,” “yeah,” “perfect,” “boost,” and “progress.”
  • Positive content is easy to read. No one feels buoyant when they are trying to read big words, long sentences, and confusing copy. Let the content flow with a short, quick, easy format.

Being in a good mood while your writing certainly helps, too.

2) Be personal.

The prototypical schmoozy salesperson is the guy who wears loud suits, puts his arm around your shoulder, pretends he’s your friend, and is as gregarious as the day is long. But, as it turns out, effective salespeople don’t have to be gregarious — but they do have to exhibit a sense of personal appeal that both inspires trust and invites a business relationship.

As a writer, you don’t have to adopt any sort of real-life personality, but you do have to be personal with your content.

What does this mean? All it means is employing the word “you” and  “your” a lot. The best copywriters know that being personal is essential, and using “you” is a great way to do that.

Check out the example of a Spring ad below, I’ve circled all the instances of “you”:

your.png

By being personal, you’re speaking directly to the customer. They can’t escape the personal intensity, and one-on-one nature of the content.

3) Be direct.

When you’re direct, you’ll make your intent obvious to the reader — which is a good thing because people will trust your content and could be more likely to act.

What does it mean to be direct? It means communicating clearly. Your writing should be devoid of extraneous fillers and wordy sentences. Here’s an article on how to simplify your writing if you’d like to learn more.

Here are the a few quick tips for writing more directly:

  1. Tell the customer what you’d like them to do.
  2. If you don’t need that word, drop it.
  3. If you don’t need that sentence, drop it.
  4. If you can say it more clearly, do it.
  5. If you can say it in a stronger way without detracting your audience, then do it.

Let’s look at an example. How would you sell the features of a product that monitors online mentions? Here’s one possibility:

Our product enables you to access data in dozens of languages, providing total access to every available mention of your brand or name, including online content and information shared on social networks. This takes place constantly, ensuring that you get real-time data delivered to you when you need it.

No way. Way too long. Way too complicated. Try this instead, from Mention.com:

real-time.png

The one-sentence description and headline “Monitor in real-time” is direct. It says what it needs to say, and then it stops.

Jesse Hines has a brilliant example on Copyblogger that explains how to pare down a phrase to absolute directness:

  • Bad Version:  “It is my opinion that we should cut taxes.”
  • Okay Version:  “I believe we should cut taxes.”
  • Better Version:  “We should cut taxes.”
  • Best Version:  “Cut taxes.”

So, what should you do?

  • Bad Version:  “Make an attempt to improve the direct quality of your writing.”
  • Okay Version:  “Try to be more direct in your writing.”
  • Better Version:  “Make your writing direct.”
  • Best Version:  “Be direct.”

4) Be assertive in your CTAs.

Writing won’t help sell unless it’s a little bit assertive.

What do I mean by that? The dictionary definition of “assertive” is “having or showing a confident and forceful personality.” An assertive person has a strong handshake, looks you in the eye, articulates clearly, speaks directly, and tells you exactly what he or she wants from you. Assertive people are confident, bold, and firm. You can develop the same style with your writing.

The best place to practice assertiveness is in your calls-to-action (CTAs).  The CTA is where you tell the user what to do. If you want to make a sale, go for the sale. Close it. Just say it.

Here are a few great examples:

Example 1: Power Habits Academy

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Example 2: Spotify

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Example 3: Uber

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When it comes to being assertive, less is more.

5) Be exciting.

If you can amp up the excitement factor by a few notches, your copy will become that much more powerful. Excitement helps take the customer from passive spectator to a fan.

Here are the tips for making your writing more exciting:

  • Unleash powerful verbs. Specifically, verbs that erupt with passion and explode with vigor. Okay, maybe I went a little over the top there .. but you see what I mean. Please don’t use passive sentences — they are excitement-killers.
  • Use short sentences. Short sentences are like a cheer. They come with staccato-like emphasis that gives a feeling of momentum and energy.
  • Keep speaking to the customer. Don’t let up on the personal-driven content. The content needs to be aggressively “you”-focused so the customer can feel the excitement directed at them.
  • Use an exclamation point (if you must). An exclamation point can be an artificial form of excitement generation. It works in some cases, but it can make your content seem forced. Use it if you must, but do so sparingly. (Bookmark this flowchart to help you decide whether or not to use an exclamation point.) And please never use more than one per sentence!

If you sound excited, then your reader will get excited, too.

6) Pat the customer in the back.

Okay, I’ll come out and say it: This is basically unvarnished flattery. People like feeling good about themselves, and telling them so — and that your product or service will help them get even better — will help you sell.

Here are a few tips for writing copy that makes the customer feel good:

  • Don’t be controversial. It can be an instant turn-off. Know who you’re targeting, and speak like you’re on their side about the topics that they want to hear.
  • Lead with information that they already know. Establishing some commonality regarding their knowledge is a great way to establish subtle camaraderie, and encourage them to think positively about themselves.
  • Draw attention to what they want to achieve. People enjoy feeling validated. If you can simply state how they feel, it will put them in a self-encouraged frame of mind.

Here’s an example from the app AroundMe, which helps users find specific types of places like bars or banks nearby. Check out how their landing page tosses in a bit of flattery, free of charge:

aroundme.png

Sure, it has a bit of double meaning — but it’s still a subtle nod to the savvy customer.

Here’s another example from Dollar Shave Club. They know what flattery is all about:

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7) Use data to support, not to lead.

Too often, we unleash mountains of data, charts, graph, statistics, and information to try and convince people how awesome our products or services are. But that’s not the way to win customers.

Yes, data is important, but it’s not the most important thing. While you certainly need data in your copy, you may want to front-load the positivity, and then back in the data. Velocity Partners expresses it this way:  “[Effective selling content is] data driven. But [this] doesn’t let the data swamp the story. Data is support, not substance.”

Data tends to throw cold water on passion and excitement, which is a strong feature of sellable content. So, while I encourage you to keep that data in the game, don’t use it as your first feature of persuasion.

8) Insist on action.

If your content doesn’t make people act, then it’s not doing its job. Your copy has to have an action-focused feel in order to be ultimately successful.

I’m not simply speaking about the CTA, which would be most obvious. Instead, I’m urging you to keep the action-oriented direction of the content front-and-center throughout all your content.

Here are some tips for how to do this:

  • Emphasize the now. The user needs to know that now is the time. Make them live in the present and experience the urgency of the situation.
  • For every informational sentence, add a “so that.” If you need to give information, then explain the “so that” behind it. For example, you write “The fastest processor on the market, so you can get tons of stuff done.” That two-part fragment contains information (fast processor), and why it matters (action). The action helps the sentence live, breathe, and move.
  • Use action verbs. Verbs like “be,” “is,” “am,” “are,” “will,” and “have” are unavoidable. (In fact, I just used one in that sentence.) But use action verbs as much as you can: “get,” “launch,” “work,” “lead,” “blast,” “produce,” “create,” “push,” “drive,” “pull,” “sustain.” Action verbs fuel your content and help drive people to do things.

Now, it’s your turn.

Lead your boring copy out of the grave and make it live. The end result is glorious: higher sales, better revenue, more customers, and through-the-roof conversions. It’s up to you to produce the content that will make this happen.

How do you create content that sells? 

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May

6

2015

9 Simple Ways to Write Stronger Introductions

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There’s a lot of material out there about writing great headlines. Hey, getting someone to click on your article is a critical part of your blogging strategy. But what about writing introductions?

Compelling readers to actually read the article is an art form in and of itself — and if you don’t do it well, then you’re denying yourself potential promoters, subscribers, leads, and even paying customers.

Take a look at the following graph from Schwartz to see what I mean. It shows where people stopped scrolling in an experiment covering many articles across the web. Every time someone landed on an article, Chartbeat analyzed that visitor’s behavior on a second-by-second basis, including which portion of the page the person was currently viewing. Each bar represents the share of readers who got to a particular depth in the article.

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Image Credit: Slate

Of everyone who landed on an article, 10% never scroll down.

So how do you get more people to scroll? One way is by writing a powerful, compelling introduction.

So, let’s see about making it better now, shall we? In this post, I’ll share with you how to write powerful introductions that turn casual browsers into readers. Article introductions matter, and here’s how to make them count.

9 Tips For Writing Stronger Introductions

1) Keep your first sentence short.

I’m a big fan of short sentences. I love them because people can understand them easily. There’s an insane amount of value in short sentences that are readable, digestible, and punchy.

But often, writers get so caught up in the stress of their introduction that they come out with long, garbled sentences. The problem with long, garbled sentences is that it makes readers work hard. Readers don’t want to work hard to understand your article — especially at the beginning. Lead off your introduction with a bite-sized sentence or two.

2) Say something unusual.

You’ve probably heard advice like “create a hook” and “grab the reader’s attention.” But what kind of stuff actually grabs someone’s attention? I can think of a lot of things, actually, but they probably wouldn’t be appropriate for an introduction.

What these oft-repeated phrases boil down to is this: say something unusual. Something unexpected, even. If your very first sentence is odd enough to make people want to read the next one, then you’ve done a good job. If you start off with something boring or expected, you might lose potential readers.

3) Don’t repeat the title.

Assume that the reader already read the title. You don’t need to write it over again. Instead, take advantage of your chance to reinforce that title and to set the stage for the remainder of the article.

4) Keep the introduction brief.

There is no definitive answer for how long an introduction should be. But, like the Slate study told us, readers have short attention spans. They’re impatient to get to the meat of the article. Your readers are looking for information, so don’t bury it deep in your article. Cut to the chase.

5) Use the word “you” at least once.

The word “you” is a powerful word. It tells the reader that you, the author, are writing the article with them in mind. You empathize with them, you care about them, and you want your piece to resonate with them. It’s a simple trick that establishes a crucial connection with your reader.

Here’s a great example from Buffer’s Shannon Byrne:

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6) Dedicate 1-2 sentences to articulating what the article covers.

Your English teacher would call this the “thesis.” This is where you tell the reader what the article is about. What will you be discussing, in order? What will the reader learn? Lay it out to help set the reader’s expectations and help her decide whether she wants to read the article in full, scroll to different parts, or not read it at all.

Don’t be afraid of writing, literally, “This article is about X” or “In this article, I’ll talk about Y.” Here are some variations on this theme to get you started:

  • “You’re about to find out why sea turtles always lay their eggs on the beach.”
  • “And, if you’ve ever wondered why sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach, here’s everything you need to know.”
  • “This article explains the 17 reasons why these amazing creatures lay their eggs on beaches.”
  • “Fascinating, funny, and shocking, these are the reasons why sea creatures lay their eggs on the beach.”

7) Dedicate 1-2 sentences to explaining why the article is important.

It may be obvious to you why the content of your article is important to your readers, but it may not be obvious to them. Let them know loud and clear why it’s important for them to know the information you cover in your article. You might compel readers who would otherwise have bounced to keep on reading.

In the introduction to this particular article, you’ll recall the following sentence: 

If you don’t [write introductions] well, then you’re denying yourself potential promoters, subscribers, leads, and even paying customers.

My goal here was to connect the topic of blog post introductions to the broader issues of readers, customers, and revenue.

8) Refer to a concern or problem your readers might have.

If you can pull a pain point into the introduction, even better. Everyone in every field has their set of problems. You should have some listed already from when you created your buyer personas. Communicate your awareness of those problems in your introduction and you’re more likely to gain a sympathetic reader.

Here’s a great example from Buffer’s Alex Turnbull, whose intro here is a story format with a problem twist:

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People want to solve their problems, and articles that explain how to do this will help you earn readership.

9) But … be careful telling stories.

A lot of people will tell you that you need to write a story in the introduction. Stories can work, as in the example above, but there are good and bad ways to tell stories in your intro.

Do use storytelling to spark the reader’s curiosity and empathize with her. But don’t get carried away and write a long-winded story that loses readers along the way. Remember the tip about keeping introductions short? That still applies when you’re telling a story.

Here’s an example from one of my own QuickSprout blog posts:

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Notice that I highlighted the “empathy” section — the first sentence. Here, I helped form a connection with my readers. Then, I told a short story about my own experience. After that, I finished the introduction with “what’s next.”

If you do begin your article with a story, here’s a tip: Don’t reveal the conclusion until the reader is deeper into the article, or even until the very end.

Takeaways

The next time you write an article introduction, think about what kind of introduction would make you want to read the article.

Would a long, wordy first sentence make you want to read more? No. You might find yourself thinking, Yikes, is this what the rest of the article’s going to be like? and bounce from the page. What about a story or question that doesn’t really apply to you? No, probably not.

To compel you to read past the introduction of an article, you want to read something unique, fresh, and engaging. You want to hear about yourself and your problems. You want to be put in a position where the remainder of the article is a must-read experience that will help you solve those problems and change your life.

Introductions are hard, and writing effective ones take time and practice. Sometimes, you might find yourself having to re-write them several times before you’re satisfied. Remember, it’s all worth it if it means keeping the attention of a few more of your readers.

What are your tips for writing great introductions?

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May

4

2015

5 Bad Writing Habits to Drop Right Now

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After writing several thousand blog posts and articles, I’ve learned something about writing: It’s not just what I write that’s important; it’s also what I don’t write.

There are some things you should simply not write. I’m not referring to well-placed curse words or salacious stories. There’s a time and place for everything — except the following five awful writing habits.

If you’re guilty of one or more of the following, take this as a warning. It’s time to improve your writing by eliminating them once and for all.

1) More Than One Exclamation Point 

Every exclamation point beyond the first one ruins your credibility by at least 25%. I totally made that statistic up, so please don’t take it as scientific fact.

However, I can say that the more exclamation points you use in succession, the weaker and less believable your point becomes.

Truly, most of the time, you won’t need an exclamation point in the first place. When is an exclamation point appropriate? Check out this handy flowchart to find out.

If you feel that you must use an exclamation point, then limit yourself to one and only one.

2) The Uberlong Paragraph

According to UX research and eye-tracking studies, many people skim on the web. Most people don’t have the time or patience to snuggle up with a great article and just read it.

Instead, people scan. Their eyes flit across the screen, picking up key phrases, surveying the main headings, and glancing at the images.

Can you relate to this? How likely are you to read a paragraph that goes on, and on, and on in an unbroken onslaught of words?

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to avoid this problem in your writing.

See that return key on your keyboard? Ok. Press it.

Write a sentence or two. Press it again.

Good.

3) Buzzwords

Buzzwords are words (or phrases) that lack concrete meaning. They are popular, but that’s the limit of their usefulness.

Since I work in the startup culture, I hear a lot of buzzwords. At first, a buzzword sounds cool. I use it a few times, and feel smart. Eventually, everyone uses it, and it becomes meaningless at best and annoying at worst.

Some of the greatest jargon offenders are article titles, with all their “mindblowing” blather and “unbelievable” claims. Jargon is jargon, and while it may bait some clicks, it won’t truly blow anyone’s minds.

Juvenile expressions like “epic” and phrases like “just saying” have had their heyday. But for some reason, we still hang on to our business buzzwords.

Here’s a list of buzzwords that you should probably stop using:

  • Revolutionary
  • Dynamic
  • Passionate
  • Driven
  • Paradigm-shifting
  • Strategic
  • Leverage
  • Engagement
  • Track Record
  • Innovative
  • Problem Solving
  • Cutting-Edge
  • Solution
  • Collaborative
  • Results-oriented

Sounds like a resume, huh?

In the marketing space, we also have our own set of pet buzzwords:

  • Multichannel
  • Storytelling
  • Mobile-optimized
  • Snackable content
  • Bespoke content
  • Conversation marketing
  • Actionable insights
  • Content studio
  • Sticky content
  • Data-driven publishing
  • Hashtag mining
  • Growth hacking
  • Brand evangelist
  • Thought leader

Can you use these words sometimes? In the right context? With a specific purpose?

Fine, go ahead. Just be careful. Don’t overuse them.

4) The Rambling Story

If you don’t make your point in the first few sentences, forget it. You’ve lost a lot of your readers already. The article might as well be done.

When you sit down to write an article, simply write what you want to say. Get to your point quickly.

I recently came across an article that started out something like this:

My husband John brought many valuable qualities to our union: He’s smart, kind, charming, sweet, and has good taste in movies. He also loves good food (especially cheese), and makes me a big cup of tea every single morning.

What could this article be about? Romance? Divorce? Watching really good movies? The value of daily cups of tea?

Nope. The article was supposed to be about preparing a certain type of food — I came there learn about that, and only that. Instead, what I had to scroll through was an off-the-topic story about someone’s husband. Not ideal.

Stories are great, as long as they serve to reinforce your point. So do it quickly and do it confidently.

5) Vague Language

Don’t be vague. What does it mean to be vague?

Vague writing is unclear, uncertain, indefinite. You know you’ve found it when you read a blog post and wonder, “What the heck is he trying to say?!”

Vagueness kills me when I read it. My eyes move across words, through paragraphs, and I have no idea what ideas are within the author’s mind. All I’m getting is too many words and too little meaning.

A vague writer is expecting his readers to intuit the ideas or to uncover the hidden meaning. The reality is, most readers don’t want to work to understand what you’re saying. They want it handed to them as clearly and as explicitly as possible.

Here is how not to be vague:

  • Begin every new section of your article with a clear headline. No, not a cute headline — a clear headline.
  • Try to communicate just one point in each paragraph. Then stop. Start a new paragraph, and do it again.
  • If you can’t write it down, speak it. (Then write down what you just spoke.)
  • Force yourself to write down your big idea in a single, simple sentence.
  • Use shorter sentences.
  • Use shorter words.
  • Use more nouns.
  • Use fewer adjectives.
  • Use fewer adverbs.
  • If you’re having a hard time communicating your concept clearly, then spend more time researching it.

Conclusion

Brands and individuals are publishing way more content than ever before in the history of mankind.

Some would say that we’re publishing too much content. Maybe so.

But whatever we publish, it needs to be good. If you stuff your article with all the things I’ve just described, then it definitely won’t be good.

Let go of the garbage and your writing will become dynamically and mindblowingly epic!!!!!  

(Wait, I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?)

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Feb

10

2015

9 Things Great Writers Do Every Day

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You’re a writer, a content creator. People expect you to churn out really good, really engaging, and really awesome content.

What they don’t realize is that it takes some serious effort to create great stuff. That article that is so easy for them read is actually really difficult for you to write.

Thankfully, through the sheer power of habits, you can get to the point where creating awesome content comes naturally. Habits have the uncanny ability to stick with you. They’re a pain to implement, but they flow effortlessly after that. In the interest of making your tough job a little bit easier, here are a few daily habits that will make your content much better.

Remember, these are daily habits. Skip the weekend if you want, but be sure to put these into practice during the days that you’re expected to produce content.

1) Read something really well written.

The next few tips have to do with reading. One of the best ways to become a better writer is to read what others have written. You’re not going to become a solid professional writer if you spend all day reading low-quality content. But if you spend more of your day reading professional-grade content, then you will improve.

The tough thing is, you have to be discerning to find the really good stuff online. To start, here’s a list of places where the content quality stays high:

Don’t be afraid to pay for top-tier content. There’s a reason it costs money, and it’s often well worth it.

2) Read something funny.

Reading humor can help shake up your brain in ways that loosen up the creative portions and help you produce better content. If you need to get your fix of Buzzfeed or The Oatmeal, go ahead. Don’t feel guilty about it.

Sometimes, the best few minutes of your day are spent laughing. You’ll enjoy a lot of benefits besides just the kick you got out of the hilarious content. You’ll enjoy the benefit of writing better content yourself. Your content may not be funny, but it will be good.

3) Read something outside of your niche.

If you want to get better, read broader.

Reading other stuff — really different stuff — has a way of cross-pollinating your own writing specialty. For example, maybe you write about conversion rate optimization all day. If that’s the case, then take a few minutes to read a blog about yoga.

Yoga?! Why? Because the style, approach, and nature of content that is outside your niche can help you within your niche.

Good writing, regardless of what it’s about, will help you become a better writer.

4) Read something you wrote in the past.

Great orators spend hours watching their speeches. Professional athletes analyze videos of their moves. Politicians watch themselves on TV.

You’re a writer, so you should read content that you wrote in the past. The goal of reading past content is not to edit it. It’s too late for that. Instead, you want to learn from it.

  • What was good about it?
  • What things do you write best about?
  • What wasn’t so good?
  • What sounds awkward?

Ask yourself those questions and spend a few minutes getting a better understanding of how you’re doing as a writer.

5) Write for at least 30 minutes.

The most powerful tip in this whole list is right here: Write for at least 30 minutes every workday. (Skip the weekends; you deserve the break.)

To become a better writer, you have to write. A lot. Every day. There’s no way to improve without actually doing it.

When you get into the habit of writing on a daily basis, your brain begins to anticipate it and prepare for it. This is especially true if you write at the same time each day. Way before you put hands to the keyboard, the brain’s juices are flowing, allowing you to be more creative, more precise, and more skillful during your writing time.

Every 30 minutes that you spend writing is 30 minutes that you’re getting better. Progress may not be huge, but at least it’s progress.

6) Force yourself to talk to someone.

Talking is different from writing. But talking can help you become a better writer, too.

If you want to write better, then talk better. You can’t improve your talking skills by staying silent all day.

If you work by yourself, call up a friend. If you work in an office, shoot the breeze over lunch or coffee. Just pick someone, and be conversational. Using your writing skills to some verbal interchange will actually help your writing become better.

7) Go for a walk.

Science has proven that taking a walk helps us think better. Some even say that it makes us smarter.

Let’s face it. Writing is a mental challenge. You must be in keen mental shape to be able to produce the kind of stuff that you’re producing.

So, if you want to sharpen your mind, then get out of your chair, head for the door, and don’t come back for at least 10 minutes. This isn’t a brainstorming walk. You don’t have to think about anything, let alone your subject matter. Instead, you just move your body, and your mind will take care of the rest.

8) Write fast.

It may sound strange, but some of my best content is stuff that I wrote really fast.

Obviously, it had tons of typos and grammar errors, but overall, the content itself was pretty darn good.

I’ve recently discovered the reason for this. The mind can generate thoughts way faster than the hands can type them. If, however, you’re able to type faster, you’re able to transcribe more of those thoughts, along with extra nuance and clarity.

Your fingers will never be able to match the speed at which you think, but when you do produce content rapidly, it has a much better chance of aligning with what you’re thinking.

I’ve met people who say “Oh I can’t write. It just comes so slow!” Actually, I bet they could write, if only they type it out faster.

You don’t have to turn on your supersonic speed all the time, but it’s helpful to get in the habit of writing fast.

Write fast. Edit slow.

9) Google any grammar questions.

An important part of writing is the mechanical stuff — making sure you’re not breaking any grammar laws or violating any rules.

(A few well-intentioned rule breaking is okay, but if you’re being sloppy, that’s just bad form.)

If you come up against a grammar issue while you’re writing, do a quick Google search on it. It will only take a few minutes, but you’ll definitely learn something and possibly avoid an embarrassing mistake. Get into the habit of double-checking your grammar, even if you’re only slightly suspicious of your potential mistake.

Conclusion

Stay positive. Nobody becomes a better writer automatically. It takes months, even years, to form habits. But once those habits are in place, things can flow without any thought and hardly any effort. Before you know it, your writing is improving exponentially.

What things do you do to become a better writer?

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