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Aug

11

2017

How to Create Compelling Content as an Amateur Writer: 7 Frameworks to Try

Just over a year ago, my business partner and I bet the future and success of our company on content marketing. We dismissed our sales team and put all our efforts into SEO and content.

As an engineer, I get the technical aspects of this process. I can use SEO tools to identify opportunities, I understand why links are important, and I can follow the link building process. But I’m not a professional writer and no one else on our team is either.

How were we going to create compelling content as a bunch of amateur writers?

Luckily, we discovered content frameworks.

What is a content framework?

A content framework is a basic system that guides you through the content creation process. It structures your article in a way that effectively presents your content’s insights.

Over the past year, we’ve explored seven different content frameworks. During this time, we’ve skyrocketed our organic traffic by more than 1,000% and ranked on the first page of Google for a lot of highly competitive search terms.

In this article, I’ll describe our experiences with each framework, the pros and cons of each one, my personal tips for success, and which frameworks worked best for us.

Let’s dive in.

1) Standard List Post

Everyone loves a good listicle. A standard list post will usually contain a short introduction, the list items, and finally a brief conclusion. The list elements will simply link to other sites or summarize the topic.

Positives

One of the biggest pros of a standard list post is that they’re easy to write. You don’t need to be a gifted wordsmith to put together a great listicle.

For us, listicles and the expanded-list post (covered below) have been some of our most successful pieces of content.

Negatives

If there are a lot of other listicles covering your topic, it may take some work (and time) for your list post to rise to the top of Google.

Pro Tip

Implement tactics like the Skyscraper Technique and Ego Bait in your list posts. If your list is longer, more comprehensive, and beautifully designed, it’ll overshadow all the other lists about your topic.

2) Expanded-List Post

The expanded-list post, coined by Brian Dean of Backlinko, is an adaption of the standard list post. Like I mentioned before, there’s a ton of list posts on the web. How do you make yours stand out from the crowd?

Instead of listing a bunch of topics or links, the expanded-list post goes beyond a standard list post and take a deep dive into each item.

In the eyes of Google and your readers, these lists are rich with insights.

Positives

This has definitely been our most successful content framework. Our expanded list posts consistently rank on the first page of Google.

Expanded-list posts will usually be long-form content pieces, which Google prefers to show readers. Also, in comparison to competing list posts, the expanded-list post will be much more comprehensive, providing more value to your audience.

Negatives

Producing a stellar expanded-list post requires a significant amount of work.

For example, it took us multiple weeks just to collect the data for one of our posts about the best business apps.

It was worth it, though. Google ranks the post third or higher for number of competitive keywords.

Designing and organizing expanded-list posts may require more time too. You might need to group elements by category and provide jump links to different sections of the content. This will make your content more digestible.

Pro Tip

Similar to the Standard List Post pro tip, you want your article to be more in-depth and better than everyone else’s. So take your time when you design and organize the post. You need to make sure that your readers can easily find the information they’re looking for.

3) Go-to Guidebook

A Go-to Guidebook is a curated list of the top posts about a particular topic.

The biggest difference between this content framework and the list-type frameworks is that a go-to guidebook is normally organized like a book, with brief introductions to each sub-topic and links to the best content available around those topics.

Positives

This is one of the easiest types of content to produce. Even a complete amateur like myself can create a great go-to guidebook. You really don’t need to write that much.

It’s also a great way to re-purpose the best content that’s already available. All you have to do is source and organize the content.

Negatives

Since you’re promoting other people’s content with your go-to guidebook, the original authors should have an incentive to share and promote your piece. Unfortunately, they may not always care to promote it.

You also might have to curate content that isn’t fresh. We’ve managed to get posts in this style to rank, but it took a lot of research and work.

Pro Tip

Use graphics in your go-to guidebook to make it more visually appealing. The go-to guidebook consists of short paragraphs, so adding vivid pictures can make it feel like a real book.

4) How-to Guide

A how-to guide is a content framework where you explain how to use a product or perform a task. It’s much more focused than a go-to guidebook, so you have to rely on your own research or knowledge to create it.

Positives

Google generally loves it when your content can answer a question or solve a problem. And the how-to guide is a great way to provide value to your audience. So far, almost all our guides receive consistent organic traffic without us having to build a ton of backlinks.

If you can effectively optimize for search engines, Google might highlight your guide in the featured snippet, like the screenshot below.

By optimizing our “How to Post a Job on Craigslist Guide” to rank for the snippet, Google ranked it first. And we didn’t even have to build a single backlink.

how to post a job on craiglist.png

Negatives

How-to guides require significant time and subject matter expertise to produce. You’ll have to write more than you would for any other framework.

Pro-Tip

Clarify all of your guide’s takeaways. Even if it’s an obvious step or detail, just spell it out and make your content easy for people to understand. What is obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience.

5) Expert Roundup

An expert roundup is a collection of quotes or short interviews with influential people in your industry. You basically reach out to a bunch of experts, ask them specific questions, and compile their answers into an article.

To do this effectively, you’ll need to grasp a few nuances, but the great thing is that the experts you interview will write most of the content for you.

Positives

Once you’ve collected your experts’ responses, you can easily produce a really unique and great piece of long-form content.

Another big advantage of an expert roundup post is that your contributors will have an incentive to promote the article to their own audiences.

Our most successful roundup was about remote work. The article has over 100 backlinks, and most of the initial links came from the article’s contributors. This also helped us form relationships with a lot of industry experts, created other blogging opportunities, and piqued the interest of mainstream writers in our stance on remote work.

Negatives

While creating an expert round up post might not take much work, collecting your experts’ contact information and gathering their responses can be a handful, especially if it’s your first time doing it.

Your next roundups will be easier since you can interview some of the same experts again. But there will be a steep hill to climb during your first go-around.

Another significant con is that you’re depending on your influencers’ schedules to complete your piece. Compared to writing your own piece, you’ll definitely have less control over an expert roundup post’s production time.

Pro Tip

Take time to craft your questions because you’ll only have one shot to interview most experts. If your questions are clear and straightforward, they’ll be more likely to participate. 

6) Interview-Style Post

With this framework, you simply interview an expert on the topic you want to cover and turn the interview into an article. This is more of a journalistic approach to content creation.

Positives

After you conduct the interview, the article doesn’t require a lot of writing. The expert you interviewed can also potentially be asked to promote the article on their own social media channels and networks. And since you’re showing how an expert tackles a certain topic, your post will be unique and compelling.

Interviews provide an opportunity to produce content across multiple mediums. For example, we now interview small business owners and feature them in our podcast, our blog, and — down the road — in our own book.

An interview can be very insightful, so there’s a lot of opportunity for re-purposing it into multiple content formats.

Negatives

When we first tried this approach, we ran into a lot of issues scheduling the interviews. We also struggled to convince the experts to promote our content to their fans.

After our initial attempts, we actually thought the time investment wasn’t worth it anymore, but we tried out the approach again and have seen some success.

Pro Tip

Interview micro-influencers in the industry you’re covering. They’ll be more willing to promote your article, where a huge celebrity will have less of an incentive to help you out.

7) Infographics

Nowadays, infographics are very popular. They’re unique and engaging because they visualize data sets to tell a compelling stories.

Positives

According to Massplanner, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other type of content. You can easily spread awareness for your infographics by sharing them on Pinterest, Visual.ly, and the Infographic Directory.

You can also reach out to the sources you cited in your infographic and ask them to promote it.

Negatives

You’ll need some graphic design chops to craft a great infographic. Or you can pay someone to do it. Tools like Venngage can help you create your own infographic, but these tools’ capabilities are somewhat limited, so the graphic could look a little generic.

The infographic market is also over-saturated. There are some really great infographics out there, but there’s loads of them that don’t do anything except collect internet dust.

Our track record with infographics hasn’t been great. None of our infographics have ranked that well on Google.

In terms of social shares, our Snapchat marketing infographic has performed the best, with over 800 pins on Pinterest. Its search value is still low, though

Pro Tip

When you create your infographic, make sure to breakdown the graphic’s content in your introduction.

Google can’t crawl your graphic, so you need text to explain your piece’s premise. This is the only way Google can truly know what your article is about.

Final Thoughts

As amateur writers, we rely heavily on the structure of existing content frameworks. They help us efficiently produce quality content and massively boost our search presence.

We’ve experienced consistent success with expanded-list posts, how-to guides, and expert roundups. Each of these frameworks help us create rich pieces of long-form content that provide a lot of value to our readers.

For us, these three frameworks provide the most benefits relative to how long it takes to create them. You could experience differently depending on your skill set and industry.

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Aug

11

2017

How to Create Compelling Content as an Amateur Writer: 7 Frameworks to Try

Just over a year ago, my business partner and I bet the future and success of our company on content marketing. We dismissed our sales team and put all our efforts into SEO and content.

As an engineer, I get the technical aspects of this process. I can use SEO tools to identify opportunities, I understand why links are important, and I can follow the link building process. But I’m not a professional writer and no one else on our team is either.

How were we going to create compelling content as a bunch of amateur writers?

Luckily, we discovered content frameworks.

What is a content framework?

A content framework is a basic system that guides you through the content creation process. It structures your article in a way that effectively presents your content’s insights.

Over the past year, we’ve explored seven different content frameworks. During this time, we’ve skyrocketed our organic traffic by more than 1,000% and ranked on the first page of Google for a lot of highly competitive search terms.

In this article, I’ll describe our experiences with each framework, the pros and cons of each one, my personal tips for success, and which frameworks worked best for us.

Let’s dive in.

1) Standard List Post

Everyone loves a good listicle. A standard list post will usually contain a short introduction, the list items, and finally a brief conclusion. The list elements will simply link to other sites or summarize the topic.

Positives

One of the biggest pros of a standard list post is that they’re easy to write. You don’t need to be a gifted wordsmith to put together a great listicle.

For us, listicles and the expanded-list post (covered below) have been some of our most successful pieces of content.

Negatives

If there are a lot of other listicles covering your topic, it may take some work (and time) for your list post to rise to the top of Google.

Pro Tip

Implement tactics like the Skyscraper Technique and Ego Bait in your list posts. If your list is longer, more comprehensive, and beautifully designed, it’ll overshadow all the other lists about your topic.

2) Expanded-List Post

The expanded-list post, coined by Brian Dean of Backlinko, is an adaption of the standard list post. Like I mentioned before, there’s a ton of list posts on the web. How do you make yours stand out from the crowd?

Instead of listing a bunch of topics or links, the expanded-list post goes beyond a standard list post and take a deep dive into each item.

In the eyes of Google and your readers, these lists are rich with insights.

Positives

This has definitely been our most successful content framework. Our expanded list posts consistently rank on the first page of Google.

Expanded-list posts will usually be long-form content pieces, which Google prefers to show readers. Also, in comparison to competing list posts, the expanded-list post will be much more comprehensive, providing more value to your audience.

Negatives

Producing a stellar expanded-list post requires a significant amount of work.

For example, it took us multiple weeks just to collect the data for one of our posts about the best business apps.

It was worth it, though. Google ranks the post third or higher for number of competitive keywords.

Designing and organizing expanded-list posts may require more time too. You might need to group elements by category and provide jump links to different sections of the content. This will make your content more digestible.

Pro Tip

Similar to the Standard List Post pro tip, you want your article to be more in-depth and better than everyone else’s. So take your time when you design and organize the post. You need to make sure that your readers can easily find the information they’re looking for.

3) Go-to Guidebook

A Go-to Guidebook is a curated list of the top posts about a particular topic.

The biggest difference between this content framework and the list-type frameworks is that a go-to guidebook is normally organized like a book, with brief introductions to each sub-topic and links to the best content available around those topics.

Positives

This is one of the easiest types of content to produce. Even a complete amateur like myself can create a great go-to guidebook. You really don’t need to write that much.

It’s also a great way to re-purpose the best content that’s already available. All you have to do is source and organize the content.

Negatives

Since you’re promoting other people’s content with your go-to guidebook, the original authors should have an incentive to share and promote your piece. Unfortunately, they may not always care to promote it.

You also might have to curate content that isn’t fresh. We’ve managed to get posts in this style to rank, but it took a lot of research and work.

Pro Tip

Use graphics in your go-to guidebook to make it more visually appealing. The go-to guidebook consists of short paragraphs, so adding vivid pictures can make it feel like a real book.

4) How-to Guide

A how-to guide is a content framework where you explain how to use a product or perform a task. It’s much more focused than a go-to guidebook, so you have to rely on your own research or knowledge to create it.

Positives

Google generally loves it when your content can answer a question or solve a problem. And the how-to guide is a great way to provide value to your audience. So far, almost all our guides receive consistent organic traffic without us having to build a ton of backlinks.

If you can effectively optimize for search engines, Google might highlight your guide in the featured snippet, like the screenshot below.

By optimizing our “How to Post a Job on Craigslist Guide” to rank for the snippet, Google ranked it first. And we didn’t even have to build a single backlink.

how to post a job on craiglist.png

Negatives

How-to guides require significant time and subject matter expertise to produce. You’ll have to write more than you would for any other framework.

Pro-Tip

Clarify all of your guide’s takeaways. Even if it’s an obvious step or detail, just spell it out and make your content easy for people to understand. What is obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience.

5) Expert Roundup

An expert roundup is a collection of quotes or short interviews with influential people in your industry. You basically reach out to a bunch of experts, ask them specific questions, and compile their answers into an article.

To do this effectively, you’ll need to grasp a few nuances, but the great thing is that the experts you interview will write most of the content for you.

Positives

Once you’ve collected your experts’ responses, you can easily produce a really unique and great piece of long-form content.

Another big advantage of an expert roundup post is that your contributors will have an incentive to promote the article to their own audiences.

Our most successful roundup was about remote work. The article has over 100 backlinks, and most of the initial links came from the article’s contributors. This also helped us form relationships with a lot of industry experts, created other blogging opportunities, and piqued the interest of mainstream writers in our stance on remote work.

Negatives

While creating an expert round up post might not take much work, collecting your experts’ contact information and gathering their responses can be a handful, especially if it’s your first time doing it.

Your next roundups will be easier since you can interview some of the same experts again. But there will be a steep hill to climb during your first go-around.

Another significant con is that you’re depending on your influencers’ schedules to complete your piece. Compared to writing your own piece, you’ll definitely have less control over an expert roundup post’s production time.

Pro Tip

Take time to craft your questions because you’ll only have one shot to interview most experts. If your questions are clear and straightforward, they’ll be more likely to participate. 

6) Interview-Style Post

With this framework, you simply interview an expert on the topic you want to cover and turn the interview into an article. This is more of a journalistic approach to content creation.

Positives

After you conduct the interview, the article doesn’t require a lot of writing. The expert you interviewed can also potentially be asked to promote the article on their own social media channels and networks. And since you’re showing how an expert tackles a certain topic, your post will be unique and compelling.

Interviews provide an opportunity to produce content across multiple mediums. For example, we now interview small business owners and feature them in our podcast, our blog, and — down the road — in our own book.

An interview can be very insightful, so there’s a lot of opportunity for re-purposing it into multiple content formats.

Negatives

When we first tried this approach, we ran into a lot of issues scheduling the interviews. We also struggled to convince the experts to promote our content to their fans.

After our initial attempts, we actually thought the time investment wasn’t worth it anymore, but we tried out the approach again and have seen some success.

Pro Tip

Interview micro-influencers in the industry you’re covering. They’ll be more willing to promote your article, where a huge celebrity will have less of an incentive to help you out.

7) Infographics

Nowadays, infographics are very popular. They’re unique and engaging because they visualize data sets to tell a compelling stories.

Positives

According to Massplanner, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other type of content. You can easily spread awareness for your infographics by sharing them on Pinterest, Visual.ly, and the Infographic Directory.

You can also reach out to the sources you cited in your infographic and ask them to promote it.

Negatives

You’ll need some graphic design chops to craft a great infographic. Or you can pay someone to do it. Tools like Venngage can help you create your own infographic, but these tools’ capabilities are somewhat limited, so the graphic could look a little generic.

The infographic market is also over-saturated. There are some really great infographics out there, but there’s loads of them that don’t do anything except collect internet dust.

Our track record with infographics hasn’t been great. None of our infographics have ranked that well on Google.

In terms of social shares, our Snapchat marketing infographic has performed the best, with over 800 pins on Pinterest. Its search value is still low, though

Pro Tip

When you create your infographic, make sure to breakdown the graphic’s content in your introduction.

Google can’t crawl your graphic, so you need text to explain your piece’s premise. This is the only way Google can truly know what your article is about.

Final Thoughts

As amateur writers, we rely heavily on the structure of existing content frameworks. They help us efficiently produce quality content and massively boost our search presence.

We’ve experienced consistent success with expanded-list posts, how-to guides, and expert roundups. Each of these frameworks help us create rich pieces of long-form content that provide a lot of value to our readers.

For us, these three frameworks provide the most benefits relative to how long it takes to create them. You could experience differently depending on your skill set and industry.

May

22

2015

Back to Grammar School: 12 Easy Ways to Become a Better Writer

grammar-tips.jpeg

Communication skills are more important than ever, but what if your grammar doesn’t quite make the grade?

Technology has reshaped how we communicate in the business world. Fifty years ago, you would have walked over to your coworker’s desk or called up to the second floor to ask a question. Now, whether your coworkers are in the next cube or half a world away, it’s standard practice to email, instant message, or text. An increasing number of employees are “working with people they have never met and communicating with them largely through email,” Will Ellet, adjunct professor of writing at Brandeis International Business School, told CNBC.

No matter what format your written communication takes, it needs to be clear and concise. Misunderstandings can lead to costly mistakes. Given that the average business user sends and receives over 100 emails a day, no one has time to read rambling messages that don’t get to the point quickly.

We could all use a little refresher on our business writing skills. And thanks to a wealth of free classes and resources online, we can improve our grammar and writing from the comfort of our own desk chairs — without spending a dime.

To get you started, we’ve put together a list of tips for quickly improving your written communication skills. Check ’em out. (And if you’re looking for more, here’s an excellent list of helpful websites and tools that address common grammar questions and errors.)

12 Quick Tips For Better Business Writing

1) Develop a daily writing habit.

Practice makes perfect, so set aside just ten or fifteen minutes each day to free-write. In other words, just get your thoughts down without worrying about proofreading.

2) Try to read every day, too.

In addition to writing each day, a daily reading habit is also a great way to increase your vocabulary and expand your writing repertoire. Pack a novel alongside your lunch or peruse a magazine—even blogs can be a great source of quality writing (if we do say so ourselves).

3) Capitalize when you’re supposed to.

Email subject lines, blog post headlines, and report titles should be capitalized just like book titles.

4) Avoid using exclamation points.

Often, we rely on exclamation points too heavily as a crutch.

“Don’t ask punctuation to do a word’s job,” warns Beth Dunn, chief writer and editor on HubSpot’s product team. “It dilutes your message.” Instead, she suggests working on making our words convey more precisely what you want to say. When in doubt about whether to use an exclamation point, consult this flowchart.

5) Always think about your audience.

You can be casual with your coworkers and peers, but when communicating with management or clients, it’s a good idea to write using more formal grammar. Keep in mind that “formal” doesn’t necessarily mean stilted or old-fashioned.

6) Cut the filler phrases and buzzwords.

Wordy phrases such as “due to the fact that” should be swapped out for their simpler, more straightforward synonyms. (In this case, “because” gets the job done.) Some buzzwords may be trendy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective in communicating ideas clearly. Remove them from your business communication unless you’re sure that everyone understands exactly what “synergy” means.

7) Take advantage of free writing courses online.

Massively open online courses (MOOCs) are only multiplying, and you can find free courses offered by Coursera, Udemy, and edX, as well as universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

8) Use templates.

Templates can save you some serious time and effort. If you have to send out similar letters or memos on a regular basis, create a template with customizable fields. You can always personalize your communication with a sentence or two.

Here are 78 free content creation templates for ebooks, press releases, SlideShares, infographics, and more to help you get started.

9) Make sure you address people correctly.

Avoid accidentally insulting someone by triple-checking names, gender, personal pronouns, and titles.

Dustin Wax of Lifehack writes, “If you’re not positive about the spelling of someone’s name, their job title (and what it means), or their gender, either a) check with someone who does know (like their assistant), or b) in the case of gender, use gender-neutral language.”

10) Study commonly misused words and phrases — and never get them wrong.

It is “peek,” “peak,” or “pique”? Which one is correct: “first come, first served” or “first come, first served”? There are a lot of commonly misused words and phrases out there that you should know.

For example, what’s the difference between “that” and “which”? In short, “that” introduces essential information, meaning the stuff that would turn your sentence into nonsense if you took it out. It does not get a comma. On the other hand, “which” introduces non-essential information and is preceded by a comma. (For an in-depth explanation, read this post from Grammar Girl.)

When in doubt, do a quick Google search. It’s worth it.

11) Drop the word “very” from your vocabulary.

Florence King once wrote, “‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.”

You’ll be amazed at the difference removing it makes in your writing.

12) Read your writing out loud.

Before you send anything important, read through it out loud quickly. It may seem a little strange, but reading your writing out loud is one of the most effective ways to catch typos, grammar errors, and awkward phrasing.

These self-paced, self-study tips will help you improve your writing and communication skills in no time.

free guide to writing well

May

21

2015

How to Create a Writing Style Guide Built for the Web [Free Template]

writing style guide template

Businesses pump out content at a staggering rate these days — and as that volume increases, more inconsistencies are bound to creep in. Whether due to lack of clarity about the style in which you’d like to write or disjointed communication across the multitude of content creators in your organization, failure to decide upon and document accepted editorial guidelines is a recipe for inconsistent messaging.

That’s why at some point, most companies accept that they’ll need to develop a writing style guide: a document that indicates the basic rules of writing we’ll all agree to follow (like whether I should’ve capitalized the “a” after the colon in this sentence).

(Answer: If you write content for HubSpot, you should not capitalize the “a.”)

But wait … if that’s the case, why would I capitalize the “If” in that last parenthetical? Because “If you write content for HubSpot, you should … ” is a complete sentence, thus warranting the capital “If.”

(Download our free writing style guide template to create a custom style guide of your own.)

If you found that train of thought terribly banal, you might think writing style guides are the most boring things in the world and have a burning desire to click away right about now. Au contraire, mon frère. The existence of a writing style guide is what saves you from finding yourself embroiled in a debate about whether there should be spaces before and after an ellipses, whether you capitalize “for” in a title, or when a number must be written out in full.

In short: If the writing style guide bores you, just imagine how insipid that debate will be. The existence of a style guide means you can simply have the style guide handy as your little writing rulebook without having to sit through debates about blockquotes.

In an effort to help you get started with your own style guide, this blog post will walk you through the essential elements of a brand writing style guide so you can create one for yourself.

If you want a bit of a head start, you can also download the writing style guide template we’ve created here

Feel free to customize the template to fit your needs.

Before we begin, a note on what your writing style guide will not do …

It can be tempting to create the most comprehensive style guide of all time. But when documents get incredibly long, it can become a little hard to use on a day-to-day basis. Aim for “comprehensive, yet usable” by intentionally cutting some sections. The most common sections that people are tempted to include, but which I recommend exist in another document, are:

  • Notes on content operations. Things like submitting content to your editorial team, requesting a slot on the editorial calendar, or revision cycles.
  • Recommendations for creating SEO-friendly content.
  • Nitty gritty rules around logo usage or other visual style guide elements (though we will discuss a few basics on graphics and formatting in this post).

Your editorial style guide will simply guide writers by providing a set of standards to which they must adhere when creating content for your website. It eliminates confusion, guesswork, and debates over what boils down to a matter of editorial opinion among grammar and content geeks. If you’re ever unsure whether something should or should not exist in your written style guide, fall back on usage to inform your decision. If it’s too long to be usable, cut it down; if it’s too short to answer the most common questions, beef it up.

Now, let’s break down exactly what information to include in a comprehensive editorial style guide so you can go create one for your company.

What to Include in Your Writing Style Guide

Section 1: Style Manual

Style manuals are reference books that tell writers how to handle grammar, punctuation, and any special use cases. Most businesses adopt either the AP Stylebook, or the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s up to you to decide which manual you’d like your company to follow.

You can purchase online subscriptions to these manuals for your employees to reference, the login for which you should also include in this section of the editorial style guide to make access simple. You might find employees are more likely to reference these tools when provided with an online subscription that contains a search function, instead of a paper book through which they have to flip to find their answers.

While these style guides provide a good reference point for basic grammar rules, you’ll probably want to make some exceptions to the rules therein for the sake of branding, tone, and style. Use this section of your editorial style guide to outline those exceptions, and also to highlight some of the rules that commonly arise when writing for your company that people should commit to memory — regardless of whether it is aligned with or against house style. For example:

  • What do you capitalize? Do you capitalize the name of your product? Are there certain prepositions you want capitalized in your title despite your stylebook’s recommendations?
  • What do you abbreviate? How do you punctuate those abbreviations? Would you type “a.k.a.” or “aka”? “Okay” or “O.K.”? Or “OK”?
  • Do you use an Oxford comma?

Listing answers to common questions like these in the first part of your editorial style guide will give people an easy resource to reference that will save you time and encourage consistency. Feel free to continue adding to this list as more confusions arise and get resolved during the content creation process. You’re creating your own style guide, so feel free to borrow different rules from different style guides. The important thing is that you use the same rules consistently throughout all the content you create.

Section 2: Commonly Troublesome Words

Most companies have terminology that’s specific to their industry, and not all of that terminology has a universally agreed-upon spelling. For instance, if you write a lot about digital marketing like we do here at HubSpot, you’ll find a lot of inconsistency around the spelling and capitalization of words like these:

  • ebook vs. Ebook vs. e-book
  • ecommerve vs. e-commerce
  • internet vs. Internet
  • website vs. web site
  • Facebook Like vs. Facebook like
  • Retweet vs. re-tweet vs. reTweet vs. ReTweet

… And on and on and on. Instead of debating how to spell, capitalize, or hyphenate these words, include a section in your style guide called “Commonly Troublesome Words” so writers can easily look up the proper spelling of these words according to your house style guide. If you’re using the style guide template provided earlier in this post, you’ll find that section already exists in there. If you write a lot about marketing or digital trends, I think you’ll find we’ve gotten a pretty good head start in there for you. (If you work in a different space, you should customize it for your industry, of course.)

Advice for Global Companies

If you have global readership and create content for specific, same-language markets, you should include notes on whether you change spelling for those markets or retain your house style.

For example, if marketers from HubSpot’s Dublin office write a blog post, should American editors change their spelling of “favour” to “favor”? “Internationalise” to “Internationalize”? These questions should be answered in your style guide, and the “Commonly Troublesome Words” section is a logical location to do that.

Similarly, if you are creating content in different languages, style guides should be created for each different language.

Section 3: Style and Tone

This section of the editorial style guide should address something less concrete than grammar rules, but arguably more important: how your content should sound to the reader. Can writers use the first person? How do you feel about the use of industry jargon? Think about the words you would use to describe your content in an ideal world. Which of these adjectives do you want your content to evoke?

  • Conversational?
  • Educational?
  • Academic?
  • Funny?
  • Controversial?
  • Irreverent?
  • Artistic?
  • Objective?
  • Sophisticated?

You might think you want your content to be all of the above, but force yourself to prioritize just a few. Explain why it’s important to achieve this style and tone in your content, and provide examples of content (excerpts are fine) that are successful in doing so — particularly if those excerpts exist on your own site already. If there are stylistic characteristics your content absolutely should not have, this is the section in which to include that information, too. Again, examples of what not to do are helpful here for the sake of comparative illustration.

When deciding on style and tone, be sure to consider your target audience and buyer personas in the process. Which style and tone would resonate best with them? This brings us to our next section …

Section 4: Personas

Buyer personas are inextricably tied to style and tone, so it’s important to include this section either before or after the “Style and Tone” section of your style guide. Why is it so important to include personas? Because the style and tone you adopt should be informed by your target audience, i.e. the people that will be reading all this stuff you’re writing. 

That being said, the personas in your editorial style guide don’t need to go as in-depth as the personas created by your sales and marketing teams. (Those might include detailed information like objections that arise in the sales process and how to overcome them, or tips on identifying these personas “in the wild” or when you get them on the phone.) The personas in your editorial style guide should be more brief, simply pulling out the highlights that concisely explain who your target audience is, their pain points, how they like to be communicated with, the value your company provides, and a picture to give writers a visual to keep in mind when creating content.

Including personas in your style guide really comes in handy when you’re working with freelance writers. If you’re doing a good job with freelance writer management, you’ll provide ample context to inform the content they’re writing. A persona, and how that informs tone and writing style, should always be included when kicking off a new freelance writer engagement.

Section 5: Graphics and Formatting

I know, I told you earlier not to get into the nitty gritty with visual guidelines. This is still true. Your design team or agency should create a separate brand design style guide that addresses more nuanced visual … things. (Can you tell I’m not a designer?)

You should, however, add a little information to your written style guide if your writers are ever responsible for creating visual assets and/or copyediting visual assets created by designers. Here are some common questions that may come up that will impact writers or editors:

  • Where can writers source images, and how do they properly attribute them? 
  • When should images align to the right, to the left, or in the center?
  • Should text wrap around images?
  • What are the RGB and hex codes for your text and headers?
  • What typefaces can be used?
  • Can writers use italics, bold, or underlining? If so, is usage limited to certain occasions, like bolding headers and hyperlinks?
  • Which kind of bullets should be used (square, round, or other), and how should they align with the rest of the text?
  • How should numbered lists appear: “1”, “1.” or “1.)”?

Many of these graphical elements can be preset in your content management system, but they can be easily overridden when writers copy and paste content from elsewhere with formatting attached — or by an overzealous writer with a flair for design. Outline these expectations in your editorial style guide, and refer those with more advanced needs to your brand style guide.

Section 6: Approved and Unapproved Content

Great content often cites research and data from third party sources. Make your writer’s job easier by providing approved industry resources from which they can draw — and, even more importantly, resources from which they cannot draw. Break up this section of your editorial style guide into two sections: recommended and approved industry resources, and “do not mention” resources.

The information in the “do not mention” section should include competitors and unreliable resources, and it should also mention controversial topics and opinions that should be avoided at all costs. For example, many companies strictly prohibit any mention of politics or religion in their content, or have provisions that explain when it is acceptable to include and how to frame the discussion. Similarly, many companies work within certain legal restrictions, in which case this section of the style guide might provide instructions for receiving legal approval before publishing a piece of content.

This is the section of your editorial style guide to explain the intricacies of such controversies as they relate to your brand so you can prevent reputation management catastrophes.

Section 7: Sourcing

With great research comes great responsibility … and a lot of choices, unfortunately. Clear up the confusion around how to properly cite research by deciding on one methodology and documenting it in your editorial style guide. Explain how to create footnotes, references, links to external sites, or even bibliographies if they are relevant to your company.

This section of your editorial style guide doesn’t need to be long. Just write down the rules and provide some examples of proper citations so writers can easily attribute their sources properly.

Use Examples to Show What’s Right and Wrong

Every section of your editorial style guide can benefit from real life examples of the concepts you’re explaining, whether you include those examples on the same page or as an appendix at the end of the guide.

For example, when talking about proper formatting, include a visual example of a well-formatted blog post with callouts that detail why the elements therein are successful. If you’re discussing grammar usage, provide an incorrect example, and then mark it up to show how a writer could fix it to align with your editorial style guide.

Bridging your requirements with proper executions from your actual website will help illustrate these concepts more clearly and cut down on follow-up questions and instances of exceptions to the rules you’ve laid out.

If a tree falls in a forest, will anyone use my style guide?

If you put in all this work to create a comprehensive style guide, it’d be a real bummer if no one used it.

Here’s the truth: Some people just aren’t going to use it, no matter how easy you make it for them to do so. So just … accept that. But after you’re done grieving, there are a few things you can do to increase the likelihood of adoption:

  • Involve other people in its creation from the get-go. No one wants to be the Grammar Czar. And if you do, I promise you no one you work with thinks its cute. Instead of mandating the rules your entire company must use when writing, get a few people together to help create the style guide as a group. Ideally, this little committee will span more than one department to increase the likelihood of widespread adoption.
  • Make it easy to find and use. Our style guide is available on our internal wiki so it’s easy for people to find, bookmark, and Ctrl+F to get answers to questions quickly. Make yours similarly easy to access and use.
  • Keep updating it. Your style guide is intended to be a living document. As new questions arise, make it easy for writers to ask questions about proper usage and get a resolution — and make sure that resolution is reflected in an updated version of the style guide. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free writing style guide template

 
free writing style guide template

May

21

2015

Don’t Worry About Facebook Instant Articles: Here’s Why They’re Actually a Good Thing

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Last week, Facebook made a big announcement: the release of their new Instant Articles feature. It allows publishers to create and distribute mixed-media articles in a self-contained Facebook “capsule,” while promising mobile app users a more visually interesting reading experience that loads significantly faster that articles have previously.

In response, my HubSpot colleague Kipp Bodnar wrote a blog post concluding that Instant Articles is bad for marketers. But I think he’s missing the point. There’s a whole other aspect of the debate that marketers need to consider.

Let me show you what I mean. Take a moment to read through this quote:

Something has dramatically changed. The way people consume information on Facebook is not controlled by businesses with big advertising budgets. Users are in control. In order to successfully break through the noise and connect to people, companies need to rethink their Facebook strategy from the bottom-up. They need to ensure readers can find their content in a manner consistent with the way they use Facebook.”

This sounds like something said in support of Facebook’s new Instant Articles feature, right?

Not so fast. The quote had nothing to do with Instant Articles. It was written by HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan in the introduction to his 2010 best-selling book, Inbound Marketing. The year 2010! I simply changed the tense to present and substituted readers, information and Facebook for consumers, products and marketing to illustrate the parallel.

Halligan’s observation helped give rise to inbound marketing itself. Today’s successful inbound marketers adapt to the behaviors and preferences of their buyers, turning inside-out the conventional brand-first model.

So why would these very same pioneers scoff at Instant Articles, which promises to enhance the user’s Facebook experience by allowing them to consume content in their preferred manner?

In my opinion, whether Instant Articles is good or bad for marketers is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking if the way Facebook is packaging and distributing Instant Articles is consistent with the way its mobile users want to discover, consume and share content.

If the answer is yes, then to attempt to counteract that tendency is the current-day equivalent of outbound marketing. That is to say: It’s company-centric, not reader-centric.

Facebook Understands Its Users

Researchers have found that, with a large enough data set, Facebook can know you better than your spouse does. The company also understands that when it comes to mobile content, format matters. Self-contained content (such as cards) rules. So does speed. Instant Articles was developed in reaction to these shifting behavioral patterns. 

Should Facebook open Instant Articles to brand publishers, then the company will have (inadvertently) pressured marketing to (yet again) drag their change-averse employers along into weird, uncharted territory. This time, the brand creates content for the counter-intuitive purpose of ceding pretty much all control over it. 

Control, or more specifically, the lack of control, is Bodnar’s primary beef with Instant Articles as a marketing vehicle. His conclusion is plausible: “When you make a deal with Facebook, you give up control. When you give up control, you give up the ability to predictably drive growth and revenue — which is exactly what marketers aim to do.” Yup.

And yet, remember that the fundamental premise of inbound marketing is that the consumer (in our case, the reader) is in control. 

Admittedly, if Instant Articles is rolled out to brand publishers, we might find ourselves having to rethink our SEO strategy — in the conventional, Google-centric sense of the phrase, anyway. And I’d be surprised if the “container” supported the calls-to-action that are so vital to lead generation. But, provided we are able to pair the right topics with the right blend of words and images, then what we stand to gain is at least on par with what we sacrifice. That is, new DNA in our customer gene pool.

Why ‘Reader-Centric’ is Good

Instant Articles is designed to inspire and facilitate sharing. It’s not an accident that the “share button” is contained in the coveted upper left corner of the article depicted below. Search is only effective if readers have a sense of what they’re looking for — and then take an action to find it.

BuzzFeed.jpg

Yet what about the much larger audience comprised of people who have little or no sense of who you are or what you do? They are, by definition, the most difficult segment to reach. And yet, through the promise of accelerated sharing across “the internet of streams,” Instant Articles — at least theoretically — puts you in a better position to reach this elusive group. (And through highly trusted sources, no less.)

Marketers Shouldn’t Lose Sleep

Ultimately, Instant Articles will prove to be a minor disruption. It will be confounding enough to cause some initial hand-wringing, but over time, will seem like much ado about nothing. After just a few internal discussions, a marketing use case is beginning to emerge.

Marketers should test Instant Articles as a distribution vehicle for posts with a short half-life, like “real-time” articles, newsjacking, and perhaps even infographics. In other words, saccharine content that’s produced for a quick burst in traffic but isn’t expected to nourish long-term growth.

As Bodnar mentioned, HubSpot has long contended that marketers should behave like publishers. Innovative publishers like The New York Times and BuzzFeed, two Instant Articles beta partners, recognize that experimentation is essential to survival.

Had the Times stood on principle, it would have never expanded from print to web, web to app, and now app to Instant Articles. As marketers, we too need to be willing to exchange what we want people to do for what they are going to do anyway, with or without us. In the end, that’s what inbound is all about.

What do you think about Facebook’s Instant Articles feature? Discuss in the comments below.

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May

20

2015

Competing With Content Marketing: 7 Steps to Success [Infographic]

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Today, succeeding in inbound marketing means putting content at the heart of your communications strategy.

This is no secret, of course. Content marketing is now a well-established technique and the space has become pretty competitive. So, the question is, how do you invest wisely in content marketing to improve your capabilities so that you can compete and stand out from the noise?

It’s predicted that 59% of B2C marketers and 55% of B2B marketers are increasing their spend in content. With more and more companies developing a content marketing plan for their business, it’s important to understand how you’re performing against industry standards. That’s why we joined forces with Smart Insights and surveyed over 700 marketers across Europe to see how they’ve been aclimatising to the new age of content marketing.

The survey revealed a number of interesting trends. For example, nearly three quarters (71%) of businesses are creating more content in 2015 compared to 2014  and only 12% feel they have an optimised content marketing strategy .

Alright. I’m going to grab a coffee and let the graphic do the talking from here. 

(And feel free to download the full report here.)

Content-Marketing-success-survey.jpg

Please feel free to share this infographic on your own site — just copy and paste the embed code below!

<p><strong>Please include attribution to hubspot.com with this graphic.</strong><br /><br /><a href=’http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-marketing-success-infographic’><img src=’http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/53/Driving_Content_Marketing_Success/Content-Marketing-Europe-infographic.jpg’ alt=’Content marketing success’ width=’600px’ border=’0′ /></a></p>

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May

19

2015

Facebook Instant Articles: Bad for Marketers, OK for Publishers, but Great for Facebook

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When Facebook recently launched Instant Articles, the internet and publishing community was buzzing.

Publishers were excited — by hosting their own articles within Facebook but still displaying their own ads, they could generate more traffic and attention from the Facebook community. Users were also excited — Instant Articles are much faster and more interactive than typical mobile websites.

And with the buzz came many important questions for marketers.

Are Instant Articles going to kill websites? No. Are publishers and marketers making a mistake leveraging Instant Articles? Maybe.

Here’s why.

Smart Move for Facebook

As a user, the experience of Facebook Instant Articles is great. You can get to the story you want almost instantly. Compared to the app’s built-in web browser, Facebook Instant Articles are a major speed and experience upgrade. I can quickly read an article, get right back into my feed, and move on to the next update.

Facebook is brilliant. They understand that a great content consumption experience is critical to their users staying engaged on their platform. 

We’ve seen this most recently in Facebook’s approach to video. Recent data suggests Facebook is gaining ground on YouTube as the video consumption destination on the internet. And with 1.25 billion mobile monthly active users, it’s only logical for Facebook to take the same approach with mobile text content consumption. Instant Articles give users a better experience while keeping them contained within the Facebook mobile application. Well played, Facebook.

What This Means for Marketers and Publishers

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that many of the major publishers are getting 60% of their referral traffic from Facebook.

That previous sentence contained one very important word: “referral.” These publishers aren’t getting 60% of their entire web traffic from Facebook — Facebook is only driving 60% of the clicks from links back to publishers’ sites. That is a very important point to understand. Referral traffic is only one source of traffic to a website or blog — and it’s a small one.

In fact, a study by Conductor of 30 websites’ traffic distribution found that 64% of website traffic comes from search engines. Referral and social traffic? It drives just 17% of traffic. This puts referral traffic in the minority of traffic sources.

Facebook’s pitch is that publishers will get better engagement with Instant Articles — and this very well might be true. It’s also likely that publishers will get additional dark social traffic from Facebook’s messaging application as well as email. However, this traffic could come at an expense.

When a publisher or marketer hosts an article on their own website, any inbound links from other sites that mentioned that article link directly to their own website. This passes authority in Google’s search algorithm, which helps drive more search traffic to the article over the long-term.

With Facebook Instant Articles, sharing and linking is contained within Facebook itself. Publishers and marketers could run the risk of getting fewer inbound links back to their own websites, which ultimately means they could be trading additional Facebook traffic for less search traffic.

Is this a good trade?

When you make a deal with Facebook, you give up control. When you give up control, you give up the ability to predictably drive growth and revenue — which is exactly what marketers aim to do. Through their website, blog, and other marketing assets, marketers work to drive conversions and properly educate potential customers. By using Instant Articles, marketers and publishers aren’t just giving up control of their distribution over to Facebook — they are also giving control of their audience over to Facebook.

Just take a look at The New York Times‘ first Instant Article to see what I mean. 

ny_times_instant_article.png

One thing that is immediately apparent about this Instant Article is that it is missing the same navigation that the article has on The New York Times’ website. When viewing the article on The New York Times’ site on mobile or desktop, a user can access the navigation to read other stories, search for a specific article, and see other articles that are currently popular.

On the Instant Article version, The New York Times site navigation is replaced by the option to follow The New York Times on Facebook. And at the very end of the article, there are three other articles from The New York Times — a smaller and different selection than is offered on The New York Times mobile website.

This lack of control goes against the basic tenets of inbound marketing. In this case, The New York Times published an article that attracted readers to it, but instead of being rewarded for having great content by having the reader continue to consume additional content on their site, the reader is most likely going to go back into Facebook and read a different Instant Article from a different site.

Facebook Instant Articles make the publisher of the content less relevant. The focus is on the individual article much more than it is the publication behind that article. Does the potential distribution increase of Instant Articles offset the brand dilution for publishers?

The odd person out in the rollout of Instant Articles is the marketer. The trade-off of control for traffic might work for many publishers, but not marketers. Publishers have a different business model for their content. Because they monetize based on volume of attention to their content, Facebook Instant Articles have the potential to help them make more advertising revenue.

This is very different than marketers — they need to not only attract the attention of a potential buyer, but also convert and nurture that person through the buying process. For a marketer’s core goal, Instant Articles detract instead of enable.

And we’ve all seen this movie before. Business of all types scrambled to build, maintain, and grow a Facebook Page — many even believed it would replace their website. Then, Facebook changed their News Feed algorithm again and again to make it more difficult for those same businesses to reach the fans that they worked so hard to attract. Who’s to say that the same thing won’t happen with Instant Articles?

We have long said on this blog that marketers today need to think and act like publishers. If this is really true, should marketers begin fighting to have their blog being distributed to Instant Articles? No. Should marketers give up optimizing their own blog for search and instead just optimize posts for Facebook Instant Articles? No. Maintaining control of your content is key to driving long-term, sustainable business growth.

Image Credit: Facebook

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May

18

2015

How to Easily Design Images Like a Pro [Live Webinar]

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We’ve all heard this saying before, and to marketers, it’s becoming increasingly true. Images can help businesses suceed — tweets with images result in 18% more clicks, and 17% of marketers are planning to increase their use of visual assets in 2015.

For companies with the bandwidth to have a dedicated creative designer, this is no intimidating feat. However, for the marketers out there running social, blogging, email, lead generation, and a billion other things, creating images sounds like one more hat you just can’t fit on your head right now. 

Do not fear! Designing and creating stellar images for promotional assets doesn’t have to be another hat. It doesn’t even have to be a visor or a bandana. It can actually be a quick and enjoyable “to-do” item.

Don’t believe me? Spend an hour with Peg Fitzpatrick in our webinar on DIY Design Hacks this Thursday at 1 p.m. EST, and learn how to quickly crank out beautifully designed images. 

Peg will share the quick-and-dirty DIY hacks she uses to market her brand to over 1 million social followers — no Photoshop classes required. In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • How to create 5+ images in under 30 minutes
  • How to create templates for future designs
  • How to avoid looking too “stocky” in your designs
  • … And much, much more! 

Want to attend this webinar? Sign up here.

free live webinar: diy design hacks

May

15

2015

7 Ways to Be Insanely Honest in Your Marketing

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In Velocity’s latest SlideShare, “Insane Honesty in Content Marketing,” we argue for a little-used but hugely powerful strategy: taking the worst attributes of your company, product or service … and highlighting them for all to see.

I really, really, REALLY believe in this approach and I’m amazed more brands don’t practice it. 

If you haven’t seen the SlideShare yet, check it out below. I’ll wait. 

Okay, so you’re on board with Insane Honesty. Here are seven ways to get some Insane Honesty into your content and your wider marketing, done as a listicle for maximum share-ability (hint, hint).

1) Say Who You’re NOT For

Let’s face it, no product or service is right for everyone on the planet. Not even Coke.

So why can’t marketers simply admit that? Why are we so allergic to excluding even the most unlikely-to-buy from our target audience?

What if you said something like this:

If you like your coffee on the acidic end of the spectrum, the Z-Machine is not for you. We love the soft, mild stuff. But we recognize that some people really like that after-bite in their java, so we don’t want to mislead you guys. There are lots of great machines out there that keep the acids in. Ours? Nope.”

See how cool that feels?

See how confident it is?

Think about how you’d feel if you do actually prefer non-acidic coffee.

Now think about how you’d feel if you LOVE acidic coffee. Are you more or less likely to trust this brand when they come out with ‘Z2: The High-Acid Cup-o-matic’?

This is one of the most powerful — and least risky — techniques in the Insane Honesty arsenal. Use it!

2) Admit to a Weak Product Feature

No product team can innovate and develop equally effectively on all fronts. You choose your battles and prioritize the things on your roadmap, right?

That means Competitor A may have a better user interface than you (while your data management capabilities kick their butt).

And Competitor C may have a cheaper on-ramp product (while you have the gold-plated, bullet-proof, enterprise-class option).

Traditional marketing says, “Talk about your weakest features in exactly the same way that you talk about your strongest. Tap dance.”

What if you broke that phoney old convention and said something like:

Okay, we haven’t perfected our data visualization yet. If pretty dashboards are your number one priority, you may find that frustrating. We decided to focus on the data quality through Q2 and Q3 (to us, that’s WAY more important) and to get to the dashboard eye-candy in Q4. Just so you know.”

See how you can de-position the feature as less important without pretending you’re great at it?

And how you can get the reader to consider that data quality is actually much more important than pretty pictures?

And how you come off as an honest vendor who will tell you the truth even if it means losing a sale?

Who the hell wouldn’t want to do that?

3) Embrace the Elephant in the Room

My mother is a genius at denial (she had to be good at it — she had an unimaginably tough start in life).

We used to tease her about her ability to admire a hostess’ Oriental carpet while ignoring the massive blood stain right in the center.

But marketers do this every day — it’s one of the things that make marketing shout, “MARKETING!”

So what if you didn’t just admit you could see the elephant — what if you walked up and gave it a big, dusty hug? Like this:

You may have heard: Our cloud app had some serious down time last year. We let our customers down and paid the price. It hurt. It hurt so much that we did the following nine things to make sure it never happens again …”

All of a sudden, the story changes from “slick marketer trying to gloss over a major problem” to “well-meaning company trips up and learns from its mistakes.”

The elephant is already the room, dude. It blocks your view of the mini-bar. It smells. It has ears the size of your torso. You really want to chat about the cool curtains?

4) Praise Your Competitors

This one physically hurts a lot of marketers. But bear with me.

Your competitors may be duplicitous and under-handed and down-right annoying, but you have a lot more in common with them than you’d like to admit.

You serve the same people, helping them solve the same problems. You go to the same trade shows and speak at the same conferences about pretty much the same things.

So, like it or not, you’re fellow travellers.

We’ve all seen unseemly public spats between vendors. It’s embarrassing and both parties come out badly.

Insane Honesty turns that dynamic on its head. How about:

The smart folks over at BadGuys Inc. just put out a cool interview with Max McGillicuddy of Spinfast Propellers. Check it out. Max is the MAN when it comes to this stuff. Great interview. Wish we’d done it!”

Yeah, I know, now you think I’m smoking something in a Colorado coffee shop.

But read it again and monitor your feelings as you do so.

A statesmanlike passage like this sends a loud, clear message to your prospects: This is a confident company that’s unafraid of a little competition. And these are the kind of people everybody likes: These are nice people.

So be nice. Be gracious. Give credit where credit is due. You’ll live.

5) Laugh at Yourself

Marketers tend to have sense-of-humour failures over little things that don’t really matter. Little embarrassing things that we just know other people are laughing at behind our backs.

So what if we take the joke out from behind our backs and join in the laughter? Kinda like this:

We know, we know: the name ‘FourSkin’ is a pretty funny name for a drum head company. Our founder was an immigrant from Hungary, and English was his fourth language. But, hey, it’s too late now and it’s a great conversation starter. If you can’t handle it, you can call us FS. Our mothers do.”

Teasing yourself completely defuses the situation and deflates the embarrassment. A bit of self-effacing humor goes a long way.

6) Replace Lame Excuses With the Truth

When things go bad, the “crisis management” team spins out all manner of nonsense to try to “contain the situation.”

On Monday morning, we experienced a denial of service attack from an unknown server. Our security team responded within seven minutes to address the issue but, unfortunately everyone’s credit card numbers are now for sale on Silk Road.”

Just once in a while, a company says something like:

You’re not going to believe this. Last night, Jamie, over in accounts, left his laptop in a taxi. It had all our passwords on it. The good news? We got the laptop back an hour later and the passwords were still encrypted. The not-so-good news? We moved Jamie to shipping (passwords can NEVER leave the firewall under ANY circumstances and he knew that). Now here’s what we need you to do, right now if possible …”

If you give them a chance, people tend to understand that people are people and — even in the best-run companies — mistakes happen.

And people can smell PR spin from a mile away. They prefer the truth, even when it feels insane to speak it.

7) Share Disappointments Instead of Hiding Them

Didn’t get into the top-right corner of the latest analyst report?

Lose a major client or a key employee?

Old-school marketers just straighten the tie, practice the grin, and face the music as if it was “Eye of the Tiger” instead of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

Instead, what if you say what normal people say?  

What if you say, “Ouch!”?

When Velocity lost Ryan Skinner, a beloved account director, to Forrester (where he’s now very happy), we could have done the normal thing and issued the standard press release to “wish him well in his future endeavours.”

But we didn’t want to.

We wanted to call him names.

And call Forrester names.

So we did.  

This post, “Analyst Bastards Poach Stinkyhead Skinner from Top Agency” was fun to write, de-fused the bad news, and turned the stale convention upside down. Warning: It’s got lots of juvenile swear words.

Conclusion: Not So “Insane” Anymore, Is It?

So there you go. Seven ways to turn the theory of Insane Honesty into real practice in your own marketing.

It may feel scary and un-natural and anti-marketing — but that’s true of all the best marketing, isn’t it?

And here’s the thing: To start out on your insane journey, you don’t have to RUN the insanely honest copy you write. You just have to write it down and show it to a few people. Discuss the upside (earning trust, surprising the audience, coming off as human beings …) and the downside (alienating people who would never buy any way).

Then, what the hell, just go for it.

free guide to writing well

May

14

2015

Want People to Share Your Visual Content? Avoid These 6 Common Mistakes

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In the perpetual race to stand out on social media, visual content is pulling in front and kicking up speed.

According to Socially Sorted, the image-focused Instagram is now surpassing Twitter in daily mobile traffic. And Facebook posts with images generate an estimated 53% more likes that solely text-based posts.

While many have noticed the trend and jumped on board, there are still many marketers out there spinning their wheels without traction. There is an invisible, constantly changing culture on social media platforms determined by popular demand, and if you aren’t abiding by the unwritten rules, you will find yourself left in the virtual dust.

Here are some of the leading causes of harm to social media relevancy when it comes to visual content — and how to fix them.

6 Visual Content Mistakes People Make on Social

Mistake #1: Your images don’t reflect your brand.

Think of your brand image as a combination of your businesses beliefs, services and your unique value-add to the world.

Now, ask yourself: Do your images reflect this?

Your fans followed you for a reason. Either they like your product or what you stand for. Or, in most cases, they like both. This means you technically already know what your fans like — and creating visual content that reflects that will help massively boost your chances of them sharing it.

The example below from Nike’s Instagram Account doesn’t display their iconic “swoosh” logo in the photo, but it does display the lifestyle that’s inherited with their apparel. This is a great example of how you can embody brand essence without obvious visual elements, such as a logo.

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Try using images that are related to what you can offer with your goods and services, rather than putting your logo on every piece of content you put out there.

Mistake #2: Your designs don’t stand out.

Among the millions of posts flooding through social media every day, do you think mediocre visual content will separate you from the crowd? If no one notices your content, they’re certainly not going to share your stuff.

One way to dramatically improve the overall look and feel of your designs is to experiment with different color palettes. What are the feelings you want to evoke from your social media audience? Understanding the impact of color on your audience is key to appealing to their emotions, and encouraging them to share your content. Try and replicate that feeling with the colors you choose.

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Image Credit: WebPageFX

One of my favourite ways to experiment with color combinations is to extract different hues from images with a color picker tool, like the Eyedropper Chrome extensionTake a look at the two color palettes below:

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From the left, the first is sun drenched and warm evokes a familiar or nostalgic feeling. The second is bright and modern, immediately evoking a happy or “vacation” feel to the image. Try finding images you like, and use the color picker tool to extract different hues and create a mood.

Another way to stop the mindless scroll when you browse social media? Edit and enhance the photos you post. Up the saturation, adjust the contrast, add a filter. These are techniques to help make your images look more professional and unique.

Here’s a great example of a jaw-dropping enhanced image from the @weddingideas_brides Instagram account.

 

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Remember: Your goal is to draw the audience in.

Mistake #3: Your images are low-quality.

If you’re using low-quality images, you won’t “wow” your followers — and, in turn, they might not share your posts. Your visual content is a direct reflection of the quality of your brand, and it will also reflect on your followers if they choose to share it on their accounts.

If you think you don’t have the budget or resources to hire a photographer or purchase professional stock photos, don’t freak out. Luckily, there’s a ton of high quality content out there that’s also totally free — you just need to know where to look. For example, here are over 550 royalty-free stock photos from HubSpot you can download and use.

Along with choosing high quality images to promote your brand, consider this checklist:

  • Are your images a high enough resolution so they don’t appear pixelated on larger devices?
  • Can you read the text on the images clearly?
  • Do your photos and graphics appear as if they were professionally done? (Pro tip: Use professional templates like Canva’s free templates.)

Below is an example of a lower quality Facebook profile photo that wasn’t formatted to the correct size, creating an abundance of dead space around the image and hard-to-read text:

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While you may provide a great product or service, it’s important to ensure your online presence matches that same quality.

Now, consider the next image from Elite Daily’s Facebook Page and take a mental inventory of what draws you in:

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Elite Daily consistently accompanies its blog posts with striking, high-quality images. Notice how the image in this Facebook post is also highly relevant to the topic. That’s another important factor in boosting the shareability of the post.

Mistake #4: You didn’t format your design for the right social platform.

If you don’t format your designs for the right platform, then your images will appear cropped and low quality — and that’s not going to impress your audience.

Always check the correct dimensions for your social media content designs before you even start designing. (Here’s a detailed guide to photo and image sizes on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks to help you out.)

Below, I’ve pulled out three designs optimized for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Notice the difference in shape between. This shows why correctly formatting images is essential to keep them looking their best.

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Mistake #5: There’s too much text.

People love visual content on social media because it’s easy to digest. Too much text on your images has the opposite effect. A picture is worth a thousand words — and in an age where our attention spans last only 140 characters, it’ll serve well not to overwhelm your audience.

Be quick, concise, and let your visual content do the talking for you. 

Check out the image below from Peek’s Twitter account:

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The image is a simple picture taken from the window seat on a plane. No text; just the reader’s imagination of the possibility of travel. Consider keeping your pictures and graphics clear of overlaid text, or only using text where necessary.

Have a lot to say? Your best bet is to grab your reader’s attention with a compelling image, and then direct them to a blog post or website that offers more information.

Mistake #6: You’re not following the trends.

Trends, especially on social media, flourish because of popular appeal. If you don’t tap into popular social trends, then you’ll miss out on a huge opportunity to get your visual content shared.

Take the time to explore other brands’ social media pages that are generating a high level of success with their visual content. One way to do this is to search for your brand keywords in Pinterest and keep a note of content with a large amount of pins. By replicating posts with similar visual content, you’ll be instantly increasing the chances of getting your content shared.

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Of course, don’t forget to add your own personal touch or flair. That’s what makes your brand unique, after all. But in the case of social media, a little research can go a long way.

Over to You

If you’re already using visual content on your social media pages, you’re off to a great start. Even if you’re not a design pro, all it takes is a bit of research and the right tools to become a visual marketing pro.

download 60 customizable social media graphic templates

May

14

2015

6 Data-Backed Lessons for Content Marketers in Europe

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Content marketing is nothing new to marketers all over the world. Many of us know it’s the fuel that drives many of the key inbound marketing techniques across web, search, social, and email marketing. But because content has become a well-established part of global companies’ overall marketing strategies, the online content space is becoming more and more competitive.

To get ahead and stand out, the key is knowing where in your content strategy to invest. The question is, how? And how can you tell whether you’re behind the curve or on the cutting edge of the content game? 

To help answer these questions, HubSpot collaborated with Smart Insights to summarise data from over 700 marketers across Europe and set a benchmark on how competitive content marketing has become. This data can help show you where to focus your content marketing activities in order to stay competitive, and it includes key insights on the data from leading industry experts.

Click here to download our free industry benchmark report for driving content marketing success in Europe.

Want a taste of what’s in the report? Here are a few of our key findings.

1) Content marketing is hyper-competitive.

We found that businesses are increasing investment in content marketing. Check out how businesses rated the value of content marketing:

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Key Stats:

  • 71% of businesses are creating more content in 2015 compared to 2014
  • Only 3% of survey respondents don’t see the opportunity from content marketing. In other words, marketers believe in the power of content marketing.
  • Over a quarter of companies are increasing internal headcount for content marketing, and 28% are increasing investment in agency resources this year.

2) Managing content marketing remains challenging.

We found that the key issues in managing content marketing are the creation of quality content and measuring ROI. Look at to what extent the organisations we surveyed have embraced content marketing:

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Key Stats:

  • When rating their content marketing capabilities, the majority of businesses see significant room for improvement with over two-thirds (68%) rating their content marketing as basic or inconsistent.
  • Managing content creation is a headache for many, with 55% citing content quality and 58% citing content frequency as specific concerns.
  • Measurement of ROI and content effectiveness is a challenge for over half (51%) of businesses.

3) Strategy and planning are big parts of companies’ content marketing success.

The following content marketing tactics were the highest rated by marketers for effectiveness:

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4) SEO is the most popular technique for organic content distribution.

We found that marketers are using SEO tactics more than social media for organic content distribution. Notice that Google organic traffic (SEO) had much more positive ratings than Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ as an organic content distribution option.

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5) Paid distribution on social is still not being utilised much.

As you might expect, a lot of marketers aren’t investing in paid content distribution.

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Key Stats:

  • 50% of respondants don’t use using Twitter ads.
  • 48% of respondants don’t use LinkedIn ads.
  • 46% of respondants don’t use Facebook ads.
  • 49% of respondants don’t use Google Remarketing.
  • Out of the respondants using using paid content distribution, Google Adwords is the most used platform, with 53% having paid for their ads to show up in search results.

6) ROI remains difficult to analyze

Marketers are still struggling to measure ROI from content marketing.

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Key Stats:

  • Only 39% claimed they were able to measure return on investment from their content marketing.

Want more insights on current content marketing trends in Europe? How about predictions from industry experts on what the data means? Download our brand new report with Smart Insights, Driving Content Marketing Success in Europe, 2015.

free european content marketing benchmarks report

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”:

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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:

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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:

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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? 

free content creation templates

May

7

2015

How Seth Godin Finds Time to Write Blog Posts Every Day

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Blogging every day clarifies my thoughts — it helps me notice things. It’s one of the most important practices of my profession.” – Seth Godin [Click to Tweet]

Seth Godin is a busy guy. 

He’s considered to be one of the best marketers on the planet. He’s an entrepreneur, speaker, and author of over 20 books. Oh, and he still finds the time to blog every single day.

What’s his secret? 

On the most recent episode of The Growth Show, Seth gave HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe a peek inside his writing process. Here are his two best tips for writing and growing a successful blog:

1) Write like you talk. 

One of the most common objections to blogging is “I don’t have enough time to write” — but Seth doesn’t want to hear it.

“Come to me after you stop watching TV or the Internet,” he says. “If you’re not doing those things, I’m willing to listen to the fact that you don’t have time. Everybody has time to speak. Everybody has time to talk about how their day went — so if you write like you talk, all you have to do is write down that thing you said. It literally can take 90 seconds if you want it to.”

2) Make the decision once and then commit.

Many people stop writing before they start seeing the true returns with blogging. And unlike most forms of paid marketing, “content marketing has a cumulative and compounding return.” Seth shares his approach and how he’s been able to stay consistent:

“If you can make a decision once, then the question isn’t should I do it? It’s what will I do? If you make the decision once to be a vegan, then you don’t need to have a discussion with yourself every single night about whether or not to have a hamburger. If you make the decision to blog every single day, then the only discussion I have to have with myself is what’s the best blog post I can write — not should I write a post. As (Saturday Night Live Producer) Lorne Michaels has said, ‘Saturday Night Live doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30.’”

Listen to the full interview on iTunes to get a behind-the-scenes look at Seth’s writing process, his thoughts on building businesses, and his tip for hiring the right people.

Want to learn from Seth Godin in person? He’ll be giving a keynote at INBOUND this year. Click here to learn more.

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May

6

2015

How to Create a Social Media Calendar [Infographic]

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“Today, getting people to hear your story on social media, and then act on it, requires using a platform’s native language, paying attention to context, understanding the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique, and adapting your content to match,” explains social media entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk.

He couldn’t be more right. 

But the trouble is, anyone tasked with managing social media for a business knows that juggling multiple accounts and crafting unique messaging can be really challenging. 

Defining a social media calendar will not only help you to consistently publish more compelling social posts, but it will also make it easier for your to provide measurable ROI.

For a more in-depth look at how this all works, as well as tips on how to create a social media calendar for your business, check out the following infographic from QuickSprout’s Neil Patel. From the characteristics of a strong social media calendar to case studies from marketers who’ve seen success, this visual walks you through everything you need to know to get started. 

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free social media content calendar template

May

5

2015

The Ultimate List of Free Content Creation Tools & Resources

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Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like a sprint in a swamp.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job. Automation hasn’t yet replaced what we do (thank goodness).  

That being said, there are plenty of tools out there to make creating content much easier. Below, you’ll find a list of 28 fantastic tools and resources to help you research, write, edit, and design content more easily. (You’ll notice there are a lot of design tools in here — that’s because visual content is often the part of the content creation process where people get the most nervous and frustrated. So don’t worry, we’ve got a ton in there for you.)

For more free tools, download our content creation templates for creating blog posts, ebooks, infographics, and more.

Let’s get started.

28 Free Tools & Resources to Make Content Creation Easier

For Researchers

1) Google Drive Research Tool

Google recently added a tool to Drive that allows you to conduct Google searches without ever leaving your Drive window. All you have to do is click “Tools” from the menu bar and choose “Research” from the dropdown menu. 

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2) Site:search

This is a handy Google hack I use every day. Basically, it allows you to do a Google search that’s limited to a particular website.

For example, if I wanted to search HubSpot’s blog for marketing resources so I can cite one of our old blog posts, I’d do a site:search for blog.hubspot.com with the search term marketing resources. The formula for site search is site:samplewebsite.com [search query]. So my example would be site:blog.hubspot.com marketing resources.

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3) Google Webmaster Tools

Doing SEO and keyword research? Your marketing software should be able to help. But if it can’t (or you’d like to augment your data), Google’s Webmaster Tools can be a great help. You can check things like the number of indexed pages on your website, submit your site to Google so you’re getting crawled and indexed, and even disavow bad inbound links. It also can give you information on search queries that have a large volume of impressions but low clickthrough rate.

Within Google Webmaster Tools, go to “Your site on the web” and choose “Search queries.” You’ll see a table showing a search query, impressions, clicks, and clickthrough rate (CTR). Comparing this data to your other analytics data can help uncover some opportunities.

4) Percentage Change Calculator

I can’t even begin to tell you how useful this little calculator is when looking for and analyzing data. Ever want to know the percentage change of two values without have to remember the formula? Simply enter the two values into this calculator, and it’ll spit out the percentage change. Trust me, you’ll want to bookmark this one.

Here are a few other handy calculators:

  • 3-Way Percentage CalculatorCalculates answers to these questions: What is X% of Y? X is what percent of Y? X is Y% of what?
  • Conversion Rate Calculator – Spits out a conversion rate when you enter the total visitor count during a specific time frame and the number of times during that time frame those visitors took a specific action.
  • A/B Test CalculatorWorks for a basic scenario with two groups of people (A & B) who get to see one version of your website and for whom you track the number of conversions or goals (purchases, downloads, clickthroughs, etc.).

5) Search in a Giphy

You know that coworker who always seems to find the perfect animated GIFs for your social posts or internal chat client? With the free Giphy Chrome extension, you’ll be able to find great GIFs just as quickly.

To use the tool, all you have to do is open the extension in Chrome, search, choose a GIF, and drag and drop. So far, the tool works in Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and more — and they’re constantly expanding support.

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For Writers

6) Evernote

I use the free version of Evernote every single day. From to-do lists and research notes to writing entire chunks of articles, it’s proven helpful at every step of the writing and editing process.

One great feature? Its mobile, desktop, and web apps sync automatically as long as you have an internet connection. (And if you work offline, it’ll sync the next time you have internet.) Plus — and this is super important for content creators like us — it’s constantly saving and syncing your work automatically, making it a safe place to write and store ideas.

Use it to keep a running list of ideas, take notes, store inspiring articles or ebooks — even to write a blog post in 10 minutes by speaking it out loud and then editing the translated text.

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7) Word2CleanHTML

If you like drafting blog posts in programs like Microsoft Word, Evernote, or Google Drive instead of your content management system (CMS), then this simple tool can be your best friend. Why? Because when you copy a document from Microsoft Office and paste it into your CMS, lots of little, weird formatting issues can crop up in your HTML.

Word2CleanHTML applies filters to fix all those things added into the HTML, resulting in well-formatted HTML you can paste directly into a web page CMS. Simply paste in your draft, click one button, and then copy the resulting HTML straight from the tool. When you paste that into your CMS (most will have buttons reading “HTML” or “</>” in their tool bar above your draft), it will appear nice and clean. No hair-pulling or swimming through code required.

8) WordCounter

There is no “right answer” for how long a blog post should be. As long as it serves its purpose — whether that’s thought leadership, driving leads, explaining a new concept, or something else — length doesn’t matter. But although we don’t recommend writing blog posts with a word count in mind, sometimes word count can come in handy. WordCounter works exactly the way you think it does: Paste in your content and it’ll spit out exactly how many words you have.

9) Cofftivity

According to a study out of the University of Chicago, “A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” In other words, being the tiniest bit distracted actually helps you be more creative. That’s why for many people, myself included, white noise helps promote focus.

There are a lot of white noise generators out there, but my favorite is Cofftivity. This particular one offers non-stop café background sounds at varying intensities, from “Morning Murmur” and “University Undertones” to “Lunchtime Lounge” and “Brazil Bistro.” It’s available on the web and as an app on iOS and Android.

10) & 11) Zerys & eLance

Need to start creating content but don’t have the bandwidth? We hear about this roadblock a lot. One way to get around it is by hiring freelancers from reputable marketplaces like Zerys or eLance. These resources give you access to skilled freelance writers who can write blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, and other pieces of written content for you. (To be sure you’re hiring the best writers, read this in-depth post about how to screen for the best writers.)

12) HTML Hacks for Marketers

While this isn’t strictly a writing resource, basic coding knowledge is quickly becoming a must-have skill for the modern marketer — bloggers and written content creators included. But learning from scratch can be daunting. Where on earth do you start?

If you’re a total beginner, start with HTML Hacks for Marketerswhich my colleagues at HubSpot created with Codeacademy. It’ll teach you quick but useful hacks anyone — regardless of coding knowledge — can use in their marketing. For example, you’ll learn how to make small changes to HTML like altering headers and spacing, creating text in block-quote form, and inserting social share links. My personal favorite is the hack to change font colors.

Once you’ve mastered these basic HTML skills, move on to Codeacademy’s free interactive courses. They found a way to make learning HTML and CSS actually fun — and you can go through each lesson at your own pace.

For Content Editors

13) & 14) Grammarly & Correctica

While human editors will be able to catch most grammatical errors, editing tools like Grammarly and Correctica are great tools for triple-checking before you press “publish” or “send.” Both free tools check for grammatical errors — and Grammarly even checks for plagiarism.

15) Hemingway App

Ernest Hemingway, admired for his succinct writing style, is the namesake for this handy editing app. Want to make your written content easier to read? Paste your content into this free web app, and it’ll assess your writing and identify opportunities to make it simpler.

My favorite features include identifying passive voice and hard-to-read sentences. Check out the right-hand side of the screenshot below, where the tool has summed up how readable my writing is with a grade. (Some room for improvement here.) Their suggestion to improve readability overall? Shoot for lower than a 10th grade reading level.

hemingway-app-screenshot.png

16) Headline Analyzer

Here’s a scary stat for you: Only 62% of people who click into an article end up reading past the headline. That makes your headline both the first and possibly the only chance for you to compel readers to keep reading — so it’s totally worth it to spend the extra few minutes coming up with a really good one.

What does a really good headline look like? The free tool Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule can tell you. It scores your headline quality and rates its ability to drive social shares, traffic, and SEO value. In my experience, its strength is helping you strengthen specific components of your title. For example, it reports on perceived sentiment and commonality of word types. It’ll even show you how it will appear in search results.

So although you should take these scores and grades with a grain of salt, you can use this to give your headlines a “once-over.” (And read this blog post to learn more about writing awesome headlines.)

For Designers

17) Nimbus Screenshot

This is another tool I use every day. Sure, you can capture a screenshot of your entire screen or part of your screen using the old keyboard shortcut method. But what if you want your screenshot to include stuff that’s not visible on your screen?

Nimbus Screenshot lets you capture the visible part of a web page, a selected area, a selected scroll (my personal favorite), the entire page, or the entire browser window — including everything below the fold.

nimbus-screenshot.png

Once you’ve taken the screenshot, you can crop, edit (like adding notes and callouts), and choose to print or save to your desktop or Google Drive.

18) Canva

If you like creating beautiful visual content in a really short amount of time, you’ll love Canva. The time and resources it takes to learn design, pay for design assets, and/or get inspired to create beauty from scratch can be really difficult when you’re staring at a long list of to-dos — but Canva offers a huge library of pre-made templates and assets that you can manipulate while also adding your own imagery.

Best of all, they have so many assets and graphics available for free that you won’t have to pay a cent if you don’t want to. If you want to use more “premium” assets and graphics found through their image search, they’ll charge you $1 for each. But there’s plenty of value for free. 

Here’s an example of something you could make:

hubspot_canva_example

19) ThingLink

Ever wanted to make an image (or infographic) clickable? ThingLink lets you upload an image and add little icons to it that appear when a person hovers their cursor over the image. These icons allow users to visit links, watch videos, or read messages you’ve written. Plus, it’s easy to share: Users can easily embed ThingLink images. (Click here for step-by-step instructions.)

Below is part of a a clickable infographic from Thinglink my colleague Ginny Soskey created for another post:

20) Skitch

Skitch is a free app by Evernote that helps you communicate more visually. It lets you mark up images, digital assets, PDFs, and other files with arrows, callout boxes, text, and more all in one place.

In the example below, I opened the program on my desktop and used the “Screen Snap” button to take a screenshot of a web page — which then opened right in Skitch for editing and exporting.

skitch-by-evernote.png

Although it’s free, it does require you to open an Evernote account — but that’s also free (see above).

21) Infogram 

While similar to Canva, Infogram is a visual content tool that focuses on helping you create infographics, charts, and data visualization. If you like to create charts using Microsoft Excel, you’re in luck — it also offers compatibility with Excel through Infogram Charts. Also, their infographics are responsive with mobile devices.

22) Google Fonts

Want to spruce up your site pages, presentations, ebooks, and other content with cool and difference new fonts? Little-known fact: Google has a directory of 600 free fonts ready for you to download and use.

Simply find and select the fonts you like from their directory, then click “Use” to get the HTML code you can copy and paste onto your site. Alternatively, you can download the fonts to your desktop and use them when making new marketing content by clicking “Add to Collection.” (Click here for step-by-step instructions for doing this in the HubSpot software.)

google-web-fonts.png

23) Image Color Picker

Remember that time you wanted to match your call-to-action design to that color you were using on all your event swag … but the one person who would know what that color was didn’t work at your company anymore? Next time that happens, snag a picture of that swag and upload it to ImageColorPicker.com, or use any image URL to do the same thing. Select any point of the picture, and immediately see its corresponding HEX, RGB, and HSV values. Helllloooo matching color schemes.

24) Haiku Deck

If you’ve ever had to create a PowerPoint or SlideShare presentation in a pinch, you’ll wish you knew about Haiku Deck. This tool helps you quickly find simple layouts, beautiful images, and great fonts. It’s available for the web and for iPad.

Want to see what one looks like? Below’s an example I pulled from their list of featured decks. Note the simplicity of the design — if you want to create super detailed slides, this may not be the right tool for you.

Snowed In? – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

25) HubSpot’s Free Stock Photos

Searching for and buying stock imagery can be a pain in the you-know-what — especially when it comes to deciphering legalese for different use cases. I have a liberal arts degree, and Nietzsche was easier to read than whatever legalese stock imagery companies tended to give me. All I wanted to know is whether to cite or not cite a stock image of a laptop. Why was it so hard?

That’s why our team decided to create a library of 550+ free and royalty-free stock photos. Whether it’s a unique image needed for an ebook or that perfect photo you want to add to a blog post, that collection should have you covered.

26) PlaceIt

PlaceIt serves a very specific purpose: It allows you to upload images of your site or product into real-world environments of people holding phones, tablets, and laptops. PlaceIt will automatically alter the image to make it appear natural with the angle of the phone’s screen — which will save you time learning and/or editing in more advanced software to get the angle right.

place-it-example.png

You’ll have to pay per image to get really large or high-resolution versions, though I’ve found free images work just fine for blog posts and and product page content. The paid downloads also remove that PlaceIt watermark from the bottom right.

27) & 28) The Noun ProjectHubSpot’s Resizable Icons Collection

Like with stock photos, another challenge content creators face is finding elegant icons that resize without getting all fuzzy. There are a few resources out there for great, resizeable icons.

The Noun Project is an extensive library of thousands of icons uploaded by contributors. With a free account, you can use icons as long as you either give credit to the creator or purchase them royalty-free for $1.99 apiece.

HubSpot has a library of resizeable icons, too, which you can download for free and without any licensing or attribution. The kit comes with a free guide for how to change the color of the icons using PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

To that, we say … 

general-icons-26

(From HubSpot’s Free Icon Collection.)

It’s Not the Wand, It’s the Wizard

The tools and resources listed above can help you create, but it’s ultimately up to you to control the quality of your content. You still need to know your customer incredibly well, understand what challenges they face that your product or service solves, and create content that helps them address those challenges.

The brains and heart behind the content creator trump the code behind any tools and technology today — and that’s a good thing for succeeding in marketing today.

What other tools or apps do you use to create content more easily? Leave them in the comments so we can extend this list right here!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

free content creation templates

 
                                   

May

4

2015

5 Bad Writing Habits to Drop Right Now

writing-mistakes.png

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?)

free guide to writing well

 

May

1

2015

Why You Should Create More “Boring” Content

boring-content.png

I started my content journey the same way many other marketers do: Trying to “go viral.”

Some of the posts I created were “72 Content Ideas for Fill Your Pipeline” and “50% of Searches Have Never Been Made Before.” Posts like these filled me with false hope — they got thousands of hits and brought attention to my site, but did absolutely nothing to move the needle on my company’s monthly revenue (which was still $0). 

Then one day, out of sheer exasperation, I tried a different approach. Instead of just trying to get hits I decided to answer a real question that a real potential customer had asked me.

I run a quiz building platform, and the person had asked, “How do I make one of these personality quizzes I see on Facebook?” I thought no one really cared to read a technical guide on how to create a quiz, so I had ignored the request. However, when I hit that point of desperation, I decided to try writing a response “How to Make a Personality Quiz.” The result? We landed our first paying customer through that article.

In fact, the week after that article went up, four people signed up and paid for Interact. And since then, more than 500 paying customers have come our way just from articles like the “How to Make a Personality Quiz” article.

The personality quiz article is what I call “boring content” because it won’t be up-voted on any forums or shared on social media — the general internet reader couldn’t care less. But the thing is, to a very specific person who needs to make a quiz for their marketing, that article is extremely valuable, and answers the exact question they need answered. These people also happen to be a great fit for our business.

If you’re looking to start creating more “boring” content for your business, keep on reading. I’ll show you how you can identify, build, and grow a base of “boring” content that has much better ROI for your business.

How to Create Better “Boring” Content

Find “Boring” Ideas

Just like I had to make the transition from making “click-bait” content to creating “boring” content, you’ll have to go through your own process to start creating helpful (but maybe not that interesting) posts. There are a few methods to make this change easier.

Listen

The reason it took me so long to embrace “boring” content in the first place was because I just wasn’t listening to the questions people were asking. No, I didn’t cut people off when they were talking to me or anything like that, but I didn’t do anything about answering the questions they were asking. Once I started really listening and answering questions through my content, the wheels began to turn.

Now 90% of our really useful content ideas come directly from questions our prospects and customers ask. I no longer disdain questions; I welcome them as opportunities for creating content.

Set Up Interviews

The questions people ask you out of the blue will be helpful for identifying easy wins in “boring” content, but to really dig into the specifics of what people want help with, you need to talk with them for an extended period of time.

To this day I reach out to customers and offer my help. Then, I’ll ask what kinds of questions they have about our product. I have yet to do a phone call and not walk away with a new idea for an article.

richard_email.png

Look in Your Analytics and Keyword Tools

One day I was checking out my analytics (as all marketers do), and I noticed someone had arrived on an article I wrote about embedding quizzes with the hyper-specific term: “Can I embed a quiz on Wix?” In response, I wrote an article called “How to embed a quiz in Wix.” Simple, right? To date, that article has over 600 views, and it only took a few minutes to prepare.

I now consistently look at the terms people use to find our existing content to find opportunities for writing more articles.

The other place to look for ideas is the Google Keyword Tool. This one is more useful for validating an idea than finding new ones. If someone asks you a question and you want to know if there’s search volume to back up an article on that question, just type the question into the tool. (Editor’s Note: HubSpot customers, you can also use the Keywords App to find suggestions and track your progress on those keywords.) 

Make “Boring” Content Interesting

I call “boring” content boring because it is not traditionally interesting, that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable to read. Here’s my method for making “boring” content absolutely fascinating for the right audience.

Start by Going Long

Most marketers have seen the serpIQ graph below showing how top SERP’s are dominated by long-form content. It’s a staple of blog posts advocating long-form content.

average_content_length.jpg

But just because something is recommended for an industry doesn’t always mean that it will work for your company. So I wanted to see if the findings of serpIQ could be backed up by my own content. I divided all the posts into various categories by length and checked their SERPs. In general, my long-form content does have higher rankings:

content_length_serp_term.jpg

Now this doesn’t mean that just creating a long article about a random subject will automatically get you a higher ranking, but I do think it points to the fact that Google likes articles that fully explain a topic rather than just brushing over the facts.

This might seem like a difficult thing to do given that “boring” content feels, well, boring. However, you can make your “boring” content fun to read by using some other techniques traditionally preached in the content marketing world.

Use Real Examples

One of the best ways to answer a question is by showing how someone else solved that problem. For example, whenever I need to make a point about how to do something in my articles, I use a real example from a real company that did a good job. That way I can weave their narrative into the post to make it more memorable and instructive.

Add Visual Examples

With “boring” content you are often answering complex questions using words. One great way to simplify your content and make it useful to the reader is by visualizing examples and explanations.

There’s a stat going around that visual information can be processed 60,000 times faster than text. That may or may not be true, but I know that visuals make your articles more fun to read, which is a good thing when you are creating something called “boring” content.

picture_example.png

Use Real Numbers

According to a study by Conductorreaders most prefer headlines with numbers in them — so that can be a great tactic you can use to engage people in “boring” content. 

conductor.png

Build a Long-Term “Boring” Content Strategy

Once you begin to create “boring” content, you’ll find that the easy questions to answer will be gone quickly. There has to be a strategy in place for consistently finding new content ideas. Here are three ways to continually find winning ideas.

Keep a List of Questions

Every time someone asks you a question there is an opportunity to create a new “boring” post. I believe in something called the 10X rule, which means that if one person asks a question, there are at least ten others who have the same question — they just didn’t ask it. Think back to your days in school: How many times did you wait for someone else to ask a question you had?

People still do that in the real world, so keeping a list of questions people ask ensures your idea queue is always full. I put every question in a new Trello card and have a number next to each question that represents the number of times that particular question has been asked.

trello-3.png

Take a Big Question and Break It Down Into More Specific Ideas

Sometimes when you begin to unravel a question it reveals a bunch of other questions that can be answered with content. Below I created a mind map of how I created eight blog posts based on the original “How do I make a personality quiz?” question. Some of the secondary ideas apply to specific industries, some apply to specific parts of personality quizzes (like the questions), and some are compilations of the best personality quizzes. Eight blog posts from one idea? Not too shabby.

how_one_question_turns_into_many_blog_posts.jpg

Have a Schedule and Stick to It

“Boring” content is not always viral content. You won’t be able to create one “blockbuster” post and rely on it to drive immediate, massive results. You need to consistently publish “boring” content several times a week to make an impact. VC Tomasz Tunguz calls it the “compounding returns of content.” 

I actually mapped out every single blog post I’ve published on a chart below to show how consistent, helpful content can build traffic over time.

As you can see, most posts get fewer than 10 page views per day, but they are very consistent because that traffic is primarily coming from search for very long-tail terms. However, when you look at how many lines there are, it begins to really add up. That traffic is consistent over time and creates a base of visitors that you can rely on.

every_interact_blog_post_over_time.jpg

Have a Call-to-Action on Each Post

Every post you create should link to a landing page or product page that’s very specific to the topic of the post — it helps increase conversions. For example, I’d want to have a CTA to “Make a quiz for your Weebly site at Interact” on a post about putting quizzes inside Weebly.

I wanted to see just how big the discrepancy was between my “boring” posts and my “click-bait” posts was when it came to clickthrough, so I installed Crazy Egg and tracked the link clicks. The results were astounding: “Boring” content had a 28% clickthrough rate to the main site, whereas the general interest “click-bait” posts only achieved a 3% clickthrough.

personalized_cta.jpg

The reason for this massive difference is just relevance. The “boring” articles are more closely related to what my company does, so the clickthrough to the site is incredibly higher than my general interest articles.

clickthrough_rate_to_product.jpg

Now Over to You

If you’re like me and have tried creating fun “click-bait” content with no success, give “boring” content a try. The process is simple enough: Start by answering questions, create articles that are interesting to read for the small group of people who will read them, and then create a long-term strategy for sourcing and building out a “boring” content strategy. 

free content creation templates

May

1

2015

Why You Should Create More “Boring” Content

boring-content.png

I started my content journey the same way many other marketers do: Trying to “go viral.”

Some of the posts I created were “72 Content Ideas for Fill Your Pipeline” and “50% of Searches Have Never Been Made Before.” Posts like these filled me with false hope — they got thousands of hits and brought attention to my site, but did absolutely nothing to move the needle on my company’s monthly revenue (which was still $0). 

Then one day, out of sheer exasperation, I tried a different approach. Instead of just trying to get hits I decided to answer a real question that a real potential customer had asked me.

I run a quiz building platform, and the person had asked, “How do I make one of these personality quizzes I see on Facebook?” I thought no one really cared to read a technical guide on how to create a quiz, so I had ignored the request. However, when I hit that point of desperation, I decided to try writing a response “How to Make a Personality Quiz.” The result? We landed our first paying customer through that article.

In fact, the week after that article went up, four people signed up and paid for Interact. And since then, more than 500 paying customers have come our way just from articles like the “How to Make a Personality Quiz” article.

The personality quiz article is what I call “boring content” because it won’t be up-voted on any forums or shared on social media — the general internet reader couldn’t care less. But the thing is, to a very specific person who needs to make a quiz for their marketing, that article is extremely valuable, and answers the exact question they need answered. These people also happen to be a great fit for our business.

If you’re looking to start creating more “boring” content for your business, keep on reading. I’ll show you how you can identify, build, and grow a base of “boring” content that has much better ROI for your business.

How to Create Better “Boring” Content

Find “Boring” Ideas

Just like I had to make the transition from making “click-bait” content to creating “boring” content, you’ll have to go through your own process to start creating helpful (but maybe not that interesting) posts. There are a few methods to make this change easier.

Listen

The reason it took me so long to embrace “boring” content in the first place was because I just wasn’t listening to the questions people were asking. No, I didn’t cut people off when they were talking to me or anything like that, but I didn’t do anything about answering the questions they were asking. Once I started really listening and answering questions through my content, the wheels began to turn.

Now 90% of our really useful content ideas come directly from questions our prospects and customers ask. I no longer disdain questions; I welcome them as opportunities for creating content.

Set Up Interviews

The questions people ask you out of the blue will be helpful for identifying easy wins in “boring” content, but to really dig into the specifics of what people want help with, you need to talk with them for an extended period of time.

To this day I reach out to customers and offer my help. Then, I’ll ask what kinds of questions they have about our product. I have yet to do a phone call and not walk away with a new idea for an article.

richard_email.png

Look in Your Analytics and Keyword Tools

One day I was checking out my analytics (as all marketers do), and I noticed someone had arrived on an article I wrote about embedding quizzes with the hyper-specific term: “Can I embed a quiz on Wix?” In response, I wrote an article called “How to embed a quiz in Wix.” Simple, right? To date, that article has over 600 views, and it only took a few minutes to prepare.

I now consistently look at the terms people use to find our existing content to find opportunities for writing more articles.

The other place to look for ideas is the Google Keyword Tool. This one is more useful for validating an idea than finding new ones. If someone asks you a question and you want to know if there’s search volume to back up an article on that question, just type the question into the tool. (Editor’s Note: HubSpot customers, you can also use the Keywords App to find suggestions and track your progress on those keywords.) 

Make “Boring” Content Interesting

I call “boring” content boring because it is not traditionally interesting, that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable to read. Here’s my method for making “boring” content absolutely fascinating for the right audience.

Start by Going Long

Most marketers have seen the serpIQ graph below showing how top SERP’s are dominated by long-form content. It’s a staple of blog posts advocating long-form content.

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But just because something is recommended for an industry doesn’t always mean that it will work for your company. So I wanted to see if the findings of serpIQ could be backed up by my own content. I divided all the posts into various categories by length and checked their SERPs. In general, my long-form content does have higher rankings:

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Now this doesn’t mean that just creating a long article about a random subject will automatically get you a higher ranking, but I do think it points to the fact that Google likes articles that fully explain a topic rather than just brushing over the facts.

This might seem like a difficult thing to do given that “boring” content feels, well, boring. However, you can make your “boring” content fun to read by using some other techniques traditionally preached in the content marketing world.

Use Real Examples

One of the best ways to answer a question is by showing how someone else solved that problem. For example, whenever I need to make a point about how to do something in my articles, I use a real example from a real company that did a good job. That way I can weave their narrative into the post to make it more memorable and instructive.

Add Visual Examples

With “boring” content you are often answering complex questions using words. One great way to simplify your content and make it useful to the reader is by visualizing examples and explanations.

There’s a stat going around that visual information can be processed 60,000 times faster than text. That may or may not be true, but I know that visuals make your articles more fun to read, which is a good thing when you are creating something called “boring” content.

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Use Real Numbers

According to a study by Conductorreaders most prefer headlines with numbers in them — so that can be a great tactic you can use to engage people in “boring” content. 

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Build a Long-Term “Boring” Content Strategy

Once you begin to create “boring” content, you’ll find that the easy questions to answer will be gone quickly. There has to be a strategy in place for consistently finding new content ideas. Here are three ways to continually find winning ideas.

Keep a List of Questions

Every time someone asks you a question there is an opportunity to create a new “boring” post. I believe in something called the 10X rule, which means that if one person asks a question, there are at least ten others who have the same question — they just didn’t ask it. Think back to your days in school: How many times did you wait for someone else to ask a question you had?

People still do that in the real world, so keeping a list of questions people ask ensures your idea queue is always full. I put every question in a new Trello card and have a number next to each question that represents the number of times that particular question has been asked.

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Take a Big Question and Break It Down Into More Specific Ideas

Sometimes when you begin to unravel a question it reveals a bunch of other questions that can be answered with content. Below I created a mind map of how I created eight blog posts based on the original “How do I make a personality quiz?” question. Some of the secondary ideas apply to specific industries, some apply to specific parts of personality quizzes (like the questions), and some are compilations of the best personality quizzes. Eight blog posts from one idea? Not too shabby.

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Have a Schedule and Stick to It

“Boring” content is not always viral content. You won’t be able to create one “blockbuster” post and rely on it to drive immediate, massive results. You need to consistently publish “boring” content several times a week to make an impact. VC Tomasz Tunguz calls it the “compounding returns of content.” 

I actually mapped out every single blog post I’ve published on a chart below to show how consistent, helpful content can build traffic over time.

As you can see, most posts get fewer than 10 page views per day, but they are very consistent because that traffic is primarily coming from search for very long-tail terms. However, when you look at how many lines there are, it begins to really add up. That traffic is consistent over time and creates a base of visitors that you can rely on.

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Have a Call-to-Action on Each Post

Every post you create should link to a landing page or product page that’s very specific to the topic of the post — it helps increase conversions. For example, I’d want to have a CTA to “Make a quiz for your Weebly site at Interact” on a post about putting quizzes inside Weebly.

I wanted to see just how big the discrepancy was between my “boring” posts and my “click-bait” posts was when it came to clickthrough, so I installed Crazy Egg and tracked the link clicks. The results were astounding: “Boring” content had a 28% clickthrough rate to the main site, whereas the general interest “click-bait” posts only achieved a 3% clickthrough.

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The reason for this massive difference is just relevance. The “boring” articles are more closely related to what my company does, so the clickthrough to the site is incredibly higher than my general interest articles.

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Now Over to You

If you’re like me and have tried creating fun “click-bait” content with no success, give “boring” content a try. The process is simple enough: Start by answering questions, create articles that are interesting to read for the small group of people who will read them, and then create a long-term strategy for sourcing and building out a “boring” content strategy. 

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Apr

29

2015

Hashing Out Hashtags: What They Are & How to Use Them [Infographic]

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What do overalls, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, and hashtags all have in common?

Believe it or not, they are all products of the 90s.

While hashtags didn’t rise to popularity (with the help of Twitter) until after 2007, they were actually first used during the late 90s to categorize items into groups on IRC (Internet Relay Chat.)

Since then, you’ve seen them, you’ve used them, but it’s likely that you’re not quite sure why.

You’re not alone.

While the concept has been around for a while, the social application of hashtags is still a relatively new concept for marketers transitioning away from traditional marketing methods. And like most new things, hashtagging has left us with a ton of questions.

How many is too many? How long should they be? Where should you use them? And perhaps most importantly, why should you use them?

For answers to all of your burning hashtag questions, check out this infographic from SurePayroll. Not only have they laid out the basics for hashtagging on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but they also dive into some tips to help you run a successful hashtag campaign.

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free guide: science of twitter success

Apr

27

2015

When Is the Best Time to Be Creative? [Infographic]

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When do you do your best work?

For me, it’s realllllly early in the morning. I used to get up at 4 a.m., grab a steaming cup of coffee, and just start writing. At that time of day, words flowed so easily that I could finish a 1,500-word post in an hour. Later in the day, that same post would’ve taken me twice as long.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Some people prefer working late into the night. Others hit their stride after lunch. 

If you’re not sure what time of day is best for you to write, keep on reading. The infographic below from Neil Patel at Quick Sprout will dive into data on productivity and creativity so you can figure out what timing might work best for you.

BestTimeToWrite

free guide to writing well