Friday, December 2, 2016

Clickbait Makes for Great Writing Prompts

I don't write fiction but if I did, I think I'd see writing prompts everywhere. 
In fact, with delightful inspiration popping up on nearly every web page I visit, I just might start writing fiction. 

Stay amused, my friends. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Website Content and Considerations - an Excellent Example from Salesforce Partner Pardot

I agree completely with everything in an article on website lead generation that Pardot posted recently.

Completely. With everything.

So, while I don't have permission to publish it here in its entirety, I highly encourage you to read it - if you'd like to get more out of your website, that is.

you want users to come back to your websiteGo ahead; read it. I'll wait. (You'll come back though, right?

HEY, Welcome Back!  Now that you've read the article, you know that Pardot really walks the talk when it comes to using marketing content for lead generation.

Because that was a pretty darned good example of marketing content, wasn't it? I love it when that happens.

Who Needs Content? Businesses That Need Leads

I just might make it required reading for all of my clients. At least half of my clients are small- to medium-sized businesses who believe that they're too small to follow all the "rules" of marketing and/or they just don't have time to think about marketing. OK, to be fair, they really don't have time.

But what Pardot said is exactly what I keep telling them. If you want your website to help you attract customers and increase sales, you need to:

  1. KNOW your customers and what they want
  2. Make sure your website helpful, from their perspective and 
  3. Create content that makes buying from you (among other things) easier on them.
Good content not only helps you grow your business by generating pre-qualified leads, it also helps to maintain those customer relationships, leading to repeat and referral business. In case you're into that kind of thing... 
_ __ _ _ __ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _

Need help creating content? Sharing it? Or making better use of the content you've already got?
I specialize in marketing small- to medium-size businesses. See my website for more info.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Picture Yourself Not Plagiarizing

Plagiarism is theft, it's wrong, and it's rampant. In 2016, it's hard to sell the ignorance defense convincingly. It's 2016. We've had Google for a good long time. Google images, too.

And for several years now, Google has had a tool at our fingertips to help us stay legal. So, use it.


Also, your mom just called. She wants me to remind you that just because "everyone" is doing it doesn't make it right.

More opinions on the subject, and a nice explanation from a lawyer, can be found with a quick - what else? - Google search. Although it's not the freshest piece on the subject, I'm fond of CNET's article on the subject.
I don't like thieves, and I definitely don't want to be one. When managing websites and social media accounts for my clients, I opt for original art first, vendor-supplied art second, and then search for images "labeled for reuse" - and credit the source in most cases when I use them. Need some help managing content that will get you more sales - and no letters from lawyers? Get in touch

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

3 Basic Business Communication Tips

Super easy things you can do to improve your business communications, now. Oh, and they're free.

How to Close an Email Message

If you spend more than a nanosecond thinking about how your email will be received when your intended recipient reads it, you're my kind of person.

Hence, I enjoyed this article and agreed with most of its message.

Bonus points if you spot the typo/grammatical error in the list.

               Read before you send. 
                          'Nuff said.

                                     Keep the content coming. 
Blog. Post in forums. Update your website. Email your customers. Ask for (and share) referrals and testimonials. 

Leads from inbound marketing cost WAY less than those generated by traditional advertising/outbound marketing. 

I'm not making this up; it's 62% less if you ask Mashable. HubSpot says companies that increase their blogging from 3x-5x/month to 6x-8x/month see leads double and B2B companies that post 1x-2x/month get 70% more leads than those that don't blog. 

What do you mean you don't have time to post to your blog? This didn't take long! If you'd rather spend time on your business instead of managing your website or blog, ask somebody* for help. 

*somebody like me :D

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Speaking Opportunities: Content Gold Mine!

While it is hard to deliver a speech that garners praise from wildly different audiences (thank you, Michelle Obama) most public speaking opportunities fall in the "preaching to the choir" column.

Generally, a public speaking gig is gift. Typically, your audience wants you to be there and they want you to do well.

Exception: when you are presenting dissenting opinions in a public/civic meeting. 
In which case, practice deep breathing and take a friend along for moral support!

public speaking: dying on the platform
No one likes public speaking. Or at least, virtually no one will admit to enjoying it. But speaking opportunities are excellent lead-generation activities - it's old-fashioned, effective marketing at its best. And, while you might find it uncomfortable, making a good impression during a live presentation is actually pretty simple.

Plan Out Your Talking Points

Your audience wants you to do well, but they also want you to be prepared. There are oodles of different methods. I prefer to write a rough draft of what I want to present. That usually takes the form of a narrative - in the "letter to a friend" style. Then I read it out loud.

Yes, out loud. Practice makes prettier presentations.

Practice Doesn't Make Perfect

But it sure helps! Take that rough draft, or outline, or list of things you want to say and just say them. To a friend, your cat, the mirror. Just say it. Out loud. You can't deliver a speech without speaking practice.

This isn't brain surgery, folks. Practice OUT LOUD. Edit your message, revise, and practice your talking points again.

I say "talking points" rather than "speech" because most people think a speech is something you memorize, and memorizing your talking points will almost always backfire. You'll go on autopilot, then forget what you said and repeat something...or leave something important out.

So practice your message, refer to your talking points, but don't memorize a speech.

DO outline your talking points. (Outlined in a slide presentation is ideal, if you're using slides, of course.)

What Should I Talk About? And How is Speaking a "Content Gold Mine?"

Time to deliver on the headline! Public speaking opportunities really are a content gold mine. 
Here's how you can come up with great material and make the most of your public speaking opportunities:

As you prepare for the speaking event, dig into your own mine of content about your business or organization. Reading a blog post verbatim isn't a great idea, but gathering your primary talking points from some of your most popular blog posts, web pages, even FAQs is smart. In fact, it's kind of silly not to do that. (Why reinvent the wheel?)

The person, organization or event that has engaged you to speak is also a rich source of information. Ask your contact what he or she would like you to speak about. Ferret out as much information as you can about the people in the audience. Where will they come from? Why do they want to hear from you? What matters are most pressing to them? As you review your existing content pull what is most likely to be helpful and interesting to your audience.

Once you're prepared to deliver a dynamite presentation, get ready to learn more while you're there! The people you're speaking with are not only a "captive audience" but something of a focus group. As a speaker, it's completely fine to ask questions of your audience and gather information from them. (So record the presentation or take notes.)

Maybe they love your company. Hate your latest product release. Have a wish list of things they'd like to see next season... whatever feedback they offer is truly gold, and should be helpful as you market (and work to improve) your business or organization.

Maybe Public Speaking Isn't So Bad...

Try these practical tips the next time you have an opportunity to speak to a group, staff a booth at a trade show, or even as you just work the room at your local Chamber of Commerce meeting. You might find that you're soon looking for more public speaking opportunities, and even enjoying them!

~   ~  ~    ~  ~   ~    ~  ~    ~

PS: When you're speaking, make sure that what you're saying makes sense. Go easy on the industry jargon and Corporatese. Want help preparing for your next presentation? I can work with you to make sure you get your message across, and make the most of the information you collect at your next speaking engagement! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Small But Mighty Important Fixes for Your Website

Your website doesn't have to be an award-winning design delight packed with games and other goodies to attract customers. (Ok; it helps - but it's not absolutely necessary.)

What's essential is that your website is accurate and useful.

Mistakes on your site (or in your business listings) reflect poorly on your business, and they can cost you money.

Be honest - is your website up to date? 
Does it represent your company well? 

Think of your website as part of your customer service team. Is it working for you, or against you? Even if yours is not an ecommerce site, your website is a powerful force that drives sales - or maybe, it drives them away.

Fixing your site may take more than a day (or a week), but you can start now with some very simple steps outlined below. Go to your website, take note of these things - then set aside the time to fix what you can in the next week. A week from now, repeat the exercise. Your site may not look much different, but it will be a lot more useful.

Small But Mighty Important Steps to Improve Your Website

The trick is that you must look at your site with fresh eyes. When you're familiar with a sign, an online or printed page, or even when you read a common phrase, it's easy to overlook mistakes that will throw off someone new to the sight - or in this case, your site.

  1. Look at your home page, contact page, and the footer of every page.  You might be surprised how many footers contain incorrect information. And even though "all" of your customers "know" your address, phone number and hours, your prospects don't.
  2. Check your copyright date. Is it current? (Nothing says "don't care" like a 2010 copyright!)
  3. Is contact information VERY OBVIOUS on EACH PAGE of your site? A customer who doesn't know how to reach you won't buy from you.
  4. Click every link on your Home and Contact pages - they are of primary importance. Broken Links are Bad. Fix them. Repeat: Broken Links are Bad. FIX THEM. After you've thoroughly scoured your Home and Contact pages, move through all the other pages. (Start with those most visited and go down the list from there.)
  5. Out of time? Make note of what you corrected, and where you stopped. Set aside a little time this week to work through the list methodically, correcting what you can and getting help to fix the other errors. Soon, you'll have made noticeable improvements to the virtual face of your company. Pat yourself on the back! But don't stop there. 

After you've corrected the most basic things that are are wrong with your website and congratulated yourself, take a look at your site from a different perspective. Instead of looking at what's wrong, think about the improvements you would like. Maybe you want to add a staff photo or directory. Or a landing page to tout a new product.

I find that most people managing small businesses assume they can't work on their own websites. Or they're afraid to. The fact is, website management tools get easier to use every day. And while overhauling your entire site is a major undertaking, fixing small errors is easy and offers a big payback - fast.

Get started now, before another prospect decides to leave your site for a competitor.
It's hard to see your site with fresh eyes. Need help? Ask me about a Website Reality Check

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Don't Fear the Analytics: What Your Website Can Tell You About Your Small Business

Most of the businesses I work with recognize that to increase their sales (and customer base) they need a consistent marketing/content management effort.

Generally speaking, they understand what needs to be done. And they don't have time to do it.

On the other hand, I've worked with a few business owners who I describe as "going on faith." They have a website and pay monthly management fees because they know they need a website, and they know they don't have time to manage it. They are likely to say, "yeah, we have a website, but it's not doing much for us."

And sometimes, they're right.

What I usually find, however, is that the website is working fine and it's not helping the business much because the site is managed only in accordance with the site provider's schedule.

If your business is at all seasonal or cyclical, that's not good enough. Everything about your business, including your website and content plan, must be managed to make the most of seasonal peaks and other factors that are specific to your business.

The image above illustrates an important point. It's Google Analytics' representation of a website I manage for a client. In this case, the website provider and hosting company handles AdWords, PPC campaigns and keyword management. Those activities are monitored and reported on monthly, and reviews and account changes are handled quarterly - with absolutely NO regard for the local, seasonal, and sales cycle intelligence available at the business location.

Remote website management can be great, folks. But remote management without any connection to the business isn't good enough.

Why an Increase in Returning Visitors is Important

When you have an increase in returning visitors, it can mean a lot of things - you can figure out what by looking at a variety of stats and visitor behavior - but in general, it means your visitors (prospects) are thinking about buying from you. By understanding your business cycle, local factors, and digging just a little deeper into your analytics, you can adjust your content marketing (including social media updates) to quickly close those sales and keep new prospects moving toward a purchase.

Don't Fear the Analytics: How to Adjust Your Marketing Efforts

When you notice a change in visitor traffic/behavior, don't freak out. Too many smart business owners sell themselves short when it comes to managing their websites and online marketing presence. I hear a lot of "I don't know anything about websites; I just know how to run my business!"

What I say to them - emphatically - is this: what you know about your business must inform the way your website is managed. Even if you picked your website provider because you didn't have time to spend on online marketing, don't ignore your website! Don't assume your web hosting company understands your business, and don't fear the analytics. Review those monthly reports and adjust accordingly - it's your business, and you'll get better results if you are involved in the way that site is managed.

You don't need Big Data to increase sales! Small businesses can use what they know about
 their customers to increase sales and improve customer service.

If you notice more people visit your money-back guarantee page, remind your sales team to mention that policy every time they talk to a customer. If you find an increase in visits to your service offerings page, highlight some customer testimonials on your social media channels. Or (if you haven't already) add a link to those testimonials and your customer service email or chat contact from the services page. If you're using email marketing (and if you can, you should!) changes in visitor behavior will give you excellent ideas about what you should be sending out to your new prospects and existing customers.

When You Need 38 Hours in a Day

It's a common complaint: many small business owners are frustrated with their websites and online marketing efforts, but not because they don't understand, or don't believe, that their marketing investment is working for them. They just don't have time to give those analytics reports the time they need. If that's your problem, I can help. I love working with small businesses to maximize their online marketing efforts.
Got 15 minutes? I offer free consultations that won't keep you from your business very long.
Let's talk.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

When You Don't Need a Blog

Do you think I should have a blog? 
Not unless you'd enjoy writing it. 

Not the sort of advice you'd expect from a blogger, copywriter or content manager?

Do I Need a Blog? 

When a (successful) owner of a jewelry business who has a great website and an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest asked me I thought she should have a blog, too, I said no.

Why? In my opinion, she doesn't need a blog, because the online "face" of her business was already attractive enough. And, because she's selling (nice, but inexpensive) jewelry - not home improvement services.

Think About it From the Buyer's Perspective

If you're in the market for a fence to corral your dog and/or kids, or considering buying new windows or siding, you're looking at a significant investment and there are a lot of options. A fence has a much longer buying cycle than a necklace.

That's why Invisible Fence has a blog, and Sterling Jewelers doesn't.

When you're looking to pick up a charm bracelet for a sweet 16 birthday gift, or even a nice pair of earrings for an anniversary present, how long are you going to spend considering your options?

You're going to go to a website (or two), look around, and make a purchase. Ergo, if you're selling jewelry for 16-year-olds, you probably should spend your time on something other than a blog (like rocking your social media posts and maximizing your profiles).

You Probably Need a Blog If...

...your buying cycle is fairly long have a lot of direct competitors have a truly unique or new product or service have something to say about your business on a regular basis

Maybe You Shouldn't Call it A Blog, Though

Do your customers really want to read your blog? Maybe they'd be more interested in Insights or Resources from you.

Alternatives to Blogging

To say 'you don't need a blog' flies in the face of a lot of general marketing advice for small and medium-sized businesses. And sometimes your small business will need to publish new content for your prospects and customers - content that doesn't fit in a tweet, or something that needs to last longer than the average Facebook post.

Good news: there are alternatives. Maybe the information belongs on your website's News or About Us page. Maybe it would be appropriate and useful if you created it as a Facebook note. Or a press release, or a brochure. (Which can live online too, you know - it's 2016 after all!) The point is, you don't need a blog just because the marketing content world says you need a blog.

It's your business. Do what works for you (and your customers)! As an article published by Entrepreneur stated so well, you don't want to create content just to have content. You want to create content based on consumer (and prospect) behavior.
If you value common sense marketing advice, and want help with your website, blog, social media accounts or any other business communications, I'm it. Get in touch, and we'll find out what you need, and the best way to make it work for you. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

6 Essay Contests for High School Students to Earn Money for College Scholarships

Who doesn't need money for college, right? Well, write!

Essay contests often get a bad rap - and sometimes, it's deserved. Many contests are more like the lottery, and don't really reward great writing.

Certainly, you should read and choose carefully among the various essay contest "scholarship" contests. (I suggest skipping any that charge a fee to enter.) On a positive note, your odds of winning an essay contest are almost certainly better than winning the lottery.

Below, six essay contests (with cash prizes and scholarship $$) geared for high school/college-bound students. Sharpen your pencils (or stick some fresh batteries in your keyboard) and start writing!

1. Do something! -- not all writing-based, but there is writing involved. I like Do Something! because it encourages taking action to improve life around pick the area of life/society you want to work to improve. Deadlines vary.
2. Read any good Ayn Rand books lately? If objectivism is your bag, this is your site. You'll have to register to get info about contests and deadlines. Primarily for college students.
3. The Williams-Mystic Essay Contest in Honor of Joseph Conrad accepts fiction or non-fiction entries about the ocean or any major body of water. $400 prize. Deadline in October.
4. What's your Superpower? Find it and get your entry in before the end of March. Open to writers ages 13 and up! $250 prizes.
5. Engineers are kind of like superheroes... this contest from Engineer Girl has a February deadline.
6. The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage essay contest for high school students (grades 9-12) selects a winner from every state. Deadline January 4, 2017.

Want more? Scholarship Mentor has a long, long list of other writing contests to sort through.

Write Smart to Write Your Best College Essay

Scholarship mentor has a helpful checklist - do yourself a favor and read it:

Here's my favorite tip from the Ayn Rand essay contest site: read the winning entries from previous contests! It's like a study guide. Take advantage of it.

And the most basic advice you need to get started: BIC. (Butt in chair.) You can't get it done until you begin.

Good luck and have fun writing! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Your Website, Communication, and Customer Service

Customer service tip: If your website displays incorrect information, it's not your customer's fault. 

Communication and customer service are intricately linked. When mistakes on your site make it difficult to find your business or work with you, customers will find someplace else to shop or someone else to help them. Below, three simple tips to make sure your website is working for you, not against you. Following the tips are some real-life examples to file under "don't be that guy."

3 Tips: Communication,  Customer Service, and Your Website

1. Don't tell customers that they have the wrong information when they got it from you. 
"I'm sorry, let me give you the correct information," is a much better response.

2. When a customer (or anyone) points out that your website, business card, or other business communication contains incorrect information, or that it is difficult to find something on your website, fix it. If they had trouble finding your phone number, hours, prices, or products, and took the time to tell you about it, that's a gift.
Say "thank you." Then fix it!

3. Do review your website regularly (I recommend on the first of every month) as if you have never seen it before. Review it from a user interface and design standpoint, pretending you are a customer or prospect in the market for what your company offers, and compare your site to others in your industry. Does it work?
It's hard to see your site with fresh eyes. Need help? Ask me about a Website Reality Check

Don't Be That Guy! 2 Companies, 2 Cities, 2 Days

I had an appointment in Akron on Monday. The office address was wrong in the footer of (every page of) its website. Fortunately the firm had moved just a few blocks, the receptionist who answered the phone was great, gave me the new address, and I arrived on time. When I met with the Chairman of the organization, he asked, "Did you have any trouble finding the place?"

Great, a chance to bring it up, I thought.

I said, "Well actually, I went to <location> and found out you had moved, but your receptionist gave me the address, so no worries."

He laughed and said, "We haven't been there for years."      

I said, "Well, I should have confirmed your address when we spoke. But I just took it from your website."

He said, "Really? Where is that address on our website?"

I explained the footer on each page of a website usually contains the same information; it's like a template...a template you should update when you move.

Before proceeding with our meeting, he logged on to his computer and looked for himself. He pointed out that the address was listed correctly on the About Us page. And it sure was -  in the third paragraph on the page describing the organization's past 20 years or so. Unfortunately, that's the only place it was listed correctly.

The site's Contact Us page consisted of a form for email contact, but did not list an address or phone on the body of the page. (Which is fine for companies that don't rely on customer foot traffic, but not so good for businesses expecting real, live visitors to walk in off the street.)

When the organization moved - as described in a lengthy paragraph on the About page, where the new location was buried in the middle of the copy - information in the footer wasn't changed to reflect the new address.

So while the Chairman was right, the correct address was listed on the organization's site, it wasn't easy to find. And the footer of each page listed the wrong address. (Note: it has since been updated.) Errors like that can lead to miscommunications, and cost you money.

Here's another "Don't Be That Guy" story:

How to Communicate When You Don't Want New Business Referrals

Last Friday, I met with a Columbus-area business owner who handles sensitive matters for his clients. He asked me to email a document to him, and since his email address wasn't on his business card, I asked, "Should I send it to the email address on your website?"

He said yes.

On Monday, I sent the document with the message, "please call me when you receive this."

On Tuesday, I called him because I hadn't called me. Our conversation:

Me: Hi, Jack? This is Diane Stresing. I wonder if you got the email I sent last week. I sent it to <email @ company>."

Him: "You have the wrong address. You need to send it to <another email address @ different ISP >."

I waited a moment, expecting the absurdity to occur to him. When it didn't, I said, "Ok. Thanks."

The absurdity apparently hasn't sunk in yet.

How likely would you be to do business with, or recommend, either of these organizations?

Your website isn't your whole business, but in 2016, it's vital to your business communication.  I can help you get it right

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political Word Play

merriam webster logoPolitics is good for the word business. I'd like to believe that the reverse is true, and good communication is also good for politics or - much more than that - good governance. But this is blog about writing, not philosophy, so I'll leave it at that.

Winning Words? 

In the news lately, in case you missed it:  dumpster fires and dog whistles. (And thanks to CJR, now we all know there's no longer a need to capitalize dumpster.) Before you use the term 'dog whistle,' be aware that it may carry some racist baggage.

While numerous folks have suggested that politics doesn't showcase the best of human thought processes, at least we're trying to learn from the rather bumpy ride that the 2016 Presidential campaign trail has taken us on.

As always, I urge you to choose your words carefully, and read with at least one eye open.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Delicious Content: Do You Know it When You See it?

I'm not a fan of fast food, but I am a content carnivore. And in that regard, Taco Bell satisfies me.

Many have recognized the company's excellent marketing content. Although Yum! brands labeled social media as a "side project" in 2007, it's done a helluva job since then. In my opinion, it's excellent because the company -
  • Knows its demographic (audience/market)
  • Knows itself (strengths/weaknesses)  
  • Uses humor to make its case...
  • ...and delivers on what it promises

Don't Over-Indulge in Content

It's fast-food marketing, folks - not rocket science. And either way, there's such a thing as "too much." Taco Bell doesn't blog at length about how its recipes were developed based on extensive anthropologic research or get overly cute by making us guess which Aztec God ate chalupas.

Taco Bell gets the message just right. It's short. It's cute. And it works, on an emotional and a practical level.

Emotional Content: It's in the Bag

While Hallmark (and lately, gum) commercials aim for our tear ducts, Taco Bell's content hits us in the emotional funny bone.  Which works, because we love to laugh almost as much as we love to eat. We especially like to feel like we're "in" on an inside joke. Taco Bell delivers, from pithy puns on sauce packets to its Secret Menu.

What Can Your Small Business Marketing Plan Steal from the Bell? 

While my local taco place serves far better food than Taco Bell, it doesn't have a Yum Brands-size  budget. Here's where social media helps level the playing field:

Twitter feeds are free. Snapchat marketing works. And if your customers love you, they'll Like (and Love, LOL, sticker and Share) along with you on your Facebook Page. Or Instagram feed. Or...whatever tool comes next.

Figure out your business niche, highlight your strengths, deliver them with personality and humor (as appropriate), and one day your customers might blog about you, too. 

Don't Forget about Operations

Taco Bell's marketing campaigns are not the most elaborate or expensive in the fast-food world, and that's OK, because what the company does works. It's clear that what you see/hear/share about the brand is well-communicated inside, to its employees, as well. The company's online survey program is - like its marketing message - interactive and responsive while being short and to the point. 

If the commercials made laugh and the sauce packets said the most adorable things but the in-store experience stunk, the marketing would fall flat. 

I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to customer service and operations. Small companies don't get to be big companies unless they have the training, systems, and operational follow-through to take care of their customers, consistently and well. 

So go on, create great content and share it with your prospects. Just don't expect them to become repeat customers unless you've got what it takes to make them happy. 


Need help making your content a little more palatable? I can help you dish up the right message, and make sure it serves your customers. I'll also test it (and test you) to be sure your message is operationally sound.  Ready?  Get in touch

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Marketing Content Management, Not Online Wizardry

Some marketing "gurus" like to use clever, proprietary brand names for products and services they offer. Don't get me wrong; I like clever as much as the next guy. Certainly, some of those products/services, particularly ones developed for specific industries or niches, are unique and very helpful.

Others make me say "hmmmm."

I'm into plain language and common sense marketing. While I constantly try new tools and apps and stay on top of SEO best practices, it goes against my nature to jump on a new trend just because it's new or worse, because everyone else is doing it.

Online Marketing is Still Marketing

I read a lot (too much?) about social media and content marketing, and I'm annoyed when a hyped-up headline sucks me in to read about a "new approach to online marketing" that's not really new at all. It's basic marketing.

That said, even after 20+ years of playing in the marketing communications sandbox, I've found excellent advice in some of those articles - often buried in hyperbole, but never the less useful.

Here are three I've been glad I read lately. I hope you find them useful as well.

1. NAP consistency is important

In this case, NAP= Name, Address, Phone. And heavens yes, it's important - you can miss listings, create duplicates that will confuse prospects, and over-spend because you're paying for the wrong (or too many) listings or ads. In the dark ages (pre-internet) we managed such things with a tool we called a Style Guide. You can call it barbaric; I say it's rudimentary.

I truly recommend a style guide, and can usually create 
one for your company in just a few hours that will help 
keep your content marketing efforts on track - no matter 
who handles your social media posts. Want one? 
Get in touch

2. SEO Still Matters, But Site Visitors (Readers) Should Come First 

Newsflash: you don't sell to search engines. You make sales to people, AKA site visitors, AKA readers. So, you need to write copy and design for them first. In this article, Jeff Bullas does a nice (if slightly hype-y) job of highlighting some current SEO trends and how to work with them. I can't help but point out that they're on the common-sense side. The fact is that SEO algorithms are getting smarter and more in tune with human thought (search) processes every day. That's a good thing. 

3. Write Good Headlines 

There are hundreds of ways to write bad headlines - and just as many ways to write good ones. Write good ones. Please. While MOZ does a good and thorough job with the details, I take a more personal approach to headlines. I ask myself, Would I click on it if I were looking for this particular article or product? And, If I clicked on it, would I be disappointed or feel tricked or cheated? If the answer to the first question is yes and the second question is no, it's probably a pretty good headline. Only then do I run it through the keyword check and try to wordsmith it a bit to garner extra (qualified) clicks. 

Old-Fashioned Marketing & Common Sense

Know your product, craft a good message, and get it in front of the right prospects. Yep, once upon a time we called that "marketing." Then the internet came along and we fell in love with the tools, almost forgetting that we're still trying to reach people. Readers. Site visitors. 

Whatever you call 'em, people buy stuff, and they're the ones you need to talk to. If you'd like help crafting a common-sense marketing plan and delivering an on-target message to your best prospects, please contact me

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Words & Pictures & the Blurred Lines of Communication

I've written often and recently about (my perception of) the state of journalism and the blurring of the lines between marketing communications and "trusted" editorial content. 

As journalism continues to change, sometimes I cringe; more often I say "hmmm." 

Three articles that have given me a lot more food for thought this week:

How National Geographic spots altered photos

Is Chris Arnade a journalist? I say yes. 

Was the disclosure enough in this newspaper "article?" I say no

What do you think about journalism circa 2016? Do you agree with or bristle at the continuous barrage of insults Donald Trump hurls at the press? I'd love to hear your opinion. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Marketers: Content Works; Readers: Be Smart

Consumers Can't Tell Native Ads from Editorial Content
Article or Ad...No One Knows
Native Advertising on the Rise

As a content marketing writer, you might think headlines like these would leave me gleeful. But I was a reader (and a journalist) before I was a marketing content maven, so you'd be wrong.

I'm worried.

I write content (and some real old fashioned news/ed stuff) for a living. With each assignment, I have a job to do. The content I write is intended to educate and/or persuade in order to convince you, the reader, to take action.

But the content is not intended to brainwash you; it's supposed to be helpful. I hear you snicker. But it's true - marketing content is directed at readers who are already thinking about buying (or taking the desired action). 

I'm not splitting hairs, I'm trying to draw an important distinction. And more importantly, I'm saying - readers, please learn to recognized marketing content and be smart when you read!!

(Aside: it would be great if you learned to recognize 
and appreciate good content. 
If you do, you can tweet this. 
Wink, wink.)

Is Marketing Content Intended to Be Deceptive?

I believe advertising copy is (usually) not intentionally deceptive. In 20 years I've had just one client ask me to flat-out lie about a product. (In case you're curious: the company is still in business, and is no longer my client.)

However, there's a lot of blurring of the lines in content - and that's not a new development we can blame on online content marketing practices. Advertorials existed long before the internet.

Readers need to be smart and know what they're reading. If you want to know why I'm a little wound up about this, read the articles behind the headlines above:

Consumers Can't Tell Native Ads from Editorial Content

Article or Ad? When it Comes to Native, No One Knows

Native Ads on the Rise

Facebook Blurs the Line More

If you think it's hard to categorize your marketing content (and your reading material) now, hold on tight: Facebook's latest update (F8) is sure to blur the line a bit more, and possibly obliterate it completely. 

From messenger bots to video profiles and virtual reality, the future is here. Or at least, it's in beta at Facebook. (Read Buffer's great take on F8 on

What's the Difference Between Editorial Writing and Copywriting? 

As a freelance business writer, content manager, and general wordsmith, I write a  w i d e  variety of "stuff."

Sometimes it's hard to categorize what I'm writing - but the label (advertising? editorial?) is far less important than the intended result. Regardless of the writing assignment, whether it's a case study, white paper, brochure, report, or feature article, my starting point is always the same question:  What should this piece do?

The result, and the intention, should be as clear to the writer (and client) as it is to the reader. That's why I made up my own category for what I do. I call it Writing that Works

If you're interested in getting better results from your marketing content, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Content Marketing World - May Common Sense Be With You

YAY, I love content. I love content marketing. And I love Star Wars.

Now can you help me understand what Mark Hamill can teach me about the first two?

Disturbance in the Marketing Force? 

Content Marketing World 2016 comes to Cleveland this fall, and I'd love to go. But it would be a little bit like overdosing on ice cream: Sweet, sure. But a love affair with content can really pack on the pounds and bog down your marketing efforts.

I know that sounds weird, coming from a content marketing type like me.

But as I've said before, I'm a big believer that content marketing is really just marketing, and marketing communications is really just communication.

If you're going to Content Marketing World, by all means, I hope the Force is with you (and Mr. Hamill). Send me a post card, brochure, link to your landing page...and if you figure out why Luke Skywalker should headline the event, please let me know.



Monday, June 27, 2016

Hello Common Sense Content

I'm not a huge rule-breaker but I question "the rules" constantly.

  • Who made them? 
  • What purpose do they serve? and my favorite question: 
  • WHY?

So imagine my joy (and mild confusion) when I discovered some common-sense content rules I really don't question much or want to break.

Without further ado, here they are:

Mad Pow - Best Practices When Writing for the Web

Integrating Marketing Content

On the other hand, here is how you take a simple concept and wayyyy over-complicate it:

Sorry, MMC Learning, I just call that marketing. Horizontal, vertical, any-which-way you slice it, the point of marketing communications (and even Marketing Communications) and all business writing is....communication.

I have to admit I have a few clients who have been slow to realize just how important it is to market to your employee first. For heaven's sake, if your own employees don't know what your company is trying to market (communicate) how are they going to do a great job for you?

<steps off soapbox>

Are you and your organization ready for some common sense content?
Contact me. I'd love to help.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Presentations Come Across Best in Plain English

Recently, I covered a professional industry conference. It was enlightening. It was frightening. This isn't a breakdown of the research presented; this is me talking about the speakers.

What Did She Say?

I'm not knocking the speakers in general; some great information was presented in Plain English (my favorite language). Unfortunately, in a few sessions the most valuable insight was nearly suffocated by a thick layer of Corporatese. One speaker - not making this up! - dropped all of these gems in less than two minutes:
  • " understand the magnitude of the impact..."
  • "...redesigning the roles to increase continuity..."
  • "...setting the expectation to step out of that role..."
  • "...excited about getting back to basics..."
  • "...a multidisciplinary sacred space..."
  • "...a different framework to see how to create engagement..."
My head was spinning and more importantly, my deadline was looming. See, I was covering the conference as an industry blogger. I was paid to be there to help one of the presenting organizations promote its brand, products and services. 

While it should have been a cakewalk for me and a big win for the presenting organizations, I was sweating trying to come up with good material. At the risk of stating the obvious: if your speakers aren't presenting clear and useful information, you're not going to get the biggest bang for your PR budget. 

Speaking Opportunities are Content Gold

Besides being a PR opportunity, anytime you speak to someone about your company, products, or services, it's a chance to sell! Also, it's content. (More on that coming soon...)

So, here are some (rather fundamental) suggestions to make better use of those opportunities:

  • When you are speaking and would like your main topic points to be repeated and/or discussed, make them clear. 
  • When you are promoting a product and/or service, make sure your reps KNOW the talking points and REHEARSE them. (This goes for any and all of your reps. "Talk is cheap" does not refer to corporate speaking! When your reps have the floor, and/or the ear of the media, that's an extremely valuable opportunity, and if you/they waste it, it's money - and potential sales - down the drain, out the window, and off to the next conference...)
  • If you are speaking and do not want your main topic points remembered or discussed, perhaps you should re-evaluate the reason for your presentation...

Communication can be a beautiful thing and a powerful sales tool - public speaking in particular. Although it comes naturally to very few people, it's easier to learn than juggling knives, and I think it's a lot more fun

Need help developing some talking points for your sales staff? Want a few tips and a practice partner before your next trade show or other speaking event? Words are my business. Please get in touch. 
 ---------------- Are you a do-it-yourselfer? That's ok - if you do it right. My advice: join a local Toastmasters' club and a pick up a helpful book on the subject. My favorite is What To Say When You're Dying on the Platform

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The King Lives: Content's Gone Retro

Readers (you know, human people) overdosed on social media channels and content long ago. Marketing departments are about to figure it out.

GOOD Content is Still King

I completely agreed with the gist of an article I read on this subject last week. Unfortunately, it used a grabby but misleading headline: Content is No Longer King. Sadly, the author's very sound recommendations were cheapened by this silly tactic.

I say, content is still (has always been) King in the marketing game, but the King's robes have changed.

And the article in question supports that. The author suggests mastering 2-3 channels, and publishing two 'epic' posts a month. That's still a content management approach, folks. In fact, it's a very good approach - and 20+ years ago we called that 'Marketing Communications.' And we created it for people.

Whether it's online, printed, or read from a telemarketing script, content sells, baby. Always has, always will.

People - your standard human being types - need information to make decisions. A little emotion (humor, fear, love) gets those decisions rolling a little faster.

Hello, that's content.

Too many firms (content marketing firms and businesses of every ilk) have started spewing content just to publish regularly. Just because they think they're supposed to. Just because it's a habit.

GOOD marketing content has a purpose, and it's not "publish every Tuesday" or "keep your Twitter feed busy." Good marketing content educates, compares, promotes (a little bit) and sells.

Most small business owners know that, and a great many more knew that before online marketing made a monster out of itself. I suspect it's why a lot of small business owners (who are typically very common-sensical types) distrust content marketing in general.

I say Common Sense Content is King - so stop overdosing on marketing content and start making words work for you and your business.

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Check out some more great ways to use content to sell from Duct Tape Marketing

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Most Popular Posts of 2016 (so far)

I'll admit it: this blog about writing is all over the place. I write (rant) about journalism, highlight jobs for writers, mention writing contests, and ever so occasionally blather on about the writing process. But, more  often than not, I write about business communication, marketing content, copywriting tips to try and rules to break.

So far in 2016, this blog's most popular posts have been all about mar/comm content. Here they are:

...and this recent post is catching up quick: one of my excellent example series, of very satisfying content.


Whether we're talking about an email newsletter, a white paper or your employee handbook, when it comes to business communications, the words should work for you - not against you. I have 20+ years of marketing, sales, operations and professional writing experience. If you want to enlist the help of a writer who "gets" business, get in touch

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Writer's Petition: On Using Language for Good

I'm big on old-fashioned government. Writing elected officials. Collecting signatures and carrying thoughtful petitions into city hall. Standing up and speaking my mind (cordially) at board meetings.

I did not sign this online petition, because I really doubt that signatures on it matter much.

I am sharing it here and asking you to consider that presidential hopeful who uses language as a most powerful tool. Not necessarily for good.

A politician angles to get a job through what is essentially a popularity contest. When a politician wins that contest, then he or she is not a prom king or queen, but a LEADER. Those are two distinct job descriptions. In both roles, using language expertly is crucial to the job. Otherwise, there's not a lot of overlap between those two things - politician and leader.

So an iPetition slugged "Writers on Trump" is going around on Facebook. Sign it and share it if you think it could make a difference. More importantly, please, before you vote, think about language and how a leader should communicate. 

< steps off soapbox >

Friday, June 3, 2016

Words & Pictures: Excellent Examples of Highly Satisfying Content

Writing = Communication. And sometimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words. Here's an example from Outbrain:

If you need to go get some donuts before you finish reading this, I'll understand. 

Outbrain is a well-funded content discovery firm that's really big on self-promotion. Not knocking it; just calling it as I see it. That said, I'm partial to a good case study. So, kudos to Outbrain. 

Content: Clever Counts! 

When writing online the current caution is "avoid being clever." Good advice, to an extent, as headers are heavily weighted content and clever headlines often don't have the right keywords and phrases to pull the SEO punch you need. But there's an exception (or two) to every rule, and today's EXCELLENT example comes from a (very clever) liquor store in Massachusetts

I completely agree with those who've said it's “the best analog Twitter feed in the world.”

There you have it - two #ExcellentExamples for the price of one! Now, enjoy those donuts or McMuffins ... but if you're reading this at work, please wash them down with a non-alcoholic beverage ;)
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Need to spice up your content? Want a white paper that's not dry as toast? I specialize in content that goes down easy.  Contact me when you're planning your next marketing communication project. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Storytelling Podcasts and Internal Communications

Newsflash: Storytelling is popular buzzword in marketing and internal communications circles. It's also a very effective technique. Sadly, when we talk about storytelling we tend to be a little light on examples.   #ironic

Listen & Learn: Storytelling Podcast Series

From flickr
Generally I prefer to read things rather than listen to podcasts, but recently I spent some time with Shawn Callahan's Putting Stories to Work series. (More accurately: I listened to the first of the 19-episode series.) 

Callahan is enthusiastic about storytelling and insists it's effective. I appreciate his enthusiasm and believe it's well-founded. That said, the first episode, at least, seemed a lot like a spoken-word version of a long-form sales letter. 

I'm going to assume the first episode serves as an introduction. In it, Callahan says the podcast series offers more and different stories about storytelling than are in the book, Putting Stories to Work

Perhaps I'll return to it at some point; I like stories and stories about Storytelling would be right up my alley. In the meantime, here are some of Callahan's tips and my reactions to them:
  • Don't use the S-Word? Callahan says while it's smart to start a meeting with a story, you should not say, "I want to tell you a story." Doing so makes the audience uncomfortable, reacting at least subconsciously by thinking, "what are we, children?" or "do we have time for this?" Instead, Callahan says your intro should engage naturally.  "I want to tell you about something important that happened yesterday..." is an example. In fact, Callahan goes so far as to say that we should "not use the S- word." My take: I think this one needs a little testing. Some people like stories. And many audiences are very practiced audiences (sadly, meetings suck up a lot of our time). So "let me tell you a story," might be the verbal clue to your audience that says, "here's a real-world example - take notes." Also, I've heard that it's good to make an audience uncomfortable - just a little - assuming you can save your listeners from their discomfort and bring them back to a relaxed state (because if they're not relaxed, they're not receptive). 
  • Do use traditional storytelling conventions. Well, by all means - employee the character development, narrative and tension necessary to make your story a story! 
  • Don't write down your stories, just take a few notes so your telling is more spontaneous. Well, maybe for the actual delivery, that will work. But if you don't have formal training as a speaker, practicing with a script is pretty important. (And of course, PRACTICING is very important.) Speaking of speaking experience, Toastmasters is hands-down the best place to get that. 

Stories Sell and Teach

While stories can be helpful in the sales process, I find they often take more time than prospects are willing to give - with the notable exception of a new-product introduction where the product really IS new, and the super-sticky-sweet Extra gum love story of Sarah and Juan.

So my advice is don't use a story just to use a story. (Duh.) Marketing is judged by results; if it doesn't sell (eventually), then it doesn't work.

One place storytelling (and even role-playing) works great is in education - in the business world, internal communications types are dropping the "S-word" liberally. And to his credit, all of Callahan's storytelling techniques (that I listened to, anyway) apply as well to internal communications and training as they do to sales/marketing situations.

The bottom line: stay tuned! Storytelling is here to stay.

Have you heard all of Callahan's storytelling podcasts? What did I miss? I'd love to hear from you! If you have something to add about storytelling and would like to see your guest blog published here (!!) please contact me

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small Business Marketing: Unmined Data is Content, Customer Service Gold

I've worked with enough small businesses to make a generalization: most of them feel a little left out when we marketing types talk about mining the data and analytics and stuff. They're like, "yeah but that's for Pepsi-sized companies."

Not really.  The cool thing about data is that it doesn't have to be big to be helpful.

Marketing is for all businessesSearch Engine Land neatly outlined 5 under-utilized marketing strategies in an article late last year. The three I found most useful for one small business I was working with at the time:
  1. Use your "unmined" data and 
  2. Spend a few minutes with Google+ 
  3. Check on your online reviews
The primary challenge of marketing in a very small business is just having time to think about marketing.  Small companies or organizations - let's say those with 20 or fewer employees - are often years from even writing job descriptions for their workers, let alone having a marketing position.


A little creativity (and a serious desire to grow, either size- or profit-wise) can give you major marketing results. Here's what that might look like, and what it might mean, for your small business marketing efforts.

Unmined Data? We Don't Even Look at Our Own Website, For God's Sake

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 89.6% of businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees. (For entrepreneurs and solopreneurs the figure is nearly 98%.) (Wow.) (Wow!)

So how many have a marketing staff? One employee? How 'bout a marketing budget? The right answer is not many. And, not enough. But this is reality, folks - running a business ain't easy. Hiring a marketing person, or managing marketing plans yourself, often takes a back seat to the reality of running a business. 

On the other hand, marketing is vital to your small business if you want it to survive, grow, and thrive.

The good news: there's a middle ground.

Don't fear your website analytics! 
Use what you know about your customers and 

Know Thy Customer, Know Thy Business, Know Thy Marketing Consultant

There are flexible marketing firms that will offer expertise on an hour-by-hour basis, and many consultants and small boutique firms are happy to help on a project basis.

When your small business is hiring marketing help, the first thing you need to know is what you can do in house and what you actually WILL DO in house. Sure, you can assign your customer service/do-everything frontline employees to update your social media channels, but can they really manage that and provide excellent customer service?

(Hint: the answer is usually "no." If you think the answer is "yes," then give your staffers a fighting chance by streamlining your operations and providing them with a checklist of posts to make each week and each month, which will serve as an editorial calendar.)

The second thing to consider as a small business looking for marketing help is, do you have the right marketing person or firm? Your marketing consultant or firm doesn't necessarily need to know everything about your industry, but they'll certainly need to understand how your business operates. There's no sense wasting your money on a firm that wants to get you into Groupons if your customers are other businesses. Or don't use smart phones.

How much should your small business spend on marketing, anyway? 

...And Know Thy Social Media Channels

The Search Engine Land article I referenced above recommended spending some time on your Google products page(s) and mining online reviews for marketing data and content.

The small company I worked with last winter got little action from Google+, however, it got a healthy number of calls and searches for directions from the sleeping giant of social media. So spending a little time with Google+ was worthwhile.

Also, while it had never solicited customer reviews, there were several nice, positive reviews out there in internet land. Sifting through them, I was able to "mine" some "data" and use it to revise some web and create some new posts on our existing channels.

So, take that, Big Data!

Last Word on Customer Data

Even if your marketing budget consists entirely of free media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), you can make the time investment really pay off. (Because there's free, as in no-money-required, and then there's the real cost, which is time-spent-on-one-thing-is-opportunity-lost-elsewhere.)

Mining your customer data can be as simple as jotting down notes at the end of the day or end of a shift about key phrases (especially objections and buying rationale) that you hear from your customers. It can also include

  • Perusing industry blogs and Q&A forums for current trends and pain points
  • Watching the competition with an eye to what they're doing and not doing (unmet needs = service opportunity)
  • Calling or emailing a handful of customers each week, just to keep in touch. 
Use the wisdom collected in those exercises to create your social media posts, and new product offerings. You might be surprised how quickly you see an improvement in your response rates (and sales!) when you start incorporating your customers' voices in your marketing efforts. 

Then, at your next small business event, you can drop into conversation about how you've increased engagement by incorporating the VOC. Go ahead. Brag a little. You've earned it. 

Then take the next step:
Get more traction with online reviews and other under-utilized social media channels