Monday, July 1, 2019

Out of Blog Ideas? Try These Topic Triggers

It happens to every blogger, website owner, or social media manager at some point. You know you have to keep up that regularly-scheduled stream of blog posts to keep your target market engaged -- and you know that it has to be original relevant content, not just whatever you can scrape off of someone else's website. But you can do nothing but stare at your computer monitor or smartphone screen, emitting flop sweat instead of ideas. At times like these, it's easy to freeze up in panic or despair that you've completely run out of blog content for the indefinite future. But keep a cool head, because help is on the way. Here are some ideas and suggestions to spur your imagination and trigger a fresh flood of blog content.

Think in Categories


How many different kinds of blog articles are there to choose from, really? Blog content tends to fall into different categories, and you can use those categories as a starting point to determine what kind of post you want to write. For example, what about:

A success story - Can you recall a recent situation in which you helped one of your clients out of a jam? If so, you have the basis for a success story that might convert readers into customers.

Breaking news - Has some major innovation, cultural shift or financial upheaval affected your readers and/or your industry? It's time to add your two cents to the online discussion.

A call for input - What do your readers think about a specific subject? What's on their minds, and how you can provide some much-appreciated assistance? Ask them to submit topics that you can address on your blog.

A guest blogger - Who says that you have to write every word of your own blog content? If you have access to valued vendor partners or industry pundits, why not invite them to contribute occasional posts as guest bloggers? You can then return the favor by making guest appearances on their blogs, making you visible to a whole new audience.

An employee spotlight - Do you have a new employee or established "superstar" you'd like to introduce to your readers? A blog article can provide the perfect opportunity to call attention to the quality of your team members (and, by extension, your company).

A product or service spotlight - Do you have a new product or service that you want to promote, or a regular feature that could benefit from some additional focus? Blog about it -- and invite your readers to learn more by contacting you directly.

Think in Questions


Another useful technique for triggering blog topics is self-questioning. Asking yourself certain compelling questions can lead your mind down the path toward fresh ideas. For instance, you might ask yourself:


  • What's the most important thing I've learned in the past 12 months?
  • What are the [X number of] things my readers can do about a specific problem -- and how can we help?
  • What are some of the most common myths or misconceptions our target audience might have about some aspect of what we do?
  • What burning issue or danger does our audience really need to know about?
  • How does the current season or upcoming holiday affect our readers' need for our products and services?
  • What kind of special offer or event can I announce in the context of a blog article?


Try these triggers on for size and see whether they open up new vistas for your blog content. If you need even more help, bring a second brain on board by hiring a freelance copywriter!





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Should You Hire a Freelance Copywriter or Engage a Marketing Agency?

Not too long ago, I took a phone call from a business owner inquiring about press releases. Which is fine; I've written plenty of press releases over the years. But it soon became apparent that he didn't just need help writing the articles -- he also needed someone to provide him with high-level PR distribution and marketing strategies. So I referred him to a marketing strategist that I knew at a local print/digital agency. At around the same time, I spoke with a Florida real estate agent who needed, not just writing help, but also professional SEO assistance. I agreed to perform the writing portion of the job, but I referred the SEO tasks to a marketing agency in Dallas.

When does it make sense to hire a freelance copywriter in San Antonio, Austin, or wherever, as opposed to engaging a turnkey marketing agency that offers a full suite of marketing services? It's a worthy question, and one that benefits from a little understanding of how both freelance copywriters and marketing agencies actually work.

Money Matters


For businesses with a tight marketing budget, it obviously makes sense to buy only the services you need. If you already have access to professional-quality web design, graphic design, SEO etc., and you're firmly in control of your brand voice and marketing agenda, you might need nothing more than a writer to generate the content you already envision as part of your master plan. One nice thing about this approach is how easy it is to hire writers on an ad hoc basis. Need a single press release, or a month's worth of blog articles, or a quick update to your home page? Simply call your writer and place that order. Current copywriter not working out? Just hire a different one the next time you need some content. Need more content than one writer can handle? Keep two or three of them in your Rolodex, and engage them as needed. Since copywriters base their rates on their particular experience levels, reputations and skill sets, you can always obtain your ideal compromise between affordability and expertise.

Marketing agencies tend to require a steadier, more consistent agreement and a higher level of commitment from their clients. It's true that many of the smaller ones -- the "boutiques" -- can be amazingly flexible in the tiers and terms of service they offer. But it's a little harder to flit from one agency to another at the drop of a hat. Expect to sign on for a flat monthly rate at the very least. In short, it's a more elaborate situation to get into, and to get out of.

Range of Services 


Some copywriters dabble in other marketing services above and beyond writing; the rest of us prefer to focus on the thing we do best. If you know that you need multiple, integrated marketing services, overseen by a professional marketing strategy team, hiring a turnkey marketing agency makes all the sense in the world. But it isn't necessarily your only option.

Remember my opening anecdotes, in which I directed those prospective clients to a marketing strategist and an SEO firm respectively? I was still the designated writer on those jobs -- I simply reached out to my professional network of trusted colleagues. If your copywriter has built up such a network over many years of experience, then you've pretty much got all the pieces of a full-blown marketing agency at your command. Some of these providers may be agencies in their own right; others may be independent contractors and experts in their respective fields. You can mix and match until you have a team that suits both your budget and your marketing needs.

Here's another little insight for your consideration: Many smaller marketing agencies don't maintain their own in-house writing crew anyway. They outsource those services to -- guess who? -- freelancers like me. So you may end up working with a freelance copywriter whether you realize it or not. The big difference in this scenario is that you're not one choosing the copywriter. You may not even be communicating with the writer directly. If that's something that matters to you, you might be better off bringing your own freelance copywriter to the project.

As you can see, there's no clear-cut right or wrong way to proceed. If you're still unsure of your copywriting and marketing needs, feel free to contact me for some honest, straightforward advice!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Beyond Google: Relevant Content Is the Key


Ah, Google, keeper of the sacred, secret formulae that determine whether your website link appears on Page One of search results -- preferably above the fold, or at least higher up on the search results than your competitors' links. Year in and year out, companies try to crack the Google "secret code," throwing all sorts of strategies at the search engine's current algorithm to see which ones stick. If you've ever sat down with a web or SEO strategist, you've heard about the importance of optimizing your web presence so that Google will reward you with higher search result rankings. Sure, there are other search engines out there worth pleasing, but after all, people don't just search for products, services or information; they "google" them. 

Even the most skilled, experienced web professionals can find Google a tough nut to crack. That's partly because the competition for Google's attention is so vicious, and partly because Google remains a moving target. The company regularly changes its methodologies, which means that yesterday's great online marketing tactic becomes today's disappointing search result. A few years back, I wrote a white paper about an exciting, cutting-edge study performed by a web optimization company, only to watch the owners go pale as Google suddenly changed the way it did things (again), rendering all their hard work obsolete before the study could even hit the news feeds.
What can you do to stay in the sights of this attention-impaired giant? Well, you definitely want to make sure that your digital marketing provider stays on top of all the latest industry news, while building enough flexibility into your site to enable fast, easy updates. This flexibility lets you employ a great, all-weather strategy for online marketing success: production of a steady stream of fresh, useful, high-quality written content -- the kind of material that will always matter to your target market. The good news is that Google currently places quite a lot of emphasis on relevant content. But even if it didn't, such content would still help you generate the kind of responses you're looking for. I've always said that good marketing content tends to optimize itself, and I've yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

Through fair weather and foul, regardless of what Google's algorithm-of-the-moment seems to favor, engaging written content will always make your web presence more, well, present. You'll find that visitors don't just land on your page; they actually read them. They stick around. They check out your products or services. They might even buy stuff or contact you. That's the kind of relevance any business can benefit from, so get the professional copywriting help you need to make it happen!



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Networking and Content Marketing: A Profitable Combination

If you're reading this post, then you already have some understanding of content marketing, whether you realize it or not. The creation of regular content relevant to your audience's interests has become a major element in any modern marketing plan. But old-fashioned person-to-person networking isn't going away by any means. Nearly 100 percent of study participants still regard face-to-face meetings as critical to business relationship development, with some 90 percent of them preferring small groups for their hobnobbing efforts. Even in the age of digital social media, platforms such as Meetup.com have created a mashup of online and offline interaction for business and personal relationship building. What's the essential bridge between these two forms of marketing? You guessed it -- it's the intelligent use of high-quality copywriting. Let's look at some of the ways your written content serves your networking efforts and vice-versa.

Marketing "Leave-Behinds" That Keep You From Getting Left Behind


Networking encounters are notorious for making minimal impact unless they're properly cultivated. You might come from from any given event with a stack of business cards that made sense at the time you collected them -- but not a few days later, when they all go into the circular file. Rest assured (?) that most of the cards you handed out await a similar fate. Even in a one-to-one meeting, the wealth of information you obtain from a new connection may fade from your brain more quickly than you would expect. But what if you're holding an eye-catching onesheet or brochure chock full of exciting content? Now you have a quick, handy, compelling reminder of that connection's value. Make sure your own printed "leave-behinds" make this kind of impression.

A Ready-for Prime-Time Web Presence


How do you handle that questions inevitably asked at networking events: "Do you have a website?" If you don't, you've got some explaining to do. If you do, you may feel more like apologizing for it than sending people to it. Is your web content up to date? Does it represent your current brand image, values and vision? Are your most important products and services given the proper promotion? Seriously, don't even put that next big networking event on your calendar until you've gotten these very big ducks in a row. Interested connections will most likely check out your site before they follow up with you -- not only to learn more about what you've told them, but also to get a sense of your legitimacy and professionalism. Don't let your virtual storefront let them down.

Keeping in Touch Through Content Marketing


If you've been in sales for any length of time (and let's face it, we're all in sales), then you know that it takes a minimum of seven "touches" to take a connection from initial awareness to an actual purchase. This degree of thoroughness can wear you out if you try to accomplish it entirely through old-fashioned calls -- but modern content marketing practices make it a breeze. You can create a drip email campaign, for instance, that sends out specific marketing mini-articles, special offers, and other enticements based on your connections' current positions in you sales funnel. You can also keep populating your blog (and therefore your website) with fresh, useful news, tips, and trending information as a means of turning your first-time visitors into regular guests.

Make no mistake, networking does work -- but only if you support it with effective content marketing strategies. Hire a freelance copywriter to help you generate that content, and you'll find that your getting greater value out of every in-person connection you make!



Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How to Get What You Want From a Freelance Copywriter


So you've decided to hire a professional writer to help you with your marketing content. It's a no-brainer, right? Assuming you've taken the right steps to make sure you've got the right person, you're guaranteed to get whiz-bang copy that makes exactly the statement you wanted to make in exactly the way you wanted to make it. From this point forward, you can set yourself on cruise control and let the writer write. Right?

Well, not quite. No matter how much of the creative burden you offload to the writer, you still have an important task -- communicating what you need and want to your creative team. If your writer (or graphic artist, or web designer, et cetera) receives wrong or incomplete information about your mission statement, corporate values, target market or other things that make your business tick, you'll get marketing content that misses the mark. Effective communication with your writer will help ensure strong, effective copy just as effective communication with an architect helps ensure that your home ends up with the right number of bathrooms. "Hey, the house looks great now that it's built. By the way, did I mention we're a family of twelve?" Oops.

Some items you want to make sure you discuss with your writer include:

Priorities. Writers love background information, so by all means, pile it on. But at some point before the writing starts, make sure you've highlighted the talking points nearest and dearest to you. (A competent writer should ask you this right off the bat, but feel free to volunteer it.) What are the most important things your audience needs to come away with after viewing your marketing content? What must they do? How must they feel? What things about your business set you apart from your competitors? Once you've discussed these things with your writer, you can then throw an avalanche of white papers, web links or other data on his/her shoulders while resting assured that the big points will get the most "ink" in the final product.

Creative scope. Putting your writer on too long or short a creative leash will put a noose around your chances for getting the right final product. If you tell the writer, "You're the creative guy. Just come up with something," be prepared not to like what happens. The writing you get may sparkle and represent a high professional standard, but it may also cover the wrong topic or emphasize the wrong message. On the other hand, if you're mapping out every little point and sub-point down to individual phrases, you're really writing the piece yourself and using the writer as an editor. That's okay if it's the arrangement that you and the writer agreed on. But if you're paying somebody to create content and then spoon-feeding every word to them, then you're wasting time and money.

Direction. Many business owners and marketing directors bring on a new writer when they intend to make a drastic change in the direction of their marketing -- but what if you just want to continue what you've already started? That's great too. Like a session musician sitting in for a regular band member, a skilled writer can mimic a wide range of tones and styles, even while the presence of a new player adds a little jolt of fresh energy to the proceedings. Just make it very clear to the writer that it ain't broke so you don't want it fixed. Not a problem. 

Talk to your freelance writer, and you'll get writing that speaks to your customers. And that's the most important communication of all.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Is Your Marketing Content Offering Too Much Information?


If you ever see "TMI" posted on an online message board, you may know that it stands for "Too Much Information." It's usually a warning, or a complaint, that you're telling us more than we want or need to know. (Example post title: "Personal Hygiene Question (possibly TMI).") 

While "TMI" usually refers to unpleasant subject matter, it can also be applied to cases of epic rambling or brain-crushing detail. I even think of it in terms of spilling the beans unnecessarily. I recently watched a rotten old B-movie where a guy was being beaten up by a lynch mob for a murder he didn't commit. Meanwhile, the guy's friend spots the real murderer in the crowd, grabs him, and starts slapping him around. The culprit immediately falls to his knees and starts yelling, "I didn't mean it! I didn't mean to kill her!" Um, okay. Thanks for sharing. You might consider not representing yourself in court.

We sometimes offer too much in our marketing copy. It's tempting to spew out all the facts and figures, reams of testimonials, or volumes of microscopic detail about what we do. It's hard to resist posting every single conceivable question and answer on our FAQ page until it resembles an FAQ book. (Be honest, are all those questions "frequently asked?") We want to stagger our readers with our comprehensive knowledge and solutions -- but who wants to be staggered?

If you throw information at a reader until steam comes out of his ears, he can't focus on the key points that piqued his interest in the first place. Worse, you've allowed no space for the reader's imagination to roam. It takes two to communicate, and if you've created an impenetrable brick wall of information that fills every single crack, answers every question, anticipates every thought the reader might have, then your reader has no room to insert his own imagination -- which means he can't envision your product or service making his life or business better. You've blinded his mind's eye.

Too much information will also cause you to lose queries. Once you've told the prospective client everything he needs to know, you've drastically reduced the chances of having a future conversation with that person. Sure, your prospect might call you right away to order something, but he's more likely to just file the pages away for future reference -- and keep shopping around. 

The real point of effective marketing is to get folks excited enough to want more -- and they get that by talking to you. Once you've got that conversation, you then have the opportunity to build trust, set up meetings, or point out additional products or services that lead to a bigger sale or future business. Give prospects a reason to contact you!

Just remember: TMI (Too Much Information) = NEB (Not Enough Business).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fit to Print: The Art of Print Marketing Content

I devote a lot of electronic ink to the online copywriting experience, but rest assured that print marketing is not dead. I field plenty of requests to write content for trifold brochures, onesheets, flyers, direct mail, newsletters, door hangers -- if it involves applying ink to processed tree pulp, I've probably written for it. And just as effective web writing has its own set of rules, you can apply certain techniques and ways of thinking toward improving your print marketing content. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you're faced with the proverbial blank page.

Thinking Collaboratively - The most effective print marketing pieces rely on an equal creative partnership between the copywriter and the graphic designer. Some items will naturally begin life as an arresting image, while others will take their cue from a grabby opening statement or final tag line. I've gotten writing ideas a designer's initial sketches, just as designers have built their visual approaches around my first drafts. Ideally, both of these individuals are working together from the beginning to create a piece that works on both levels to create an integrated expression of your message.

Painting a Picture - When you're writing for a brochure, onesheet or other print marketing piece, you find out in a big hurry that less is indeed more in the wonderful world of marketing copy. You've got to keep in mind that big chunks of the final product will be filled up with photos, charts, logos and other illustrations. Your writing must not only make make room for these aspects of design; it must acknowledge and enhance them. The last thing a mailer or other space-challenged piece needs is a wall of text in a microscopic font. Think about those TV ads that have the big mess of fine print shoved into the bottom of the screen. Ever wonder what all that stuff says? Me neither.

Breaking It Down - No matter how much or how little text your print marketing piece can accommodate, solid blocks of it create unnecessary eyestrain (and brain strain) for the reader, especially in today's "absorb it a glance or toss it" world. If the copy lends itself to subdivision, break it down into bulleted lists, statements or short paragraphs. This practice not only helps readers zoom in on the information that rocks their world the hardest, but it also adds visual variety to the layout and gives the graphic designer more options for positioning the text in clever ways.

Keep in mind that different print marketing formats will call for a different mix of information and "sizzle." While a brochure can offer a leisurely guided tour toward a final call to action, a mailer may have to nail the reader from the outset with an arresting image and/or phrase. Whatever your needs, an experienced marketing copywriter, preferably one who is used to working with graphic designers, can help you choose those words as wisely as possible. If if you feel you could use that kind of expertise -- well, you know what to do!