Let Your Blog Content Writing Be Driven By Demand

market research“One of your most important concerns is just how much knowledge, experience, or training you can expect in your readers,” David McMurrey teaches in Audience Analysis – Just who are these guys? If you expect some of your readers to lack certain background, do you supply it in your document, he asks?

 

  • If you say no, you run the risk of customers being frustrated with your product or service.
  • If you say yes, you increase your work effort and add to your page count.

There’s no easy answer, McMurrey admits, but you need to know what your audience is going to expect.

As Sleeping Media Giant points out, it’s important to analyze your online audience and target your campaigns to them. I like pointing out that, while blog content writing is an art, there’s quite a bit of science to it as well, and a good part of the science involves targeting that content towards the specific type of customers you want – and who will want – to do business with you.

At Say It For You, we tell clients, one way to target content is to set up a category index on the blog page, so that readers can find their way to content that matches their specific interests. (When you’re just beginning to post blogs for your business or practice, organizing the material isn’t so important, but as you continue posting content over months and years, those categories come to be invaluable.

For your part, when you’re studying your report from, say Google Analytics, you can see which categories were most frequently viewed. That allows your content creation to be driven by “demand”, with the blog itself functioning as a consumer survey tool!

One thing I often find myself pointing out to business owners is that the navigation from the blog to the main website will be smoother and more direct if new “landing pages” are added to the website top match the different search term categories that attract searchers to the blog. (As a blogger, I become part of the company’s marketing team, which, hopefully, includes a web designer and Search Engine Optimization expert.)

Spend an afternoon wearing the hat of an online searcher who’s looking for information about the type of products and services you provide. What are the search engines “serving up”? What kinds of information are you finding on your competitors’ websites and social media pages?

Ten years ago, when I was just starting in the blog content writing field, I heard Chris Baggott, co-founder of then-company Compendium Blogware, caution: “Without a system for gathering and analyzing information about the visitors to your blog, you’re operating in the dark.” Marketing company Hubspot  agrees. Providing valuable content will get you far, the Hubspot authors explain, but it will only get you so far!

Let your blog content writing be research-based and driven by demand!

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Is Your Blog Post Title Worth a “Watch”?

Since we’ve been focusing on effective titles in my last couple of Say It For You posts, I couldn’t help but notice a certain article in my August issue of Financial Planning. The title reads “A Sector to Watch” and the article by Craig Israelsen is about including commodities in a portfolio to provide diversification as inflation ticks up. I really liked the “soft-sell” quality of that title. The author wasn’t “hawking” commodity funds, or even recommending them. Instead, it felt as if he was simply alerting his financial advisor readers to something that might be worth their attention.

Ryan Scott of HubSpot would describe that Financial Planning title as an “If I Were You” headline.  “When someone tells us how we should do something, we balk,” Scott explains. But when someone offers to show us why we should do something, it appeals to us,” he adds.
The Israelsen article does, in fact, include facts on the performance of commodities in different markets, and does make an argument for handling inflation using that type of investment. It’s the title, though, that caught my blog content writer’s attention, because it pulls back a couple of steps from making any argument, offering the almost casual suggestion that commodities are worth a “watch”.

“The job of a headline is to get people sucked into your ad/article in the first place,” is the advice Kopywriting Kourse offers. “The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience.  If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust,” Corey Wainwriight writes in HubSpot.

That’s precisely what’s so refreshing about the Israelsen title – it takes a contrarian position, literally ignoring both these pieces of advice. (Reminds me of the Tom Sawyer story, where, rather than persuading his friends to help him whitewash the fence, Tom makes it look like the task is so much fun that they want to participate…).

“Captivating titles are the ones that stand apart from the rest. Great titles aren’t afraid to be a little weird,” observes Ryan VanDenabeele in Impulse Creative. Craig Israelsen’s A Sector to Watch” certainly caught my attention. Is your blog post title worth a “watch”?

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Give a Blog Post a Twist and It Superconducts

Meteorites sometimes contain naturally occurring superconductors, physicists are discovering. “Give a graphene layer cake a twist and it superconducts – electrons flow freely through it without resistance.” Superconductors, I learned, could potentially be used in new, energy-saving technologies, but today are impractical for most uses, requiring very cold temperatures to function. Still, my blog writing fancy was tickled by the image of those flowing electrons, freed with nothing more than “a twist”.

Putting a unique “twist” on a topic, I believe, is the very essence of blog content writing, enabling the flow of ideas via the internet to a business owners or a practitioner’s target audience.

Three toys can be used to illustrate the power of twist:

Hula Hoops:
When sales plummeted after an early rush of success, Hula Hoop manufacturer Wham-O, came up with a new twist, inserting ball bearings into the cylinders to make a “swoosh” sound, reviving consumer interest in the product; this year marks the company’s 71st anniversary.

Barbie Dolls
The newest “twist” on Barbie Dolls allows doll owners to change Barbie’s hair color and hair style with just a twist of her head.

Rubik’s Cube
The newest versions of the popular puzzler allows the shape to be twisted from a snake into a ball.

“You don’t necessarily need an original idea to craft unique content. You can always develop your own piece by adding the right dose of creativity into any topic your audience is interested in,” Julie Peterson writes in problogger.com. Take some good old ideas and make them different through your individual approach to the subject, she suggests..

The content in your blog posts, I explain to business owners, will be a way to continually think through and reinvent your business brand. The very personal twist that we work to create will mark your blog as uniquely yours.

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Should Business Blog Posts Shock and Awe?

shock in blogging for business
“Most advisors don’t spend their day thinking about how to jolt their clients, but I do,” asserts Certified Retirement Coach Robert Laura, writing for Financial Advisor magazine. As a former social worker, Laura claims, the way people respond to the various things he says and asks give him valuable clues as to how to work with them. Shock and awe are his tools to jolt clients in order to start new conversations that will help clients be better prepared for the future.

Can “shock and awe” help start conversations when it comes to blogging for business? Maybe. At Say It For You, I’ve maintained that the tone of any business blog needs to be consistent with the company’s brand. In order to appeal to a better kind of customer – the kind that buys for the right reasons and then remains loyal – my thinking has been that the Calls to Action (both the implied CTA’s in the blog content writing itself and the Call to Action buttons) should appeal to readers’ better nature.

The other side of the argument, however, the point Robert Laura is making, is one that is also emphasized in MLT Creative, “Using fear appeals or scare tactics may be more effective than statistics or data because they may cause people to think more about the issue.”

With our blog content writer hats on, let’s take a closer look at three of Laura’s list of seven “shockers”:

1. “The difference between today’s haves and have-nots isn’t money.”
This statement is a thought provoker, counter-intuitive enough to grab attention and to encourage people to keep reading to learn the underlying thinking. Unlike scare tactic selling, bold assertions can serve as “conversation starters” in blogging for business.

2. Twenty of the 43 most stressful life events take place at or near retirement.”
Here Laura is grabbing his readers’ attention with a startling statistic. Statistics can be a tool in blogging for business. If there’s some false impression people seem to have relating to your industry, or to a product or service you provide, you can bring in statistics to show how things really are. Statistics can also serve to demonstrate the extent of a problem, which is what Laura is doing.  Once readers realize the problem, the door is open for you to show how you help solve that very type of problem.

3.  “Traditional estate planning is backwards and may be more damaging than no planning at all.”
There’s something very appealing and curiosity-stimulating about contrarian content, and, whether it’s business-to-business blog writing or business to consumer writing, being a contrarian has two effects: It makes readers sit up and take notice (This is not going to be same-old, same-old, readers realize.)and it clarifies what differentiates your business or professional practice from its peers.

Should business blog posts shock and awe?  I don’t believe so. But should they arouse interest and provoke thinking?  You bet.

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Business Blog Posts are Made for Biting the Bullet

bullet points in blogsIt seems content writers either love or absolutely abhor those little dots.

Jon of Presentation Advisors, for example, is antipathetic towards bullet points in PowerPoint presentations.  When we use bullets, we tend to lump ideas together on the same slide without giving any one of those ideas a chance to shine, he says.

Myself, I’m kind of partial to bullet points, and from what I’ve been told, Google and the other search engines like them, too.  In fact, as I actually stress in corporate blogging training sessions, lists and bullet points are generally a good fit for blogs; they help keep readers – and writers – on track.

“The aim of bullet points is to break complicated information down into digestible form or to highlight the main elements of a story, the Reuters Handbook of Journalism explains. Bullet points work in many story formats, Reuters adds, including briefs, updates, wrapups, interviews, and market reports.

Reuters offers several important guidelines for using bullet points:

  • Bullet points must be succinct, in the active voice and in the present tense
  • The minimum number of bullet points is two, the maximum five
  • They cannot exceed one line (about 10 words) in length

Lynn Goertner-Johnston’s Business Writing blog teaches how to punctuate bullet points:

Use a period after every bullet point that is a sentence.
Use no punctuation after bullets that are not sentences.
Use either all full sentences or all fragments, not a mixture.

Sometimes bullet points complete a stem, and then there should be a period after each one, Goertner-Johnson goes on to give an example of how a “stem” works.

I like living in Seattle because of its:

  •  access to work opportunities.
  • moderate climate.
  • liberal politics.

(None of the three bullets is a sentence in itself, yet we use a period for each because it completes the original sentence.)

What about using numbers in place of bullet points? Cypress’ Catherine Hibbard explains that using numbers in place of bullet points would imply an order of importance; with bullet points, all items have equal value.  Hibbard recommends beginning each bullet with an action word where that’s appropriate, but in all cases making tenses and verbs consistent.

One bullet point “compromise” I’ve found very useful is inserting a longer explanation after each point. That way, I am giving the individual items a “chance to shine”, while still taking advantage of the organizational simplicity of the bullet points.

For example, in this bullet-pointed list of Three Tips to Remember in Revamping Your Resume, J.P Hansen  gives three 2-3 word pieces of advice, all in directive (command) form, but then explains each in a longer sentence:

  • Explain, don’t list.  Write three full sentences about your current or previous job with three to five bullet points highlighting your achievements.
  • Limit activities. List just two hobbies to showcase your interests without seeming preoccupied.
  • Use active language. Opt for strong, positive verbs like sold, earned, and developed.

Business blog posts are naturals for “biting the bullet”!

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Varying the Voice in Your Business Blog

“Your greatest tool as a speaker is your voice,” cautions Toastmasters International. “When you speak, your voice is the primary link between you and your listeners. It is the medium of your message.” In fiction, the term “voice” describes the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, conveying the author’s attitude, personality, and character

“Finding a voice for your social media marketing can be difficult,” observes Kevan Lee in Buffer Social. Voice is not a statistic you can track or a design element you can tweak, Lee points out. What “voice” is, he posits is your brand personality, which might be lively, positive, cynical, or professional. Voice helps you create content that is sensitive to and resonates with your audience, adds Lauren Pope of gathercontent.com.

In your business blog, while viewers are reading, not hearing the voice, it’s important to have “voice variety”. That can come from writing some of the content in I-you format, with other posts written in third person. If a company person or a customer is being interviewed, the can be written in the “voice” of the interviewee or that of the interviewer.

“Third person narratives so often mimic the ‘beige voice’ of an objective reporter,” William Cane says in Write Like the Masters. With first person, he advises, “it’s usually easier to be intimate, unique, and quirky.”

No one communication style is best. What is effective is varying the voice in your business blog posts!

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Blogging to Help Make Them or Save Them Money

blogging to save them money

“Before we write a single post, we ask ourselves, ‘Does this help our readers make or save money?’” says Kathleen Garvin, editor and marketing strategist for finance blog The Penny Hoarder. “That’s key for us. We’re content creators, but we only want to publish a story if we think it’s truly helpful or interesting for our readers.”

“When developing content, keep in mind the three E’s of content: Educate, Entertain and Engage,” writes Dennis Wakeman of the Social Media Examiner.

Teaching is, in fact, a large part of what we blog content writers do. How does the product or the process work? How can the business owner or professional practitioner solve the problem?

In the broadest sense of the word, entertaining is part of the job for blog writers. No, you needn’t become a comedian, but unusual anecdotes, tips, trends, and tidbits help keep readers on site.

Getting people to actually connect with you and participate in the conversation is much harder than it looks, Wakeman admits. He suggests using polls and very specifically asking for comments. Whenever somebody actually clicks on a link, takes a poll, or posts a comment, he explains, that brings them closer to becoming a client or customer.

So what about helping readers make and save money? The personal finance blog Squawkfox.com was voted #1 blog in Canada, because it’s full of tips on de-cluttering, cutting spend, and staying within a budget. (In training career mentees, I would coach them, both on their resume and in the job interview, to tell their prospective employer how, in their summer jobs, they had saved their employer money, time, and hassle.) Similarly, at Say It For You, I teach writers to make the content about them, not about you and your business or practice!

So what about helping your own business or practice make money? Your call to action should point readers to the next point in the sales funnel, says ProBlogger. You might ask web visitors to subscribe to your newsletter or sign up for a free webinar so you can turn them into paying customers in the future

In blog content marketing, it’s all about helping readers make and save money!

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In Blogging and in the Air, a Bit of Explanation Goes a Long Way

explanations in blogging“Although many frequent fliers think they know what to do in an emergency, in fact most probably haven’t listened to the safety videos in years and if you quizzed them about the content, they’d flunk,” writes George Hobica in USA Today.

The basic content of safety videos, Hobica explains, is established by the International Civil Aviation Organization, with room for additional advice at each airline’s discretion. It’s all super-important content, he says, because whenever there’s been an emergency on a plane, we see footage of passengers doing the wrong things – escaping a crash landing carrying luggage and not wearing shoes, or not knowing how to put on an oxygen masks, for example.

So what can be done to get passengers to watch the videos? (As a blog content writer and trainer who’s occupied with getting people to read the content we prepare, I was really interested in what Hobica would have to say on the subject.)

“I truly believe that if the videos explained the reasons behind the instructions they give, then people would listen more,” he says. “For instance, the exhortation to ‘place the mask over your mouth and nose’ could be changed to ‘place the mask over both your nose and mouth, because otherwise you won’t get enough oxygen and you’ll pass out'”.

Blogger Michel Fortin says he’s a big fan of reasons-why advertising. “Good, successful copy,” Fortin adds, “tells the reader why right up front.” (If you don’t, he warns, they’re left wondering why you left that information out.) Why are you highlighting a certain topic now? Why is the solution you’re proposing particularly relevant for this reader?

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If They Don’t “Get” Annie, They Won’t Buy the Gun

allusions

“Imagine,” LitCharts.com writes, “if every time someone used the expression “it was a real Cinderella story,” they had to retell the entire story of Cinderella to explain exactly what they meant.” By using an allusion to something a majority of people will already know, you can clarify your own message – provided they DO know what you mean.

Around six years ago, the Indianapolis Star ran a story about an auction at which items title of the piece was “Annie Get Your Checkbook”, referring to the movie and Broadway show “Annie Get Your Gun.”  As it happened, I recognized the allusion immediately, but as a blog content writer and trainer, I had to wonder how many other readers would have “gotten” the point. That’s the thing about allusions, I tell writers – they need to be handled with caution.

“Use pop culture references sparingly,” cautions Joanne Brooks of Helium.com, offering two main reasons why:

  1. You want your work to have relevance several years from now.
  2. Pop culture references can delay reading and cause you to lose your audience.

On the other hand, the last thing you want is to be ho-hum and b-o-o-r-ing,so there are reasons to consider popular culture references. For one thing, as Neda Ulaby noted on National Public Radio, even if only a minority among in your audience understand your allusion, they are going to feel like really special insiders and be bonded to you.

The Blocabulary blog points out that allusions can:

  • help people see unique connections between two ideas
  • help readers better understand the subject
  • be surprising and funny

My own observation, based on working with Say It For You blogging clients from many different industries and professions, is that it’s a challenge to find the precise style of communication that will best connect with target readers. While this is especially true in business-to-consumer blog content writing, even with suppliers and distributors, you want to avoid anything that is a barrier to understanding.

Going back to my original example of the IndyStar auction promo, in business blog copy writing, it’s a simple equation: If they don’t “get” Annie, they won’t buy the gun!

 

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In Blog Marketing, Look for a Plot

plot in blogging

 

“Don’t look for a plot here. This is a polemic,” are the words a reviewer in the Mensa Bulletin uses to describe J.K Hillstrom’s book, A Humanitarian’s Fantasy. The book is a more like a series of lectures, the reviewer complains, rather than a coherent, sequential piece of prose.

Individual business blog posts may appear to be non-sequential, separate pieces of writing rather than parts of a coherent whole. Yet a small business owner’s or professional practitioner’s blogging efforts can have an effect on marketing results that is disproportionately larger than might seem possible from mere short, informal selections. The power comes from the “plot”.  

Whenever I’m sitting down with new Say It For You business owner clients as they’re preparing to launch a blog for their company or practice, I find that one important step is to select one to five recurring – and related – themes that will appear and reappear over time in their blog posts. The themes may be reflected in the keyword phrases they are going to use to help drive search, but themes are broader in scope than just key words.

The variety in their blog is going to come from the details we will be filling in around those central themes, different ways the company’s products can be helpful, different valuable tidbits of information or how-to tips, plus specific examples of how the company helped solve various problems.

The unifying themes in a business blog are the beliefs of, and the unique “slant” of, the business owner or professional practitioner. Those “leitmotifs”  help the separate blog posts fit together into an ongoing business blog marketing strategy.

In blog marketing, look for the plot!

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