5 Tips for Writing Better Blog Posts

In a phone call yesterday, a prospect explained to me why her organization was looking for a new blog writer. It seems they had been working with a writer who just couldn’t nail the blog writing format.

“He’s a really good writer and he does a great job on whitepapers,” the prospect said. “But it’s taking multiple rounds of revisions to get the blogs right, and even then, we’re not real happy with them.” She said it has been taking up to three months for them to get one blog written and posted. Ouch!

Art and Science of Blogs

This got me thinking about the art and science of writing blogs. Yes, the writing style for a blog is different from the writing style for a whitepaper, website, brochure, newsletter or any other kind of marketing writing, as my prospect pointed out.

But what exactly is blog writing style? And how can you improve your blog writing? Here are 5 tips to help you write better blogs:

1. Remember why you’re writing the blog. Most marketers write blogs in order to get fresh content up on their websites regularly and position themselves and/or their companies as thought leaders and subject matter experts. When done well, blogs can help educate customers and prospects, build brand awareness and generate quality leads.

If you’re a marketer, you might be thinking “Duh” right now. I include this fairly basic tip because I see so many blogs that don’tseem to have a purpose — other than trying to sell something. Which brings me to my second tip.

2. Don’t try to sell with your blog. This is by far the biggest mistake most marketing bloggers make. Your blog is not — I repeat not— the vehicle for selling yourself or your products. Instead, it’s a vehicle for sharing valuable information, thoughts and ideas to help your customers and prospects solve problems or do their jobs better.

“But why would I give away information?” you might be thinking. “If I do, people won’t hire me.” The idea is to share just enough information so that readers reap value from your content without “giving away the store,” so to speak. When you strike the right balance, readers will see that you are the true expert in your field and they probably need to hire you instead of doing it themselves.

3. Write a great headline and lead. Now to the nitty-gritty of blog writing, which starts (where else?) at the beginning with your headline and lead. If you don’t nail this, nothing else you’ve written matters — because nobody’s going to read it. In fact, while 80% of blog readers read the headline, only 20% read the actual blog content, noted a recent post on Wishpond.com.

Plenty has been written about writing great headlines and leads, including the Wishpond blog, so I won’t get into it here. My point: Don’t neglect this critical part of your blog.

4. Get to the point quicklyThis was one of the big problems the prospect I spoke with had with her writer. “It just takes him too long to get to the main point of what the blog is about,” she said. “As a result, very few people are reading our blogs.”

Blog aren’t the place for long, flowery, creative leads. Assuming you’ve written a headline that at least gets your readers into the first paragraph, you’ve now got a few precious seconds at best to draw them into the meat of the blog. So make it easy for readers to understand right away what the blog is about and why they should continue reading.

5. Make your copy “scannable.” According to Problogger.com, only 16% of people read online copy word for word. Instead, most people scan the page for words, phrases or headings that grab their attention — so you need to make sure your blog copy is scannable.

What do I mean by scannable? Break things up to create “breathing room” by including bulleted and numbered lists and plenty of subheads. Use formatting like boldface, italics and underline to emphasize key points. Also use pictures, borders, boxes and other graphics to create visual interest on the screen.

Bonus tip: Inject some of your personality into the blog. Remember that your blog is not a research paper or thesis so it doesn’t have to be stuffy and dry or full of citations and footnotes. Write in a casual, friendly tone that lets some of your personality come through.

And don’t be afraid to have an opinion or take a stand. Doing so will generate more reader interest and comments, which can spur online discussions and conversations with your readers.

The Rise of “Fake News” and Its Impact on Sourcing

Every since the 2016 Presidential election campaign, the term “fake news” has become part of the American lexicon. It was during this time that legitimate-looking news sites started popping up on the Internet and in social media feeds with all kinds of reports about the election and the candidates.

Of course, much of this “news” was far from legitimate. It appears that some of these fake news sites and feeds were created by foreign governments in an effort to interfere with the election. Others were simply created by partisans on either side of the political spectrum trying to sway undecided voters.

Media Distrust Abounds

Regardless of the source of the disinformation, the result has been further decline among Americans in terms of how much they trust media sources. In fact, six out of 10 respondents to a recent survey said it’s hard to distinguish between real and fake news.

All of this has real-world implications not just in the political realm, but also for those of us who spend our time researching and writing content. Specifically, we have to be much more careful nowadays when it comes to the sources we use for blogs, articles, whitepapers and other research-intensive material.

What Sources Do We Trust?

An outfit called the Trusting News Project conducted a survey last year in which they asked Americans to name the three news sources they most and least trusted. The three most-trusted news sources according to this survey are:

  1. The Economist
  2. Public television
  3. Reuters

Other highly trusted news sources listed in the survey are The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and the BBC, NPR and PBS.

At the other end of the spectrum, the three least-trusted news sources according to the survey are:

  1. Occupy Democrats
  2. BuzzFeed
  3. Breitbart

Other untrustworthy news sources listed in the survey are Infowars, Huffington Post, Yahoo!, The Blaze, and social media and the Internet in general.

Interestingly, The New York Times — which is generally considered to be a bedrock of American journalism — didn’t land on either list. It was rated as highly trustworthy by liberals and highly untrustworthy by conservatives, so it landed in the middle of the pack.

Two Key Takeaways

My friend Gordon Graham, aka That Whitepaper Guy, wrote about the implications of this survey in a recent blog post. Here are two of his main takeaways for those of us who research and write content:

1. Quote experts instead of publications. Gordon cites a survey conducted by the PR firm Edelman that found that trust in subject matter experts is actually on the rise. For example, 63 percent of people trust technical experts, 61 percent trust academic experts and 50 percent trust financial analysts and successful entrepreneurs.

“We gain more credibility by quoting from technical experts, academics and business people,” Gordon writes. “And it’s better to find disinterested third parties, rather than company employees.”

2. Quote people instead of institutions. One way to do this is to mention the lead author of a published report instead of the institution that published it. “With faith in institutions slipping so badly, I believe that quoting an individual by name will create more trust with readers,” Gordon writes.

Take It to Heart

As a researcher and writer who takes proper sourcing very seriously, I’m taking these survey results to heart. If researching and writing are part of your job, so should you.

The 10 Biggest Content Marketing Challenges Faced By Marketers Today

The rise of content marketing is one of the biggest marketing trends in recent memory. Content marketing itself isn’t really new — businesses have been using “content” to tell their stories and attract new customers since modern marketing and advertising first started taking shape over a century ago.

But the explosion of the Internet and search engine optimization (SEO) over the past two decades has really brought content marketing to the forefront. Achieving any kind of lasting SEO success requires consistent creation and distribution of high-quality, non-promotional online content.

Top 10 Challenges

As a full-time freelance writer — or “content creator,” using today’s verbiage — I try to stay on top of the latest trends and developments in the world of content marketing. So a recent Facebook post asking “What’s your biggest challenge with content?” caught my attention.

ClearVoice, a content management platform, conducted a survey in which they asked 1,000 content marketers what was their biggest content marketing challenge. Here are the top 10 responses:

  1. Finding enough time to manage the program.
  2. Assuring content quality.
  3. Creating the content itself.
  4. Scaling the content.
  5. Generating content ideas.
  6. Acquiring content creation talent.
  7. Distributing content.
  8. Devising content strategy.
  9. Engaging with audiences.
  10. Publishing content consistently.

Digging Deeper Into the Data

It’s not too surprising that time is the biggest challenge faced by content marketers. Creating and managing a successful content marketing program is a time-consuming task, to be sure.

Specific time-related challenges listed by marketers included having enough time to curate, create, research, develop and write content. Also mentioned was having enough time to handle all the phases of a content marketing program and take a nascent content strategy “from zero to 60 in less than a year,” as one respondent put it.

However, the authors of the report point out that the challenge of “time” goes beyond just having enough hours in the day or week to manage a content marketing program. When you dig deeper, time challenges really have to do with organization, prioritization and focus, the authors assert.

If “time” is a big content marketing challenge for your firm, the authors recommend stepping back and conducting a thorough review of your content strategy — or maybe even your overall approach to time management.

Balancing Creativity and Quality

When it comes to the content itself, “creativity” and “quality” were mentioned as specific challenges by many of the marketers who were surveyed. These were some of their verbatim comments:

  • “Making it feel genuine
  • “Getting creative with it”
  • Storytelling in a compelling way”
  • “Making abstract ideas tangible
  • “Being clear and concise

According to the report authors, “Having the stamina to generate ideas and produce compelling content — again and again — was a prevalent challenge” for the marketers who responded to the survey.

Credibility Also Critical

Ensuring a high degree of credibility is another challenge that was consistently mentioned by the marketers who responded to the survey. Specifically, they worry about whether the content they’re creating is “good enough” and whether audiences “trust us” or not.

The full ClearVoice report contains a lot more insightful details that might help you meet some of the content marketing challenges your organization is facing. Click here to access it for free.

What’s Up With Social Media Marketing Heading Into 2018?

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock the past few years, you’re aware of the prevalence of social media in our world. Almost everyone today participates in some kind of social media activity, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or one of the other ubiquitous social platforms.

Of course, marketers have taken notice of this trend. A few years ago I was writing articles about whether or not businesses should participate in social media marketing. Today that’s not even a relevant question — the question now is how do you create a social media marketing plan?

Eye-Opening Stats

I just ran across some stats from Hootsuite that confirm what we already know about social media usage and drive home the importance of using social media as a marketing tool.

First, practically everybody who uses the Internet (and that’s practically everybody who’s breathing) can now be reached via social media. Specifically, 98% of Internet users age 16 to 64 visit or use at least one social network monthly. Four out of five of them access social media using a mobile device.

This probably isn’t surprising to learn when you see so many people walking around like zombies with their eyes glued to their phones. At the gym yesterday, I watched a guy do a set of reps, look at his phone, do another set, look at his phone again, and on and on. Geez, can’t we put our phones down for an hour while we work out???

Sorry, I digress. Digging deeper into the stats, Hootsuite found that four out of 10 social media users access news via social media platforms. Hence the national obsession over so-called “fake news” that tends to permeate social media. And out of every 3 minutes Internet users spend online, one minute is spent on a social media platform.

But here’s the stat that blew me away: Social media users spend an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes every day on social media. This rises to 3 hours and 2 minutes for mobile social media. Read those stats again and let that sink in for a minute.

Pay Attention, Marketers!

Here are some stats from Hootsuite’s report, titled Social Media Trends 2018, that should resonate with every business marketer who is finalizing marketing plans for 2018:

• More than one out of four (28%) Internet users use social media for online product research, up from 25% last year and 23% the year before.

The Hootsuite report anticipates that this percentage will continue to rise in 2018. Therefore, businesses should adjust their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies with this in mind, says the report.

• Among 16 to 64 year olds, social media is now the second most-used tool for product research (41%), just behind search engines (52%) and ahead of consumer reviews (35%). Social has actually overtaken search engines for product research among 16 to 24 year olds.

The Hootsuite report concludes that with so many people now using social media for product research, it’s just a short leap to buying products directly via the social platforms. Therefore, businesses should start thinking about how they can enable customers to transition to social commerce, says the report.

• Ad blocking is becoming more prevalent even as social networks serve up more advertising. About one out of 10 (11%) Internet users block ads, while four out of 10 (41%) Millennials do.

The Hootsuite report says that the rise of ad blocking should serve as a warning to business marketers that consumers still resist broadcast marketing tactics. Instead, businesses should strive to use social channels to build genuine audience engagement and personal relationships, says the report.

I’m No Longer Surprised

When I last wrote about social media marketing two years ago, I admitted that the rise of social marketing had caught me by surprise. Well, I’m not surprised anymore.

It seems pretty obvious now that social media represents the latest new frontier for marketers. Businesses that ignore this fact do so at their own peril.

8 Copywriting Tips to Improve Your Writing

I’m very blessed to have been a professional writer for my entire 30-plus year career. I knew early on that writing was my God-given natural talent, and I also really enjoyed it. So it’s pretty cool to make a living at something that I’m not only good at, but also like doing.

But what’s really cool is seeing that my daughter Natalie has apparently inherited my writing gene. I spotted this when she was in high school and I’d read her English papers. Now she’s studying Mass Communication at Georgia College and her writing is as good as or better than a lot of professional writers I work with.

In college, her writing load has ramped up considerably and I’ve been reading her papers and offering suggestions. I’m proud to say that she’s well on her way to becoming a professional writer herself if that’s what she wants to do.

The Basics of Good Copywriting

As I’ve been coaching Natalie, I’ve refocused myself on some of the basics of what constitutes high-quality copywriting. So I thought now would be a good time to share a few helpful copywriting tips.

Here are 8 copywriting tips that can help you become a better writer:

1. Use the active voice. Writing in the passive voice happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves as an editor. Passive writing severely weakens your copy so you should write in the active voice in almost all instances. There are some situations where the passive voice is called for when writing marketing copy, but this is the exception, not the rule.

2. Read your copy out loud while you’re writing. It’s amazing how much this helps me when I’m writing. I constantly find myself reading what I’m writing out loud (ask my wife!) in order to get the right rhythm and flow to my copy. Go ahead, give it a try!

3. Tighten, tighten and then tighten some more. Good copy — especially marketing copy — is tight and concise. Remember: Less is usually more when it comes to copywriting.

After you’ve written a draft, go back and start whittling away unnecessary words and phrases. You should be able to cut the length of a draft by at least 10 or 20 percent with some judicious tightening. If necessary, ask someone else to tighten your copy for you — sometimes it can be hard to tighten your own writing.

4. Critique your copy visually. Make your copy easy to read not only from a language standpoint, but also from a visual standpoint. Noted copywriting expert David Garfinkel says your copy needs to have “eye appeal.”

For example, shorten long paragraphs to make them look less intimidating. And use subheads and bullets to break up long copy blocks into snackable bites. This will also make it easier for readers to easily skim your copy to find what they’re looking for.

5. Don’t use jargon. Different industries tend to have their own jargon words. In the business-to-business writing world that I live in, I have my own list of jargon words and phrases that make me cringe. These include synergies, best practices, deep dive, baked in, solution oriented, action item, push the envelope, and alignment, to name just a few.

Arrgh, that was painful just typing those words!

6. Don’t be boring. This reminds me of what Natalie used to tell people when she was a kid if they asked her what her dad did for a living: “He writes boring business stuff.”

Hearing this has actually been helpful for me. Because while a 10 year old isn’t the target audience for anything I write, it reminds me that I always need to make whatever I write as interesting as possible — even if it’s about the difference between defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans (yawn).

7. Proofread your copy carefully. In my college journalism courses, if we had one single typo or misspelled word in a paper or assignment, it received an automatic F — period. No questions asked, no negotiation and no debate. And this was back when we wrote on a typewriter without automatic spellcheck!

If this rule applied in the professional world, I think a lot of writers would be out of work. I don’t claim to be 100% perfect all the time, but that’s definitely what I shoot for — and so should you.

8. Strive for simplicity and clarity. As a business-to-business writer specializing in financial services and IT, I write about some pretty technical stuff. But that isn’t an excuse for my copy to be unclear or overly complex.

In fact, my biggest challenge is usually writing about complex topics in a clear, easy-to-understand way. Ask someone else who isn’t in your industry how clear and simple your writing is. If they don’t easily understand what you’ve written, you’ve got some work to do.