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7 Tips for Writing Great Website Copy

When I launched my freelance writing business 10 years ago, one of the first things I needed to do was build a website. Even though there were do-it-yourself kits you could use to build your own website, I’m not much of a “tech” guy so I knew I’d be better off hiring a pro to build my site for me.

But I wrote the website copy myself, of course. It clearly and succinctly describes the kinds of writing I do and the niche areas I specialize in — which are business and finance — so prospects can see the benefits of working with me.

As a bonus, my site ranked near the top of page 1 search results for the keyword phrases I optimized as soon as I launched it, and it has ever since. This makes it a great lead generation tool.

A Different Kind of Writing

Over the past 10 years, I’ve written copy for dozens of my clients’ websites. One thing I’ve learned is that website copywriting is very different from other types of writing, such as articles, blogs and advertising copy.

Here are 7 website copywriting tips based on my experience and observations over the past decade.

1. Write for the way that people read online. Most people read online content differently than they read ink on paper. For example, they tend to skim and scan instead of reading word for word. So you need to write website copy in a way that makes it easy for people to quickly find what interests them.

In other words, make your website copy “skimmable and snackable.” This means using plenty of subheads, bulleted and numbered lists, and boldface type. Ålso vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs, including writing single-line paragraphs occasionally.

2. Don’t indulge in “corporate-speak.” I wish I had a nickel for every business website I’ve seen that featured dull, boring copy talking about the company’s “core competencies” and “synergies,” or how they “utilize best practices” to help clients “achieve their strategic objectives.”

C’mon, does anybody really talk this way? No, and neither should you on your website. Instead, write like you’re having a conversation with a customer or prospect. And don’t overuse industry jargon and buzzwords, either — these are a surefire way to drive website visitors away.

3. Pay especially close attention to your homepage copy. Your homepage is usually the first page your website visitors will encounter. So it’s really important to get your homepage copy right.

Your homepage copy needs to accomplish the following:

  • Clearly explain exactly what it is that your business does.
  • Communicate your competitive advantage, or your USP — unique selling proposition.
  • Describe the benefits to clients of working with your business.
  • Help visitors navigate to the other pages on your site.
  • Ask yourself this: If the homepage is the only page on my website that a prospect visits, will he or she understand what my business does and the benefits of working with us?

4. Don’t get too distracted with SEO and keywords. Yes, I know that search engine optimization and ranking high for your target keywords is important. But in my experience, businesses sometimes put too much emphasis on this — often to the detriment of the website copy itself.

The main job of your website is to clearly explain to customers and prospects who your business is, what you do and how you can help them. Therefore, your main priority should be writing for human beings, not search engines.

5. Write an effective headline on every page. Headlines are often saved for last and just thrown together without much thought. This is a big mistake, because strong headlines are essential to attracting readers to your pages and drawing them into the body copy.

There are lots of different approaches you can take with headline writing — I could publish an entire article on writing great headlines. The point for now: Don’t ignore this critical aspect of website copywriting.

6. Let your business’ personality come through in your copy. Every business has a personality. Your website copy presents a great opportunity for you to share your personality with prospects who are checking you out online.

For example, maybe your company is casual, relaxed and informal. If so, write your website copy in a way that reflects this. Conversely, if your company’s personality and culture are more formal and buttoned-down, your writing style should match this as well.

7. Write in the active voice. I know, this is Copywriting 101 advice. But I’m including this tip here because it’s so important — and so often ignored.

Copy written in the passive voice is weak and ineffective. New research also indicates that passive-voice copy can actually hurt your SEO rankings.

Unfortunately, it can be easy to slip into the passive voice if you’re not careful. Before posting website copy, review it carefully — or better yet, have a professional editor review it — and make any passive voice copy active.

Make A Great First Impression

Your website is probably your most important marketing tool. It’s the first impression many prospects will have of your business, so it’s critical to make sure your copy is well-written and effective.

Compare your website copy to these tips to see how it stacks up. If your copy comes up short in any area, spend the time and resources necessary to get it where it needs to be.

6 Tips for Writing Great E-newsletter Articles

Email has been in widespread use for about 30 years now. During this time, it has become both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, email has made it easy to communicate in writing with anyone, anywhere and at any time.

But on the negative side, most people suffer from email overload. Your inbox might be crammed with more messages than you can ever hope to read. And that’s not even counting all the junk email and spam you have to wade through just to get to what you actually want to read.

Delivering Real Value

This email overload makes successful email marketing more challenging than ever. If you want people to read your e-newsletter, you have to create compelling, well-written articles that educate readers and deliver real value.

Thinly (and sometimes not-so-thinly) veiled marketing emails disguised as value-added articles just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Here are 6 tips to help you write great e-newsletter articles.

1. Spend plenty of time upfront on topic generation. Great e-newsletter articles start with great topics. There are no shortcuts here — you have to spend time brainstorming timely topics that will be of interest to your readers.

Make a point of staying on top of current trends and news in your industry. I write mostly about business and finance, so I have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal.There are other niche industries that I also cover, like automobile dealerships, so I follow websites and publications devoted to this industry as well.

2. Give yourself plenty of time to write. Like making fine wine, writing great articles takes time. You can’t expect to write a quality newsletter article if you put off writing until the day you’re scheduled to publish.

Try to block out as much time as you think it will take to write a first draft, even if it’s an entire day. Then set it aside for at least a day or two and come back to it for editing and maybe even rewriting before you publish.

3. Write clearly and plainly. Too many e-newsletter articles I read are chocked full of confusing technical jargon and wordy mumbo-jumbo. They also use corny business buzzwords and phrases like “best practices,” “core competency” and “synergies.” Ugh … just typing that was painful!

Remember: The goal of your article isn’t to impress readers with how smart you are. Rather, it’s to educate and inform them about something they have a genuine interest in.

4. Get the grammar and punctuation right. There are no excuses for basic grammar, punctuation and typographical errors in your newsletter articles. Nothing screams “Unprofessional!” more than an e-newsletter littered with these kinds of mistakes.

If you aren’t good at grammar and punctuation, hire somebody who is to edit and proofread your articles for you. This will be money well spent, I promise you.

5. Don’t be hard sell. This is the hardest part of e-newsletter article writing for many marketers. Yes, making sales is the ultimate goal of publishing an e-newsletter. But your articles should be interesting and informative, not sales-driven.

This is often referred to as “drip” marketing. Like dripping water on a stone, your e-newsletter will yield qualified leads over time if you consistently deliver valuable information and don’t make your articles too hard sell.

6. Don’t be afraid to take a position. Sports-talk radio host Jim Rome used to tell callers, “Have a take, do not suck.” I think this also applies to newsletter article writing.

Many organizations won’t take a stand on topics or issues because they’re afraid of “offending” somebody who believes differently. Assuming we’re not talking about sensitive political, religious or similar topics, I think it’s better to assume and defend a position. Everybody probably won’t agree with you — which is a good thing!

A Final Checklist

Before you send out your next e-newsletter, run your article through this quick checklist:

  • Is the topic interesting and relevant?
  • Have you used clear and concise language instead of industry jargon and buzzwords?
  • Are there any grammatical, punctuation or typographical errors?
  • Is the article too salesy or self-serving?
  • If you hadn’t written the article yourself, would you still want to read it?

Don’t hit the “send” button until your article passes each one of these tests. The extra time and effort will be worth it — I promise!

5 Steps for Launching an E-newsletter Marketing Campaign

It’s been almost 10 years since I took the plunge into self-employment by becoming a full-time freelance writer. From a marketing perspective, the first thing on my to-do list as a self-employed professional was to build a website. Even in 2009, you had to have a website if you wanted to be taken seriously as a freelancer.

The next thing was to publish an e-newsletter. I knew all about the benefits of e-newsletters and had written countless print and electronic newsletters for clients during my career, so this was a no-brainer.

Paralysis and Procrastination

Except that it wasn’t. For some reason I was paralyzed when it came to creating an e-newsletter for myself. Weeks turned into months with “create your e-newsletter” near the top of my priority list, but always getting pushed aside for other tasks that I told myself were more important.

I eventually joined an informal group of other business owners and self-employed guys who met regularly to talk about our business challenges and successes. I told them about my mental roadblock in creating an e-newsletter and asked them to hold me accountable for getting it done by a certain date.

That’s just what I needed to get started. And like lots of things in life that we keep putting off, it wasn’t nearly as daunting or difficult as I’d imagined once I got into it. Writing my own e-newsletter is now one of the most fulfilling things I do each month — and it’s also a great marketing tool.

Taking That First Step

Maybe you can relate to my story. You know that publishing an e-newsletter is a great way to generate qualified leads. But you haven’t yet taken the first step in launching yours.

If so, here are 5 steps to help you launch an e-newsletter marketing campaign.

1. Set goals for your campaign.Like any marketing initiative you embark on, you need to have concrete and measurable goals for your e-newsletter campaign. The goal of most e-newsletters is to generate qualified leads by staying in front of your customers and prospects on a regular basis with value-added, non-promotional content.

E-newsletter marketing is sometimes called “drip” marketing because it’s like dripping water on a stone. When you publish quality, value-added content consistently, you stay top of mind with your clients and prospects. If you’ve positioned yourself through your content as an expert in your field, there’s a good chance they’ll contact you when they need your products, services or expertise.

2. Choose a publishing platform.There are lots of e-newsletter publishing platforms out there to choose from. When I started my e-newsletter almost a decade ago, Constant Contact was the undisputed leader so that’s the one I chose.

Since then, a whole bunch more have appeared. Among the most popular are MailChimp, Benchmark, Campaigner, GetResponse and Mailjet. They each have advantages and drawbacks so spend some time researching and testing them to decide which one you like best.

3. Design the e-newsletter template.I’ll be honest: This is probably the thing that I was most intimidated by when it came to launching my e-newsletter. I’m not a designer, nor am I very technologically savvy, so I was worried that designing a template would be confusing and difficult.

It wasn’t — at all. In fact, it was kinda fun! The publishing platforms make it super easy to design a template that reflects the look and feel you want for your e-newsletter, including your logo and other branding elements. Again, test out several of the popular publishing platforms to see which one is easiest for you.

4. Build your distribution list.This is the non-glamorous, nitty-gritty side of e-newsletter marketing. It’s also probably the most critical element to success: The best-written e-newsletter with the greatest content won’t do you much good if the right people aren’t receiving it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any shortcuts to building an e-newsletter distribution list. Start by asking your current clients for permission to send them your newsletter, as well as any active prospects you have. One great way to get sign-ups is to offer value-added content pieces like whitepapers and e-books on your website in exchange for e-newsletter signups.

5. Determine the best frequency.One of the most common questions marketers have about e-newsletters is “how frequently should we publish?” And the answer is a huge “It depends” — on lots of different factors.

I wrote about publishing frequency here so click through to read more about this. To sum up: For most true e-newsletters — not marketing e-blasts, which are different — once or twice a month seems to be the sweet spot for frequency. The most important thing is to be consistent with whatever frequency you choose.

Creating Your Content

With the groundwork laid, now it’s time for the fun part: writing your e-newsletter content. This deserves its own blog so I’ll save my e-newsletter writing tips for next month.

Does an E-newsletter Still Belong in Your Digital Marketing Arsenal?

Way back in 1982 when I decided to major in advertising, I thought I’d be an advertising copywriter and work for a big-time agency on high-profile campaigns for major brands. Basically, I envisioned myself as Don Draper before the iconic Mad Mencharter was dreamed up.

Things didn’t quite turn out that way. I got my advertising degree but never made it to an ad agency, instead landing a job with a newsletter publishing company. No regrets, though — this job laid the foundation and provided the training for what I’m doing today: creating B2B and B2C content for all different kinds of businesses and organizations.

The Evolution of Advertising

I was thinking recently about how much advertising has changed since the 1980s. I remember devouring Ogilvy on Advertising, which is considered one of the classic books about advertising strategy, during my senior year of college in 1985.

While many of the big-picture concepts and strategies in the book hold up well after more than 30 years, advertising and marketing tactics themselves have changed drastically. Almost all advertising back then was either print or broadcast media.

Today, the Internet has opened up a plethora of new digital advertising and marketing opportunities for businesses. These range from search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising to social media, affiliate and content marketing.

Are E-newsletters Still Effective?

One online marketing strategy that seems to have fallen by the wayside a little bit recently is electronic newsletters. These were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s when using email became common for most people.

But email overload and too much spam have led many marketers to conclude that e-newsletters aren’t as effective as they used to be. Instead, they’ve shifted their marketing focus and dollars to other digital strategies, especially social media marketing.

I strongly disagree with this kind of thinking. When executed well, e-newsletters remain a highly effective digital marketing strategy.

A recent New York Times article made this point well. As the author put it, “Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos.”

The NYT article continues: “At a time when lots of news and information is whizzing by online, email newsletters help us figure out what’s worth paying attention to. Publishers seeking to stick out of the clutter have found both traction and a kind of intimacy in consumers’ inboxes.”

Benefits of E-newsletters

Of course, there may be a place for some or all of the digital tactics and strategies listed here in your marketing plan. But don’t forget about the many potential benefits of e-newsletters as well. For example:

• You have a receptive audience. Subscribers to your e-newsletter have specifically asked to receive your content. They are presumably interested in what you have to say, assuming that your content is well-produced and not too self-serving.

• You can build an ongoing relationship with your audience. This is probably the biggest benefit of email marketing. By consistently publishing a high-quality e-newsletter that contains value-added content, you will establish a solid relationship and build trust with customers and prospects. This can open the door to sales opportunities when the time is right.

• You control the message. You get to determine the tone and content of each newsletter that goes out. This will vary — sometimes from one issue to the next — depending on your sales and marketing goals.

• You can position yourself and your organization as a subject matter expert. When you offer valuable insights, observations, tips and advice in your e-newsletter, your readers will start to view you as an industry thought leader and go-to resource for help in solving their problems.

Getting the Mix Right

There’s no doubt that the Internet has added a whole new dimension to advertisers’ and marketers’ jobs today compared to 30 years ago. Your biggest challenge is settling on the right mix of traditional (print and broadcast) and digital marketing tools and tactics

As you plan your digital marketing strategies, don’t neglect email marketing. Next month, I’ll share some tips for creating better e-newsletters.

4 Common SEO Myths and Misunderstandings

When the Internet first went mainstream in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was working as a copywriter and editor for a custom publishing firm in Atlanta. I clearly remember the excitement of watching a brand new communication medium arise and learning all the nuances involved in writing for online consumption.

I’ll bet this excitement was similar to what writers and publishers felt when Gutenberg’s printing press was invented in the 15thcentury.

I also remember what online search was like back in the early days of the Internet. Google is now synonymous with Internet search, but before Google’s domination, sites like Ask Jeeves, Altavista and Lycos were among the most popular search engines. Anybody remember them?

The Rise of SEO

As the power of Internet search became apparent, the practice of designing and writing websites so they’d rank high in user queries quickly took hold. Known as search engine optimization (or SEO), this practice is now one of, if not the most, important tasks performed by marketers.

Despite its importance, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about SEO. Here are a few of the most common that I’ve encountered:

1, Search engine submission is still necessary. Back in the early days of SEO, marketers had to submit their sites to the major search engines in order to be included in their search results. But this was a cumbersome process that obviously didn’t scale as the World Wide Web grew, so it was pretty much eliminated in the early 2000s.

While you can still find submission pages on some search engines’ sites (check out this one for Bing), going through the submission process is totally unnecessary now and a complete waste of time. If some supposed SEO expert tells you they will submit your site to the major search engines, stay far, far away from them.

2. Meta keyword tags are still important. These also used to be an important component of SEO. But it was easy for spammers to abuse the technique so none of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) consider it to be an important ranking factor any longer.

But don’t confuse meta keyword tags with title tags and meta description tags, which remain important. Title tags are the clickable headlines you see on search engine results pages — they should accurately and concisely describe the content on a webpage. Meta description tags are the brief (one or two sentence) summaries of the content on a webpage that appear beneath the title tag.

3. Keyword stuffing still works. I’ll bet you’ve seen web pages that were keyword stuffed. They try to cram long-tail keywords into the copy as often as possible in an effort to rank high for these keywords. Something like:

“We sell cheap ink toner cartridges. Our cheap ink toner cartridges are 100% guaranteed. If you’re looking for cheap ink toner cartridges, contact the cheap ink toner cartridge specialists at bob@cheap-ink-toner-cartridges.com.”

The major search engines have evolved to the point that they easily recognize such blatant keyword stuffing and penalize or even blacklist sites that try to use it. Instead, concentrate on writing well-crafted copy for human beings, not web bots, to read.

4. Paid search — or pay-per-click (PPC) — improves organic search results. Paid search results — the links that appear at the top of a search engine results page and say “Ad” next to them — do not affect organic search results. They might deliver clicks, but the major search engines have all put policies in place that separate the PPC and search quality sides of the business.

This is similar to what’s referred to in the magazine world as the “separation of church and state.” Journalistic integrity requires that a “wall” be erected between the editorial and advertising sales departments so big advertisers don’t receive undeserved favorable coverage or treatment in the publication.

No Shortcuts to Success

There are no shortcuts to successful SEO. Depending on your business and industry, achieving high search engine rankings can take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.

And if any supposed SEO expert or consultant tells you they can easily get you on the first page of Google with just a few simple tricks or techniques, you should run, not walk, in the opposite direction!