Seven Top Tips to Improve Your Copywriting

I’ve been at this copywriting thing for awhile now, coming up on 35 years. During this time, I’ve read countless books and articles and attended more seminars and workshops about how to improve your copywriting than I can count.

But I don’t think I have come across a more clear and comprehensive copywriting guide than the one I received recently from Jacob McMillen. Jacob is the son of a good friend of mine who also happens to be one of the top freelance copywriters and SEO marketers in the country.

Last week Jacob sent out his “Holy Sh*t That’s Too Many! Megalist of 102 Copywriting Tips.” His full list is 15,000 words, so I thought I’d save you a little time and summarize what I think are his top tips. But click here if you’d like to read the full list.

#1. Identify Your Target Audience

Without a doubt, this is the first thing you should do before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). This will influence every aspect of your writing, including your style, tone, focus, emphasis and the content itself.

For example, most of what I write is targeted to business owners, corporate executives and high-net-worth (read: wealthy) individuals. So I use a fairly sophisticated style and tone in most of my writing as opposed to the more casual and informal style I might use if I were writing to a different audience.

#2: Keep the focus on the reader’s needs and desires.

Jacob says the main copywriting mistake he sees is writers who focus too much on their business, brand or subject instead of the target audience. He puts it bluntly: “In most cases, they (readers/customers) don’t care about you or your business at all.”

Instead, they care about theirneeds, theirdesires and what you can do for them. They’re only interested in your business to the extent that you can meet these needs and desires for them. Therefore, everything you write should connect to these needs and desires.

#3: Write Like You’re Talking to a Friend

I really like this tip. As Jacob puts it, “Good copy reads a lot like a well-spoken person talking to a friend. It has a casual, straightforward tone and gets to the point without rushing itself.”

In particular, you should avoid jargon and “business-speak” in your copywriting. I really have to guard against this myself given the technical and business focus of most of what I write. After you’ve written a paragraph or two, read it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds. It will be pretty obvious if you’ve crossed over the line.

#4: Write with Clarity and Purpose

Lots of copywriters think that their copy should be written to persuade people to take action, like clicking on a link or picking up the phone. However, clarity and purpose tend to be more important than persuasion when it comes to writing effective copy.

Jacob explains: “Product/market fit is what sells things. The goal of the copy is simply to make it very clear to those people that the product is a great match for what they already want or need.”

#5: Remember the KISS Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Some copywriters think the more words they use, and the longer and fancier these words are, the better. Actually, the exact opposite is true. In fact, it’s usually harder and takes longer to write short, simple and concise copy than long, flowing, wordy — and ineffective — copy.

I’ve said it before: Never use a 10 dollar word when a 10 cent word will suffice. Copywriting isn’t the place for impressing people with your extensive vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Instead, “you want to be as simple and succinct as possible,” Jacob says.

#6: Write with Rhythm

I discovered this secret back when I first became an editor and was working with young staff writers. I started noticing that often something wasn’t quite right with a piece but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me: The rhythm was off.

“Rhythm is important in copywriting because it acts as a kind of reading inertia,” Jacob says. “It engages your audience. It captivates them and compels them to read the next sentence. And the next.”

Writing with rhythm means varying the length, structure and style of your sentences and paragraphs. Again, reading your copy out loud can help you here. I do this a lot — my wife probably thinks I’m crazy talking to myself all the time!

#7: Throw Out the Dictionary

I’ll finish with this tip because it’s something I’ve never thought of. Jacob points out that Google has now become a verb while Flickr and Lyft are misspellings of common words that have become well-recognized brands.

“Set your mind free and play with different ways to say what you have to offer,” Jacob says. “Get creative with misspellings if you’re naming a product or campaign or think of ways to repurpose words to grab your audience’s attention.”

Is There Still a Place for Print Newsletters in Your Marketing Quiver?

This year marks 35 years since I walked across the stage at the University of Florida in Gainesville to receive my college diploma. Ironically, this is also the year that my daughter Natalie will walk across the stage to receive her college diploma from Georgia College University. Natalie has a double-major in mass communication and French and hopes to get a job as a radio DJ.

While I was thinking about these milestones this week, I also thought back to my first job out of college in 1985. I was hired by a publishing company in Ft. Lauderdale that created newsletters for banks and credit unions. I remember getting the call offering me the job and thinking, “What the heck is a newsletter anyway?”

I found out soon enough, spending the first 12 years of my professional career learning everything there is to know about how newsletters can be an effective marketing tool.

E-newsletters Overtake Print Newsletters

By the late 1990s, the explosion of the internet had most marketers rethinking traditional newsletters. Digital technology had made it easy to produce and distribute newsletters via email at a fraction of the cost of print.

With e-newsletters, there’s no postage, paper or ink. The only real production cost is creative, along with an internet connection that you already have and an e-newsletter management system like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. So it’s not too surprising that e-newsletters soon started proliferating while print newsletters became scarcer.

Of course, e-newsletters are commonplace now. In fact, when they hear the term “newsletter” today, most people think of something they receive in their in-box like you’re reading right now.

But what about print newsletters? Is there still a place for them in your marketing quiver? Absolutely, positively yes.

Email Overload

Think about it. Everybody today is bombarded with email and e-newsletters. Chances are there are several sitting in your in-box right now that you haven’t read yet, assuming you didn’t just delete them as soon as they came in.

Campaign Monitor performed comprehensive research to generate a bunch of email marketing benchmarks. According to their report Ultimate Email Marketing Benchmarks for 2020, the average open rate for e-newsletters across all industries is 17.8%.

This varies by industry, but on average, you can expect fewer than one out of five people who receive your e-newsletter to open and read it. Frankly, I’d be surprised if it’s that high for many of the e-newsletters I get.

I receive two or three e-newsletters that are exceptional, such as this one published by Michael Katz and this one published by Peter Bowerman. But other than these, I just hit delete on pretty much every other one I get. This includes the e-newsletter sent to me by my bank — which I won’t name but it starts “Bank of” and ends with the name of the country we live in.

So What About Print Newsletters?

Now think about the last time a print newsletter landed on your desk. Chances are, you don’t get nearly as many of these as you do e-newsletters so they’re probably much more likely to grab your attention.

A financial consultant I know mails out a simple, two-page print newsletter to his constituents two or three times a year — and he has for almost two decades. Why? Because people read it!

Does mailing a print newsletter to a couple thousand customers and prospects cost more than hitting the “send” button in the Constant Contact or Mailchimp platform? Sure it does. But as the consultant told me, cost is a relative concept. Whether it’s print or electronic, sending out a newsletter than nobody reads is very expensive.

I used to get a really nice print newsletter in the mail from a local financial advisor. It was well-written, well-designed and had lots of great content and I read every issue. Then they decided to save money by sending it out as an email PDF attachment — and I haven’t read an issue since.

E-newsletters Have Their Place, Too

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t send out an e-newsletter. After all, I send out this blog every month as an e-newsletter.

But I am suggesting that if it’s been awhile since you thought about publishing a print newsletter, maybe you should reconsider. Of course, budget is an issue — so is the size of your mailing list. If your list is fewer than 1,000 recipients, sending out a print newsletter might not be cost-efficient.

If your budget allows, the best solution is to send out both a print and electronic newsletter. This will double your exposure and the chance that your content gets read. This is a no-brainer if you’re producing a print newsletter already since it will cost little if anything to send it out electronically.

10 Tips for Writing Better B2B Marketing Copy

In the world of marketing, all customers and prospects can be divided into one of two broad categories: retail and business. Similarly, all marketing efforts fall into one of two categories: business-to-consumer — or what marketers cleverly call B2C marketing — and business-to-business, or B2B marketing.

During my career, I’ve written content targeted to both B2C and B2B audiences. However, most of what I’ve written and continue to write is within the realm of business.

So this month I’m sharing a few thoughts on how to write better B2B marketing copy. Here are my top 10 B2B marketing copywriting tips:

1. Know and understand your audience.This is absolutely critical to good B2B marketing copywriting. If you don’t know your audience — and I mean reallyknow your audience — it’s going to show in your writing. I guarantee it.

For example, I’ve been writing a newsletter targeted to owners of automobile dealerships for the past six years. The auto dealership industry is very different from any other industry I’ve ever written to. I’ve had to learn this industry inside-out in order come up with good article topics and write content that’s accurate and relevant to this audience.

2. Don’t be too jargony.It’s easy to fall into jargon when writing B2B marketing copy. Some of the most annoying jargony phrases I see far too often are synergies, best practices, deep dive, game changer, paradigm shift, push the envelopeand solution oriented. Use these sparingly in your B2B copy, if at all.

3. Keep it simple.There’s a misconception among some B2B marketers that business writing should be complex and sophisticated to show customers and prospects that they’re smart and know what they’re talking about. I disagree — strongly.

I’ve written copy targeted to some of the most complicated industries out there, including financial services, information technology and employee benefit plans. The biggest challenge when writing to these industries is making very complex topics interesting and understandable. Remember: There’s no need to use a 50-cent word when a 5-cent word will suffice.

4. Focus on your readers, not your business.This is by far the biggest mistake I see in B2B marketing writing. The copy is all about the business: how great their products are, how knowledgeable their staff is, how long they’ve been in business, how wonderful their service is. You get the idea.

I’ve got news for you: Your readers really don’t care about any this. They care about one thing: What’s in it for me? So B2B marketing copy needs to focus on the benefits to customers and prospects of doing business with you. Or even better, it should add value by educating readers — for example, about how they can manage their finances better or boost their sales and revenue.

5. Use the right style and tone.This will differ based on the type of industry and the image your business wants to convey. Financial services firms, for example, usually (but not always) lean to the conservative side in their marketing communications. On the flip side, industries like travel and leisure, fast food and alcoholic beverages often use a more informal and creative tone and style.

6. Write a great headline.One study found that eight out of 10 people read headlines, but only two out of 10 read the body copy. If you don’t grab readers’ attention with a great headline, then it doesn’t much matter what else you’ve written because not many people are going to read it.

Your goal in writing B2B headlines is simple: Get people to read your copy. There are lots of different headline styles, like numbers or lists, questions and how-to’s. Any one of these could work for your content. Just make sure your headline is compelling enough to draw readers into the copy that follows.

7. Follow it up with a compelling lead.If your headline is good enough to draw readers into your body copy, the next challenge is to keep them reading. This requires a strong lead that gives people a reason to keep reading past the first paragraph or two.

There are many different ways to do this as well. For example, you can tell an interesting story or anecdote, share a relevant statistic or data point, or lead with a quote from a famous person. Just make sure that whatever you write is compelling enough to draw readers into the meat of your content.

8. Eliminate sloppy mistakes.In our world of texting and tweeting, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors have become acceptable to many people. But there’s no room for these in professional B2B content … period.

So be sure to proofread all your B2B copy carefully before publishing or posting it. Better yet, have someone else proofread it because it’s hard to proofread your own writing. There’s not enough time to proofread, you say? Make the time — you simply can’t afford to take shortcuts here.

9. Don’t be a grammatical stickler.At the risk of raising the ire of my high school English teachers, I’m going to suggest that you break a few grammatical rules occasionally in your B2B copy. For example, it’s OK to start an occasional sentence with But or And. The same goes for writing incomplete sentences and one-sentence paragraphs.

Don’t go overboard with these techniques, of course. But when used in moderation, they can be very effective in B2B copy.

10. Write using the active voice and in second person.Writing in the passive voice severely weakens B2B copy, as does writing in the third person. There are very few situations that call for passive or third-person writing, so you should avoid it in almost every instance.

How to Create a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 3

The past few months I’ve been talking about how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The last article described how to build a content marketing team and create a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Today I’m going to conclude the series by discussing how to generate topic ideas, whether or not you should curate content, how to promote your content, and the importance of measuring the results of your content marketing program.

Generating Topic Ideas

For many organizations, the biggest challenge to maintaining a successful content market program is generating a steady stream of topic ideas. Countless programs have died on the vine because no one was responsible for creating an editorial calendar.

There are no shortcuts here. Making sure you have enough good topic ideas to feed your content engine will take time and effort on the part of one or more team members. It might make sense to assign this task to several different people and hold regular brainstorming sessions to kick around ideas. This will remove the burden from one person and help ensure that you get new ideas from several different perspectives.

The best way to keep your idea funnel full is to stay on top of the latest news and trends in your industry. Subscribe to industry trade journals and newsletters. Regularly visit industry websites. Listen to industry-focused webinars and podcasts. And attend seminars and trade shows that discuss issues pertinent to your industry.

My focus industries are business and finance, so I have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal and read it every day. I also cover several niche industries, including automobile dealerships, so I stay on top of developments here by subscribing to industry newsletters and blogs and regularly visiting industry websites like WardsAuto.com and NADA.com.

It’s helpful for me to maintain idea files for the different industries I cover. Whenever I see something that might be a good topic for one of my clients, I print it out or save it in an Outlook folder.

Curating Content: Pros and Cons

Content curation is the process of compiling and organizing content created by others to share with your readers. For example, an e-newsletter or landing page might include links to a number of different articles, blogs and videos that are all related to a certain topic.

While there might be a place for some curation in a content marketing program, I don’t recommend using this as your sole method of content generation. There’s only so much value you can add to a bunch of links that you’ve copied and pasted from somewhere else.

If you do opt for content curation, make sure that the material you link to is of high quality and relevance to your audience. It’s usually a good idea to add your own commentary to the content so you’re offering readers something more than just a long laundry list of links.

Promoting Your Content

The greatest content in the world won’t do you much good if nobody ever sees it. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to promote your content so it’s viewed by as many people as possible.

Most e-newsletter publishing platforms include buttons you can click to automatically share your content on popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. (In Constant Contact, it’s called Simple Share.)

But don’t stop here — there are numerous other ways to promote your content, both online and offline. For example, you can share links to your content in forums and discussion groups, print and online ads, press releases (both digital and physical), direct mail pieces and emails. Also build relationships with industry bloggers and influencers who will help promote your content for you.

Measuring Results and ROI

One of the best things about content marketing is your ability to measure the results. This can help you gauge the return on investment (ROI) for the time, money and effort you’ve devoted to your program.

Go back and review the business objectives you set for your content marketing program (read the first article in the series for more on setting goals and objectives). For example, do you want to build brand awareness, boost customer loyalty and retention, generate quality leads or cross-sell products and services?

Based on your objectives, decide which metrics you’ll use to measure ROI. These might include things like:

  • New subscribers
  • Online form completions
  • Resource downloads
  • Social media shares and comments
  • Qualified leads
  • Website metrics (e.g., page views and time spent on the site)

Remember that not all the benefits of a content marketing program can be measured by digital metrics. For example, it’s hard to put a number on the value of enhanced brand awareness. The most important things to remember when gauging the ROI of a content marketing program are: 1. Give your program enough time to generate results, and 2. Choose metrics that are directly related to your business objectives.

Creating a Content Marketing Program from Scratch: Part 2

Last month, I started a new blog series that describes step by step how to create a new content marketing program from scratch. The first article focused on the importance of committing to your program, defining the audience for your content, creating a strategy and selecting the right distribution channels.

Click here to read the first article if you missed it. Today we’re going to talk about building your content marketing team and creating a workflow map to ensure that your content is published and distributed on a regular basis.

Build Your Content Marketing Team

Keeping a content marketing program running smoothly requires a dedicated team of individuals who are responsible for handling specific responsibilities. This team may consist of staff members, outside contractors and freelancers, or a combination of both.

Content marketing programs usually require team members to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Project management and oversight
  • Topic idea generation
  • Creative, which includes both writing and design
  • Content optimization to maximize Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results
  • Content distribution and promotion
  • Metrics review and determination of content marketing ROI

Depending on how large and complex your program is, team members could include the following:

  • Chief content officer— Responsible for content planning and overall program performance.
  • Content writer— Creates the right content to support program goals.
  • Editor— Ensures that the content is accurate and matches the desired style and tone.
  • Designer — Ensures that content is presented in a visually pleasing manner and meets all corporate style and branding guidelines.
  • Content strategist— Creates content calendar and chooses the right distribution channels.
  • Content optimizer— Performs keyword research and provides writer and editor with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used strategically to boost SEO results.
  • Social media manager— Manages and promotes content across key social platforms and oversees online comments.

Carefully critique the skills sets and capabilities of your internal staff to determine who would be best suited to handle each of these roles. If there isn’t a staff member who seems capable of handling a particular role, start looking for an outside contractor or freelancer you can hire.

Create a Workflow Map

Let’s face it: Creating and managing a content marketing program can seem daunting, even to an experienced marketing pro. Even after you’ve covered the basics like creating a strategy, defining your audience and building your team, there are a lot of different moving parts to coordinate.

The best way I’ve found to get everything organized and keep a content marketing program running smoothly is to create a workflow map. Here’s a sample workflow map that was used by one of my clients recently for a weekly blog:

  1. Content strategist creates editorial calendar for the next quarter’s weekly blogs.
  2. Content optimizer provides writer with short-tail and long-tail keywords to be used in each blog.
  3. Content writer drafts week one blog and sends to editor for review.
  4. Editor tracks changes to the blog and returns to writer, who sends edited blog to designer to select graphics.
  5. Writer loads copy into content management program (such as WordPress) and alerts designer.
  6. Designer adds graphics and alerts chief content officer that the blog is ready for final review.
  7. Chief content officer approves blog or requests any final changes from writer and/or designer, then schedules release.
  8. Rinse and repeat the next week.

Note that this is a simple, bare-bones workflow map for a single weekly blog. It doesn’t include multiple back-and-forths that could occur between steps, or content promotion and metrics review that should occur after the blogs are released. All of these could double or triple the number of steps actually involved in publishing a weekly blog.

Next month we’ll discuss topic idea generation in more detail, as well as content promotion, a content marketing budget and measuring the ROI on a content marketing program.