Why does good writing on websites resonate? Often writing strikes a chord because the writer seems to encapsulate something you were already thinking. They capture an idea that was swirling around in your mind, and they skewer it perfectly. That’s it, you think! That’s what I meant to say! That’s what I need to do!
The intimacy that this kind of resonance creates is powerful. We trust people that understand us and share our view of the world. We want to get closer to them.
So how do these writers do it? What’s the secret for writing so it feels like a one-to-one conversation?
Sadly there is no magic formula, but there are some techniques you can learn which will give your writing more power, and make more people feel that you are genuinely talking to them.
Picture someone you know well — a client you’ve been working with, a colleague you know inside out — and tailor your writing precisely for them. This act of visualisation will set the right tone. You want writing that feels like a conversation, not a lecture.
Don’t tackle too broad a subject. It’s better to be deep than wide. You worry that fewer people will read it? Perhaps, but it means that the people who do choose to read it are already in the zone. Your niche headline will pull in the right readers, who in turn are more likely to share it with their circles of like-minded contacts. Try and be everything to everyone and you end up pleasing no one.
There’s nothing like a spot of confession to make people feel more inclined to warm to you. I’m not suggesting you fill your business blogs with your deepest darkest fears, but revealing something of yourself instantly makes your writing feel more intimate. If you want to see this done brilliantly, sign up to Chris Brogan’s newsletters. He’s the master of copy that feels like it’s written just for you.
Don’t be afraid to tackle difficult subjects. Some of the strongest writing touches us deeply because it taps into things we’re not even admitting to ourselves that we’re thinking. It’s a cliché to ask clients what keeps them awake at night, but writing that addresses those issues in a helpful way demonstrates that you understand, and will be welcomed.
If you know your clients well, you’ll know precisely what it is that they’re searching for, and you can provide the answers or guidance that will help. The right article, at the right time, creates that buzzy serendipitous feeling that gives your writing power.
When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450 he precipitated the democratisation of information. Neither the reformation nor renaissance, in Europe, could have happened if the printing press had not been invented.
Since print, of course, we have had radio, cinema and television. While no one would underestimate the importance of these forms of media, they simply accelerated what had been initiated by print. In other words, they helped to make information even more accessible and widespread.
The web has also made the access to information even easier and more widespread than anything previously. Just with information access alone, it has empowered people in a way that has never happened before. However, if this is all the web had achieved, we could say it had simply completed the journey started with the invention of the printing press.
The big revolution, however, is that the web has given everyone their own channel. In other words they have a voice. No longer do people need the patronage of a major record label or publishing house to get their music heard or book read. No longer do people have to rely on a few radio talk shows, or letter columns in newspapers, to be able to express their views on the current issues of the day to a wider audience than just their friends. No longer do people only have the choice of moaning to a few colleagues when a company lets them down. Now they can post their views on sites such as Trip Advisor or express their frustrations to a wider audience on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
While every individual has a channel, so does every company. Even if a business today only has a website and a blog, these are channels that are only as good as the content that sits on them. That is, of course, without a business utilising platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn and YouTube amongst many others.
This means that every business has now become a publishing company, whether they like it or not. Today, every company is responsible for providing content for the media channels that they own. Whether they commission material from partners, suppliers and industry experts or create their own, every business requires good content.
It is obvious that a business should put content on their own real estate — whether it is their website, blog, YouTube channel or Facebook page, an organisation should use their content to ensure these media are used to engage and attract customers and prospects alike.
However, the piece of the jigsaw that is sometimes missed by a business, is where else they put their content. Today every company and organisation has the same challenge. They often own a plethora of different channels that need filling with good content but they do not have the wherewithal to create enough. Therefore, most people are willing to take good content created by others. This is on condition that it will provide value to their audience, and it is not blatantly self-promotional.
Every business should ask themselves one question. Where do my customers learn? On what forums, social media platforms, associations and websites do my customers go, in order to keep informed about subjects of interest?
If your audience are engineers, is there a LinkedIn forum that many of them use? If you target solicitors, do they refer to the Law Society website? If you target small local businesses, do they use their local chamber of commerce or business networking association for information? Wherever your customers hang out is where you want to try and have content placed.
For example, if you wanted to target airline pilots you could post adverts in the newspaper and hope one of them saw your advert and called. Alternatively, you could sit in the bar at one of the major airport hotels and strike up some interesting conversations with the patrons. I would suggest the second approach would probably be more effective.
It is no different online. Create and commission content and, of course, put it on your own channels. However, for many companies the success of content is to get it distributed in the right places. That is, the platforms that your prospects and customers use. So don’t forget to ask yourself one important question, where do my customers learn?, and then make sure you are there.
There’s no doubt about it, the business world has woken up to marketing with valuable content as a way of attracting leads and boosting sales. But while everyone is talking about it, not everyone is getting it right.
Here are five ways I’ve seen businesses missing the content marketing bus:
Producing content left, right and centre might produce a lot of noise, but unless the content has a purpose it won’t get you very far. Businesses who win with content marketing have clear aims and objectives — new pieces of content build a library that tells a story and demonstrates expertise in a niche. Scattergun content is a waste of time and effort.
Creating content in a vacuum, without listening to clients and customers, won’t get you out of the bus terminal. Content that answers your clients’ specific questions will get found and appreciated. If they’re not looking for it, how will they find it?
Quality matters. The bar has been raised and just good enough isn’t good enough any more. Quality means content must be well-designed, well-produced and well-written. It should be easy on the eye and a joy to consume.
If you want to grab attention your content can’t be dull. Brilliant content will lurk undiscovered beneath snoozesome headlines, the most amazing articles in the world might never be read if presented in unremitting slabs of web-unfriendly fonts. And if you want to guarantee no one will ever read your blog, illustrate it with that jigsaw pieces image you’ve seen a thousand times before.
If all your content is written, you’re in danger of getting left out in the cold. Only write blogs? You’ve got to give video a go. Or podcasting. Or infographics. Or Slide Share. If you want your content to get picked up and shared, make it easy to consume in a variety of ways across a range of devices. If a sizeable chunk of your content is not mobile-friendly, it will miss the bus.
We write a lot about the need to talk about your business in a way that’s free from jargon, in language that your clients understand. It’s all about being likable and making connections.
Stories, rich in plot and studded with metaphors, like those you remember from childhood, can help you build even deeper roots into the hearts and minds of your clients.
Writing your business story is a creative exercise. It’s not like any of the other writing you do — very different from blogs or sales proposals — and you need to approach it in a different frame of mind. Fire up your imagination, prepare to be playful, and silence your sensible side for a while.
Five steps to finding your business story
1. Once upon a time
All stories need a beginning. Where did yours start? Describe the world that existed before your business burst into the world. Use metaphors and analogies. Were your clients stumbling around in the dark before your services lit up the path ahead? Were your customers tangled in a mire of misery before your products transformed their lives? You have permission to be silly here — no one’s going to see this draft so write as freely as you can, without inhibition. Go off at tangents. Dig for emotions. Make yourself laugh.
2. Your hero
Your story needs a character, and yours is your client. What are they like? Mild-mannered and meek? Powerful but lost? Embattled under siege? Jot down as many ideas as you can. Don’t censor yourself. Think in archetypes. The knight in shining armour. The soldier on the front line. The earth mother. At this stage it’s perfectly permissible to have a hero who is a cross between Basil Fawlty and Mother Theresa. Go with the flow and keep going.
3. The obstacle
What is standing in your hero’s path? A fire breathing dragon? A bottomless pit? A 3,000-strong braying mob? Describe the hero’s obstacle in a way that captures its emotional power. Bigger obstacles make for better stories. Overcoming one cross wasp isn’t going to grab anyone, but make it a buzzing cloud of killer bees and people will keep listening. (Yes, I know, in reality your client’s problem is just slow running IT or a difficult ex-business partner, but focus on how that obstacle makes your hero feel.)
4. The final battle
The climatic point in any film and the page-turning dash to the resolution of a great book. Describe the final battle. How does your hero slay the monster? How does she solve the giant Rubik’s Cube that’s standing between her and the door to paradise? Which powers does she use? What does that power feel like?
5. The happy ever after
Describe the world after the battle’s been won. How is it better? What does the resolution do to the landscape? Think of the words that best capture the spirit of this new age. Is it calm? Ordered? Peaceful? Joyous? Throw in some analogies — “like the day after the great storm”, “the first rain after drought”, “dawn breaking after a long night of the soul”. Don’t be scared of pushing it — this exercise is all about searching for words and images with the emotional power to resonate with your audience.
And now what?
Read through what you’ve written. Look for threads — ideas and thoughts that can be linked together to form a narrative. Now’s the time to edit hard. Words or images that are too left field can go. They’ve served their purpose. Stick with the ones that feel right to you. Trust your intuition here. What would you feel comfortable saying? (Say them out loud and see which ones come easily and which ones make you stutter.) Which ones would help explain what you do to your dream client?
The power of a good story is it is memorable; easy to tell and retell. It grabs people, burrows deep and stays with them. What’s yours?
Packing your site with valuable content is the best way to showcase your operation – and case studies are the kings of valuable content. Demonstrating how you add value, case studies bring your website to life, and will always be clicked on by prospective buyers.
There’s an art to creating good ones – here are my tips for writing case studies that sell.
Set aside proper time to interview the client at a time that suits them. Set the agenda. Have your questions ready. Record the conversation so you have time to listen properly without scribbling like a maniac. Give the client time to say other things that might not be on your agenda. Keep asking “why?”. This can be a hugely valuable process, and you can learn a lot about what it’s like to work with you.
If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, ask someone else to conduct the interview for you. People often find it easier to talk to a third party, so this approach has other advantages too.
Case studies are the heavy-weight proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially. You want people to read them. So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline — don’t say “Monetizing the Web Operations of AN Company: A Case Study” — say “Profits doubled in three months — here’s how”.
Your case study is your chance to show precisely how you add value, so explain it in lovely plain language.
In the real world, projects can be fairly rambling affairs. The parameters change, people change roles, life happens. The project had a bit of a hiccup in the third month when Jane from HR went on maternity leave… But for the purposes of the case study, keep to the brief. Your aim is to show how you moved your client from A to B. Show your focus.
Use your client’s words. Speech lifts a piece of writing and makes it much lighter to read. More importantly, it adds real credibility. It’s show not tell. An advantage of getting someone else to write your case studies is it makes that harvesting of this kind of valuable information much easier. Tell me again, how great am I?
As well as using speech, use bullet points to highlight your points. Keep the busy web reader in mind and make it really easy for people to read.
Make it clear and unambiguous. How your help raised the bottom line. It’s the most important bit. Don’t let your case study dribble away at the end. End on a high.
Put your case studies up at the front of your website. Too often companies stack them at the back of their site, like dusty old volumes on the top shelf of a library. Make them grabby and appealing and stick them in the waiting room. Think glossy mag not the Encylopedia Brittanica.