Tips, techniques and inspiration for marketing communications from Richard Groom at Peterborough Copywriting Bureau.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Points 1-5 of my ten-point copy and content audit tool

In April I introduced a new tool tor assessing the suitability and quality of existing marketing content. It can also be used to assess new content while it's still in the draft stage, helping you to strive for a better finished piece. In this blog, I delve a little deeper into points one to five, and invite you to request the full 24-page e-book.

1. Context

Things change fast, and even the best content can soon become out of date. This part of the audit is designed to spot when that has happened. A simple way to think about this is to break the task down into considering the internal and external environments.

Internal environment

Sometimes internal changes mean that the content is no longer relevant to your organisation’s current strategy or activity. I saw a classic example of this while working with a client recently. They had just launched a new product with a distinctive name and were in the middle of a PR campaign to promote it. But two years previously they had used the same name for a very early version of the product that hadn’t really taken off – and their website was littered with blogs and other pages using the product name.

There was a big risk than when someone Googled the product name after seeing some publicity about it, they would be taken to a blog about the earlier version. Old content often ranks high in search results, especially if it has been extensively visited and shared. In this case, if someone landed on an old blog it would have confused customers, potentially losing sales.

External environment

If you’ve studied marketing, you will remember the ‘STEP’ model for analysing the external environment. You can use it here, considering the Social, Technological, Economic and Political factors that may make your content look out of date. (Other versions of the model are PEST, STEEPLE or PESTLE, but they all do the same thing.)

A typical scenario would be where a piece of ‘thought leadership’ content becomes out of date after changes in the economic situation. Imagine if you are a financial adviser and you have a major piece of content from 2008 discussing mortgage options. The housing market has changed since then, as have interest rates and rules around mortgage availability.

2. Clarity

It’s amazing how often something that the writer thought was very clear looks less clear when looked at again a while later. There’s something about coming back to a piece that gives us a different perspective. This is one reason why checking for clarity ('understandability') is part of the audit.

If you want to assess how clear and understandable a piece of content is, here are some tips:

Read it properly 

We often just skim through a piece of writing, missing out words or phrases and trusting our brain to fill in the blanks. You want to avoid that here. Now is the time to read the content properly. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph.

Be very tough on the content. If there is anything you don’t completely understand the first time you read it, it needs attention.

Read it out loud

When you read something out loud you perceive it in a different way. You’re more likely to spot any problems with clarity. If you find yourself stumbling over parts of the content, it’s probably an indication that there’s a problem.

Think like the reader

Again, be very tough on the content here. Look out for any word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that may be confusing to readers. Pay special attention to whether any abbreviations or industry jargon you’ve used will be understood by everyone the piece is aimed at.

A definition of jargon is ‘special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’. But the problem with that definition is that it assumes everyone in a profession or group has the same level of knowledge and familiarity with jargon. That’s an unlikely scenario.

Identify the density

Unless you’re a brilliant writer, it’s likely that long sentences or long paragraphs will confuse or slow down many of your readers. I don’t usually give ‘rule of thumb’ advice but in this case, applying these three tips across a piece of content almost always improves it:

  • Identify any sentences over 25 words and see if they can be rewritten or split into two.
  • Insert line breaks in any paragraphs longer than three sentences.
  • Insert subheadings after every three or four paragraphs. 

3. Comprehensive

In many cases, the best content gives readers all the information they want. It answers their questions and leaves them feeling glad they spent time with it. If I take the time to publish a page about a training course I’m running, I want people to see who the course is for, what’s included, how it’s delivered and how much it costs. If I don’t do all of that, I’m pretty certain that many people will click somewhere else rather than ask me for the missing information.

Most SEO experts also agree that comprehensive content tends to perform better. Google likes giving its users answers to their questions, and comprehensive content is usually more likely to do that. As a quick test, I googled ‘best way to control weeds’ and the first five pages listed were all 800 words or more.

4. Customers

The audit has already made a start on this, but now is the main place to ask whether the piece is really focused on the readers. (Usually this will be customers or potential customers, but other stakeholders may also apply here.) In short, is this something they will want to read and then be glad that they did?

Here’s a handy list of qualities that you can use to help with this assessment. The content may not fulfil all of them, but it should probably score well on at least one of them.
  • Helpful. The reader can do something better as a result of reading the piece.
  • Unique. It’s information that readers can’t get elsewhere, or if they can, they might struggle to find it all in one place.
  • Interesting. The content maybe doesn’t have any practical value, but it’s informative nonetheless.
  • Actionable. The readers can go and do a specific task after reading the piece.
  • Inspiring. The content will inspire emotion, changing how people feel.
  • Targeted. It’s clearly aimed at a specific segment/persona/situation.

On the other hand, non customer-focused content looks like this:
  • Useless. It’s trying to help, but really it doesn’t.
  • Obvious. It’s all stuff that the reader already knows.
  • Generic. Lots of content is available elsewhere that says the same thing.
  • Boring. Even if the subject matter is good, the writing style is totally uninspiring.
  • For everyone. There's nothing specific to any particular type of reader. By trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no-one. 

5. Clickable

This is about getting people to the content in the first place. The question to ask is this: if people just saw just the headline, and maybe an associated image, would they be likely to click to through to the content? So, assuming that the content itself is strong, with good subject matter and well written, how are the title and image performing?

The headline/title. Look at the headline and ask yourself:
  • Does it properly convey just how awesome the content is?
  • Is it really likely to generate clicks?
  • Is any data on click rates available to help you assess the title’s performance?
  • Does it include words or phrases that your target audience are likely to use, including when using search engines?

The image. If the piece has a picture that appears in emails, on social media or elsewhere:
  • Is it a good one?
  • Is it likely to compel people to click to the content?
  • And if there is no image, can you add one?

Would you like the complete content audit resources?

In my next blog I’ll take a closer look at points 6-10 of the audit framework. The ultimate resource is my new e-book, which includes more detail and examples across all ten criteria, a checklist and scorecard, and hints and tips for easy fixes for the most common problems. Drop me an email now if you’d like to be among the first to receive your copy.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Helping children improve their reading

I'm delighted to be part of a scheme from the National Literacy Trust that is helping children to improve their reading ability. More volunteers are needed: can you help?

I can't remember a time when I didn't love reading. For as along as I can remember, I've been surrounded by books. There are piles in every room in my house and my office is littered with them. I was lucky that I took to reading early and fast. But sometimes children need a little extra support to develop their reading ability and confidence.

The Reading Buddies scheme in Peterborough is part of the Vision for Reading in Peterborough, which was launched in January 2018. The vision establishes reading as a priority for everyone, outlining how the city can work together to ensure that every child in Peterborough enjoys reading and can read well. The scheme is also in place in Bradford, Middlesborough, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent and Swindon. 

I’ve just signed up as a volunteer for Reading Buddies. Getting involved is simple: after some training you visit a local primary school for a couple of hours each week, providing one-to-one support for children struggling with reading. 

It's going to be fun and rewarding. Please contact me at richard@pcbonline.co.ukrichard@pcbonline.co.uk for more information about the scheme.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Writing content today? Try being super-specific

Almost every time you write a piece of content you have a choice to make: do you make it fairly generic so it appeals to everyone, or do you narrow it down to something more specific?

If in doubt, my preference is usually to go down the specific route. Here's why...

(Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels.)

It can be tempting to try to appeal to as many people as possible with each piece of content you write. Imagine a scenario where you write blogs for a company that sells gardening equipment. Your boss has asked you to write a blog to get interest in the pond maintenance equipment.you sell.

You might want to bash out a generic piece on ‘tips for garden pond maintenance’ because that's going to be suitable for anyone with a pond. But the problem is that there are lots of articles like that. You are pitching it right into a crowded, competitive space. 

But a piece on ‘garden pond maintenance for small, shady gardens’ is much more specific. Sure, it will only appeal to people with small, shady gardens, but there are lots of people like that and they have unique problems and questions. You would probably be the only company addressing their situation. You'd be writing something they actually want to read.

As a bonus, writing specific content opens up the door to writing a series of pieces, each one on an aspect of the situation. And even better, in my experience it's also much easier to write, because you'll be more focused. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Your ten-point copy and content audit tool

Is your content fit for purpose? Scary question, right? Most people involved in marketing know that too much of their copy or content isn’t as good as they’d like. But the task of going back through content to assess its quality and suitability can be daunting.

You wouldn't expect a doctor to look at a sick patient without any system for diagnosis. That's why I have developed this ten-point 'diagnostic tool' for copy and content. 

It's a method for assessing the suitability and quality of existing content. As a bonus, the tool can also be used to assess new content while it's still in the draft stage, helping you to strive for a better finished piece.

diagnostic tool for better marketing copy and content

A copy and content audit everyone can use

If an organisation has been around for a while there could potentially be hundreds of pages of content available to readers. Lots of it may no longer represent the business the way it should (and some of it probably never did in the first place).

I have spent the last few weeks developing a simple framework for checking the suitability of existing and new copy or content. This post introduces the ten criteria in the framework and over the next couple of blogs I’ll flesh these out.

Best of all, in May I am launching a 24-page e-book that will include detailed notes and examples for each category, a checklist and scorecard, and hints and tips for easy fixes for the most common problems. (Drop me an email now if you’d like to be among the first to receive your copy.)

With that as the background, here’s the framework that will help you make the most of the time you have available for assessing and editing content.

1. Context

Content written some time ago may no longer be relevant to your organisation’s strategy, or to how the world is today. Content that is no longer relevant can be deleted, or you can bring it up to date.

2. Clarity

You may publish a piece thinking it scores well on clarity, but when looking at it again after a break you realise it’s not so clear after all. Use this opportunity to look out for the use of confusing jargon, badly written sentences, weak structure, dense formatting and anything else that acts as a barrier to clarity.

Tip for writing better marketing content

3. Comprehensive

This doesn’t mean everything has to be a long copy piece with tons of detail. But check that the essential information is included, in the context of the piece. You may be able to use the ‘what, when, where, who, why and how’ list as a quick check that the essential information is there.

4. Customers

Is the piece really focused on the readers? Usually this will be customers, but other stakeholders may also apply here. In short, is this something they will want to read and then be glad that they did?

5. Clickable

This takes being customer-focused to the next level. Is the content something that readers would be attracted to and happy to share with their network? This is also the category where SEO performance can be assessed.

6. Competition

If your competition has created similar content you probably need to check how your piece stacks up against theirs. Maybe when you published your piece it was the best source of information around. But what if someone has since gone one better?

7. Credibility

After looking at the piece’s credibility, clickability and competitive performance, you’re in a good position to assess its overall credibility. Ask yourself this: if your most wanted customer reads the piece, will they be significantly more willing to do business with you as a result?

8. Creative

Assessing a piece of legacy content is an opportunity to be more creative than when it was originally published. Does the piece feel a bit dull now? Would it benefit from a refresh?

9. Call to action

This one is simple: if there’s no call to action, add one.

10. Correct

We’re talking accuracy here, and this covers everything from spotting typos and dead links to checking that you still have permission to use any images that are part of the content.

After you’ve used this audit framework

If the piece scores well across these criteria you can consider recycling it, perhaps as a new blog or landing page. Then raise its profile across your marketing activity. If it scores very badly, and you don’t have the time or desire to fix it, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to it.

Would you like the complete content audit resources?

In my next two blogs, I'll look at the above list in more detail. But the ultimate resource will be my new e-book. Drop me an email if you’d like your free copy.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Have you updated your GDPR opt-in wording?

With the ‘go live’ date for GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) just a few weeks away, hopefully you will have already come to terms with implications for your organisation. As well as your data management tasks, getting updated copy in place by the 25 May 2018 deadline is essential. 

I won’t try to explain the regulations here as I think other people have already done it well. (If you are in need of legal advice or support, I can thoroughly recommend the excellent James Boyle at Taylor Vinters in Cambridge.)

Instead, as a copywriter I want to focus on the writing tasks that need to be done to support compliance, and to maximise opt-in rates in the new GDPR era. 

How copy can help you comply with GDPR

Transparency is an important part of GDPR. When you are asking people to opt in to receive marketing communications, you must be very clear about what opting in means to the individual.

From 25 May, wording such as “I consent to receiving marketing communications” won’t be enough. Here are a couple of better alternatives:

Example 1

We’d like to send you our monthly email newsletter that contains great ‘how-to’ articles, special offers and news round-ups. Please tick the box that applies to you:

Yes please, I’d like to receive your email newsletter. (We’ll handle your personal details very carefully, and we’ll never sell or give them to anyone else.)

Example 2

Your communication preferences

Yes please! I would like to receive updates about new products, special offers and events from ACME Chickens Ltd via:

Email    SMS   Post 

Both the above examples also meet the GDPR requirement that giving consent should be an active, affirmative action by the individual. It will no longer be good enough to rely on passive acceptance. Say goodbye to pre-ticked boxes.

Going beyond compliance: maximising opt-in rates

The wording you use can of course go further than ensuring compliance. It’s an opportunity to show people that they have a lot to gain from opting in. The objective is to create content that inspires people to tick the opt-in box.

Here are a couple of examples of what I have in mind:

Example 3

Sign up for unique email subscriber benefits

Registering with us will bring you:
- Great monthly special offers just for subscribers (20-50% off!).
- Weekly updates on new products BEFORE they hit our online shop.
- Advance opportunities to buy in our quarterly clearance sales.

Yes, I’m in (and please send me my first special offer right away). 

Example 4

Psssst! Wanna join the club?

Not everyone gets in on our lovely free content. But tick the box and you will.

I want in. Please email me your free reports, white papers and articles.

Now’s the time to review your opt-in wording

I hope the above examples give you some guidance and inspiration for seamlessly moving over to a successful transition to GDPR compliance.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Three assumptions that will lead to poor marketing content

Is the way you write almost guaranteeing that your readers will move on to something else right away? It could be, if you are building unnecessary assumptions into your content.

Here’s a quick look at three examples of assumptions that can damage your content – but that can be easily fixed.

1. Assuming that people remember the last thing you wrote

Often in a blog or email newsletter article you read something like ‘following on from last month’s update on our CFD-3000 widget we are delighted to announce that…

The writer is assuming that the reader read the previous piece AND that he/she remembers it. In reality of course, the reader may never have read the previous piece, and even if they did it might have been one of dozens or hundreds of pieces of content they had to process on that day. There’s every chance it will have been forgotten by now.

An easy alternative would be to write something like: 'Last month we wrote about the new capacity of the CFD-300 widget (you can read about it here), and now we have even more good news about the upgraded product.

So don’t be afraid to recap on what was written previously, even if you think most readers will remember it.

2. Assuming that people know who you are

Just because someone is on your email database doesn’t mean they will instantly recognise your company name when you send them an email. This is especially true if you don't send emails very often.

Some newsletter copy jumps right into content without reminding people who the sender is and what they do. Like this: ‘It’s been a busy month for all of us here. We’re especially pleased that our product manager Peter has completed his Level 5 training and is now fully on board with our product portfolio.’ 

The poor reader is thinking ‘I think I know who this is from but I’m not sure’ or worse still, ‘I have absolutely no clue who these people are’.

So make it a habit of having the essential ‘remember us’ copy as early as possible in the piece. For example, a strapline can do the trick, like ‘Keeping you informed about the latest poultry-keeping accessories’.

3. Forgetting that many of your readers are in different sectors

This applies especially to LinkedIn. Do you feel as frustrated as me when you browse through your LinkedIn feed? Among the dozens of updates I have to wade through, many of them make absolutely no sense to me.

Like this: ‘Had a great time at CuddlyFun2016 this week! Awesome performance from everyone involved and we have been nominated for the prize of ‘Best Exhibitor’! WooHoo!’ But I have no idea exactly what CuddlyFun2016 is and I can’t remember what my connection’s business does. 

So how about writing: ‘Really enjoyed showcasing our superb teddy bear outfits at the world’s biggest soft toy exhibition this week. Awesome performance from the team and we were nominated for ‘Best Exhibitor’ at CuddlyFun2016! WooHoo!

Yes, I know – the main target audience for a post like that IS people who know exactly what CuddlyFun2016 is. But presumably you are connected to everyone else because you want to communicate with them on some level, so why not do it with clarity for them too?

Step into your readers’ shoes for a moment

As with all good writing, the trick is to remember that your readers don’t live in your world. They aren’t as interested in you and what you do as you are. So give them those extra little bits of information to help them quickly ‘get’ what you’re writing about.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Try managing expectations rather than stretching the truth

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes clients ask me to stretch the truth in the stuff I write for them. Putting aside any ethical considerations (although they matter to me too), what bothers me the most is that I can't see how it can do my clients any good in the long term.

Consider this example from a few years ago...

The website provider I was working for offered a content management system (CMS) to its customers. I was told that this was a great CMS that was 'as easy to use as editing a Word document'. So I wrote some web copy that promised this and other great things for customers.

But when I tried to use the CMS to get the copy onto the provider's own site, it was far from easy. In fact, it was so bad, I had to get one of their technical people to do it.

And when I spoke to the techie, he said that he wasn't surprised I was having problems as the CMS was 'a piece of rubbish'.

Is it wise to promise great things from a service when you know that it's really a lie? How can that lead to happy customers and sustainable long term relationships?

Even when a short term sale is the goal, is it a good idea to create unrealistic expectations?

The last time I looked for a house to buy after just a couple of weeks I had a list of estate agents that I wouldn't deal with. You know the ones: their property pictures make tiny, damp-ridden houses look like lovely mansions. One even assured me that a village was getting fibre optic broadband 'soon', when two minutes of research revealed that the earliest that will happen is 2017.

Being negative doesn't have to be a disaster

There are ways to let potential customers know that a product or service has some flaws without losing their interest.

When I call up about a property the agent can say 'there is some damp in the house but the price reflects it and in our opinion it is something that can be remedied relatively easily'. This would make me respect an agent. Wasting my time by sending me around the countryside on wild goose chases does not.

Are there any examples in your own marketing communications where some claims or promises are stretching the truth a bit? Is this creating problems for sales or customer services staff down the line?

If so, there may well be opportunities for phrasing things in a more realistic way.