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The new Snappy Sentences: From words to strategy

I received my domain registration renewal notice for Snappy Sentences the other day. And for the first time in seven years, I didn’t immediately pay it. I hesitated. I wasn’t sure.

You see, Snappy Sentences has evolved.

When I first registered the business name in August 2007, I was in the midst of that awful ‘transition’ phase of becoming a freelance copywriter. It’s a well-worn path where you still work for an employer (in this case the Queensland Government) while frantically building up a client base so you can take the leap to independence—essentially working two jobs.  My regular ‘job’ was as an IT project manager and I was itching to get back to my roots of being a writer. I wanted to be producing words rather than status reports.

In 2010 I resigned from the government and switched all my efforts and energy to Snappy Sentences. And I was very fortunate. Some heavy networking, a great group of clients and a touch of being in the right place at the right time meant I soon had a fabulous niche carved out for web copywriting in Brisbane.

This worked for a long time.

Eventually it dawned on me that some of the things I *loved* doing in my old employee life I wasn’t in the position to do with my copywriting clients. Sure, some projects included a bit of tone of voice or style guide work, but the real nuts and bolts geeky content activities were missing. In my old roles I was always the content person who could easily work with the real techy people, bridging the gap between business and technical requirements. I wasn’t afraid of discussions around content management systems, tagging and governance—the things that most people run screaming away from.

Then in 2011 I went to my first Confab and realised that I wasn’t really a copywriter, I was a content strategist. That was my ‘aha!’ moment.

Since then I have shifted the ratio of copywriting projects vs. content strategy projects from 80/20 to 10/90. I still provide copywriting services, but it’s not my focus anymore.

Instead I help with complex online and offline content problems. This includes defining content goals, aligning messaging across channels, developing content types and taxonomies, creating governance models, and working through challenges with stakeholders.

It’s hard work, but I love it.

The one thing I have been slack about is letting people know that I’ve changed the focus of my business. I still receive a lot of copywriting enquiries through this site and I hate having to turn away most of them because I’m busy with large content strategy projects. So I am making a few changes here and there to be clearer about what I do. I’ve decided to keep the Snappy Sentences name for the time being. It would be sad to see it go, even if it doesn’t really describe what I do.

Need a content strategist?

If you have a copywriting project, please still get in touch. If I can’t help you I have a trusty list of others I can refer you to.

But, if you are about to kick start a big content project and need a content strategist, send me an email. I’d love to talk about the geeky (and no-so-geeky) content stuff.

Getting content marketing done

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by me, on Santa’s list of 2013 gift posts. I have to apologise for the tardiness in getting this post up. I’ve been working on some behind-the-scenes things on this site which caused the delay.

Enjoy the post!

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This post is written by a secret admirer from the USA who has always loved all things Australian.

AU, the postal abbreviation for Australia also stands for Gold, and for Access and Understanding.

Content Marketing and content is all about communications. These are the days when the internet can amplify your message- or someone else’s in the click of a mouse, and not one of those little Tasmanian ones, but the digital kind.

Access- the internet is the great equalizer. Worldwide. Every person and every business has access to the same amount of screen space as anyone else. How does a small company compete?

Understanding -knowing your marketplace, your competitors and most of all, knowing the needs and hangouts of your clients. This is where content comes in.

Content is King. These days, you are what you publish. Targeted marketing, supplemented by content of value makes for happy customers and repeat visits. Repeat visits to your sites makes for a basis for establishing relationships and a propensity toward doing business.We all still prefer to do business with people/businesses where we know something about them.

There is one simple key to getting content marketing done.In the words of that famous running shoe company……Just Do It.Really.

Write Regularly; if you have a blog – make an appointment with yourself to update it – even if its only 300 words once a week – at least you’re keeping your appointments and writing regularly.

Write Topics of Interest; your prospects and your clients will look to you to set a good example and to be relevant to their needs

Write with Passion; if you care, your blog is a great place to show it. Posts over time reveal a lot about the personality and interests of the leadership team or owner if you’re a one person band.

That’s Right,www.BLOG gets it done.Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Write!

SEO and content: 3 ways to improve your site today

I run a free content strategy meetup in Brisbane for anyone interested in content-related topics. Our December meetup featured Iain Calvert, Strategy Director for Reload Media discussing SEO and content. As a copywriter and content strategist, I am asked about SEO a lot. In fact it’s one of the questions in my client brief! So it was fantastic Iain shared three simple ways to improve SEO by using content. Here’s a summary of his presentation.

1.     Build useful content online

Google changes its algorithm daily, but the one thing that remains constant is the importance it places on quality, useful content. Why? Because it still gets the bulk of its revenue through advertising, and the better its search results are the more likely it can make money from the ads. In order to have better results, it needs better content.

Where do you start? Figure out what kind of content your customers/target audience would find useful and then decide the best way to deliver that content (such as a blog post, podcast, infographic, newsletter etc.). Then commit to creating great content on an ongoing basis.

2.     Get your technical SEO sorted

Make sure your keywords are used in your content, including:

  • The title tag, page header (H1) and url.
  • In the main body of the content, making sure the language is still natural and not obviously stuffed with keywords (if you do this you’ll be penalised by Google too).
  • In links to other important internal pages of your own site.

Iain also pointed out that all important content should be in HTML (so don’t bury it in PDFs) and to use Google Webmaster Tools as a way to monitor performance and known issues.

3.     Promote your content

There’s no point having fantastic content on your site if no one sees it! Use different methods to promote your content such as:

  • Writing guest posts for other relevant sites with a link back to your own site. For example, you may sell gardening products and write a guest post on the best way to care for your gardening tools for a home-handyman site.
  • Commenting on related sites, making sure you add to the conversation.
  • Emailing your existing database when launching something new, making sure they have the ability to opt-out if they want to.
  • Promoting your content on social networks.
  • Listing your business on industry sites. For example if you are chiropractor, make sure you are listed in the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia’s directory.

In summary

Iain’s presentation was a fantastic introduction to SEO and content. The points he made may seem obvious, but I still see so many businesses that don’t have these basics covered.

He also made a special point about the importance of being on Google+. I created a Goggle+ account when it was still in beta, then ended up not using it because my main email address was through Google Apps (which at the time Google+ didn’t support). But this is no longer the case, so I have merged by old Google+ account to my new one and will start making more of an effort to use the tool (it’s a bit empty at the moment while I wait for the accounts to merge). Connect with me on Google+ here or use the badge below.

Remember to add Iain to your circles too.

 


A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Cat Matson and Suzi Dafnis for a podcast in the ABN’s series on Social Media for Small Business. The topic was content strategy and small business – how you can take control of your content and some tips on what to focus on first.

I really enjoyed the discussion (although it’s always strange to hear how your own voice sounds when it’s recorded!), and was really happy that content strategy was included in the series.

Listen to the podcast here: The Power of a Strong Web Content Strategy.

Business Balloon: the best speakers, the best ideas

Happy 2012!

This year is already shaping up to be another exciting one for me, with lots of great projects planned including another trip to the US in May to go to Confab. To kickstart everything I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be speaking at the next Business Balloon day which will be on 14 February 2012 at Iceworks in Paddington (Brisbane).

Business Balloon poster

Business Balloon poster

Here’s my presentation outline from the website:

“First impressions count—and poorly written, inconsistent, or unclear content will erode your brand and destroy the trust of your customers. Sally will take you through five simple ways to improve the content on your website, blog or brochure so the personality of your business shines through and your key messages are delivered. She’ll show you how to develop a tone and voice for your content as well as share common content mistakes to avoid.”

If you’re in Brisbane and would like to come along, details on how you can purchase tickets are on  the Business Balloon website.

I hope to see some of you there!

Editorial strategy and blogging

Last week I went to Melbourne for the Problogger Training Day to lead the panel on Editorial Strategy with Sonia Simone from Copyblogger and Lucy Feagins from The Design Files. Each of us had quite different experiences with editorial strategy and how it could be applied to both personal and business blogs.

Lucy, Sonia and I talking about editorial strategy

Lucy, Sonia and I talking about editorial strategy

 

What’s editorial strategy?

Newspapers and magazines have been using editorial strategy to plan the how, what and when of content since publications first started.

Now that we are all publishers (on the internet) editorial strategy is still an important way to ensure your blog (or website, or newsletter, or other content marketing activity) supports your business goals.

Key themes from the panel discussion

It was a great discussion and one I’m sure could have extended for another hour or two.

Key themes which came out of the panel included:

  • Know your audience and what they expect from your blog. Lucy uses an annual survey to do this, and then backs it up by monitoring metrics to see which posts are more popular than others, and (as she posts daily) which days of the week are more popular.
  • Think about post topics in advance and use an editorial calendar to keep track of what’s going to be written when. Think about holidays and celebrations, seasons, or major sporting events that may be relevant for your blog.
  • Stay flexible enough to still post about hot topics in your niche, or events you hadn’t planned for. The whole day had a strong theme of balancing blogging from the heart with blogging strategically.
  • If you have other contributors to your blog, have some editorial guidelines so the voice and personality of your blog stays true.
  • An editorial strategy can help you come up with ideas for posts by breaking larger ideas into smaller chunks of content.  It can also help with SEO as you can build a number of posts around a particular topic (or set of keywords).

An editorial strategy can be as simple or as complex as your needs. For personal bloggers, it may be a simple list of post ideas. For bigger sites it may be a more complex road map of deadlines, approvals and costings. Sonia said she used an editorial calendar plugin to map out posts at Copyblogger up to 12 weeks in advance. She also provided some fantastic insight into how editorial strategy works at Copyblogger, including how they link post topics with other products and services that are in the Copyblogger Media stable.

If you’re interested in what some of the other panels covered, Annabel Candy live blogged a number of the sessions including the one I was on.

Do you use an editorial strategy in your business?

If you don’t already have an editorial strategy for your business, why don’t you get in contact with me so I can help you write one?

Microcopy: The forgotten persuader

Tweet from my presentation on microcopy

Yes, microcopy does rock

A few weeks ago I presented at Interactive Minds on the topic ‘Optimising your web content to perform’.

While I think some people were expecting me to talk about SEO, I instead focused on what you can do to optimise your content to convert visitors to customers.

I talked about some of the techniques you can use to identify your most important content, how to tell if it’s performing or not, and what to do to help it perform better.

One of the tips I gave to help boost content performance was to improve microcopy.

What’s microcopy?

Think of all of the small pieces of in-context content which help visitors perform a task on your website.

It’s often an overlooked part of content development because it’s found on error pages, forms, buttons and other elements which may not be part of the ‘main’ content areas.

For example, if you have a shopping cart on your site you’ll most likely have microcopy to assist customers making a purchase. It may be a couple of words about which credit cards you accept, advice that shipping is a flat rate, or even tips on creating a password.

Why is microcopy important?

Good microcopy smooths the pathway to conversion. It reassures, it informs, it clarifies. It helps the user engage with the site. And an engaged user is far more likely to convert than a non-engaged one.

On the flip side, bad microcopy can confuse, frustrate and erode trust. Think of a bad shopping cart experience you’ve had. Have you ever abandoned a purchase because of something simple like not knowing if postage is included or not? I know I have.

Or, have you ever got an error message on an online registration form—but no clues as to what went wrong? Do you persist, or do you leave the site?

In both of these situations some well-written microcopy could have helped you stay on the site.

So next time you’re planning a content project, spend some time thinking about your microcopy and how it can help convert your visitors.

If you want to know more, I suggest reading Joshua Porter’s post on writing microcopy. Or, if you have a content project coming up which requires microcopy, get in touch with me so I can help.

 

 

Many events prompt a big copywriting project. It may be a website redevelopment, a branding exercise, or even a new product launch. In any case, you suddenly find yourself faced with a mountain of content which needs to be reviewed, refined, and (most likely) re-written.

Thankfully the powers that be have given you a budget to hire an external copywriter to help with the work.

Now from a copywriter’s perspective, big projects are a completely different kettle of fish than a quick-turnaround brochure or web page update. They require far more planning and often a different approach. You really need to understand how a project works, and how your component (the writing) fits in with everything else.

Often, you need to do far more non-writing activities like content audits, schedules, and stakeholder interviews than you’d otherwise allow for.

So from your point of view, when it comes to selecting the copywriter for your big project, make sure you ask them these questions to see if they’re going to be the best fit for your project.

Have you worked on a big copywriting project before?

A copywriter who understands the basics of project management will be easier to manage than one who doesn’t. This includes things like stakeholder engagement, scope changes, and risk management.

Do you have a day rate?

Personally I find it easier to work on a day rate for big projects because you have to be more fluid with the timing of deliverables. Allocating which days you’ll be working makes it easier for the project manager to schedule meetings and allocate tasks.

When quoting for big projects I break the project up into a number of core deliverables, each with an estimated amount of days. I then identify key milestones to re-assess if the days are still realistic.

Have you allowed enough time for feedback?

This is an important one. From my experience, the best-planned content project can still be de-railed by rounds and rounds of feedback. Even if you stipulate your hours only cover two rounds of feedback, some organisations simply don’t work like that (no matter what they say). So you have to be flexible and adapt along the way, and that’s why I use milestones to re-assess how much work can be done in the time allocated (see the question above).

What happens if the scope changes and there’s additional work to be done?

Find out if your copywriter has other copywriters who can be called on, or if they have the capacity themselves to take on the additional work.

What’s your availability after the project is scheduled to finish?

Delays are common. Don’t get trapped by having your project run over time and then losing your copywriter because they are already booked immediately after your project finishes.

What’s your experience with big copywriting projects? Have they gone to plan?

Share your thoughts below.

 

I can help you with the content strategy and copywriting components of your next content project. Send me an email to get in touch.

 

A week after finishing my last exam at university I packed my bags and left for London. I wasn’t interested in working in my chosen career (which at that stage was PR)—I just wanted to have fun and travel.

I ended living in a big share house in Camden, and working at the very upmarket department store Simpsons of Piccadilly. Have you ever seen the show Are you being served? Well it was based on that very same department store.

It was awfully proper, and I was in charge of selling gloves.

Posh, expensive gloves.

It was the type of place where ladies from the country (actually I should say Ladies, as often it was Lady so-and-so) would come and purchase a whole wardrobe of clothes while their husbands were measured up for new suits. Such a different world.

How does this relate to web writing?

Well, the key to a sale with these rich ladies was quite often asking them the right questions before we’d even started looking at the gloves. The same can be said for copywriting—if you ask clients the right questions before the project starts you are much more likely to get a positive writing outcome.

Where will you wear the gloves?

Yes, on your hands. But in what situation? A special occasion? Wedding? Driving? Long walks in the freezing countryside? Understanding what conditions the gloves would get exposed to was an important part of fitting the right type of glove.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What’s the purpose of the content? Is it help content? Is it sales content? Is it news?
  • How does the content help the visitor complete a task on the website?
  • Will the content be used for anything else? A fact sheet, brochure or the like?

What other gloves do you already own?

Most customers wanted gloves which were different to pairs they already owned. So even though they were after some warm, lined gloves—they wanted brown rather than black.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What other content is already on your site?
  • How will this new content fit in with that?
  • What other online (or offline) marketing are you doing which will impact this new content?
  • Do you have a brand guide?

How much do you want to spend?

Some of my glove customers never looked at the price tag (or their credit card bills probably), but other ‘normal’ people off the street did have a budget to stick to and our beautiful soft leather cashmere-lined gloves were probably beyond what they could afford.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What’s your initial copywriting budget?
  • How do you plan to maintain your new content? Will this be resourced internally or externally? Do you need a style guide to help maintain the content consistently?
  • Do you have existing content to go from, or does all this new content need to be written from scratch?
  • What other material will need to be updated because of this new content? Will that be done now or later?
  • Do you need an editorial calendar to plan your content?

Over to you—do you normally think about these things when developing new content? What have I missed?

I’m happy to ask you all of these questions for your next copywriting project. Simply get in touch and I’ll give you a quote.

Sales secrets from a food lover

This week I went to a pantry tour at Black Pearl Epicure. It was for Brisbane Food Bloggers, and although I don’t have a food blog I figured I really do love food and was very keen to learn more about it.

The demonstration was hosted by Black Pearl’s founder Babak Hadi, and was simply amazing.  Babak took about 30 of us through the ins and outs of extra virgin olive oil, different vinegars (including aged balsamic – yum!), salts, chocolate, saffron, vanilla, and cheese.

We all left with a full belly and a better appreciation of how these staple ingredients are made.

So what does this have to do with writing?

The stand out of the night (in my mind) was Babak’s knowledge and passion for his products. He was really interesting to listen to, was very confident in what he was saying, and had answers for a couple of curly questions that were asked.

This knowledge and passion are the foundation for successful sales.

1. Know your product

Babak explained everything from how extra virgin olive oil was made, to the fermenting process of balsamic vinegar.

You should know your business and your products that well too. Describe it in your sales pages, detail it in your customer service info – show your customers that you’ve taken the time to learn.

2. Understand how your customers will use your product

Throughout the demonstration, Babak related all information to how we would use the products ourselves. This is a great technique for selling as we all were picturing using the product in our own kitchen before any purchase had been made.

Unfortunately, this is an area where I see many businesses fail. There are a lot of business owners who are really out of touch with their customers – make sure you aren’t one of them!

3. Love using your product

Sure the foods we sampled were all top-notch, but Babak has a genuine love for using them all. When you are excited about your own products or services, it acts as a reinforcement for potential customers. The old “I’ll have what he’s having” mindset.

So after all that eating (erm, learning), what did I buy? Check it out:

Black Pearl goodies

Note: I did get some chocolate too, but it was gone before I took this picture!

Are you passionate about your products? Share your thoughts below.