Jargon: The Dark Side of Blogging

Your voice might be the most important thing about your writing. Let’s face it, anyone can write a blog. According to Domo, over 340 new blogs are created every minute—and that’s just on WordPress. One of the most valuable ways to make yourself stand out in the wall of social media noise is to have an interesting voice. Simply put, your voice is the unique way you write things. For me, that usually means writing about myself and geeky stuff.

The problem is that sometimes you can’t write about Star Wars or your favorite holiday (mine is Life Day, by the way). Sometimes you have to write about marketing automation or space heaters. That can involve a local of industry jargon. Buried in the acronym purgatory of BTU, SMB and SaaS, your style of writing can become further buried. Suddenly, you’re marking off a list of specs instead of telling a story.

And that simply will not do. We’re marketers; we have a product to share and we have to present that product in an interesting, creative way to potential customers, no matter what it is. So how can you balance your own voice with all of the jargon and product features? I have a few simple suggestions that help me when I’m in the blogging trenches.

Brand-Voice

Be Authentic. That means not only being genuine to yourself, but to your readers as well. If you are selling space heaters, you can be sure you’re selling them to other human beings. That means you need to sound like a human being and you need to connect with your reader on a basic level. That will not happen if you’re just spewing facts instead of building a narrative about your subject.

Bad Idea: The L57 Space Heater comes with real time Thermo 5V sensors that can adjust temperatures between 1 and 8 degrees, if properly programmed with 5-82 remote.

Good Idea: If you need both hands free while at your workbench, our space heater can be programmed to adjust heat output for maximum comfort!

Be Accurate. While it is good be genuine with your readers, you don’t want to swing too far into buddy territory. You aren’t talking to your friends, after all. Avoid generalizations and overly excited prose. You don’t want to bore your audience, but you also don’t want to talk down to them.

Bad Idea: As we all know, the L57 Space Heater is really good, and it can be used pretty much anywhere!

Good Idea: The L57 has been proven to outperform other space heaters in a non-biased heating test performed by Strata College. The L57 is also water and dust-resistant.

Be Honest. While it’s important to avoid jargon for the sake of clarity, it can also be used to make the ignorant seem educated. We’ve all seen (and cringed at) the writer who jumped on a topic with no knowledge, or just enough knowledge to get him/her into trouble. Be honest with your audience and never try to sell a product you know nothing about. The truly educated will always sniff you out.

Bad Idea: The L57 Space Heater is a very good product based on the BTU generation of its fan, which must produce heat through force.

Good Idea: At the time of this writing, we were not sure about the BTU output of the L57. Look for an update in the future, or feel free to contact our sales staff directly at this link.

People come for your content but they stay for your voice. Your unique take on things is what will grow your audience and keep them coming back. Please don’t ever cheapen your talent with false or misleading information.

Have any questions about how to build or grow your own voice in your writing? Or maybe you think something important was missed here? Maybe you’re just lonely want to talk about Star Trek. Feel free to comment below or message me on Twitter.

Guest Blogging is Dead, But Your Blog is Still Alive

According to Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google, guest blogging is dead.

The reason? The practice has become too spammy. That can be debated, but let’s focus on why a brand should blog in the first place. 77% of internet users report reading blogs. Of that sizable herd, 81% of U.S. online consumers find blogs trustworthy and informative. Without making this about statistics, blogs equate to consumer attention and authority for brands.

But let’s be fair. Most brands (especially small businesses) only want to blog about one thing—their products. According to Ignite Spot, 61% of U.S. Consumers have bought something based on blog content. If blogs can generate sales, why talk about anything but products and features? The simple answer is that overly commercial blogs are spammy and boring. The average Internet user is spending 23 hours online per week, allowing them to see much more content than they did even a few years ago. If your blogs look like nothing more than a wordy commercial, they will be just as dead as guest posting.

A New Hope. So just writing about products and promotions is bad. What should you be writing about? Glad you asked. Below are a few suggestion to get you started down the right path:

  • Local events: Blogging about a traditional festival or new fundraiser in your community is great content for a few reasons. First, it establishes you as an information source to your readers, instead of a salesman. Second, it shows potential customers that you care about their local community, and want to share in those experiences. Finally, it helps out other businesses, who will likely return the favor when you have news to share. Local events are a bit of a misnomer if you’re writing for a national brand, but you can always scale up to events like the Big Ten or the Grammys.
  • Employee profiles: Does every customer rave about your hostess? Why not do a profile on her for your blog? This will establish more of a relationship between your customers and employees, and content like this shows your readers that that you care about your staff. Only interview willing employees though. Don’t force anyone to participate if they don’t want to.
  • (Slightly) Controversial Opinions: Perhaps the local neighborhood is getting a chain restaurant in the spot where everyone’s favorite diner used to reside. Feel free to put just a bit of vitriol behind your blog suggesting everyone shop local. You will want to be very careful with this option. As my grandfather always said, avoid talking about religion and politics in public. You want your customers interested and engaged, not pissed off at your personal views.

Hopefully this will add a few options for your new editorial calendar, but keep in mind that the best way to keep your blogs fresh is to keep learning. Experiment with new topics, and keep reading.

What blog topics have you found the most useful for your brand? What failed horribly? Feel free to share below, or find on Twitter.

Crowdsourcing Content: A Win-Win Situation

Content is a hot topic lately, with everyone scrambling to find it, put it out and increase their SEO efforts by doing so. In order to keep up with the content demand, have you considered crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing content works in favor of both the company and the consumer. Consumers want to play a bigger role in the brands that they support, and consumer-produced content is highly cost-effective for brands. Content marketing is 63% less expensive than traditional marketing according to Demand Metric, and three times better at generating leads. Through crowdsourcing your content, you can increase your value and raise consumer confidence in your brand.

For example, take sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, which run solely on reviews posted by consumers. Studies have shown that content produced by consumers seems to make more of an impact on other consumers. Why? Well think of it this way: would you trust the opinion of a blog writer hired by the brand or an everyday average person that has used the product/service? People want to hear the opinions of their friends or actual users.

Keys to Crowdsourcing 

Hiring staff to write content can become costly, but having your consumers write your content for you isn’t. On average, how long does it take for you to write a blog post? Not just your musings of the day, but a well-researched, thought-out and documented blog? Think of that time in term of dollar signs and how much you could save by having your customers do the work.

  • Offer an incentive. Have your customers submit to a contest by entering a funny photo or video of them using your product/service. The prize should be related to your business or perhaps even a new product you have to offer, but it has to be worth entering to win. You can then use the submissions as content on your social media pages or website. This will not only give you content to choose from, but will also create a social buzz around your brand.
  • Give recognition. People love to be recognized and appreciated, especially when they become a loyal customer for a brand. While on Twitter, retweet your brand advocates and engage in conversation with them. When you have a new product or service launching, let those same brand advocates be the first to try it out…and let them write about it! Use pictures, blogs, videos or any other content your brand advocates create to showcase your new products/services and give full credit to them for the reviews.
  • Encourage engagement. While you can crowdsource as much content as possible, you’ll still need to keep up a regular blog schedule. In order to keep crowdsourcing, inspire your readers to leave comments. Comments will not only boost your SEO with Google, but they can be a great source of feedback from consumers. Give your point of view and ask open-ended questions towards the end.  Once your readers start to comment on your blog, make sure to follow up with every comment and even ask more questions. If appropriate, repurpose comments as quotes you can use on social media or your website.

If you need help with your content marketing strategy, contact us for help. Have you used crowdsourced content for your website? How did you get your readers to participate?

Conquer Content in 2014

You’ve probably heard the buzz phrases “content is king” and “content marketing” over and over again in the past few months. If it wasn’t already obvious, content is the heart and soul to everything online. In 2014, content will also be the key to SEO. Everything we publish is content, from Instagram to blogs to Twitter. As a business, you can’t escape content if you want to stay ahead of the marketing curve.

Think of your content marketing plan as a hub and spoke model.

hub-and-spoke-marketing1

The center of the model (the hub) should be your website which contains the content that you create. The spokes are all the different ways you can distibute that content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Email Marketing, contests, Pinterest and any other social networks you use. You use all the “spokes” to bring consumers back in to the hub, aka your website. Through your website, your content should give a call to action, eventually leading consumers to a sale.

So what makes for intriguing, shareable online content that will draw potential customers to your brand? Here are a few suggestions to set you apart from the competition:

  • Negative Headlines. Don’t underestimate the power of a negative headline. Negative titles can work brilliantly for bringing in traffic. For example: 20 things you shouldn’t be sharing on Twitter. Sometimes, a negative headline will draw in more readers than a positive one.
  • Reviews. I’m not talking about a single product or restaurant review, but put together a compilation of reviews in one blog. Maybe you’ve been researching what type of vacuum to buy. Review 10 different vacuums, include product screenshots and save people time from reviewing each one individually.
  • Evergreen Content. Is your blog content as valuable one year down the road as it is today? You should have a mix of evergreen items and news topics on your blog so that it doesn’t date quickly. This way, you can repurpose your content or link back to previous blogs.
  • How-To Information. Some of the most shared content topics on social media are how-to videos and tutorials. If you sell a product, create how-to instructions for using your product in real life scenarios or to solve everyday problems. You can even use a how-to video for customer service if a user has an issue. These are fairly simply to make but very effective.
  • User-Generated Content. Do you sell a service or product that can change someone’s life? Have you customers create testimonials or short blogs about how your product has helped them and why others should buy it. User-generated content costs nothing to create…someone else is creating it for you! It also urges your customers to share it because it spotlights individuals, who will share with their online communities. Everyone loves getting their 15 minutes of fame.

If you need help creating valuable, quality content on your blog, contact us for help. What kind of content do you use on your blog that performs well?

Jumping the Shark: How to Get Your Blog Back on Track

So it’s finally happened. Through (perhaps) no fault of your own, you have finally jumped the shark on your blog. If you’re unfamiliar with it, “jumping the shark” is a modern idiom for going completely over to the top due to repetition. Here’s the original clip. Why was Fonzie, a greaser in Milwaukee, jumping over sharks on water-skis in California? Because the writers of Happy Days were out of ideas.

I can’t think of any better analogy for blogging. As someone trying to constantly produce content, it is easy run out of ideas and go somewhere…silly. And that’s what happened—a perfectly stable and well-crafted blog has taken a very weird turn. But this blog isn’t about content tips. There are plenty of places to find that. Besides, this isn’t about being out of ideas; you have an idea—you’ve just fallen down the rabbit hole, not to mix the metaphors.

This also isn’t about avoiding common blogging problems. In my opinion, this isn’t a typical problem. But it is a problem any veteran blogger will have. So what can you do about it?

First of all, take a deep breath. You have a blog that is mostly complete. You’ve done the research, you’ve checked the facts, and now you’ve just lost your way. The first thing to remember is not to panic.

Retrace your steps. Where did things go wrong? Before you can find out what’s wrong, you have to find out where things were still right. Usually I can spot the exact moment where I lost my focus and started navel-gazing into shark territory. Back up to the moment of silliness and really consider what you have there. It might be as simple as cutting everything after that.

If not…

Cut deep, but cut carefully. Perhaps some of the stuff in your babbling and bumbling is good. After all, the first draft of any project should be considered exploratory. It’s perfectly fine to keep some of your more exploratory material, but only if it’s as strong as the rest of your content. Don’t be afraid to cut; get rid of overly wordy, verbose, adjective-filled sentences. Short sentences work (see what I did there?). Also, don’t be afraid to cut out the entire section and rewrite what little gem you found. All I ask is that you dig into all that dopey material and hunt for some gold. Stream of consciousness stuff can be wonderful—it just needs refined.

Take a break. Perhaps you just need a moment to collect your thoughts. Jumping the shark can be as simple cubicle fever. Go for a walk or work on something else. If you’re pressed for time, work on another project for a few minutes or answer some important emails. You need to focus away from this piece for as long as possible. If you can sleep on it, all the better. A fresh set of eyes are great.

If all else fails, start over. As horrible as it may sound, not all pieces can be saved from the shark tank. Sometimes it’s better to walk away from a blog article than to keep trying to repair it. If this piece is no longer recognizable, it may be time to start on a new subject. Perhaps you can come back to this particular subject another time.

Where do we go from here? There’s nothing wrong with jumping the shark. As a social media manager, you’re going to take a wrong turn now and then. The key is to remember your integrity. Don’t settle for silliness just because your blog sitcom has been running for a while. Keep those editing pencils sharp, and know when to cancel an article if it doesn’t hold up to your standards.

The Impact of Social Media on SEO

Social media has billions of users across platforms such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. And we’ve all heard the saying that “content is king,” so don’t forget about the bloggers. Today, there is a blog for absolutely anything you’re interested in. Everyone and anyone is a critic, expert, photographer, videographer, journalist or authority due to the popularity of social media and mobile apps.

So what does this have to do with your business? Everything. It’s a no-brainer that social media should be part of your business plan, not only because it will impact your sales but also your SEO. While backlinks are still important, social media signals should not be overlooked. In fact, seven of the ten most important SEO factors come from social media! Let’s take a look at how social media, content and SEO all work together to transform your online marketing strategy.

Create quality content that people love. 92% of marketers say content creation is either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for SEO. When writing a blog, you should consider three things: is this helpful, does this solve a problem and is this relevant? Your content needs to be valuable and shareable in order to engage people, and it needs to be original and high-quality in order for it to rank well with Google.

Engagement increases your rankings. Google+1s increase both your visibility and credibility, and a report from Searchmetrics states that Google+ has the highest impact on SEO ranking. What are other social indicators that help? Facebook shares, Facebook total, Facebook comments, Facebook likes, tweets and Pinterest are all in the top social factors. It isn’t enough to simply be posting on social media, you need to be engaging in order to increase your rankings. Here’s a quick fact for you: tweeting cuts indexation time by 50%!

Build trust. How relevant is your page content to the keyword query of your visitor? Google looks for authority (the number and quality of the links that point at your pages) and relevancy (keywords) when determining search results. A keyword-rich profile is the first step on all of your social media platforms.

Develop relationships. Connecting with your audience helps build your online authority and also creates long-lasting relationships. These relationships can transform into online brand advocates and ambassadors that will help spread the word about your brand to their own communities.

Linked content. When trying to build your brand and authority, having well-known and trusted websites link to you is one of the best ways to gain trust and respect. Think about it as a type of online “celebrity endorsement” vouching for the validity of your business. Keep your content easily shareable by adding social media links on your pages, because you want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your content.

If you’ve been avoiding adding social media to your SEO plan, now is the time to reconsider. Social media is now an integral piece in the SEO puzzle. Social shares, presence and high quality content cannot be ignored any longer. If you need help with your SEO and social media strategy, contact us today!

Grammar: There, Their or They’re?

grammar

It seems like such a simple thing, but there are a plethora of people in the world that just plain hate grammar. The rules are ridiculous, they say—outdated, contradictory and confusing. I’m not going to argue. English is a language based on stealing words from other languages and sort of shoving them into the vocabulary like stacking one more chair onto a crowded moving truck.

I studied English in college. I went as high as you can possibly go in terms of diagramming sentences. I helped other people with their papers. I was the editor of the paper. Let me tell you, some people will think you’re a wizard if you’re good with grammar.

But why do we care? This is a whole new world (cue Aladdin song)—full of Twittering and internet short-hand. Who would worry about proper grammar? Well, your clients, for starters. Even if they are super high-tech masters of the internet (and they’re probably not), they’re going to want their copy (read: content) to look good. That involves proper word use, punctuation and sentence structure. Webpage design and blogging should be where you really try to shine. Make sure you know the difference between “its” and “it’s” (Just in case you were curious: “its” is possessive, while “it’s” is short for “it is”). “Then” and “than” should be monitored closely. “Further” and “farther” are also important, although used less frequently.  And of course, there’s the deadly “there,” “their” and “they’re” (location, possession and contraction, respectively).

None of this is magic, by the way. Doing a Google search will solve most problems. The site Grammar Book is great for your basic needs. For those in a hurry, start following @quickdirtytips or @GrammarMonkeys on Twitter.  Subscribe to a blog like Grammar Gang. So instead of just fixing problems as they come, you can start learning something every day. That is probably the most useful advice I can give you, by the way: learn, don’t fix. If you learn the rules, you don’t have to worry so much about fixing anything.

Speaking of fixing things, if people hate anything more than grammar, it’s proofreading. I cannot tell you the amount of things I’ve proofread before (legally, I shouldn’t even mention some of them). People think that only full-on grammar wizards can proofread anything.  That’s completely untrue. The key to proofreading is a fresh perspective. After you complete your first draft of anything, take a walk. Get a drink. Go to the bathroom. Come back with new eyes. Another trick—if you’re handcuffed to a desk or something—is to read your draft BACKWARDS. What you’re trying to do is trick your brain into thinking it is reading something completely new. Why? Because if you don’t, that lazy, traitorous brain of yours will fill in all the gaps for you, making you skip the mistakes that are actually there.

So, you’ve fixed your mistakes. You Googled how to spell “conscience” correctly (that one is for how you feel morally, not whether you’re still awake while trying to read this). You’ve walked away from the draft, and come back to it to find even more mistakes. You’ve cursed my name a few times. Now you’re ready to post or print it, right? Wrong. Now it’s time to hand it over to someone else. Someone else can be as easy as the guy in your office that is actually a full-on grammar wizard (thank you, thank you), your superior, a friendly English teacher on Facebook, or an actual, honest to goodness proofreader that might want money for their services. Always think about your content before paying anyone. How important is the piece you’re writing? How many people are going to see it, and for how long? Who are they—people on Twitter or your boss’s boss? These are important considerations when handing out money to someone.

Conclusions? Grammar is very important when you are creating copy for websites and blogs—things people are going to be staring at a lot. It’s better to learn about grammar than to just try to fix mistakes on the spot. Remember to always proofread your own drafts—after a break, of course. And after you’ve looked at it once (or twice, or three times…), give your work to someone else to look at. If you follow these steps, I promise other people will start thinking you have magical powers. In my next blog, I’ll be talking about etiquette and yes, grammar, when using social media like Twitter and Instagram.