I just realized its been several days since I wrote an article on this blog. I've been very busy writing an ebook on how to market with case studies.
It's called, "The Plot Thickens: Why Case Studies Create New Customers."
It will show how to use story-telling techniques to sell your products or services.
I'm proofing it now and will be making it available free on this site within a few days. When you read it, I would be very grateful for your feedback as well as any reviews you might want to make on your own blogs or web sites. Also, feel free to forward it to anyone you wish.
Again, I should have it posted here sometime this week.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Labels: case studies
"The essence of a well-written case study is to have a third party enthusiastically talk about your company's selling proposition." David Leland
This simple statement by David Leland in his blog, Writing Killer Case Studies just jumped out at me when I read it.
We all give more credence to a third party endorsement than we do to a slick Madison Avenue ad campaign. We know that this third party, who is usually and enthusiastic customer, not a paid actor, is someone who truly believes what he or she is saying about the company's product or service.
But a case study is much more than just a third party endorsement. It is the company's selling proposition told in the form of a true story. When we read a story, we read about the pain of a real problem that is attacked head on and eventually solved.
Think about any story, movie, novel, play or true memoir that has ever held you spellbound. They all had a ruthless enemy, a villain, a natural disaster, a horrible disease, or an impossible mission to overcome. Stories are about problems that are beaten by heroic characters.
Well-written case studies have all the power of a best-selling novel or a blockbuster movie. They show your customer as the sympathetic hero who must face these problems and challenges. They also show your company as the mentor to the hero.
In other words, in a case study story, your customer is the Luke Skywalker, the problem is the Darth Vader and your company is the Obi-Wan Kenobi who mentors and guides Luke through the problem-solving process.
When would you want to use case studies to get your message out?
- When what you sell is expensive,
- When what you sell is new, or represents a new way of doing things,
- When the customer may not easily understand the benefits your product or service offers,
- When adopting your solution would require a significant change for the customer's company,
- When the customer's company is entrenched in a relationship with a competitor, even though doing business with you would give them many more benefits,
- When selling your product or service involves making a difficult and complex concept more easily understood,
- When the customer's company has many levels of decision makers, any one of whom has the power to say "No."
- When your customers tend to be blissfully unaware or in denial about a potentially devestating problem,
- When your own company is not well known,
- Or when you have a great story to tell, but you are not getting buzz and two-way conversations that are so vital to doing business on the web today.
Chances are, your company has a story to tell and has customers who have success stories worth reporting. If so, start getting your case studies written so you can spread the word.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Labels: case studies
The New Rules of Marketing & PR
I've never written a multi-part book review, but I already know that no review of David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing & PR could do it justice in a single article.
I've only read four chapters so far and nearly every page has sections highlighted, Post It notes attached or my own additional comments written in the margins. I keep finding myself putting the book down just to think about what Scott is telling me.
In other words, The New Rules of Marketing & PR is such a wealth of information that I am going to give you my reviews on the installment plan as I go along.
So strap yourself in and let's get started.
Let's begin with Scott's experience back in 2006 when he wanted to buy a new car. Like most of us these days, he went online to gather information first.
His first stops were the big three U.S. automakers' websites. "At all three," he said, "I was assaulted on the home page with a barrage of TV-style broadcast advertising. And all the one-way messages focused on price."
"All three of these sites assume that I'm ready to buy a car now. But I actually just wanted to learn something."
Lest we all snicker at how automakers just don't get it, we should recognize that this is the approach most companies are taking with the web. They are simply trying to adapt the old advertising, marketing and PR campaigns to a new media. It's laziness really, rather than learn new strategies, they (meaning most businesses) simply want to slap on the tried and true ways of yesteryear's marketing to the internet without learning the new rules.
The first new rule, according to one of my own aforementioned comments in the margins, is that people search the web for information, not canned commercial messages.
Scott goes on to say:
At each site, I felt as if I was being marketed to with a string of messages that had been developed in a lab or via focus groups...If I had wanted to see TV car ads, I would have flipped on the TV....They were luring me in with one-way messages, not educating me about the companies' products. Guess what? When I arrive at a site, you don't need to grab my attention; you already have it.
Contrast this with the experience Scott had when he found places like Edmund's Car Space, a free consumer-driven social networking site. Here he found photo albums posted by owners of various makes and models, user groups categorized again by makes and models, favorite links of the car owners. He even found over 2,000 messages by owners just on the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
This is the kind of site a person who wants information will seek out, not a site that simply throws advertisements at us. I've said it before, but most sites I look at still remind me of a brochure or some company's Yellow Page ad.
What is so exceptional about The New Rules of Marketing & PR is that Scott provides a roadmap that anyone can use. Whether you are a big company or a mom and pop. A non profit, an artist, a major corporation, a rock band or a church or a politician.
As I confessed earlier, I am just getting the tip of the iceberg so far. But the sweep Scott gives in this book is very impressive. He discusses blogs, podcasts, forums and wikis, viral buzz, YouTube, content-rich web sites (music to my ears), online PR campaigns, thought leadership, SEO press releases, social networking and much more.
In short, The New Rules of Marketing & PR is a college course on how to use the web's new tools to get your message out.
As I said before, I cannot possibly fit this book review in one single article. I plan to make this a series. It is by far the best book on web marketing and PR I've read in a long time. So see you next time.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Michael Stelzner, in an April 2007 article on his Writing White Papers blog, wrote about 5 Reasons White Papers Are Marketing Super Weapons.
As always, Michael shares some excellent insights into why white papers are so effective as a marketing strategy. Although a year old, I still wanted to mention this article sites because he sites five different sources to show why white papers are:
- 1. A highly effective way to generate leads,
- 2. Read more than other marketing materials,
- 3. Highly viral marketing tools with high pass-along readership,
- 4. Rated high by business leaders as a key source for helping them make decisions,
- 5. Popular resources for businesses looking for solutions to problems.
One of the reasons I agree with Michael's assessment of the value of white papers is that they are usually (or at least should be) written in an objective, non-pushy style.
Now as soon as I wrote those words, I immediately thought of several bad examples I've come across recently, but the point is still the same. A well-written white paper is permiated with objectivity and credibility. The audience for white papers are people who want to find out ways to solve a problem. And this group will sniff out a thinly-disguised sales piece in a New York minute.
A very easy way to maintain the credibility of your own white paper is to avoid the words "is" and "are."
Such as, "The XBG widget is the best product on the market." Take out the word, "is" and you now have to provide proof and supporting information to make your claim. Such as, "Widget Manufacturers Report ranks the XBG widget as the best model they've seen in a decade."
White papers are all about credibility and objectivity. When done right, they truly are marketing super weapons.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Labels: white papers
A Review of Chirstine O'Kelly's ebook, "How to Write Optimized Press Releases"
I've been an SEO writer for three years now and I am still learning new search engine optimization tips. My latest learning experience came from reading Christine O'Kelly's ebook, How to Write Search Engine Optimized Press Releases, which she offers at her website, www.selfmadechick.com (the ebook is free, all she asks is that you subscribe to her RSS feed in exchange for the download).
The first point O'Kelly makes is that with so many online press release submission sites, it makes sense to send out releases not only to get favorable mention in the media, but also for the inbound links from the submission sites themselves.
In this regard, an SEO writer would not only be writing for a human audience, but for search engine robots as well – similar to submitting online articles to sites like www.ezinearticles.com.
Each submission site enables other online and offline media to pull the press releases for publication on their own sites, providing the opportunity for an SEO writer to create viral distribution of each release.
But even if a press release is not picked up by any other source, the submission site itself will often have a high page ranking and will point back to your site.
The second point O'Kelly makes is something of a surprise, but I think she is on to something here.
SEO writers are often faced with a conflict between writing keyword-dense headlines and writing headlines that humans find irresistible to click.
She says that given a choice between writing headlines that will persuade human readers to click your link, or to fill the headline with keywords to attract a search engine, the SEO writer should choose the keywords first. In her own words, "if you have to choose, pick keyword over clickable."
She supports her keyword-first approach by pointing out that the human reader will not see the link if it does not get a good ranking.
Fortunately, she then solves the need to get humans to click on the links by suggesting that a subtitle be added to the press release that is designed to get clicks. A neat solution to a consistent problem.
Her third point is to write an SEO, keyword-rich summary for each press release. This summary is often reprinted in the search results for the human reader to see, with the keywords in bold text. And of course it is also another opportunity for the search engines to pick up the theme of your release and rank it accordingly.
The final point (note: O'Kelly doesn't say this explicitly, but this is a point I took away from her book) regards an old habit I may now have to break.
I've always held to the notion that press releases should really hit the "newsworthiness" button hard. In other words, in the offline world, you don't want to get the reputation of wasting an editor's time with trivial press releases.
But with online press releases submitted to submission sites, this is not quite as demanding a standard.
This is not to say it is okay to submit a lot of junk, self-serving press releases that have no hope of ever being picked up by other media sources. But it does broaden the scope of what is, and what is not, newsworthy.
A new product or service, a new published report or ebook, a newly hired executive or partnership, might all become good topics for press releases.
As I read Christine O'Kelly's ebook, I was more than a little surprised that she is giving it away free of charge. I highly recommend it to any SEO writer or webmaster who is looking for more ways to get targeted traffic to their websites. Check it out at How I Ranked in 5 of the Top 10 Search Results in Google.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Hopefully your website is doing just fine and you are getting search engine traffic because you have followed the rules for SEO copywriting, and your website content is written to sell. But if both of these conditions are not true, read on.
I recently posted a test ad on Craigslist.org with the same headline as this article, "Why Isn't Your Website Making Money?" and was flooded with calls.
Obviously I hit a nerve here because a lot of companies, both large and small, are just not getting the revenue from their sites that they want, expect and need.
When I look at these sites, I see two distinct problems:
- First, the sites are simply not written to attract search engine traffic. There is either no concerted effort to target specific keywords over and over again so that search engines will determine a specific "theme" to your site and send relevant traffic your way.
Or, the keywords targeted are too competitive and you will never rise to the first pages of Google or Yahoo's search results.
Let's say, for example, you have a travel site. If you are simply targeting the keywords, "travel," or "vacations," your chances of rising to the top of the search engines are somewhere between slim and none.
But if you target keywords like, "honeymoon adventure travel," or "family adventure vacations," your competition is much less and you will find your rise up the search engines will be much faster.
But how do you use these keywords in your website's content? The rule of thumb is to use them enough but not too much. You definitely want to use your main keywords in your website's title and in the URL (for example, if your site's name is "Honeymoon Adventure Travel Ideas," the URL should be http://honeymoonadventuretravel.com).
The next point of SEO writing is to sprinkle the main keywords throughout your text. As I mentioned in a recent article called, Dynamic Copywriting: Writing for Search Engine Traffic, the ideal is to write your keywords about 4 to 6 times per 100 words. Less than this and you won't get noticed, more and Google at least may regard your site as a spam site.
- You must write website content that sells. I recently wrote another article called, Dynamic Copywriting: My Formula For Writing Money-Making Website Content, in which I gave a list of ideas for making websites more profitable.
But they key for a profitable website is to write content that is informative and valuable to the visitor. Literally you want to make your site a resource for people who are potential buyers of what you sell.
The mistake many website owners make is to write content that is little different from their company brochures or Yellow Page ads. The web is simply a different medium altogether.
The second reason people use the internet (after pornography) is to find information. But most websites fail to deliver written content that meets this purpose. And a site that fails on this level will not be bookmarked and not be returned to. And more importantly, it will not collect leads or make sales.
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: "Writing website content that delivers problem-solving information will make sales for your company."
Of course there is a balance between SEO writing and writing website content that makes money. Basically it requires writing for two different audiences, machines and humans.
The search engines want writing that can help them identify what your site is all about and whether your keywords are relevant to its theme.
On the other hand, humans will be quickly distracted by writing that seems to plug in keywords randomly or in a way that makes the content seem disjointed.
The point is that SEO writing gets visitors to your site, but good website content writing gets those visitors to take action.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
I've written before that one of the key components of writing website content that makes sales and attracts new clients, is to use your website as a platform to build your email subscriber list.
Frankly, a website that does not generate leads is a waste of internet real estate and certainly a waste of the company's time and money.
Along those lines, I want to direct your attention to a great article on http://marketingprofs.com called Four Ways To Build Your Email File Organically: It Is So Worth The Wait by Kimberly Snyder
The really great thing about Snyder's advice is that it will not be difficult or expensive to implement. Just a few tweaks to your website and you should really see a big improvement in number of email opt ins you receive.
Writing website content is an ongoing process. You learn new ideas and you put them into practice and then test the results. Snyder's four ideas are no different. But I think you will see the results very quickly.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
A lot of businesses have noticed their competitors posting white papers on their websites and have become aware of the tremendous increase in the number of them being written and circulated on the internet. So it's only natural that they ask, "What products or services could be marketed better with white papers?"
According to Perry Marshall, a well-known writer who specializes in white papers, almost all papers are written for the b2b (business to business) market. Few, if any, are for the business-to-consumer market.
Marshall goes on to say that there are three types of situations when a white paper is called for:
- When your company is introducing a new product or service. This is especially true when what you offer is intended to solve a problem the customer may not fully understand or appreciate.
- When your company sells a product or service that is complex and requires a white paper to explain in simple terms what you do. Often your buyer will have to explain your product or service to others within her organization and your white paper will aid in that communication.
- When your company sells an expensive product or service. When a major expenditure is involved, someone's job may be at stake if the money is not spent wisely. A white paper is a vital part of the due diligence process for that person or team. Just having your paper in their file demonstrates that they sought out information before making the purchase.
All this means that a white paper must have an air of objectivity to it. Unfortunately, to many people the term "white paper" has become synonymous with "thinly disguised sales pitch."
Yes a white paper must transition into a persuasive document and end with a call for action, but it must first establish itself as a document that can be trusted to present the facts without an undue slant.
White Papers are Problem-Solving Documents
One way to approach this is to begin with a problem that must be solved. Studies have shown that we are much more motivated by the fear of loss or avoidance of pain, than we are by the promise of gain. So spending time focusing on a problem, why some solutions will not work or are extremely costly, is time well spent.
And, if written without hyperbole, it does not disrupt the sense of objectivity you want to project.
Admit Flaws and Limitations
A second way to establish credibility and objectivity is to admit some shortcomings with your product or service. Clearly you want to use this method sparingly, but the key is to not try to present what you sell as the best thing since white bread, because it is not. Instead use its flaws and limitations to position it in the market place.
I remember going on a family vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina when I was 10 yeas old. My parents had driven all day and were tired (my brothers and I just wanted out of the car to go swimming).
But when we got to the beach, all the name-brand hotels had their "No Vacancy" signs out. So we drove to the second street from the beach and my parents found a humble little place with a sign out front that said, "Not Fancy – But Clean."
That was all my exhausted parents wanted. They felt that even if we only stayed one night and changed hotels, it would be worth it to find a place to stay for now.
And sure enough, the hotel lived up to its claim and was clean, comfortable and very pleasant. We stayed all week and never changed to a different hotel.
And I learned a valuable copywriting lesson about positioning what you sell by admitting what it isn't.
Praise a Competitor
A third way to build credibility and demonstrate your objectivity is to say positive things about your competition. Again, you don't want to go overboard doing this, but think of using this idea hand in hand with the previous point of admitting your product or service's flaws.
For example, a law firm that specializes in working for small business franchise owners, could easily admit that one of their competitors has an expertise in the area of corporate mergers.
Even if this other firm is a competitor in other areas, by making a positive statement about that firm's expertise in mergers, the first firm can position itself as being an expert in the own area of franchise law.
Jay Levinson advocates this idea in his Guerrilla Marketing books. The point is not to send your own business away to an other firm, but to position yourself, by re-positioning your competition.
This in effect not only tells your reader that you are objective enough to say good things about competitors, it also allows you to position your competitor as they other guy who does something else.
Be careful about what kind of white papers your company produces. If they come across as thinly disguised sales pitches, you will lose all the credibility you had hoped to gain. Of course you are writing your white paper to sell something, but this is not the format to push too hard. This is a document that must maintain its air of objectivity above all else.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Most websites exist to sell something. Whether it is to sell a product, a service, or to raise support for a non-profit organization, most websites must make money to justify their existence.
But the reality is that most websites fail on this very basic level. I have observed way too many sites that are little more than an electronic version of a company's brochure or Yellow Page ad.
The problem, in my view, is a failure to write website content that sells. My elevator speech for prospective clients is that "I write the words on websites that turn casual visitors into customers."
That statement puts the spotlight not on a website's graphics or design, but on the "words" that make up its content. And "words that sell," I believe, is what separates websites that make money from those that don't.
To write website content that sells, I have developed the following format that I use when writing content for my own clients:
- Adopt the style of a successful magazine. The magazine industry is one group that really understands their customers. They conduct massive amounts of research on who their readers are, what they want to learn about, what they like and dislike, what products they buy, what problems they face, and on and on.
Then they present the information their readers want in a format that is highly readable and interesting.
They use both stories and useful, problem-solving information.
Think about how often you or someone you know has clipped out an article from a magazine and passed it along or just kept it for their own use. Maybe it was an interesting story, maybe it was a "how to" problem-solving list article, or maybe it was a warning of a potential problem you had little previous knowledge of.
If you begin writing your website content with a magazine format in mind, you will be able to develop the same loyal readership a successful periodical has.
- At the risk of repeating what has already been mentioned, know your ideal customers or clients, and the problems they face. Write several case studies about real clients you helped to solve these problems for. Write separate case studies for separate problems so visitors can identify with the problems they themselves are facing.
- Write your own story. If you are a sole practitioner, write about how you got into your business and what challenges you overcame. If you are a bigger business, write briefly about your history, your company culture and what your organization's driving passion is. People do business with people they know and like, so help them to know and like you.
- Write a "Difference Page." Why are you different from your competitors and why should someone choose to do business with you instead of the other guy. Don't use lame platitudes like, "We have 20 years experience," or unsubstantiated boasts like, "We deliver excellence."
Develop a real positioning statement with meaningful benefits. This is also the place to write about your "Unique Selling Proposition" or USP. (See USPs: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful Unique Selling Proposition for ideas on how to write compelling USPs).
- Include a Direct Response piece. One of the most important jobs of your website is to capture leads for follow up. Offer something for free (more problem-solving information, possibly a white paper or a report) that will induce visitors to leave their email addresses with you in order to receive your free offer.
- Develop a follow up system. This does not mean you hand your leads over to a sales staff right away. Use an autoresponder to "drip" on these leads by offering them a continuing stream of more free, non self-serving information that is of value to your readers.
Only about 10% of your prospects are in a "buy now" mode, the rest are potential customers for some time in the future. By sending them regular emails via an autoresponder, you will position yourself as the number one provider of your product or service in their minds.
- Give visitors a call to action. Make that lots of calls to action. Give your visitors frequent opportunities to opt do something, anything, to advance the sale.
You can provide several opt in forms for your lead list, or you can mention reasons to call you for a consultation (followed by an immediate placement of your telephone number so they won't have to look too hard to find it).
If you sell products, strategically place shopping cart forms in several places on your site. You can also have buttons that enable visitors to email articles to other people so you can expand your network of visitors.
- Sprinkle testimonials and quotes from your customers throughout your site. Place them in sidebars on every page that is feasible to do so. When possible, even include a photograph of the customer who made the testimonial.
- Post a Frequently Asked Questions page. FAQs are often the first place a visitor will turn to when they encounter a new site. Gather both real questions you have been asked and also include questions you know people should be asking but lack the knowledge to think of.
- Links to useful information. Use this option sparingly as you don't want to give visitors too many ways to leave your site, but you still want your website to be a resource to your target audience. Sometimes you can gather articles from other sources and reprint them entirely on your site (a good place to find such articles is www.ezinearticles.com).
- Tutorials and Checklists. Depending on what business you are in, it may sometimes be helpful to provide step by step instruction about the process involved with buying your particular product or service.
- Product descriptions. Finally, you need to include the one thing that dominates most other websites, your list of products or services. Most of your competitors' websites will be all about their product offerings and little else.
But because you have taken great pains to educate your visitors and provide a resource full of case studies and valuable information, your product list will not be as off putting as if you just tried to cram them down visitors' throats.
Every website, of course, is different. What works for one company will not work for others, which means my "formula" is not a one size fits all solution. But I have found that this format produces some very effective websites for those clients who want a site that attracts visitors who will return again and again.
Such a site builds brand loyalty and positions you as experts in your field.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
This is the big dilemma for companies who need to produce and market white papers. The natural choice to write your company's white papers would seem to be an engineer or technical person with an understanding of the nuances of the product or service being presented.
However, at the risk of gross generalization, insiders have a notoriously difficult time breaking free of their field's jargon, which they need to communicate with their peers. The same technical language that helps them do their work, makes it hard to make difficult concepts understandable for outsiders.
Certainly there are many engineers, lawyers or other highly specialized people who are excellent writers and communicators, but they are in the minority.
On the other hand, an outside writer may have difficulty mastering the technical concepts that are at the heart of a white paper. Those of us who were English majors chose our field for a reason. That reason being we wanted to steer as far away from the science and engineering fields as we could.
There are, however, ways for the non-technical writer to grasp and communicate even the most difficult concepts to the average reader.
- First, the writer needs strong interviewing skills. A good interviewer can coax layer upon layer of information out of anyone. In this regard, the white paper writer is like a journalist who must become a minor expert on a lot of topics in order to report on them to the general public.
- Next, the writer must develop good research skills. I never go into an interview without first doing as much research as I can on the topic I will be writing on. The more knowledge I have acquired beforehand, the better questions I can ask during the interview, and the clearer my final white paper will be.
- The non-technical person doesn't assume some facts are obvious. On several occasions I have had the opportunity to teach workshops or classes on various subjects. Interestingly, when I personally had difficulty learning the subject matter, I was better able to teach it. Why? Because I had to work hard to learn the material and therefore I knew what areas could be misunderstood or confusing.
- The writer should look for the "stories" involved with a product. What problems did an actual customer face before using the product and how did it solve those problems afterwards? What challenges did the research and development team face and overcome in the process of developing the product? These stories are the building blocks for excellent case studies that can be used in the final white paper.
- The writer must not lose sight of the fact that a white paper is, first and foremost, a persuasive document. Technical details come in second to influencing the reader to take action. The best way I know to persuade is to find out what the reader wants and show them how to get it. This means anticipating every possible question and every possible objection and crafting a compelling response to each one.
- Finally, the writer as an outsider is better able to distinguish features from benefits. It's an old story, but to insiders, the mere mention of the "XYZ widget with its turbo booster conductor coil" means fuel economy. But the outsider who is always willing to withstand rolling eyeballs and ask, "What does the XYZ widget with its turbo booster conductor coil do?" can learn and communicate the fact that this device will save the customer 35% of its annual fuel costs.
Obviously, there is no absolute right answer to the question of whether a technical insider or a non-technical writer / outsider is better able to write a quality white paper. Situations vary and there are advantages to either choice. So examine your options and take a hard look at your needs and the talent you have available for the project.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Labels: white papers
Recently I've noticed a big increase in businesses contacting me to write white papers for them. I think it's no coincidence that these calls are coming my way during what looks to be a long and difficult economic downturn.
White papers are remarkable and effective selling tools that smart companies have been using for a long time, but when the economy gets rocky, they may be even more vital in bringing in new business.
Companies that offer a complex product or service, or solve complex problems, will particularly find that white papers can drive business their way . Most often companies using white papers for their marketing are in technical or engineering fields. But I am also seeing law firms, architectural firms, energy companies, consulting firms, medical equipment companies, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, manufacturers, banks and investment houses, and accounting firms using them.
But as diverse as these industries are, they all have one thing in common: They will have to compete even harder to attract new business in the coming economy. For them, and actually for any business, white papers are becoming an essential marketing tool.
Michael A. Steizner, the author of "Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged," says that a good white paper reads like an informative magazine article, while at the same time it is a persuasive document. In other words, it is both highly readable and it sells by offering solutions to real problems the audience is experiencing.
One rule of thumb that has helped me when writing white papers is to remember that only about half of the readers will be technical people who speak the jargon of the field I am writing for. My job, therefore, is to make difficult concepts easy to understand for those non-technical people, without losing the technical audience in the process.
Some of the ways I have found to approach this balance are:
- Use case studies. Just as a good magazine article includes stories to illustrate what is being written about, case studies bring the problem and solution to life for the reader. Additionally, case studies add credibility and involve the reader emotional level.
- Focus on the problem your product or service solves, not the product or service itself. Readers, frankly, are not all that interested in you, your company or your wonderful gadgets until they can see what they will do for them.
- Emphasize, I really mean emphasize, benefits. Like all marketing documents, benefits are the be all and end all. Ask yourself, what will this widget do for the reader? What pain is the reader experiencing or what pain does the reader want to avoid? What does the reader want to gain? What will change for the reader if she solves this particular problem?
- Admit flaws. This may sound counter-intuitive, but admitting your product or service's limitations can be one of the biggest credibility boosters you can use. Especially if you admit the flaw in a way that it also sets up a powerful benefit. For example if you are a law firm that has a very narrow practice niche, telling what you don't do can be used to demonstrate that you do your one thing very, very well.
- Create a before and after scenario for the reader. Unlike a case study, which is a factual story about a real client, you can also write a story in which the reader is the main character. Complacency often rules the day because it is human nature to simply cope with a problem rather than solve it. So pour a little salt into the wound of the existing situation by reminding the reader of the cost and pain of the unresolved problem. Then paint a picture of the reader's company enjoying the benefits of your solution.
- Demonstrate the risk of not taking action. Paint a realistic picture of what will happen to the reader's company if things keep going the way they are now. While every product or service has a cost, most of the time there is an even bigger cost of NOT buying it. Make sure your reader is aware of this cost for inaction.
- Write to the reader as a person, not merely as a company. This simply means your white paper should be interesting, informative and easily understood. It also means this person will be taking on a personal risk if he makes the decision to buy from you. Take these personal needs into account.
- Provide useful, valuable information. Think of including elements of the white paper's more humble cousin, the tip sheet, in the body of your paper. Over and over again, I have found that white papers that have a section of frequently asked questions (FAQs) or bullet point lists of tips and ideas are the papers that get saved and passed along.
The best white papers focus on the interests and problems of readers. Alternatively, poorly-written papers merely focus on the products and services the company would like to sell, without concentrating on the customers' pain and needs.
Remember, for all the information you must convey in your white paper, in the end it is still a document designed to persuade and sell. And in this economy, it is even more important to keep this in mind.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Let's face the facts. Even if the president doesn't want to use the "R" word, we are already well into a tough economy. That means it is going to be harder for professionals like doctors, lawyers, consultants, accountants and others to attract new clients or get more business from their existing clients.
However there are a few steps professionals can take to still get business coming in the door, regardless of the economy:
- Create "bait" information pieces like white papers, tip sheets or other booklets that provide valuable, free information for prospective clients.
These bait pieces are soft sell devices like, "8 Ways to Save on Property Taxes," "5 Ways to Avoid Getting Sued," or "How to Keep Your Children Well This Winter."
But a hard sell piece like, "10 Reasons Goode, Hailey and Knight Should Be Your Accounting Firm" is not a good bait piece.
- Turn every advertisement into a direct response ad – even Yellow Page or directory ads.
There are two types of advertisements, "awareness" ads and "direct response" ads. Awareness ads just tell prospects that you exist and if they have nothing better to do with their time, to give you a call.
Direct response ads entice readers to take action, such as to call your office or visit your website in order to get your white paper or tip sheet. When you advertise this way, you can actually measure how effective the ad is and make changes along the way.
- Build a list. When people respond to your direct respond ads, collect these "opt in" leads to build a list. This concept is called "Permission Marketing" (based on the book by that name written by Seth Godin). This list of people who have requested your free information may become your most valuable resource, so take good care of it.
- Make your website a resource for people who are prospective and existing clients. Don't be afraid to give away free information, but create more white papers, tip sheets, checklists, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and case studies about some of your clients success stories.
It may sound counter intuitive to give away free information, but you will find that it pays dividends. It gives visitors a reason to keep coming back to your site and it establishes your credibility as an expert in your field.
For those of us who sell our services and knowledge, a tough economy is a time to roll up our sleeves and work smarter. But if you do work smarter, use direct response advertising, build a list and create a website that your prospects view as a resource, you will be rewarded while your competitors tread water.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Combining the skills of a website content writer and an SEO writer
Almost all websites need search engine traffic, but few web content copywriters know how to combine SEO ("Search Engine Optimization") techniques with writing persuasively for humans. In other words, there is a special skill for writing for search engine traffic.
First think about what is at stake. Your site can be full of really useful and well-written content, but if people cannot find your site, they will never buy what you are selling.
The key is you have to write for both humans and search engines like Google, Yahoo, Lycos, Ask.com or any of the other billion or so search engines out there.
I know this sounds like a difficult balancing act, but it can be done. Here's how:
- Know the keywords you want to target. A "keyword" is something of a misnomer because they are often more than a single word. A helpful way to think about keywords is to equate them with "search phrases" that a person might ype into Google in order to find the kind of information you have on your site.
I'll give you an example. The other day I did a Google search for, "how to get coffee stains out of carpet" (big stain - white carpet - I'll spare you the details). As a result of this search, I found several sites but the results on the first page all had content that used the phrase, "how to get coffee stains out of carpet" verbatum.
So just remember, if you can identify the exact or closely related terms a searcher will type into a search engine to find information about your topic, put those terms in your site's content.
- Longer search phrases, if they contain over four words other than null words like "and, the, or," etc. are called "long tail keywords."
Long tail keywords are your SEO bread and butter, because these searchers are looking for highly targeted information AND these searchers have been shown to be more highly motivated to buy now.
- Put your best keywords in your site's title and url if you are targeting this narrow niche and just building the site now. If it is an existing site or if this keyword only pertains to a subtopic, use the keywords on the title to this section.
- Use your keywords throughout your text. Optimally, use them 4 to 5 times per 100 words. Don't go overboard because search engines (especially Google) will penalize you and demote your ranking. The reason is because to a search engine robot, too many keywords looks like a spam site.
COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown