How Long Should Your Content Marketing Articles Be?

How long your content marketing articles are is critical to their success, but there is no one right length. How long any particular article should be depends on what that article’s purpose is, who you’re trying to reach, and where they are in the buying process.

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve got two very different voices whispering in your ears about length for your content marketing materials. They may not be devil and angel exactly, but they are most certainly not in agreement.

On the one hand, er, shoulder, you’ve got a voice telling you that nobody reads anymore, everyone scans, so don’t bother making long-form content. Keep it short and digestible.

On the other shoulder, there is a voice (perhaps in the form of your SEO expert) telling you that every article needs to break at least 300 words — ideally, 500 — to effectively rank well.

As you try to decide which voice to heed, here are a few things to consider.

What Data Tells Us About Content Length

A quick Google search will give you all sorts of information about how long your content marketing pages should be.

Plenty of sources will site the 300- to 500-word minimum mentioned above.

Neil Patel says that he focuses on content in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. (While, at the same time, advising us to not write content that is too in-depth!)

Seth Godin seems to be doing quite well for himself with much shorter content.

So who’s right? Everyone and no one. Patel is doing what works for him. Godin has found a different path. You could — and should — argue that those aren’t really fair comparisons, as both of those marketers are “stars” on some level, and have much larger followings than you might.

That’s the point, though; there are always mitigating circumstances. And what’s right for you won’t necessarily work for someone else. Which means what the data should tell you is that you need to gather your own data.

Start with whatever you’re comfortable doing. If more frequent, shorter pieces feel right, dive right in. If you feel that longer-form articles are more your speed, that’s great. In either case, track what you’re doing, monitor the results, and experiment with content at other lengths. (And in other formats, for that matter.)

That’s the only way to find out what your audience wants from you.

What Is Your Article Designed to Do?

The next question you should be asking is, “What is my goal for this content?” Presumably, you’ll publish content of different types and with different goals in mind. Long-form content may be just the ticket for prospects who are close to making a buying decision, while shorter pieces that link to a lead magnet of some kind are the right way to gain trust with prospects who are just discovering you.

Similar differences might exist for different audience segments or for different product/service lines you may be marketing. Be sure you match the length and format of your content to its intended purpose and audience.

How to Use Varying Content Lengths to Your Advantage

Once we come to understand that different content lengths will work for us in different ways, we can layer on the ways in which our content elements should relate to one another. One popular way of thinking about this is the solar system model.

As you’d imagine, the idea here is to have a variety of “smaller” content elements orbiting around a bigger piece of cornerstone content. Not all of those orbiting pieces will necessarily be shorter, but there will be a general progression of large to small as you move away from the center.

For example, a how-to guide in the form of an eBook might be your cornerstone content. Each chapter of that book could perhaps be developed into a presentation (and slide deck) of its own. Many of the slides in that deck might work well as individual short videos.

Don’t Forget the Common Sense

What’s important to keep in mind is that while copy length does matter for your content marketing, there is no ideal length for all content marketing articles. There are many ideal lengths.

If you’re just starting out — or are wiping the decks and making a fresh start — and aren’t sure what lengths will work, it may be helpful to think about the conversations your sales, marketing, and customer service teams have with your prospects and clients. There will be an arc to those conversations that should guide the depth of your content for prospects at various places in the buying process. Your content length should match that arc.

When you’ve got it right, your data will let you know, and you would be wise to match your ongoing work to your data — while still experimenting to find the next great sweet spot for your content marketing.

Persuasive Copy That Sells: It’s Not About the Words

You remember those lists of powerful words we marketers use to use to guide copywriting for short-term response and sales? You remember that persuasive copy. “Limited Time,” “Only One Left,” “Don’t Miss Out,” “Never to Be Offered Again,” “Big Discounts,” “Guaranteed,” and “Free,” “Free” and “Free.”

You remember those lists of powerful words we marketers use to use to guide copywriting for short-term response and sales? You remember that persuasive copy. “Limited Time,” “Only One Left,” “Don’t Miss Out,” “Never to Be Offered Again,” “Big Discounts,” “Guaranteed,” and “Free,” “Free” and “Free.”

And for a long while, those words printed in bright big bold graphics worked. They got response and they drove sales, and helped launch many direct marketing careers and agencies.

Just as many of you might remember building “urgent” direct mail copy, you might also remember that point of diminishing returns from using all of those “powerful” words. And the point at which your CEO and board of directors were not so okay with that average 1% response of direct marketing campaigns.

Things have changed. And they are not going back. We’re just not in an era where smartphones rule our lives, we are in a perpetual era where smart consumers rule markets, and aren’t believing those brand claims or promises any more. They’re also not caring if it is the very last seat on that flight at that price. They’ve heard it before, and seen it not be real, so they don’t care and they don’t respond.

Smart consumers don’t believe marketing any more. We’ve used those lines way too long and not delivered on promises we’ve made. Conscious choices are built upon values, personality and giving natures of brands. Brands that give back to the earth, people and causes don’t use price discounts or sales gimmicks to drives sales. And never will have to. Apple, Patagonia, Starbucks and Newman’s food products, are just a few of the “feel good” brands that people purchase, regardless of infrequent sales discounts and promotions. They don’t have to lower prices to make people feel good about purchasing from them.

That last statement above is the “key” to copywriting and overall marketing that works in today’s Smart Consumer environment — copy, stories, social and live engagement — that makes us feel good about ourselves and our role in helping drive good, amid the daily chaos we experience and witness.

Marketing copy strategies that align with “feeling good” address many aspects of human nature and what really influences us to change our behavior. It’s no longer about the words we use to influence behavior, it’s about the values we project, our brands, and the values of those we want to do business with us.

Here are some examples of how we can persuade with good values vs. just “good “ words:

Good Character

One of the five drivers of human happiness, according to Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” is being part of something that does good in the world. This new generation of customers not only seeks to do good in the world themselves, they seek to purchase from and align with brands that also do good in the world. If a brand just makes good products for good prices, that is not good enough for many consumers. According to Cone Communications research, more than 90% of consumers want to purchase from brands that give back to humanitarian or environmental causes, and around 80% of consumers will switch brands if their current brand is not aligned with their same “do good” values and able to show a direct impact, monetarily. (Opens as a PDF)

Good Place

We are wired to seek safety, comfort and security, no matter how successful we are, or powerful we may think we are. Its all part of the “survival of the fittest” mentality our species adheres to daily — socially, financially, physically and emotionally — whether we admit or acknowledge it. Brands that help consumers find and secure a “good” place in life are brands that win trial and secure loyalty, no matter what they are selling. What is the security that your brand provides? What is the comfort you deliver? These are the things you should write about in your content, your social posts, your marketing campaigns, even your packaging. All those promises of “best” quality, service, price, value are meaningless. We’ve all been there, done that, and now we want more. We want to feel safe and made that way by a brand we trust and a brand that has our same values.

Good Product Values

Of course, good products matter, too. Patagonia sold around $156 million in products with an ad that said “Don’t buy this jacket.” Instead, its call to action was to let customers repair their current jackets and save resources from the earth and money for themselves. However, this was so aligned with its customers’ core values, people bought those jackets and other products, anyway. But ads that promote your values really work best when your product has value, too. So as you promote the values you cherish for brand character, you need to promote what you do to add value to your products or services. Do you base your production protocols upon quality management processes and systems that have been certified by third parties? Do you add value in ways that others’ don’t, such as added features, warranties, extended return periods and so on? How can you communicate what goes into your product development that stands out from competitors’ products?

Words that communicate the above “good values” are the “words” that will stand out and help secure new sales, new levels of loyalty and new referrals. In marketing today, talk or “words” are cheap. Values drive value beyond price and imagination.

Marketing Copywriting: Does ‘Anal Retentive’ Have a Hyphen?

There wouldn’t even be a brouhaha over one space or two if even having a marketing copywriting style guide as a reference didn’t seem so out of style.

There are many stellar copywriters out there. And there are equally great editors. But can we please have a marketing copywriting style guide?

You see, there appear to be (too) many discussions around the all-important matter of how many spaces a writer should place after an end punctuation. Two spaces later, and now I’ve added another one.

There’s the one-space marketing copywriting camp: the digerati, journalism (both digital and print), chronic text users, rule haters, possibly job-screeners looking to weed out (illegally, even in fun) anyone over 40 by examining their written work. Journalism? I received an “F” once in a J-school assignment, because my professor called me out for using two spaces after at full stop. Paper costs money, even if a Twitter character doesn’t.

And there’s the two-space marketing copywriting camp: Book publishing, science, aesthetics, rule respecters from days-long-past childhood education, and perhaps anyone anally retentive. Oh, did I say science? Yes, even researchers have weighed in on this weighty matter. And you knew it was coming … the digerati quickly responded: Mental Floss, and I really appreciate LifeHacker’s investigative response.

Punctuation in Marketing Copywriting: One or Two, Oh My! Whatever Are We to Do?!

I have to say, I’m flabbergasted by all this concern (or lack thereof) over marketing copywriting punctuation.

First, I demand that any HR professional who screens job applicants based on one-space use or two — as a tacit means for age discrimination — ought to be fired, and the company he or she works for sued to high heaven. (Good luck proving it.)

Second, I thank the researchers who have “proven” that all our eyes need a break — even if it’s only a couple of pixels. Dear reader, I know I’m prone to write long, drawn-out sentences, and I apologize. I’ve always suspected you needed a break — and, as a default, I’ve always sought to give you one. No matter what font is used.

Third, perhaps all we really need is a marketing copywriting style guide — and adhere to it. When I get a freelance assignment, one question I often ask, “Is there a style guide for your company or publication? If not, do you default to Associated Press, Wired or Chicago Manual of Style?“ Even studying a client’s website, direct mail, official filings or other communications simply to discern if a preference even exists (or not) is helpful. Observe, and do what the client does with marketing copywriting.

Anal-Retentive Marketing Copywriting: Why Bother? Bother

Logically, there wouldn’t even be a brouhaha over one space or two if even having a marketing copywriting style guide as a reference didn’t seem so out of style.

Perhaps “anything goes” and “break all rules” is the new style — and thus, I’ve wasted your time reading this column, as I get nostalgic for consistency, order, attention to detail, and a layer of copy editors and proofreaders who no longer exist in the world of on-demand communication. But as we throw away the style guides, do we have to throw away the fact-checkers, too?

I guess, these days, that’s also a matter of style. At least there will be no eye strain here, today.

[Editor’s Note: The editors of Target Marketing have removed one space after each of Chet’s sentences. He is now informed: It’s our style!]

Copywriting for the Most of Awareness Levels

A fundamental of copywriting is to write to the awareness levels of your prospects. But all too often, the awareness level of prospects is overlooked. … and it’s perhaps the most important aspect of writing a promotion.

Branding
“Branding,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Limelight Leads

A fundamental of copywriting is to write to the awareness levels of your prospects. But all too often, the awareness level of prospects is often overlooked. … and it’s perhaps the most important aspect of writing a promotion.

A few weeks ago, I shared a few reasons Why Direct Mail Control Packages Fatigue. And in my last blog, I wrote about Copywriting for the Least of Awareness Levels.

So today, it’s about copywriting for the most aware of your prospects so you can meet them where they are with your copy and offer.

I’ve written about imagining a 1 to 7 scale where a 1 represents that your prospect is completely unaware of any aspect of your product or service, so indirect headlines and leads tend to work best. Conversely, a 7 means your prospect is completely aware where you would use direct headlines and leads. I’ve used information from a class that I teach copywriters for AWAI, along with concepts from a classic direct marketing book, Breaththrough Advertising, by Eugene M. Schwartz. If you missed my last post, read it here for descriptions of Levels 1 to 3.

Levels 5 to 7 are the most aware prospects. Level 4 is where you don’t know whether prospects are aware or not. You should test both direct, and indirect headlines and leads to find out the side of the awareness scale that defines your prospect.

Level Five

Here you’ve crossed the place from unaware (Levels 1-3) to a gradual increase in awareness where your approach can be more direct. If you’ve observed in your own testing, or what a competitor is doing, that success is happening with direct headlines and leads, then enlarge on what’s working.

  • A problem/solution headline or lead will ease you into the awareness side of the scale. This is for prospects who realize they have a problem, and that a solution exists, but they don’t know your product provides the solution.
  • Be mindful that your prospect may become confused if competitors are making claims that aren’t consistent with yours. When that happens, they become skeptical.

Level Six

You’re getting close to that point where your prospects know it all about your product or service. Maybe they’ve bought your product, or a competitor’s product. But there’s still room to introduce something new. Think of it as an opportunity to renew, or restore, a positioning or message.

  • Promise something new that hasn’t been promoted previously.
  • The believability of prior promises could start to become questioned, but if the desire of your market is still there, find a new way to satisfy it (but don’t repeat past claims).
  • Devise a new way to show how your product works.

Level Seven

This level is where your prospects are highly aware of your category of product, and perhaps your brand. They know your product and what it can do for them. They may even be tired of your promises. They’re done with hearing from you and they may not even believe you anymore. So this is where you can use the most direct type of lead.

  • Begin with your offer or an invitation.
  • Find a new credibility element: testimonial or research.
  • Elaborate on something new about your product or service.
  • Better: look for a new feature to refresh your promise.

When you align your message with the worldview of your prospective customer using this awareness scale, your stand a much better opportunity to succeed.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Copywriting for the Least of Awareness Levels

Meeting your prospective customer where they are may be a cliché to many. However, too often, marketers and copywriters still don’t take into account the prospect’s state of awareness about the product or service being offered. As a result, headlines and leads completely miss the mark and fail.

Meeting your prospective customer where they are may be a cliché to many. However, too often, marketers and copywriters still don’t take into account the prospect’s state of awareness about the product or service being offered. As a result, headlines and leads completely miss the mark and fail.

In my last blog post, I shared a few reasons “Why Direct Mail Control Packages Fatigue.”

One reason that messaging — whether for direct mail or any other channel— fatigues is because you lose track of your prospective customer’s state of awareness of their problem, your solution, and where you meet them with your copy and offer.

Imagine a scale of 1 to 7 where a 1 represents that your prospect is completely unaware of any aspect of your product or service. Conversely, a 7 means your prospect is completely aware. If your prospect is completely unaware of any aspect of your product or service, but your message is written at a level of 7, then you have a disconnect. By the way, age or generation seldom has anything to do with an awareness scale.

Of course, you must have good insights about your prospective customers to know where on the scale you want to land. So let’s dive into the first three levels on this scale and begin with ideas about how to reach those with the least awareness of your product or service. . For inspiration, I’ve used information from a class that I teach copywriters for AWAI, along with concepts from a classic direct marketing book, “Breaththrough Advertising,” by Eugene M. Schwartz.

Level One

If you’re at level one, it’s probably because you’re either among the first in the market for a new product or service, or your product or service is only occasionally or rarely considered by any given consumer. Consider this approach:

  • Be simple and direct.
  • Offer context about what you’re offering to solve—even a brief statement that shows you understand the problem the readers is facing.
  • Name the need or the claim in your headline.
  • Bring in your product information and prove that it works.
  • Use a story

Level Two

Here, you expand on what you would do in level one. A declaration headline and lead can be effective:

  • Be bold or even startling.
  • Be concise, engaging, and specific.
  • You’ll need to offer proof of your declaration or testimonials.
  • A newsworthy prediction might work.

Level Three

At this level, your prospects have likely heard the claims. Their desire may be building, so you might shift your approach from what the product does to how it works. Consider using, or adapting the concept of sharing a secret:

  • Promise a secret new way to satisfy a long-time desire.
  • Share an intriguing secret from a credible source.
  • The prospect needs to clearly see how he or she will benefit.
  • If you use a secret, tease it in the headline, then drop clues as your message unfolds.

In my next blog post, I’ll offer ideas about how to reach the most aware levels—levels 5-7—on this awareness scale.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

How Much Repetition Is Too Much?

Recently, I had a conversation with a client and an agency about sales copy. It was the agency staff’s contention there was too much repetition. I disagreed. Which got me to thinking: When is too much repetition, well, too much?

Recently, I had a conversation with a client and an agency about sales copy. It was the agency staff’s contention there was too much repetition. I disagreed. Which got me to thinking: When is too much repetition, well, too much?

When I refer to repetition, I don’t mean repeating a sentence word-for-word, but rather, rephrasing or reframing an idea in another way.

A strong idea or point deserves repeating. Why? People scan. Attention spans are short. And it’s repetition of an idea or unique selling proposition that reduces the chance that the casual reader will miss what’s most important. Skillful repetition of your idea builds long-term memory.

So why do some marketers think repetition is bad?

I think it’s because, all too often, marketers and their creative teams start to believe they are their own prospective customer and, thus, evaluate everything they read through that lens.

In addition, the marketer or copywriter has read the message multiple times, so it’s familiar — too familiar — to them. It’s not being read with a fresh set of eyes. So when they see an idea repeated, even when craftily reworded, it’s perceived as repetitious, and therefore it’s deemed bad, weakening the sales message.

In the not-so-long-ago days of the most successful of direct mail packages, where I had a hand in their creation, a strong idea would be:

  1. Teased on an outer envelope.
  2. Brought to life in a letter’s headline and lead (and probably repeated elsewhere, especially in a long-form letter).
  3. Stated in a brochure, lift note or other enclosure.
  4. And it sure as heck had better have been repeated on the order device …
  5. … and perhaps even snuck, yet again, into the guarantee.

Repetition starts the path to short-term memory which, as a minimum, is needed to clinch the sale. But well-crafted repetition — or reinforcement of an idea, positioning, or unique selling proposition — leads to forming coveted long-term memory. Long-term memory can succeed in converting a prospect into a paying customer. Better yet, with long-term memory of your idea or USP firmly in place, you increase the likelihood for repeat purchases in the future.

My advice: Don’t be afraid to repeat, or rephrase, a thought.

  • When using email, link thoughts from the subject line to the email copy, once opened.
  • For landing pages, use sidebars or other call-outs.
  • Video content can pass quickly — all the more reason to emphasize important points with repetition (and videos on landing pages should emphasize what the page says).

People scan. Their eyes dart around on a webpage or printed piece. Attention spans are short.

Don’t assume that one passing mention of an important selling message or concept is going to be quickly absorbed by the casual reader. It won’t. Repetition may feel too strong to the marketing team, but chances are your prospective customer is going to remember your message.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Direct Mail: It’s All in the Letter

Recently, direct mail letters have gotten a bad reputation, but a good letter can really generate sales. How do you know if you have a good letter or not? We will break it down for you here.

direct mail letter

Recently, direct mail letters have gotten a bad reputation, but a good letter can really generate sales. How do you know if you have a good letter or not? We will break it down for you here.

First of all, your letters need to be personalized. Gone are the generic letter days. You not only personalize with a name, but also personalize your offer to the needs of each person. You want your letter to look and feel personal, but let’s dig deeper into the letter structure.

7 Things to Make a Great Direct Mail Letter

1. First Sentence: Your first sentence can make or break your direct mail letter. This is where you generate interest or lose it. You need to hook them and pull them into reading more.

2. Offer: The offer for your product or service needs to be attractive. Any time you can offer something for free, you will get attention. If that is not an option, discounts work well, too.

3. Story: The best letters tell a story. People relate to and enjoy reading stories. How can you create a story for your product or service? You create a moment with your story so that it has a beginning, middle and end. You include emotions — not just facts. Create characters your customers and prospects will care about.

4. Flattery: Flattery will get you everything! Tell the reader how special they are. Include the use of the word “you” a lot to describe how smart and truly wonderful they are.

5. Questions: Use these with caution. You want to make sure that you are correct in your assumption of the answers before you decide to use the questions. The question should always qualify your prospect or customer.

6. Problem: Solve a problem with your product or service. This goes back to the story portion, too. When you are able to solve a problem, you will get the sale.

7. Benefits: Benefits are extremely important. What are your readers going to get? Why does it matter to them? Make sure these get incorporated into your story.

Make your next direct mail letter powerful to increase your results. Now, even the best written letter only works if your envelope gets opened. If you are going to use teaser copy on the envelope, make sure that it is VERY compelling. It should promise a reward of some kind for opening the envelope or make them so curious they have to open the envelope. If you are trying for the personal approach, use only your return address, no logo and a stamp. You can use the barcode clear zone to make it look as though the post office sprayed it and still get the automation discounts.

What really matters is what works for you. So test your copy, your offer and even your envelopes one at a time. What works best for you may be very different from what has worked for others. Tracking your results is the key to creating better direct mail results in the future. If you don’t test, you will not know how much better your results could have been. Don’t get complacent always reach for better results. Have you had a really successful letter? What did you do?

The Key to Effective Direct Mail Is Communication

Too many times, marketers are so focused on design that they lose sight of the importance of good copy. They end up with direct mail copywriting that is talking at someone instead of to them. This is not effective communication. This is seen as preaching to your prospects and customers. There is no value in that. Do not waste your time on copy that will not sell; after all, that is the whole point — to sell your product or service. Let’s look at how to make your direct mail copy sell.

Effective direct mail copywritingToo many times marketers are so focused on design that they lose sight of the importance of good copy. They end up with direct mail copywriting that is talking at someone instead of to them. This is not effective communication. This is seen as preaching to your prospects and customers. There is no value in that. Do not waste your time on copy that will not sell; after all, that is the whole point — to sell your product or service. Let’s look at how to make your direct mail copy sell.

Effective Direct Mail Communication is About:

  • Connecting Authentically: Create real emotional connections with your prospects and customers. Provide them with copy and offers that are relevant to them.
  • Share Your Values: Let customers and prospects know what is important to your company and what you stand for. Then, all your communication should reflect that.
  • Show Gratitude: Thank your customers for their business because they don’t have to choose you.
  • Questions: Take the time to know and understand the needs of your customers and prospects. Answer their questions before they have to ask them.
  • Testimonials: Be open and trustworthy — show your prospects on your direct mail what your customers truly think of you. Make them want to jump on board with you.

The more authentic your communication in your direct mail, the more trusted it is, therefore, you are going to get better results. People do business with companies they like and trust. Do you approach your direct mail messaging in this way right now? Once you are including the five elements above you are ready to finalize your copy writing. To do that, there are four more things you need to include.

Direct Mail Messaging Should Include:

  • Benefits : Let prospects and customers know how great life will be with your product or service.
  • Create Urgency: Give them a reason to respond quickly.
  • Highlight the Offer: Make sure it is clear and concise.
  • Response: Tell them what you want them to do and how to do it. Give them more than one way to make a purchase.

The more time you take to write good selling copy, the better your results are going to be. It is critical to include these four items in your direct mail copy. Without all four, your results will not be as good as they should have been. We always recommend having a person outside of your organization read your copy to make sure that it is understood in the way you intended it to be. There is nothing worse than flubbing your copy and making your customers and prospects angry.

So, are you and your team ready to create the best direct mail yet? When copy writing is done correctly, direct mail is very powerful. It is the only marketing channel that allows your customers and prospects to have a tactile experience. Take full advantage of that! Make it the best experience they have had with you yet! Now that you are creating great selling copy, you can take the time to get more creative with the design. Have fun with it, but remember that your copy writing is more important than a creative design! If your direct mail piece looks great but sends the wrong message, it will be ineffective.

The Secret to Great Headlines: COFFEE

Headlines are important. They were always important, but I think they’re even more important now. This string of words is often the difference between success or failure. Headlines are as important as coffee in the morning. Yeah, that serious …

Headlines are important. They were always important, but I think they’re even more important now.

Most of our content — just like your marketing content — is viewed, or not viewed, based only on the merits of the headline. This string of words is often the difference between success or failure.

Headlines are as important as coffee in the morning. Yeah, that serious. serious-coffeeAdd SEO considerations and things get even more complicated. Right?  Well, maybe not.

Over the years, I’ve developed the philosophy that writing for SEO and writing for people is not actually that different. (Forgive me, Denny.) In fact, I think humans and spiders are both essentially looking for the same thing when they evaluate a headline: keywords.

The term “keyword “tends to make people thing of soulless SEO manipulation, but humans think in keywords as well. We have topics and questions in our heads that are all categorized by keyword. A keyword is just something that’s on your mind.

Someone who searches for the keyword phrase “call to action” is going to recognize that phrase when they browse our newsletters or magazine or webinars. They’ll click on headlines that have that word too, just like they would on a search engine results page.

I don’t necessarily do a lot of keyword research to figure those keywords out (although it can be very valuable). If I know the audience we’re aiming for, I’ll usually know the words that are on their minds. We write around those.

Headline COFFEE

Which brings us to COFFEE. It’s not just a delicious, pick-me-up drink for breakfast (or in my case, any time of day). It’s a way to think about how to write headlines around the words I believe our audience is thinking about, and align that all so humans and search engines will both recognize it as the content they need.

COFFEE stands for:

  • Catchy
  • Obvious
  • Far Forward
  • Emotional
  • Evocative

Catchy: The headline wording should be a catchy turn of phrase, something that sticks in the mind and grabs attention. A fish hook baited with an ear worm.

Obvious: The specific topic of the article — the keyword — should be super obvious from glancing at the headline. This is a departure from some classic headline writing techniques, which might use a mystery/reveal trick. In today’s world, we need to grab attention and build trust and convince someone to read more all at once. People see so many headlines, most of which don’t pay off on their promises, that I don’t believe they are inclined to click on a wide open mystery. Making it crystal clear that this is the article that will answer the question on your mind is essential.

Far Forward: The keywords should be far toward the front of the headline. This is a clue to search engines that those words are important in the article. I think it’s also essential for people reading digitally. Human readers looking at a paper page can recognize keywords at the end or in the middle of a headline. But online, especially on mobile where they might only see the first few words, Front-loading the keywords makes sure they’ll be seen. Your keywords should be in the first five words — first three is even better.

Emotional: Good headlines play on an emotional need. Think of the emotional copy drivers, pick the emotion you’re drawing on, and hit that hard in the headline.

Evocative: The best headlines aren’t just emotional, they trigger strong reactions, images, memories or feelings. They may even start an argument, or propose something preposterous that people hope will be true (and you will explain away in the article). This is the special sauce that turns a good headline into something that can take off and go viral.

All that together should have the same effect as coffee: It will perk the right audience up to want to read your content.

Maybe even first thing in the morning, as they’re having their other coffee.

coffeepoem

 

Which Way Does Your Website Face?

Perhaps it’s true that there are no compasses in cyberspace, but your website points in one of two directions: Toward you or toward your customer.

FS1112_arrowsPerhaps it’s true that there are no compasses in cyberspace. (It’s certainly easy to think there are no moral compasses in some corners of the Internet, but that’s an entirely different conversation.) But your website points in one of two directions: Toward you or toward your customer.

Too many companies’ websites are oriented toward themselves. You see this in the language they use and in the way they’re organized. And while these websites can and frequently do have high traffic numbers, the traffic is usually being driven by factors other than the site’s own strength. That means, as positive as high traffic might be, the site is actually losing opportunities.

The lost opportunities occur because the site isn’t addressing the concerns of the target audience: Namely, the business problem they are trying to solve. A site that focuses on “me” and w”e” is never going to grab your audience’s attention the way a site focus on “you” — meaning prospects and customers — will.

Read through your website and note how frequently those pronouns are used in comparison to one another. Are you talking about yourself and what your company does? Or are you talking about your prospects and clients, their problems, and ways to address those problems?

It had better be the latter, because that’s all your prospects care about. As I say in planning meetings for nearly every project we work on, your prospect doesn’t care about you. They don’t even care about what you do. They care about what you can do for them. Your website had better make it clear that you understand this.

Of course, it’s not just the “your/our” split that matters. Content on the site has to be engaging enough to get people to dig more deeply, return to the site, subscribe to your newsletter, and share content with colleagues.

The key word in that last paragraph is “engaging.” That’s the key not only to traffic but also to conversions, which is really what we’re interested in. Because as gratifying as it is to know that people are reading your website, traffic numbers don’t pay the bills for most of us. We need to convert those visitors into clients.

There’s more to consider beyond the language you’re using and the topics you’re addressing. Review your site again, paying attention to navigation and structure. Is the site organized along departmental lines that make sense only to people who know your org chart? Or does it group information in ways that make sense to a prospect or client?

Obviously, your site should be organized from the client’s perspective. All the information that might be of interest to them should be accessible to them without a lot of searching. Your sidebars and calls to action should lead naturally to the next question your prospect might have after engaging with the main content on any particular page.

The goal is to take baby steps towards that conversion from visitor to customer. Each page should have a call to action that moves them closer to a level of comfort that allows them to invites you to connect with them more meaningfully, from signing up for a newsletter to attending a webinar to actual human contact between the prospect and your sales team.

Once you’re paying attention to the symptoms of a website pointed in the wrong direction, those symptoms are shockingly obvious. Treating those symptoms can take some time and effort, but is well worth it in the returns a more effective marketing tool can generate.

One last caution: there is a third direction your website might point, and it can be harder to detect. Your website can be pointed toward the search engines. This means the site might seem as if it is focused on your customer, but a slightly deeper dig makes it clear that a reliance on repetitive keywords and stilted language was probably the result of an overzealous SEO “expert.” Make sure that content and information of value to your prospects is driving each page of your site. The SEO almost takes care of itself after that, as does your website’s performance.