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

 

The Order Card: It’s Your Cash Register

The order card is your close, your ring of the cash register. Your design should maximize revenue and/or response potential. Order cards need to be simple, clear and single-mindedly focused. And in print, especially, give people enough space to fill it out. We’ve all had that form that required us to write in a microscopic space.

My previous post discussed how many people often do not put enough time or creativity into their order cards and landing pages.  I hear too often “it’s just the order card.” It’s a shame. This is a critical component — think of it as your cash register, where the sale is closed. You can easily lose a sale if the order device is difficult to figure out, hard to complete, and unclear what to do next.

The order card is your close, your ring of the cash register. Your design should maximize revenue and/or response potential. Order cards need to be simple, clear and single-mindedly focused. And in print, especially, give people enough space to fill it out. We’ve all had that form that required us to write in a microscopic space.

13 Design Considerations to Optimize Your Order Cards
Some of this will sound familiar as they are similar to what I suggested you do on a landing page — but paper is not a screen and requires even more effort to get it right and make it easy.

1. Roadmap the page: The layout is even more critical in print. Create a clear path for your customers to follow. This could mean numbering your steps (probably the easiest way) to lead a person through the process. It should be obvious where to go and what you want them to do step by step.

2. Give them enough space to write: This is one of my pet peeves. One of the fastest ways to stop a sale: don’t give enough room to write. If you need to squeeze an order card, your first thought should be why. If it’s because of the format you are using, seriously consider changing it.

Are you asking for unneeded information? Remember, giving enough space will also help you to process the order as you’ll be able to more easily read what they write.

Planner Pad Order Card3. Clear headline/label: Have a headline that makes it clear it’s the order form. This could be as simple as calling it the “Order Form” or “Reservation Certificate.” It’s also a great area to test. Trying different headlines or labels could help lift your response rate.

4. Auto-complete/personalize forms: I’m always surprised that this is not a standard. If you have to give up personalization on a piece in your package, lose it on your letter. Use your order form as the addressing vehicle and personalize the order form. The less work recipients have to do, the sooner they’ll have their order in the mail.

5. Use check boxes: Make it easy to make selections. Check boxes or circles indicate prospects might need to make a choice and helps people through the form. I go out of my way to find a way to do this. On a complicated order form, this can be a great way to make it feel simple.

6. Use contrasting colors: Color can be a powerful tool to help roadmap your form and make it clear where they need to pay attention. It can also be used to help with choice selection, highlight upsells and emphasize bonus areas — all of which can dramatically improve responses and order size.

How to Double Your Landing Page Conversion Rates With 6 Easy Tune-ups

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your Google AdWords campaign is failing to optimize your landing page. No matter how carefully you fine tune your ad copy, tweak your keyword match settings and reallocate your budget, if your landing page conversion rates are low, you are literally giving away sales. Today, I will walk you through the steps to improve (even double) your current conversion rates.

What Is a Landing Page?
A landing page is the specific page on your website where prospects land after clicking on one of your ads. Note that you should never use your homepage as a landing page, because the homepage gives a general introduction to your company, while a landing page needs to be tightly geared to the ad copy. In fact, it is best to create a separate landing page for each ad. This allows you to clearly reiterate the main idea in the ad, improving the overall congruence, or harmony, of the prospect’s experience.

What Is Your Conversion Rate?
The most important conversion rate is the ratio of sales to visitors. However, that’s not always quick and easy to calculate, so advertisers measure other key sales actions, such as filling out a contact form or making a phone call. For example, let’s say that 1,000 people click through your AdWords ad to your landing page, but only 20 of them fill out the contact form on that page. Divide 20 by 1,000 to find that your “contact form conversion rate” is 2 percent. Your numbers might be very different, but remember that the conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who take further action toward making a purchase after landing on your page.

Why Should You Improve Your Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Simply put, improving your conversion rates means that you will get more leads or customers for fewer advertising dollars. Taking the example above, suppose that the action you want prospects to take is purchasing a product that you sell for $100. If 20 of 1,000 people who click on your ad buy the product, you make $2,000. If 40 of those same 1,000 people buy the product (4% conversion rate), then you make $4,000. That’s $2,000 extra revenue from the exact same investment in advertising!

What Are the Basic Keys to Improve Landing Page Conversion Rates?
Improving your landing page conversion rates is both a science and an art. Monitor your AdWords campaign closely at first to determine the results of the changes you implement, and be ready to tweak your landing page as needed depending on what you discover. These are the parts of the landing page that often need fine-tuning:

  1. Congruence: This is the overall harmony of the user experience. Your landing page should tightly reflect the message, tone, and feel of the ad that was clicked on. Your prospects clicked on the ad because something in it resonated with them, so follow up on that with the landing page. If you change nothing else, ensuring congruence can dramatically improve your conversion rates.
  2. Headline: The headline is the most important part of your landing page. People scan quickly and make snap decisions when reading online, so your headline needs to captivate them. Don’t try to close the sale in the headline, but do restate the offer or the most important point from your ad.
  3. Offer and Call to Action: Most people know that a strong offer is an important element in making a sale, but is your offer irresistible? Try offering something different from what everyone else in your line of business offers, or add an extra bonus. Make sure to give clear instructions on what to do next to make the purchase, and if possible, add a deadline to increase urgency.
  4. Copy: Make sure your landing page explains exactly how you can solve the customer’s current problem or fulfill a specific need. In other words, focus on benefits rather than features. Plus, add elements that make your business sound legitimate, such as testimonials, reviews, or industry affiliations.
  5. Reduce Risk: Prospects tend to be skeptical when shopping online, largely thanks to the frequent horror stories in the media. If your offer requires payment, reduce the perceived risk by providing a guarantee, adding third-party trust verification, and providing full contact details for your company.
  6. Layout and Aesthetics: Because people scan rather than reading in depth online, clearing out the clutter can improve your conversion rates. Make it easy for prospects to figure out what to do. Make the buttons they need to click bigger. Remove extraneous navigation menus. Avoid long blocks of text. Keep it simple and obvious, aesthetically pleasing, and congruent with your overall brand.

Want more Google AdWords tips and advice? I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

3 LinkedIn Profile Tips for Sales Professionals You Haven’t Heard Before

The Web can be an unreliable place to get sales tips. Most advice we “Google” doesn’t work. LinkedIn profile tips are no exception. Most advice focuses on superficial face-lifts. Want to get more appointments, faster, using a LinkedIn profile? Follow these three tips:

The Web can be an unreliable place to get sales tips. Most advice we “Google” doesn’t work. LinkedIn profile tips are no exception. Most advice focuses on superficial face-lifts. Want to get more appointments, faster, using a LinkedIn profile? Follow these three tips:

Make your profile:

  • earn attention
  • spark curiosity
  • earn a response

Here’s how to get it done in three simple steps.

No. 1: Convince Prospects to Read Your Summary
The job of your professional headline is to create curiosity about your Summary section. Use the headline to:

  • get found by prospects searching for you
  • connect with buyers forcefully, clearly
  • present an irresistible reason to read the Summary section

Avoid listing your professional title in this space. Be sure to use words or phrases that your target buyer would use. For example, if you sell copywriting services to natural health marketers say so, like David Tomen of Swift Current Marketing does on his professional headline.

Also, appeal to the deepest desire of your buyer. Help buyers become curious about your ability to put out a fire, scratch a bothersome itch, solve a problem or help them fast-track a goal. As David Tomen says, “I help natural health marketers get as many customers as you can handle.” 

It’s no wonder a natural health marketer would want to read more about David’s qualifications! He sparks curiosity with this approach. You can learn more about how David improved his profile in this LinkedIn profile tutorial.

No. 2: Chunk Your Summary Section
Nothing sells you better than simplicity and brevity. This creates distinction. In a world filled with people positioning themselves with adverbs and adjectives you’ll stand out. Also, create easily-scanned “chunks” or sections for your prospect to scan.

Write these sections with headlines. Make each headline appeal to what your prospect really wants to know in most cases.

Check out how Blake Henegan helps learning and development managers quickly scan his profile’s Summary section.

  • What he does.
  • How he’s different.
  • How he can help.
  • How he gets paid.
  • Training he sources for clients.
  • His contact information.

You cannot get lost in Blake’s Profile summary. It’s a wonderfully structured bit of copywriting. It’s easy to scan with the eyes and speaks to what clients want to hear about most.

No. 3: Get Back to Basics—Less Is More
Your success depends on getting good at one thing: Copywriting. Borrow from the classic, time-tested, proven techniques of B-to-B copywriters. Speak in simple terms. Be pithy. Leave out all the descriptors.

For example, don’t have exceptional skills. Have skills. Stop trying to position, sell or convince. Just say it. Plain talk is refreshing, creates distinction and helps people want to learn more about you.

Being brief, blunt and basic sparks interest in humans. It’s a fact.

Also, make sure your summary is not a recital of your experience. This is not optimal for sellers. Yes, you may wish to have an “Experience” section but don’t make your experience the focal-point.

Here is how to take action on this idea:

Make sure the Summary section of your LinkedIn profile communicates:

  • What you do;
  • who you do it for;
  • how you do it (why customers choose you) and
  • how potential buyers can act on their curiosity.

Use David and Blake’s profile summaries as guides. Borrow from them. When you’re done drafting, go back and try to remove the “I’s” and adjectives/adverbs. This focuses your writing on what the prospect wants to hear.

Once you’ve executed the first three steps above, it’s time to get your prospect off your profile and on the phone or in your email inbox. Make clear calls-to-action and, yes, include shortened Web links. While not clickable buyers will cut-and-paste or right-click (in Chrome) to visit your landing page.

Be sure to land prospects at places where the call-to-action promise is fulfilled in exchange for a bit of information about the prospect (a lead).

Remember: Give your prospects what they want. They don’t want to know about you—they want to know what you can do for them. Good luck!

3 Steps to an Effective LinkedIn Profile for Sales Reps

Tired of getting so few leads from your LinkedIn profile, investing in LinkedIn Sales Navigator or needing to generate leads with email faster? You’ll need more than a pretty photo on your profile. You need a summary section that creates urges in prospects—provoking them to connect, email or call.

Tired of getting so few leads from your LinkedIn profile, investing in LinkedIn Sales Navigator or needing to generate leads with email faster? You’ll need more than a pretty photo on your profile. You need a summary section that creates urges in prospects—provoking them to connect, email or call.

Make sure prospects viewing your LinkedIn profile take an action and are producing leads for you. But first, ne sure your or your team’s profile is structured to:

  1. Create an urge for what customers’ want most in the Headline space;
  2. Spark buyers’ curiosity about what you can do for them in the Summary;
  3. Direct that curiosity—give them an irresistible reason to act.

These steps are the low-hanging fruit. Don’t just know them, do them. Every word, video, Powerpoint, PDF whitepaper and link on your profile can help buyers develop an irresistible urge to solve their problems or reach a goal—through you. But only if you take a minute to design it to. The best place to start is your Professional Headline.

Fire up your browser. Compare your profile against the checklist below. Check off each one as you implement these proven, effective steps.

STEP 1: Create an Urge to Read via Your Headline
Like it or not, headlines control our world. If you’re not getting to the point and sparking curiosity in a matter of seconds you’re not going anywhere. Just like an effective cold call or elevator pitch.

Use your profile’s Professional Headline space to display information that creates an urge to discover whatever is most important to them. Don’t list your title or job position. Make sure your professional headline presents:

  • what you do,
  • who you do it for and, if possible, and
  • elude to how you do it that creates distinction.

If possible, hint at why buyers should choose you. Make your why clear but not totally complete. Leave off the details. This creates an urge to scroll down to the next section: Your profile’s Summary.

For example, turnaround and acquisition expert, Carter Pennington, says he “maximizes shareholder value of troubled companies.” Mando Villareal names his target market and says he helps them “reduce cost increase efficiency & automate deliverables.”

In both cases, structuring words this way helps prospects wonder, “I wonder how he does that?” It creates an urge to scroll down and learn more about the seller.

Wondering where to start yourself? Use what you already know is most important to your prospective buyer. Don’t be clever. Instead, push your prospects’ buttons.

Trent Smith is a “Trusted advisor to attorneys who want to grow their practice.” He knows there isn’t an attorney on the planet who doesn’t want to grow their practice. In a moment, I’ll show you how Trent exploits this urge in various sections of his profile.

Remember: Use your Professional Headline space to create an urge to discover more about what makes you someone worth paying attention to. Be bold. Grab your prospect, fast.

STEP 2: Ditch the Resume, Go for a Reaction
Your LinkedIn profile is a tool to get prospects curious about what you can do for (not sell) them. Because once they’re curious, they’re more likely to react—to act. Since your Summary section is often “above the fold” (is seen before anything else) it’s the best place to start sparking reactions.

The idea is to quickly make statements that cause customers to become excited, unsure, eager or even a bit scared. This is different than reciting information about yourself, resume style. Showing customers, “I have a better way,” telling them you have short-cuts they desire or making a bold claim helps you:

  • prove to be worth listening to (grabs the prospect) and
  • position yourself to make a big claim.

Every B-to-B seller has a big claim that plays on the desire of buyers—no matter what you’re selling. It’s believable, credible and needed. So use it. Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to

  • set up the claim
  • make it and
  • create an urge to act on the reaction your claim creates.

For example, Gerry Blaum makes the claim he’ll save Fortune 1000 clients $500,000 in health care over-spending and connect them with better service providers. If he cannot he’ll give clients his fee back. He says, “we only get paid when we save money for our clients.”

Gerry makes his claim in dramatic form. To keep it believable and credible, he reveals how he gets paid. This encourages HR executives at some of the world’s largest companies to wonder, “how, exactly, does Gerry accomplish this?”

Be careful to balance. You don’t want to make a claim that is unbelievable. Or a promise that gives away too much, too fast. Only make claims that sound believable and help buyers develop hunger for all the details. You’re going for a reaction, or an irritation—not total satisfaction.

The idea is to scratch the buyers’ itch-stopping short of offering full relief.

To more fully relieve their itch (or help them reach a goal) they need to take an action. This is just one way to effectively spark connections, email conversations or phone calls with prospects. Shoot me an email or comment below and I’ll share more examples.

STEP 3: Make a Direct or Subtle Call to Action
Give ’em what they want. Whether you’re a job-seeker, marketer or sales rep, your LinkedIn profile should contain “exit points.” Spots where a call to action should be placed—driving prospects away from your profile, toward your landing page, telephone or email inbox.

Toward shortcuts, tips, advice, pain relief, clarity on a fuzzy (yet important) issue or confirmation of nagging fears—whatever they want most.

Make sure you use calls to action to the fullest. Here are quick tips on how to make effective LinkedIn profile calls to action.

You cannot use HTML or links in the Summary section. But you can place calls to action inside it. Creating clearly identifiable sub-sections and headlines gives you the chance to make calls to action.

Look at how Gerry Blaum executes it. It’s easy to scan with the eye, grabbing the essence of each “chunk” of copy.

Stick to the basics. In a few words, use sub-sections inside the Summary to describe:

  • What you do & who you do it for
  • Why the prospect should care (how you do it differently than everyone else)
  • How & WHY customers should contact you (email, Facebook, Twitter, phone, Web site, etc.)

Give ’em what they want. Prove to them, quickly, you’ve got what they want.

Use trigger words to encourage action. Use phrases like:

  • Get all the details
  • Call me, email me
  • Discover fresh tips
  • See examples here
  • Start here (this one is very powerful believe it or not!)

Although you cannot use HTML here, readers will take advantage of links your provide.

Your target audience will visit your Web URL by cutting & pasting or right-clicking. In some Web browsers (like Chrome) users can jump to your Web site by highlighting the URL, right-clicking and immediately visiting your site.

Trent Smith uses his Contact and Summary sections to speak directly to prospects:

If you want visitors to say, “Wow! I’ve got to talk to this attorney right now!” then get website strategies for attracting clients at: http://www.JangoStudios.com

Of course, there are subtle, indirect approaches that are also effective. Choosing the specific approach often depends on your target market, type of decision-maker(s), sales cycles, complexity of what you’re selling etc. For example, Challenger sellers will need to take a much different, educational approach.

If you’re interested in taking first steps on everything I’ve presented today this free video training will get you started in just 12 minutes. Otherwise let’s chat in comments below!

38 Marketing Words That Sell in Social Media

Are the words that generate response from social media and blogs different than words that work for direct mail? Or are digital marketers finally figuring out the most responsive words that direct marketing copywriters have known for generations? Whether this is new information to you, or confirms what you already knew, today’s blog is about words, and how response to specific words in the online space could strengthen your

Are the words that generate response from social media and blogs different than words that work for direct mail? Or are digital marketers finally figuring out the most responsive words that direct marketing copywriters have known for generations? Whether this is new information to you, or confirms what you already knew, today’s blog is about words, and how response to specific words in the online space could strengthen your offline marketing initiatives.

A blog post titled “A scientific guide to writing great headlines on Twitter, Facebook and your blog” got me to thinking about how their findings correspond with that of direct marketer’s experience. In that blog, Leo Widrich answers his most asked question: “How can I write great headlines for social networks and my blog?” So with credit to Widrich’s research, and other research I’ll acknowledge in a moment, let’s compare how these findings relate to direct marketing.

Twitter Words
Here are two headlines tested in Twitter, both leading to the same blog post, and each tweeted to the same audience within an hour of each other. Which do you think had higher clicks and was considered a “top tweet?”

  1. How many hours should we work every day? The science of mental strength.
  2. The origin of the 8 hour work day and why we should rethink it.

If you answered “2,” you’re right. It had double the number of clicks.

To an experienced direct marketer, this would probably come as no surprise. A specific number was used in version “2” (8 hour work day) combined with a provocative statement (why we should rethink it). Version “1” asked a question (not always the strongest way to write a headline) and used big words (science of mental strength).

A study by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot analyzed 200,000 links containing tweets and found that tweets that contained more adverbs and verbs had higher clickthroughs (1 percent to 2.5 percent higher) than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets (2 percent to 3.5 percent lower). Once again, an experienced direct marketing copywriter would probably not be at all surprised.

Finally, the study finds that when you ask for an action in social media, it increases clicks and response. Ask for a download or a retweet (retweets are three times higher when asked), and, remarkably, people will do as told. As direct marketers, we already know that a solid call-to-action is a must to generate response.

The 20 most retweetable words (some of which, by the way, could be well suited to be used in subject lines in emails):

  • you
  • twitter
  • please
  • retweet
  • post
  • blog
  • social
  • free
  • media
  • help
  • please retweet
  • great
  • social media
  • 10
  • follow
  • how to
  • top
  • blog post
  • check out
  • new blog post

Facebook Words
The news, here, is that the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true. But it’s not just any picture. The pictures that result in better click performance tell the story within the picture. In other words, the picture must be self-explanatory, more than just a graphic.

KISSmetrics says a photo with a Facebook post get 53 percent more likes, 104 percent more comments and 84 percent more clickthroughs. In addition, posts with 80 characters or less get 66 percent more engagement. These are trends that I can validate, based on an assortment of text-only posts, posts with photos, and posts with videos I’ve placed for an organization’s Facebook page that I administer.

The action item for direct marketers using offline media: First, when you use a picture, the picture should be self-explanatory. Second, photos combined with shorter copy in headlines and leads can result in creating curiosity for the person to keep reading.

Blog Post Words
In “The Dark Science of Naming Your Post: Based on Study 100 Blogs,” author Iris Shoor reveals how much the post title has an impact on the number of opens. (Akin to a direct mail outer envelope teaser or a letter headline or an email subject line—should there be any surprise the words you choose make a difference?) What is credible about this research is that the author analyzed these words with a script that evaluated blogs and sorted all the posts from the most read, to the least shared. All good information for direct marketers writing direct mail or other print media.

Here are examples of words (called “let there be blood” by Shoor) appearing in blog titles that yielded high opens.

  • kill
  • fear
  • dark
  • bleeding
  • war
  • fantasy
  • dead

Negative words are more powerful for shares than an ordinary word, like No/Without/Stop. “The app you can’t live without” will go more viral than “The app which will improve your life,” Shoor states.

Confirmation for direct marketers: negative works.

And numbers work. Bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers. Despite what your grammar teacher told you, use digits rather than words. And place the number at the head of the sentence. No surprise here, to a seasoned direct mail copywriter.

And we like to learn. Preferably in five minutes. Titles that promise to teach tend to go viral.

Other words that tend to appear in viral posts:

  • smart
  • surprising
  • science
  • history
  • hacks (hacking, hackers, etc.)
  • huge/big
  • critical

Words that suppress:

  • announcing
  • wins
  • celebrates
  • grows

A couple of comparisons that seem to not make a difference: “I” versus “you.” Nor does “how to” have an effect on how viral a post will be.

What does all of this mean to direct marketers? First, I’d observe that many of these findings shouldn’t surprise an experienced direct marketer or direct mail copywriter. Maybe the online world is finally catching up to what we have tested and proven for generations.

But second, this is a reminder that what works in the online space can translate well into improving response offline, too. That’s a lesson to take to the bank.

How to Know What to Blog—Always and Forever

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

And by the way, I like writing this stuff. I do it with pleasure and so can you, providing you take pride in serving your market.

Gotcha With the Headline
As you can see, my headline got your interest enough to earn your click. it was pithy, useful, unique and very specific to a pain you’re experiencing. So make sure your headlines on Twitter, your blogs—anywhere and everywhere—are the same.

The hands-down source for just about everything blogging is Brian Clark’s Copyblogger. At the end of this article I’ll give you a link to his Magnetic Headlines resource that will give you the practical knowledge, inspiration and motivation to write nothing but magnetic headlines.

It’s About the Problem, Not ‘Value’
Ok, so you’re still reading. Why? Probably because you think I have the cure for your pain. I effectively secured your attention and now am beginning to scratch an itch you have (your urge to find a better way to blog). Of course, I’ve also set your expectation and had better deliver! I’d better provide value.

My point is focus this: Focus on customers’ problems. It’s not about providing value. Providing value is a meaningless industry buzz term, folks. Functionally it’s a cop-out. Your success at lead-focused blogging (and keeping your sanity if not finding a bit of joy in your work) depends on addressing your customers’ problems in a systematic way.

The System
The best way to describe the system is this: Be an answer center for your customers. Good news! This is a familiar concept to many direct marketers. But those who aren’t traditionally “direct savvy” are getting in on the game too.

The idea of being an answer center for prospective and current customers isn’t new to Amanda Kinsella of Logan Services. It’s what this residential heating and air conditioning product and services company has been doing for many years offline—at home improvement shows, for instance.

What works in blogging is rooted in an old idea: trading answers to serious problems with customers for insight on their “state of need” as a way to nurture leads (not just relationships) to fruition. “Then we can be there when prospects need our products and services,” says Kinsella.

Think about it in terms of your business. Might you already be helping customers solve problems in ways that capture information on the prospect’s “state of need” in return? When you answer questions for customers do you ask them in ways that lead customers to asking more? This is the key.

The Purpose of ‘Providing Value’
Ms. Kinsella says hammering away at calls-to-action and constantly asking for the sale won’t work. Because it never has. It’s not very sociable. What will? A more traditional, familiar tactic: answering questions that are important to the prospect in ways that entice them to ask more.

That’s providing value, yes, but Logan Services always provides this information in return for insight on their prospect’s need—where they are in the purchase consideration process, for instance. These details always-always-always connect to a lead-nurturing process. That’s the purpose of providing value. Right? The trick is to answer questions in ways that prompt more questions.

One Simple Idea That Works
Put this idea of answering your customers most frequently asked questions (or FAQ’s) to work today. Make the questions your headlines and the answers your bait. Make the answers complete (valuable) but always leading to more questions.

Dangle a hook nearby (in the form of a call to action) for a “complete guide to” resource that requires email registration, for instance. But resist rolling into the office and asking, “How often should we post stories on our blog, and on what day is best to get re-tweeted?”

Be like Amanda. Ask a different question. “What problems do my customers need solved? What itches can I scratch for them today?”

“How can I measure the value of a blog subscriber? How much engagement on her blog or re-tweets on Twitter is needed to have a positive effect?” People like Amanda don’t know—and don’t care. Because they know it’s the wrong question.

Here’s that link to Copyblogger that I promised!