Google my Busy-ness

Regular blogging is, we are told, essential for gaining and maintaining search ranking. Not only are we providing more content to help the search engines to find us; we are also showing we’re still a going concern, and talking about our work and our industries.

But what happens when we’re just too busy to maintain a blog? It’s something that never really occurred to me when I was re-starting my freelance career after a spell in employment. I did have time on my hands to think up blog ideas, research them, write and edit them, add images and submit to my Google my Business page.

Then I got super-busy.

Now, being busy is obviously a good thing. It shows something’s working, I’m being discovered in my niche and there’s a trickle of returning clients and new openings keeping things ticking over. But there’s a nagging doubt at the back of the mind: how can I blog when I’m too busy to blog?

Evolution of foxes and rabbits
Foxes and Rabbits (Psion, 1982)

As a self-sustaining online business, that’s like a shop being too busy to hire staff. As soon as one leaves, you’re short-handed, your customers get fed up of long queues and start going to other shops, and it’s the beginning of the end.

Foxes and rabbits

What we have is a system not unlike the “foxes and rabbits” scenario. The more rabbits there are, the more food there is for foxes. So the fox population goes up, which leads to a natural cull of rabbits. But that leaves hungry (read: dead) foxes, which lets the rabbit population start to grow again, and the cycle continues.

It’s Monday morning and for the first time in about three months, I haven’t got a job to do. As someone brought up during the mass foxes and rabbits hysteria of the 1980s, this is troubling. But on the plus side, I’ve got time to write a blog post.

Why it’s a problem for writers

Anyone who wants to maintain a Google profile knows they’ve got to blog. Luckily for most businesses, they can either source internal talent to write them, or outsource the task to freelancers, which I’m very glad about. After all, if you’re making lots of money, you can spend some of it to earn even more.

But when you’re a writer, your blog is also a kind of showcase, a portfolio. It would be very weird for me to start hiring writers to blog about writing, wouldn’t it?

… But luckily, you’re not a writer

The good thing for you is that you’re (probably) not a writer. If you are a writer, I can’t believe you’re reading this when you should be blogging.

But by wisely not being a writer, that means you’re in a position to hire one to build and maintain a professional quality blog with no loss of face.

And now, whenever you see I’ve written a blog, know that there just aren’t enough rabbits to eat, so please don’t make me overturn your bins. Get in touch.

Harry Potter in 500 words: the importance of including research time

Work takes time. Don't just look at the end product.

I’ll never forget the day a client asked me how long it would take to write 500 words of copy. I said it depends on the subject, but generally speaking, we’re talking somewhere in the range of 1 to 3 hours.

“Cool,” they replied. “I want you to summarise the Harry Potter books in 500 words. Three hours sounds about right.”

“Ah,” I replied. “I’ve never read any Harry Potter books.”

“Well, just skim through them and get me a 500-word summary by tomorrow. Otherwise we’ll drop you and find someone who can. Cheerio.”

The truth in fiction

Of course, none of that happened. But the inner truth is sound – the end product of a copywriting job is just the visible part of a much greater task. You can see instantly that reading the seven Harry Potter books’ 4,000 pages would be part of the job, not just the 500-word bit. Some companies get it; others don’t. But unless the time required to fully research a topic is granted in terms of deadline and fee, the end product won’t be very good.

There’s typically a learning curve with new clients. As I get to understand the company’s products, services, clients, tone of voice, goals and industry vocabulary, individual jobs start to take less time. But at the start of a relationship, when I know less than nothing about their business, I’m going to need more time to familiarise myself.

Legitimate concerns

So why not start off charging an amount that will be typical of later work? Why should the client pay for me to learn about its industry? Can’t I then use that knowledge to benefit their rivals if they hire me?

Those are all legitimate points, but unfortunately freelancers can’t take that chance. It’s not unknown for freelancers to have new prospects promising endless work that never materialises. If they’ve given a greatly reduced estimate on the basis of ongoing work, they’ll probably have put in many hours for very little pay.

Having a copywriter who knows all about the business and the industry is surely a good thing for any company. So realistically, it’s an expense that pays for itself over time (compared to constantly getting new copywriters in).

As for knowledge benefiting direct rivals, I’ve personally turned work down because it would mean working for two competing businesses, as I considered it ethically suspect. I’m sure most copywriters would feel the same way. And most clients wouldn’t be happy with private information potentially being useful to rivals, no matter how strong the NDA.

Relationships matter

All of the above emphasises the benefit of forming lasting relationships with your suppliers. They might occasionally make mistakes or produce work that the client isn’t enthused by, but that foundation has genuine value. Nurture it and reward it, and the collaboration will blossom.

Immersion

Immersion is the process of gaining an understanding of a new client. You’re immersing yourself in their business, letting it percolate through. You’re learning about products and services, USPs, picking up buzzwords, discovering news sources, getting to know the personnel. If the client intends to retain the services of a copywriter, or anyone in the marketing or PR industry, it pays to hire them for a few hours or days for immersion at the start of the relationship.

Think of immersion as a sort of boilerplate briefing, which applies to every future job, and you’ll see the benefits. Some of my clients and I have relationships measured in decades, and we’ve reached the stage where briefing individual jobs takes five minutes. Obviously if it’s a one-off job, it just needs to be briefed well, but that’s for a different blog post.

Specialist copywriters

Look around copywriters’ websites and you’ll often see writers who have specialisms. It could be fashion, engineering, travel, science, art, kids – anything that’s improved by learning and experience. Choosing a specialist copywriter is a good way of speeding up the immersion process. Ideally, the “being able to write” and “knowing your industry” boxes will come pre-ticked, so you can concentrate on your business’s USPs, voice, audience and personality. But don’t take expertise in your industry alone as justification for throwing them in at the deep end.

Ultimately, looking at their work and seeing how well they communicate your offering will end up being beneficial in the long term. If you’re selling a product to the public, there’s often a case for hiring someone without skin in the game, as they might be able to understand the public’s ignorance of the subject better than an expert would. It might not work so well with B2B, but as with any marketing operation, analyse their output and RoI to see how effective they are.

In short, using specialist copywriters is a very good idea, as long as they are competent and not complacent, and understand the audience. But some general copywriters will do a fantastic job too.

Success appreciates time

Work takes time. Don't just look at the end product.

Whether you’re building a relationship with a copywriter or hiring them for a one-off job, giving them enough time to do the job is a sound investment.

Tempting though it may be, don’t think of the size of the final product, think of the value of it. Don’t look at 500 words of copy and think “This took a day to write? I could knock this out in five minutes.”

A writer who has been given the time to get under your company’s skin and also understand its audience will produce harder-working copy. And if they’ve had a few days to leave the work alone and come back to it afresh, you’ll also see better copy. They’re probably already busy. Don’t make them rush more.

Don’t forget also that writers and designers will probably produce a few drafts before they send you their preferred one. It’s all part of the process of improvement, and it all takes time.

No matter how small the final product, give them time, pay for it, and everyone benefits.


Image: Yifan Liu

How to write a better call to action: 10 tips

The call to action (CTA) is one of the key components of a piece of copy. It usually sits on its own towards the end of the article, but there could be several sprinkled around the piece. It can be words, an image, a button or some other form of interaction.

Writing a better call to action

What is a call to action?

A call to action is an instruction to do something. In consumer marketing terms, that’s usually to buy something, but with larger, more considered purchase decisions, it can be to guide the reader further down the sales funnel. Typically, it will be in imperative mood, i.e. “Do this.” Online, calls to action usually form the text of a hyperlink or button. Obviously that’s impossible on hard copy (direct mail, TV adverts, newspaper ads etc.), but the intention is the same: to get the reader to do something.

Why are CTAs so effective?

Calls to action work because they don’t leave the customer dangling. The reader has succumbed to the attention-grabbing headline, emotive graphics and persuasive copy, and is now ready to move the next stage – adding something to the basket or booking the room. They just need to be told what to do next.

Putting the reader in a receptive mindset makes it easier to compel them to respond to the call to action. If this sounds sinister, it shouldn’t. The selling part has already happened. The CTA is simply guiding them to where they want to go next.

How to write better calls to action

Think of the call to action as the conclusion to a really good story. The reader sympathises with the characters and wants to find out what happens to them. As the writer, you’re in a position to deliver the answer. But imagine if the answer wasn’t in the book, but at the end of a phone line. You’ve created a need in the reader, and they now feel compelled to act upon it.

To write better calls to action, you have to put yourself in the position of the reader. Ask yourself, “If I’ve just read that copy and want to take the transaction further, what would I need to do next?” The call to action should guide them to that step in the process. It’s vital that it does that, and nothing else. Saying “Buy now” and then taking them to more sales spiel or upselling opportunities is off-putting. Change it to “Choose your options” or suchlike if the process hasn’t ended yet.

Is a call to action always the conclusion to a story? Not necessarily; a call to action can stand alone. It’s how clickbait works: the story is the call to action. But nowadays, with people being wiser to clickbait than they once were, it has to fulfil a need that the reader already had to be successful, so placement in a receptive environment is key. However, you can learn some good CTA techniques by observing the clickbait ads that almost made you click them.

Call to action tips

Here’s a quick list of tips and ideas to help you craft your calls to action. Remember that it’s part of a process, from discovery to purchase, and there can be multiple calls to action along the way. You’re taking the reader by the hand and guiding them, not shoving them forward.

1. Start with a verb

This is a basic tip, because the imperative mood usually starts with a verb in English. Do this. Eat that. Buy now. Find out more. It leaves the reader in no doubt that it’s an instruction that needs to be followed.

2. Point out scarcity or urgency

A common sales technique is to imply that the transaction should be completed as soon as possible to take advantage of a deal. If successful, it has the effect of stopping the customer shopping around. After all, if you’ve won an interested buyer, you get first dibs on their custom.

Don’t flat out lie, of course, but if your special offer ends in two days, or stock really is low, point it out. Never-ending sales are not a good look, and became the butt of many a joke in the furniture industry. I always find it a bit dubious when a conference organiser starts saying that tickets are going like hot cakes, because if that’s so, there’s no need to advertise. See also “Only 3 apartments left”. Scarcity and urgency are genuine reasons to buy, but people aren’t stupid and you could sound desperate.

3. Keep it short

Write fewer words.

4. Be a copywriter

Think about your CTA. Analyse how it bridges the gap between the marketing they’ve been exposed to and the action they’re about to take. Remember, the call to action is all about guiding them. It’s like putting your palm on a guest’s back when you invite them in. Read it out loud. Think about whether you would act on it. Redraft it if you’re not happy. If you’re still not happy, hire a copywriter (obviously).

5. Point out the advantages

The benefits of your product or service are what you’re pushing, so you can include them in the CTA. “Save money now.” “Drive off in a new car today.” “Buy one, get one free.”

6. Reiterate the main point of the copy

You’ve just explained the deal to the reader, so if they like what they see and have reached the CTA, they don’t need any more convincing. Just use a snappy version of the story as a call to action. “Get 50% off now.”

7. Reassure the customer

All purchases are decisions, and decisions by their nature have alternative options to consider. You can use the CTA to make the decision less of a gamble. “Try it now – no commitment.” “Sign up for the UK’s most popular service here.”

8. Point out exclusivity

Direct mail presents a real opportunity to target individual buyers with “exclusive” offers. It could be a new customer offer, a loyalty offer or an sweetener offer to someone who has complained. If that’s the case, put it in the CTA to remind them that it’s a deal that only they (or a small number of people) can get. Bloggers, vloggers and podcasters often give their consumers exclusive deals with their advertisers, usually in the form of a special link or code.

Mentioning that they qualify because they’re listening to that podcast is a good way of making them feel special; and who wouldn’t want 10% off web hosting?

You can use the same techniques with any marketing drive, but only do it if there genuinely is a degree of exclusivity. Customers will be suspicious of “exclusive” deals that everybody gets.

9. Make it simple

People don’t want hassle when they’re making a purchase. The more steps they have to take before the final transaction, higher the chance they’ll abandon it half way. Think of the difference between “buy now” and “visit the retailer’s site”. One makes you feel like you’re a few seconds away from getting on with your life. The other gives you no idea when the process will be over.

10. Be honest

Don’t use a call to action that looks final if it’s only to take readers further down the funnel. They will soon tire of your shenanigans.


Image: Jamie Templeton

Seek Perfection and Ye Shall Find … Eventually

Perfection. It does exist, in certain realms. Think of the piston in an engine sized precisely to fit in its cylinder. The evolution of the shark. A hole in one (or 18 of them in a single round). The arrangement of the studs on a Lego brick. They are measurably, objectively and provably impossible to improve upon.

What about Hamlet? Mona Lisa? The Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV? Eleanor Rigby? Compared to perfection, they fall far short. They might be loved more than loathed, but they are definitely loathed by some. Their qualities are subjective and open to debate.

That brings us to marketing. A campaign’s success can certainly be measured after it’s run its course. You can measure sales before and after it and, with external influences ruled out, measure how good it was. With digital marketing you can measure site visits, track users through the funnel and see how many convert.

But that’s after the campaign is over. All the work that goes on before it is just guesswork, albeit based on experience. Anyone who’s worked in marketing will know that sometimes the half-hearted campaigns fly while intricately scoped ones flop.

Camels and committees

Another experience anyone in marketing will have endured is rejection. You send your work to a client or superior, they come back with comments. You address the comments and re-send it, only for a different person to give their own flavour of criticism. The process continues until everyone is happy. Except you. If you compare the finished, signed-off product with your original submission, you’ll usually find that it’s probably about the same in terms of quality.

That’s not an indictment of constructive criticism, of course. We all need to be knocked off our high creative horses from time to time. (And sometimes we’re just plain wrong.) It’s more a comment on the idea that within every creative endeavour, there’s The Perfect Job just waiting to be unlocked by a few rounds of interdepartmental feedback. Inside every blog post there’s a piston, a hole in one or even a lowly Hamlet just screaming for release.

Get it published!

Risk aversion is, by nature, quite a healthy aversion to have. The risk of a campaign should be worth the potential gains should it be a success. Your Christmas TV ad is worth splashing the cash on because if done well, it’ll get people talking about your brand, win trust and make money. But for the most part, those of us writing marketing copy aren’t working on Christmas TV ads. We’re doing blog posts, product descriptions, emails, direct mail, content marketing pieces. We might be doing several dozen of each every year.

This might sound like a scandalous thing to say, but they don’t all need to be Shakespeare. They need to be analysed, processed, designed, written and sent before moving on to the next job. The “risk”, or the investment, is a few hours of team time. The return is that it will form part of a wider ongoing campaign, be it to raise awareness, to enhance the client’s position in search or whatever. Unless you do something so bad it sinks the company, any single piece of content will probably achieve its modest aims.

Even if it’s rubbish?

This is not a call to spend as little time and effort on every job as possible. That’s almost guaranteed to result in garbage. But it pays to recognise that the small parts of an overarching effort have potential ROIs that should influence the amount of time and effort that go into them. Spiralling costs through micromanaging every small piece of creative turns the risk/reward fraction on its head. It’s improper. And it’s vulgar.

Experts know what they’re doing

There’s one way to keep work as far up the perfection scale as possible. It’s hiring good people. They might charge a bit more than bad people per hour, but they combine instinct, ability and experience to get to a good place sooner. Trust good people to do good work. Appraise their output with an eye for factual wrongness or branding crimes, but be prepared to let it progress with minimal interference and move on to the next job.

The world’s best ad agencies – with all their resources, focus groups and deep analysis capabilities – still manage to launch duds from time to time. What are the chances that taking two hours to change the wording of a sentence in a blog post will be the making of your company?

Perfection is perhaps out there. It’s possibly true that given enough time, you could craft a blog post, a newsletter or a press release to make it perfect in the eyes of all who read it. But when you consider its possible benefits, you might wish you’d spent the time differently.


Image: Moon

I love reading copywriting blogs

Ladybird, symbol of minimalism

I love reading copywriting blogs.

I even said it in the title.

Especially the ones that use short sentences.

One sentence to a paragraph.

One word to a sentence.

(No. I wouldn’t read that.)

Because copywriting is about paring down, not padding out.

Everybody knows that.

Time is precious.

But sometimes I wonder

What isn’t being said?

What assumptions are being made of the reader?

Are there situations when more is, in fact, more?

Can a conversational tone help the conversation?

That’s what the copywriter has to decide.


Image: Glen Carrie

Which ranking factors are affected by copywriting?

Because everybody wants their website to rank highly on Google, the SEO industry is now as important to companies as traditional marketing and PR always were. The boundaries are so blurred that most companies in one of these sectors usually seek to have expertise in the other two. To rank highly is to appear on the first page of a search for what your business does (although lower pages could also be deemed “high” in competitive sectors).

Search engines become popular when the results they give are most relevant to what they think the user has searched for. Resolving this impossibly complex decision has been the goal of every search engine in history, and it looks, for the time being at least, like Google has won. Essentially, its decision is based on how high quality and how trustworthy a source of information is. The way Google works it is to determine the number and quality of links pointing to a page or site. The more websites pointing to your website, the better quality it must be, as people don’t tend to like to associate themselves with rubbish.

The early years were tricky. All sorts of dodgy practices were put in place to increase the number – if not the quality – of links pointing to websites. But as time went by, Google became much better at determining which links were trusted, natural and valuable. Since it’s far and away the most popular search engine, let’s assume that customers are generally happy with the results.

Are there 200 ranking factors?

You might have heard that Google has 200 (or more than 200) ranking factors. These have long been considered to be things like:

  • your page load speed
  • how secure your site is
  • whether you have the name of what you do, rather than who you are, in your URL (which is why B&Q uses the domain diy.com, not BandQ.com)
  • whether a site has been blacklisted
  • whether a user has your site in its bookmarks

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Moz’s Gianluca Fiorelli points out that the famous 200 number is mythical. Repetition, deviation and plain untruths in the most popular lists of ranking factors (and a click-baity need to reach the magic 200) make such lists unreliable. And a huge factor in ranking is which device a searcher is using, and what their location is. Site builders have no control over that.

There are definitely a lot

That said, there are many factors that can confidently be determined to be signals that your site is of good quality. Since nobody outside Google knows exactly what they are, the SEO industry experiments and analyses data to try and come to conclusions. And we therefore have a pretty good idea of the elements of a site that add up to a better rank.

Ranking factors for which copy is important

With the above caveats in mind, here are the ranking factors that you should be able to improve through better use of copy.

Spam

Make sure every second word is a keyword to fool the search engines into thinking yours is the number one authority on the subject. That’s what we were all told in the mid to late 1990s. It took the search industry a while to figure out ways of ignoring or penalising spammy sites. But now they are very, very good at it, and will come down hard on sites that try to manipulate their language and links to fool the engines. Just write naturally, mentioning the key searchable factors a natural number of times, and Google will work out what your page and site are about.

Remember, it’s all about quality, trustworthiness and usefulness, and spam doesn’t satisfy any of those factors. If a human reading your page would feel dirty doing it, have a re-think.

Having a keyword in the title tag and URL

Google is much better at understanding synonyms than it once was, so this is of minor importance. But having some mention of what your business does or sells in the title tag and URL is useful. Starting the tag with the keyword might be helpful too. There’s certainly no harm in it.

Including keywords in the meta description tag

Not a ranking factor per se, but if searchers see the word they searched for in the description under the URL, they could be more likely to click through. That can mean more chance of interaction and conversion. Moreover, having a well-written meta description should make your search results listing more attractive, so rank becomes less important.

Having keywords in heading tags

H1 tags, or headings, give Google a lot of clues about the content of a page, and therefore the website. Including them in your H1s is important, but making them interesting and readable is a copywriter‘s job. Although H1s are the most important, don’t forget about your sub-sub-headings (H2s, H3s etc.).

How long and relevant the page copy is

The optimum length of an article is one of the most hotly debated topics in SEO land. Some say 300 words, others 500, others 1000, and some people will insist that the longer it is, the better. From a reader’s perspective, the article should be exactly as long as it needs to be. Waffling on to please the search engines isn’t a good idea, especially if you’re looking for backlinks.

Some studies suggest that if all else is equal, a page with 1500–2000 words will cover more information and therefore give the search engines a better indication of the page’s content. And that can result in higher ranks.

If people find your piece interesting enough to link to, it’s long enough.

Keyword density

This used to be an important factor but because it was optimised to death, it became less important. Don’t aim for a percentage as such. Just make sure you mention your keywords, write great copy and don’t spam yourself. And remember, words that mean the same as your keywords, or signify similarity, are just as good.

Duplicate content

Having the same copy on two or more pages has a negative effect. Where you’ve got similar things to say over several pages, completely re-write the copy on each one. If you sell blue sheds, red sheds and green sheds, don’t use your “what is a shed” copy on each page, followed by a sentence about the colour – come up with something new for each page.

Keeping content fresh

A constant supply of new copy is a good thing. It tells the search engines that your site is a living, breathing thing, and that it’s not been abandoned. Take time to write new content that demonstrates your authority in your industry, and gives a positive signal to Google. It also increases the likelihood of its being linked to.

Since repeat traffic could be a good indicator of quality, make sure you use newsletters and social media to let people know about your new content.

You can even give your static pages a refresh from time to time. Your “About Us” page, for example, might change as you take on new clients and expand; and your core services probably change over time, too.

Spelling and grammar

A pure ranking factor? Possibly, but if you want people to trust you and to keep those bounce rates low, make sure your writing makes sense, reads well and is correctly spelt.

Original content

Make sure your content is your own. Don’t be tempted to copy and paste text from other websites, even if you do go to the trouble of changing a few words. It’ll probably be flagged as duplicate copy, and might even get you a letter from a solicitor.

Readability

Like spelling and grammar, your site’s reading level probably isn’t a ranking factor in itself, but if you bamboozle your typical readership, it’ll show up in your bounce rates and inbound links.

Anchor text

This used to be a powerful factor until it was abused wholesale, so now it might be a tiny signal of relevance. Make the text in your links relevant and logical and don’t worry too much about it.

Bounce rate, dwell time and time on page

These factors are all concerned with how a user interacts with your page after being sent there from a search engine. They have similar but different meanings, as discussed here. Whether they are ranking factors is still debated in the SEO community, but do analyse your visits. You’ll see which pages visitors stick around with or use as the starting point for a journey around your page, and which ones they simply close or click back to the search results.

If Google sees a page where every visitor bounces after 2 seconds, then the promise of the results page isn’t being delivered, and that that page is not relevant to that search term.

Featured snippets

Have you noticed how sometimes you search for something and the answer appears in the search results page, rather than in a link to the site it came from? These controversial things are called snippets. They’re controversial as some site owners believe they are costing them clicks, because the user gets the answer without having to visit the site. But still, a lot of companies try very hard to become the one that’s chosen for a snippet because it makes them look authoritative (and the snippet will include a link if further reading is called for).

Snippets are chosen for the quality of the content and how accurately they answer the questions being posed by the searcher. So once again, good quality content wins.

Mentioning your locality

Google uses all sorts of signals to work out where you are, but if your business is geographically sensitive (a local shop or venue, for example), make sure there are mentions of the district, town, postcode, city, country etc. to help pinpoint where you are.

Quality counts

So in summary, make sure your copy is well written and researched, has good intentions and is not copied, stolen or otherwise duplicated. Write like a human and humans will respond, and your search ranking should – perhaps slowly – improve. Think about the content that you like to consume, and be inspired to better it.


Image: Liane Metzler

Who needs About Us pages when there’s Wikipedia?

About Us Pages

About Us Pages

I often need to find out basic information about companies when I’m researching copywriting jobs – when they were formed, what they do, how they differ from competitors; that sort of thing. Obviously the first place I look is usually the “About us” page. I’d estimate that that proves useful about 20% of the time. It’s usually some guff about being a synergistic B2B fulfilment facilitator that has a customer satisfaction factor 3.5% above the industry average.

If it’s a large organisation, there’s a good chance it’ll have its own Wikipedia page. So that’s usually my next stop. It’s where I’ll get the actual information I’m looking for.

Why not share the basics?

I think there are three reasons for this phenomenon.

  1. Companies like to think they’re big, and therefore assume everyone knows what they do.
  2. They think the person reading the page will be familiar with the jargon
  3. They can’t miss an opportunity to turn a pure information source into a marketing opportunity.

I think the third reason is probably the most relevant. Over the years I’ve read plenty of copywriting advice that says, “Don’t start your ‘About us’ page with the year you were formed.” The theory goes that you should be using the “about us” page not to say who and what you are, but to tell people how great you are. Forget about the fact that customers are clever enough to know when they’re being led by the nose to some call to action – they don’t actually want to know about the organisation; they want to know how amazing you are.

It’s easy to see how this practice took root. From a marketing perspective, it sort of makes sense – people inspired to find out more about your company are already primed with the basics, so now you can guide them into a narrower part of the funnel. Unfortunately it ignores the people who still want to find out more about your company: people just peering into the funnel.

So like me, they look for third-party sources of information. Other people’s opinions on the company. Warts and all.

Tell it like it is

Should the “About us” page be a marketing tool? Of course. Everything you publish is. But your story is part of your marketing push. Why not talk about it?

The simplest thing you can do is imagine the person reading the “About us” page knows nothing about your company. So you tell them what your business does, when it was formed, who its founders are/were and what were their inspirations. It only takes a sentence or two. Then you can move on to the awards you’ve won, contracts you’ve secured, green credentials and plans for the future.

They might even be impressed.

Need help?

If your About Us page is lacking punch, get in touch. Whether in needs a rewrite or just an edit, I can help.

Example

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Something I was writing made reference to ASTM (an international safety body). Can you find what it stands for without much diving?


Photo: Kristina Flour

First impressions and the second chance

It’s funny how little sayings stick in your mind. I first heard the phrase “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” about 30 years ago at some careers event, and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard it since. But there it is, lodged in my mind, taking up space where the location of my car key is or how to get words to wrap in Excel.

Maybe the phrase remains lodged because it’s recalled so often in my disappointment-strewn life. A few months ago a local shop closed down, and an interesting-looking deli was due to take its place. I knew this because it had “interesting-looking deli to open here soon” lovingly written in mushroom pâté on the sheets that hid the refurb team. Maybe it was tapenade.

The shop did seem to take a while to get fitted out, which only made my excitement grow as I took my daily walks past it, wishing I had somewhere to go on the other side. I pictured the counter with its array of goods from around the globe; samples atop the display cabinet on cocktail sticks and a subtly concealed spittoon for sampling errors; helpful, knowledgeable staff who put the deli in “delighted to help”.

You already know where this is going.

Opening day

arrived. Stepping in, something felt right. The refurbishment was extraordinary. Products on display looked suitably esoteric. The lighting was subtle. Three bistro tables and a few chairs filled the entrance square, which meant you could eat in and drink coffee, something I hadn’t considered before. First impressions exceeded expectations.

Then I stepped forward to talk to the woman behind the counter. Just small-talk, you understand. My queries about the provenance of the Fiore Sardo would wait till I’d been home and googled Fiore Sardo. I got a one-word response. Some snubbing can be excused as daydreaming, absent-mindedness, even excitement. This was a more studied snubbing, like the snubbing Julia Roberts’s character gets when she goes clothes shopping in Pretty Woman. I smiled and raised my eyebrows to offer her the chance to correct her errant ways. She didn’t take it.

Another customer came in and her attempts to start a congratulatory conversation met the same response. Whether we were the wrong type of customer or whether company policy was to avoid eye contact and conversation, I don’t know. And it’s likely I’ll never find out. The lack of excitement about their own enterprise would make any visitor wonder if it’s worth caring about.

Warm words work wonders

So what did I learn that day? As a writer, I’ve always known the importance of making that first impression, whether I’m pitching for a client or writing content for them. With a website, you don’t get that chance to individually greet visitors and take their questions. You have to simply let people know that you’re open for business and you’ll give them your best possible service. It could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

No doubt we’ve all visited websites where we have felt like the company is snubbing us. It could be the loading time, the design or my bit, the copywriting. Some welcoming, warm words go a long way. Which is what I’ll have to do to get hold of some Fiore Sardo.


Photo: Joanna Boj

Back to Freelancing

As far as I was concerned, I was a freelancer. Sure, I’d had 9-to-5s before, mainly in darkrooms. But when the traditional photographic industry started to get some outside pressure in 1998, I turned to my love of reading to become a freelance proofreader. I built a website straight away, and fortunately managed to collect a small number of clients who kept me busy. Within a year or two I was copy editing and writing.

And that was that until 2013 – fifteen years’ worth of making contacts, winning, retaining and losing clients, and writing millions of words of copy. One day I would be working from home; the next I’d be in a briefing in Manchester; then I’d be travelling to London or Edinburgh to be briefed; and overlapping the small jobs, I’d usually have a big project on the go, a big edit or a ghostwriting project. It was definitely who I was.

An opening from a marketing agency

But in 2013, one of my clients, a digital marketing and development agency, tweeted that they were looking for a full-time writer. After cursing them under my breath for their sheer CHEEK, I applied, was interviewed next day and within two weeks I was there full time.

Self-doubt did afflict me before I started. Would I be able to cope with the daily commute? The regular hours? Talking to other humans? And being a relatively new father, I was sure I was going to miss nipping off to Dunham Massey to feed the ducks. Sometimes I’d even take our child. And yes, impostor syndrome, and the accompanying fear of being found out, were there too. But I have to say, I took it in my stride. I worked on a few award-winning campaigns, made some good friends and learnt a lot about digital marketing and SEO. And I got to experience freelance life from the other side of the fence when I had to hire the feckless wastrels for projects we were working on. That was a useful experience.

Freelancing beckons

But in April 2018, it all had to end. Things had changed both in the company and in the industry, and we amicably parted ways.

Over the five years, I had never fully given up freelancing. I still had a few clients that sent me work, and my website remained live and would occasionally spawn a new one-off job. But obviously it was limited. I was ready to throw myself fully into it again. I ditched my old domain, gpuss.co.uk (don’t ask) and relaunched under my own name, with this domain. What happened in the following year I’ll be writing in another post, but things came to a sudden halt and I had to face a new challenge. But for now, I’m back. And ready to write.