How to Tap Into a Steady Stream of SEO-Friendly Content Your Customers, Prospects & Google Will Love
Mine the mother lode of content from your company’s subject matter experts to “feed the Panda” (Google’s new rules for SEO) with a steady diet of useful original content. The phrase has become so common it’s trite, a cliché. And yet, like most clichés it abounds with truth. Content is king. This verity has been confirmed by none other than the kingmaker itself, Google, as it continues to refine and rejigger its powerful search engine to penalize sites with low quality content and reward sites with unique and insightful content. This new set of “signals” that Google uses is known as the Panda update.
According to Google: “The Panda update was designed to improve the user experience by catching and demoting low-quality sites that did not provide useful original content or otherwise add much value.”
But publishing a steady diet of high-quality original content can be a problem. Especially if yours is a small to mid-size business with a lean marketing staff. Fret not, though. If your business is like most, it’s sitting on a mother lode of original, high-quality content you can mine to win Google’s “love,” multiply search results, and grow your business. That mother lode is the collective wisdom and on-the-job experiences of you and your employees.
Think about it. How much insight do you have about your industry? How many years of frontline experience, knowledge and accumulated “war stories” can you draw on to make relevant, meaningful points that help you connect with customers, prospects, and Google? Now think about your employees, particularly your salespeople. Ask yourself the same questions about these people.
This accumulation of smarts, experiences and industry knowledge is ideal for blogging. And a company blog continuously updated with new pages of original, high-quality, search-aware content is a sure-fire way to improve your search results. Now maybe you’re thinking, “easier said than done.” True. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be the arduous, pain-in-the-rear task you might think. Here’s a proven blogging technique that can help you remove “pain” from the equation:
How to mine the mother lode of content within your organization – As noted, you and others within your organization are a rich source of useful, original content. But none of it will do you any good unless you bring it to the surface and get it into distribution. To the extent that you have adequate writers within your organization – adequate defined as employees who, while they wouldn’t consider themselves professional writers, know the basics of grammar and how to tell a good story – you’re in luck. The job then is to pick topics of interest to customers and prospects and match the topics to the writers.
Here’s a tip for zeroing in on good topic ideas. Visit the websites of trade publications that serve your industry and pull up their editorial calendars. Any topic you find on these calendars is a topic worth covering on your blog.
Now maybe you don’t have an abundance of writers at your company. But odds are, and especially among your salespeople, you have a number of people who love to talk and “talk shop.” Whereas the thought of sitting down and writing something would be a pain to them, the idea of engaging in a 30 – 45 minute recorded conversation that’s turned into a by-lined, SEO-friendly blog post that helps generate leads will probably appeal to them. (Later this recorded conversation will be turned into a transcript and used as the basis for the post/article.) Also, consider this: When a prospect googles that salesperson and his or her blog post comes up in the search results, what do you think the prospect is going to click on? Yep, the blog post. And when the prospect reads that well-written blog post your salesperson’s credibility can’t help but be enhanced.
To get at the unique and original content, assign the most skilled writer in your marketing group to discuss the predetermined topics with your subject matter experts. Your subject matter experts and your writer should think bullet points, in-the-field experiences and anecdotes (these experiences and anecdotes are what makes your content unique), and most importantly, takeaways for the reader. Stay on topic and the SEO keywords and phrases will take care of themselves. And you can always tweak things SEO-wise once you’re finished.
With focused discussions, transcripts of these discussions and maybe a little additional research your marketing professional should be able to produce a steady diet of useful, unique, search-aware blog posts that improve your search rankings. This high-quality, SEO-friendly content, as it accumulates, can be re-purposed and reformatted for other types of content marketing and sales collateral.
Here are 2 examples of the type of original and useful blog content you can come up with when a good writer and a subject matter expert collaborate in the manner I’ve outlined: Considering Connector Contact Materials, Intellectual Property Management: 3 Ways To Profit From Your Patent. And yes, in these two instances I am that “good writer.”
Like it or not, looks matter. And particularly in sales, appearance is important. For example, in a competitive situation, all else being equal, the appearance of the salesperson may very well be the deciding factor in who gets the business. And that may come down to the smallest of details, such as who had the better shine on his or her shoes.
Appearance is also an important factor in the success of your sales letter or marketing email. For example, the marketer with a good mailing list, a compelling offer, effective copy — and who pays careful attention to how his letter or email looks…will have better results than the person who focuses solely on content, with no regard to how it’s presented. This is akin to a master chef who slaves to produce a sumptuous meal and then dumps it on a paper plate and serves it up to you with no regard for its presentation. The meal would be every bit as delicious, but you might be the least bit hesitant about taking that first bite.
No doubt about it: Your words are the heart and soul of your sales letter, and crucial to its success. So you want to do everything you can to make sure your prospect reads your words. That said, here are 5 tips for making your sales letter or email look more attractive. Put these tips to work and you’ll significantly increase the likelihood that your “must read” message gets read — and, most importantly, acted on.
Tip Number 1: Always use a reader-friendly typeface. Look at the major news magazines, such as Time and Newsweek and you’ll see that they use mostly serifed typefaces for their editorial content. (Serifs are the little knobs you see on the ascenders and descenders of individual letters.) That’s because typefaces with serifs (Times Roman, Courier, Century) can be read more easily than sans serif typefaces (Arial, Helvetica). At least that’s the case in the print world. In the online world the choice is less clear-cut, with some experts and tests showing that a sans serif font is actually more readable.
Tip Number 2: Make your first sentence a short sentence. The first line of your direct response piece is the most important line you’ll write. So don’t blow your chances for success by starting off with some interminably long 20 – 30 word sentence. Here’s an example opening from my own files: “I know you’re busy so I’ll get right to the point.” Eleven words. I once wrote a sales letter that had an opening sentence that consisted of just one word. That word was, “Ouch!”
Tip Number 3: Limit the length of your paragraphs to between 5 and 7 lines. You want your letter or email to have an easy-to-read appearance to it. Because there are probably at least 14 other things that your customer or prospect has to do that are more important to her than reading your letter or email.
So when she turns her eyes to your communication the last thing she wants to see are fat, 10 -12 sentence paragraphs that look like a lot of work to read. She wants to see something that looks quick and easy to read. I usually never go over 6 lines in any paragraph and I try to keep most between 1 and 5 lines. Also, always double-space between paragraphs.
Tip Number 4: Vary the length of your paragraphs. The last thing you want is for the layout of your piece to have a boring sameness to it. That’s why I advise that you often use the “print preview” mode on your word processor with an eye toward the overall look of your words. So mix up your paragraph length. This will make your writing look more interesting and appealing.
Tip Number 5: Set the body copy of your letter in 11-12 point type and use sub-heads, bullets and other call-out devices. Keep in mind the audience you are writing for. If you’re writing to Gen-Y computer programmers 11-point type is probably fine. On the other hand if you’re targeting the “mature” market you may want to consider using a 13-point type size.
Also, keep in mind that many people will scan your marketing piece before making a decision to read it. That’s why centered, bold-faced sub-heads and other call-out devices can increase readership. Here are a couple of sub-head examples from one of my projects.
Customer service so good you’ll have to pinch yourself to be sure you’re not dreaming.
A special no-risk, no-obligation offer.
Sub-heads, bulleted lists, underlining, and other devices can help you attract attention to key parts of your letter. But take care to use these devices sparingly. Overuse of them can negate their effectiveness.
Yes, like it or not, looks matter. Attractive people get more looks and longer looks. The same holds true for your sales letters and emails — or for that matter, all your marketing collateral. Apply these 5 tips and you’ll make your letters and emails more attractive, attract more readers, and, generate more leads and sales.
“Eighty-seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation….
The Gettysburg Address
Thankfully, Abraham Lincoln was not only a great leader, he was a great writer. So instead of beginning his Gettysburg Address with a cold, lifeless number, he opens on a prayerful note with a turn of phrase adapted from the 90th Psalm of the King James Bible: “Four score and seven.”
Clearly, Lincoln knew the difference between the almost right word – and, the RIGHT word. A distinction defined by Mark Twain some 25 years later as…”the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” With this thought in mind, in today’s post I offer a few choice words on word choice to help you get more of the right words into your copy and make your writing more engaging, memorable and effective.
Let’s start by looking at a line from the sports section of my local daily, The Columbus Dispatch. In a story a few years back, the reporter described Dick Vitale’s reaction to being voted into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame. Vitale, explained the writer, “admitted he ‘cried like a baby’ upon learning he was induced.”
Maybe Vitale’s use of the word baby clouded the writer’s thinking. Because induced is so NOT the right word. (And yes, in all fairness maybe it was simply a typo. Either way, the end result is the same: poor communication.)
Which leads us to today’s big (but hardly revolutionary) idea: For more effective word choice think harder about the words you choose.
For example, although it’s obvious that the reporter made the wrong choice, what about the writers who penned these lines?
- This is literally the equivalent of Microsoft coming to your house and locking a CD in your car CD player.
- More CIOs are disinterested in Linux
- And I know you didn’t do this just to win an election. And I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
How many of these people made the wrong word choice? Actually, that’s a trick question. Because they all did. Yes, you may have read or heard a word used a certain way – even in a prestigious publication, by a noted expert or by the soon-to-be leader of the free world. But that doesn’t mean the word was used correctly. (See my earlier post, Get It Right When You Write (Or Speak): 3 Commonly Misused Words, for more examples like the above.)
As to why the above words are – in Mark Twain’s manner of speaking, lightning bugs – I’ll go over one of them: enormity.
The first two definitions listed in my Oxford American Dictionary (OAD) are -
- Great wickedness, the enormity of this crime.
- A serious crime, these enormities.
In all fairness, the OAD lists “enormous size, hugeness” as its third definition. But it follows this listing with a usage note that reads: “Careful writers do not use this word in the last meaning. They use enormousness.” I don’t know about you, but I expect presidential speechwriters to fall into the careful writers group.
Now for two specific word choice tips:
- Choose small, simple words –
The Gettysburg Address is 271 words long. Two hundred and twenty of them, 81%, are just one syllable. My advice? For more effective word choice think like Lincoln. Think small:
Instead of writing “utilize,” “peruse,” “ascertain,” write “use,” “read,” “find out.”
Now am I advising you to never use big words? No, of course not. But in most cases small words will serve your purposes better. And here’s one reason why:
“The more simply and plainly an idea is presented, the more understandable it is – and therefore the more credible it will be.”
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear – By Dr. Frank Luntz
My second word choice tip is this:
- Use mainly nouns and verbs and vigorous, active-voice words
Strunk and White in their classic book, The Elements of Style, put it this way:
“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs….It is nouns and verbs that give to good writing its toughness and character.”
As to the active voice, legendary copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis lays down the law in his “Active/Passive Rule.”
“Unless you specifically want to avoid reader involvement in your message, always write in the active voice.”
- Instead of writing: “Once the button has been clicked, the order is generated immediately and an e-mail confirmation will be sent automatically to you.”
- Write: When you click the button, we immediately generate your order and automatically send you an e-mail confirmation.
Notice the difference the active voice makes? Notice also how the active voice makes the writing more “you-centric.” Simply put, active verbs keep your reader involved and improve credibility and response rates.
For example, I seldom use the word “allows” because it’s a passive, “permission granting” word. I prefer enables or makes it possible. Unlike “allows,” enables and makes it possible are active and empowering. As a result, these words are more likely to keep your reader involved with your copy.
- Instead of writing “Study Software allows you to learn faster by organizing exam notes as concept maps….” write “Study Software enables you to learn faster by organizing exam notes as concept maps….”
- Instead of writing “SmartList To Go allows you to create, view and manage databases on your handheld.” write “SmartList To Go makes it possible for you to create, view and manage databases on your handheld.”
Words are powerful business tools. And the good news is that no matter who you are – Bill Gates or Bill Bailey – you have the same access to these powerful tools as anybody else
So, to greatly improve your odds of catching lightning on a page or a screen and gaining the response you seek, remember today’s big idea and two tips:
For more effective word choice, think harder about the word you choose.
- Choose small, simple words.
- Choose mainly nouns and verbs and vigorous active-voice words.
Follow these recommendations and while your words might not make history…they will be duly noted, better remembered – and, most importantly, more effective.
Recommendations for additional reading:
The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, By Ronald C. White Jr.
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, By Dr. Frank Luntz
On the Art of Writing Copy, Third Edition, by Herschell Gordon Lewis
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
Recently, and strictly for research purposes mind you, I googled the word “sex.”
My search returned 3,900,000,000 results. Next, I searched the word “quality” and got 5,800,000,000 hits. Based on these results one might make a case that we have a greater interest in quality than sex. While I believe this would be a seriously flawed hypothesis, it’s well established that quality is an important consideration in the buying decisions we make. That’s why every year businesses spend billions playing the “Q-Card.”
A generation ago Ford Motor spent huge advertising dollars reminding us: At Ford, Quality is Job 1. Today, Mercedes-Benz positions its automobile as Engineered Like No Other Car in the World while BMW touts its vehicle as The Ultimate Driving Machine. And I love the Apple campaign that paired a good-looking, way-cool guy named Mac with a nerdy schlub called P.C. Apple’s message was unmistakable: If you want a cooler, hipper product that delivers a better quality computing experience, buy a Mac. Currently, Allstate has wisely chosen not to join the chorus of insurance companies chanting the “save you money” mantra and is instead using its award-winning “mayhem” campaign to successfully brand itself as the quality choice among home and auto insurers.
Of course, all of the above are multi-billion dollar corporations with massive advertising budgets. They can effectively play the “Q-Card” through sheer force of repetition. But what if you own or work for a business with more limited resources? How does your business play the “Q-Card” for winning marketing results? In this article I present you with ONE KEY IDEA and several tips and examples to help you do just that.
Let’s start by looking at an example of how not to play your “Q-Card.” It’s from a company called The Ding King. I found this copy on their web site:
Our Commitment to Quality
- Quality Training
- Quality Tools
- Quality Lighting Systems that enable you to see the “entire dent”
- Quality Staff to Support You
- Quality Training Facilities
- Quality Instructors to Educate You
- Quality PERIOD!!!
That is exactly what The Ding King Training Institute will provide you with – Quality!
OK, pop quiz time. What did you learn about The Ding King’s commitment to quality? If you answered “nothing” give yourself an “A+” and a gold star. Because you astutely observed that although The Ding King uses the word quality 9 times, only once (see the “entire dent”) does it even hint at what it means by quality. It’s as if the company believes that repetition alone is enough to get its point across.
But “quality,” in and of itself, means little. For example, looking in my Oxford American Dictionary I see that the first definition listed for quality reads, “a degree or level of excellence.” What degree? What level? It’s up to the copywriter to provide those details.
Which brings us to today’s KEY IDEA:
In order to play a winning “Q-Card” you must include relevant and specific details about your product or service to support your express or implied claim of quality. (Hey, I didn’t say it would be a new idea.)
I’ve reworked two of The Ding King’s bullet points with today’s key idea in mind:
- Quality Tools – All Ding King tools are manufactured in the U.S. by ISO-9001 certified manufacturers and backed by a five-year money-back performance guarantee.
- Quality Instructors to Educate You - Ding King instructors average 12 years of industry experience and 40% of them have worked in the industry for 20 or more years.
As far as I know the details I’ve added are pure fiction. But the details are not the point. The point is to use the strongest, most relevant facts, data and details you have at your disposal. Relevant facts, data and details are the nuts and bolts that give credence and believability to your claim of quality. These nuts and bolts will make your “Q-Card” copy meaningful, memorable, persuasive.
Still, to quote Herschell Gordon Lewis, legendary copywriter and author of more than 30 books on marketing and advertising, “The easiest thing for any of us to do is criticize someone else’s work.” So then, let me balance my Ding King criticism with a praiseworthy “Q-Card” example.
It takes well-trained, quality people to build a quality home
Palm Harbor Homes explains on its website that it owes its “exceptional results” to its focus on quality and the ability of its “exceptional associates.” More importantly, Palm Harbor provides a number of details about its employee-training program. This training, explains the Palm Harbor website, ensures that its associates “have the knowledge needed to constantly improve the quality we build into our homes.” (I like that phrasing. It’s warm, active, visual.)
Among other details, visitors to Palm Harbor’s website learn that –
- “Each new associate receives at least 16 hours of classroom training in our Quality Improvement Process.” (Note that it’s not simply training but “classroom training,” phrasing that calls to mind a room full of associates, each with a legal pad, pen in hand, instructor leading the class.)
- “The lessons learned…are reinforced during weekly meetings as well as monthly team luncheons.” (Specific details about how often and how regular.)
- “Then, because the Quality Improvement Process is a continuing process, all associates receive refresher courses and updated training designed to help them make full use of their abilities.” (And the company makes sure its associates keep current with their training.)
- “As a company, [Palm Harbor’s] commitment to quality and value is even integrated into [its] compensation systems.” Plus, the company compensates its associates not only on their productivity but also “on the level of customer satisfaction they are able to produce.” (Great! Part of their compensation is tied to my satisfaction.)
You see the difference? Unlike The Ding King, Palm Harbor does much more than simply parrot the word quality. It offers specific and relevant details about how it ensures its associates have the training and skills it takes to deliver quality service and build a quality home. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t write their copy. Wish I had, though.)
Detailing the time and attention you put into properly training your employees is one effective way to play your “Q-Card.” Other factors and areas of operations to consider, include:
- Your company’s production, manufacturing and quality control standards
- Your company’s customer care and customer service practices (Nordstrom is legendary in this regard)
- Your company’s customer retention rate
- The expertise and experience of key personnel and executives and employee certifications and designations
- The stability of your workforce.
In short, any customer-relevant details that speak to the quality of your people, products and (or) services, or your organization as a whole.
Here are three examples from my own experience:
- A number of years ago I did a project for a printing company. I noticed that whenever I called I was always greeted by a friendly, live voice within the first few rings. I told the marketing director what a nice touch this was and she replied, “Oh yes. We have a policy around here that we answer the phone before the fourth ring and always with a live voice.” I made it a point to mention this in their marketing materials.
(As a self-serving but relevant aside, the preceding anecdote highlights one reason why it can be helpful to work with an outsider in developing marketing materials. A company employee would not likely: (a) Have had that many occasions to call in to the company and (or) (b) Been too accustomed to the timely “live voice” answer to think of it as a selling point.)
- I interviewed a company executive as prep work for a project I did for a home-builder. In answering one of my quality-related questions he told me that while most builders either nailed or glued the sub-floor construction, his company always did both. And he punched up this point by saying, “We spill more glue in construction than most contractors actually use.” The “nail and glue” fact made it into the body copy of the brochure; the “spill” quip served as a caption for one of the photos.
- The “Q-Card” copy below, written for a small contract manufacturer of specialty chemicals, highlights not only the experience and expertise of its chemists but also the breadth of that experience:
“Our staff chemists average more than 25 years of experience. Excellent scientists, they also have substantial experience with the entire production process. From development work to operating a pilot-plant reactor – on any given project they can and often will do it all. As a result, they understand, better than most, the difference between what’s possible in a lab and what’s doable in a manufacturing environment. And that can save you time, money and headaches.”
As I come to the conclusion of this post I can sum up the gist of whatever wisdom there may be in the preceding 1504 words with the following five-word sentence. Be specific when you write. This is always good writing advice to follow, especially when you’re writing marketing copy and even more so when writing “Q-Card” copy. For while the majority of your customers and prospects most decidedly do not have a greater interest in quality than sex, when it comes to buying decisions quality – dressed up in relevant and meaningful specifics – has a very strong “sex appeal” that will help the marketer advance or close the sale.