By Ann Handley

Excerpts…

Introduction

In our world, many hold a notion that the ability to write, or write well, is a gift bestowed on a chosen few.  The truth is this: writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.  We are all capable of producing good writing.  Or, at least, better writing. 

But I’m Not a Writer

If you have a website, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing.  And that means we are all writers.  Our writing can make us look smart or it can make us look stupid.  It can make us seem fun, or warm, or competent, or trustworthy. But it can also make us seem humdrum or discombobulated or flat-out boring.

And so being able to communicate well in writing isn’t just nice; it’s a necessity.  And it’s also the oft-overlooked cornerstone of nearly all content marketing.

What Is Content?

Content is essentially everything your customer or prospect touches or interacts with — including your own online properties and Web pages and the experiences they offer, but also everything on any social channel (like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and so on).

Good writing is …  

  • that gets noticed, no matter what form that content ultimately takes.
  • that’s an antidote to the complexity that can sometimes characterize our business world.
  •  “Good writing … is a matter of developing the skills of intuitive psychology that are so important in every other aspect of social life: getting inside the heads of other people so that you can respect their needs and their wants,” writes psychologist Steven Pinker.

Quality content means content that is packed with clear utilityand is brimming with inspiration, and it has relentless empathyfor the audience: 

Utility × Inspiration × Empathy = Quality Content

Writing Rules: How to Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less )

Everybody Writes

The key to taking your writing muscles from puny to brawny is to write every day.  You probably already do write every day.  You write emails; you post to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; you comment on blogs.  Recognize all that posting for what it is: writing. And reframe it as a legit aspect of your daily workout — in the same way always taking the stairs becomes, over time, part of a fitness regimen.

I am a writer.  You are a writer.  Everybody writes.

Writing Is a Habit, Not an Art

The key to being a better writer is, essentially, to be a more productive one.  Or more simply, the key to being a better writer is to write.  Set aside time each day when you’re freshest.  I’m freshest first thing in the morning, before distractions hijack my day.  For you it might be different.

Don’t write a lot.  Just write often.

Shed High School Rules

Many of us learned in high school to write what is commonly known as the five-paragraph essay. This might be a perfectly fine structure to help guide a classroom of young writers in middle school.  The problem with its use beyond that, though, is that it’s so structured and formulaic that it’s boring to write and boring to read.

There is no one way to write — just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey.

Regard Publishing as a Privilege

Every bit of content you create should be to please the customer or prospect — not your boss or client.  So the challenge for companies is to respect their audiences and deliver what the audience needs in a way that’s useful, enjoyable, and inspired.  The challenge is to also keep it tight.  That means claritybrevity, and utility.

Brevitydoesn’t mean bare bones or stripped down.  Take as long as you need to tell the story.  (The length of content is dictated by the kind of content you’re creating.) The notion of brevity has more to do with cutting fat, bloat, and things that indulge the writer and don’t respect the reader’s time.  Keep it tight.

Make it clear.  Don’t make the reader work hard to understand you.  Develop pathological empathy for the reader.  And finally, make it useful.  Readers will read what you write only if something is in it for them.

Place the Most Important Words (and Ideas) at the Beginning of Each Sentence

We tend to junk up the beginning of our sentences with modifiers and qualifiers, making the reader work harder to discern what, exactly, we are saying.  The first words of every sentence should make a friendly first impression to encourage the reader to keep going. The primary idea — the important words — should be placed at the beginning.

Here are some phrases to avoid at the start of a sentence:  

  • According to…  
  • There is a…  
  • It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on]…
  • In my opinion…
  • The purpose of this [email, post, article] is…
  • In 2014 [or any year]… 
  • I think [believe] that… 

You can tack them onto the end, or insert them somewhere in the middle — if you must use them at all.

Follow a Writing GPS

At times, writing can feel like birthing a Volkswagen.  What helps with the uncertainty and enormity of the task is to start with some kind of process to guide the way.

What follows is the 12-step process for any new, longer text you might produce — blog posts, e-books, white papers, site content, and the like.

  1. What’s your business goal?  What are you trying to achieve?  Anything you write should always be aligned with a larger (business or marketing) goal — even an individual blog post.
  2. Reframe the idea to relate it to your readers.  Why does it matter to them?  What’s in it for them?  Why should they care?  What’s the clear lesson or message you want them to take away?  What value do you offer them?  What questions might they have?  What advice or help can you provide?  
    To get to the heart of this reframing, I ask: so what?  And then answer, because.  Repeat the so what / because query and response string as many times as necessary, until you’ve exhausted any ability to come up with an answer.
    Express your reframed idea as a clear message. Then put that at the top of the page,like a bonfire on the beachhead, to remind you where you’re headed.
  3. What credible source supports your main idea?  Are there examples, data, real-world stories, relevant anecdotes, timely developments, or new stories you can cite?
  4. What structure helps communicate your point?  Some options are a list, a how-to guide, and a client narrative.  Organize the outline or general architecture that suits that type of story best.
  5. Imagine the one person you’re helping with this piece of writing.  And then write directly to that person (using you, as opposed to using people or they).
  6. Producing The Ugly First Draft (TUFD) is basically where you show up and throw up.  Write badly.  Write as if no one will ever read it. Don’t worry about grammar, complete sentences, or readability.  Don’t fret about spelling or usage.  You’ll tackle all that later.  For now, just get that TUFD down.
  7. You don’t need to actually go for a walk, of course.  Just put some distance between your first draft and the second.
  8. Shape that mess into something that a reader wants to read.  In your head, swap places with your reader as you do so.
  9. Ideally, the person who edits your piece will have a tight grip on grammar, usage, style, and punctuation.  Like a bona fide editor.
  10. Does your piece look inviting, alluring, and easy to scan?  With short paragraphs and bold subheads?  Are your lists numbered or bulleted?  For the most part, chunky chunks of text feel impenetrable and don’t convey energy and movement.
  11. Don’t leave your readers just standing awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor after the music stops.  What do you want them to do next?  Check out other resources?  Sign up to hear more?  Register for an event or a free trial?  Buy something?

The More the Think, the Easier the Ink

Before you begin the writing, be sure you know the purpose or mission or objective of every piece of content that you write.  What are you trying to achieve?  What information, exactly, are you trying to communicate?  And why should your audience care?

Think before ink means finding your key point by asking three questions about every bit of content you’re creating.

  1. am I creating this?  What’s my objective?
  2. What is my key take on the subject or issue?  What’s my point of view?
  3. And, finally, the critical so what? – becauseexercise: why does it matter to the people you are trying to reach?

Organize.  Relax, You’ve Got This

Good writing is like math: it has logic and structure.  It feels solid to the reader: the writer is in control, having taken on the heavy burden of making a piece of writing clear and accessible.

What works for me is a single line at the top of the page that sums up the main point I’m trying to make.  Then I list some key points that relate to or support my bigger idea.  Then I go back and expand on those ideas in another sentence or two, creating paragraphs. Then I move the paragraphs around, adding transitions between them to create a smooth flow.

How can you organize a blog post or article? Whatever its substance, consider what form you want it to take.  Here are 15 approaches to framing your writing,

  1. Quiz. 
  2. Skeptic.
  3. Explainer.
  4. Case study.
  5. Contrarian.
  6. How-to. 6 ½. Quick How-to.
  7. How NOT to.
  8. First person.
  9. Comparison.
  10. Q & A.
  11. Data.
  12. Man on the street.
  13. Outrageous. 13 ½. BuzzFeed-style outrageous (not advised, but good for a laugh!).
  14. Insider secrets.
  15. Literary treatment.

Embrace The Ugly First Draft

Much of writing paralysis is the result of expecting too much of ourselves the first time out.  Sowing letters onto the blank page and expecting something strong and powerful and fully formed to emerge is unrealistic.  Unless you are some kind of deity, that’s not going to happen.

So embrace The Ugly First Draft as necessary. As painful and depressing as it might be to write badly — at least you’re writing, you’re getting the mess out of your head and onto the screen or paper.

Here’s a timeline to keep in mind: 

  1. Jot down your key ideas as they come to you.  Don’t worry about forming full (or even coherent!) sentences.  If you get stuck, think about what’s sticking.  Do you need more research?  More examples?  Another point?  Reread what you’ve written only to remind yourself of what else you wanted to say, or to add some flesh to the bones of your terrible writing.  Ban self-slandering remarks.  Don’t beat yourself up by saying things like I’m a crappy writeror this is awful.
  2. You’ll feel some relief at getting the first draft out — but you might also feel frustrated by your TUFD.
  3. When you do get back to it, you might be horrified.  Take the best parts of your draft and use them in your final product.

Swap Places with Your Reader

Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn’t self-indulgent.  Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they’re reading a piece, and it answers them.  Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately think of things from your readers ‘ point of view, with empathy for the experience you are giving them.

George Orwell wrote: “ A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say?  What words will express it?  What image or idiom will make it clearer?  Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”  And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly?  Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Relentlessly, unremittingly, obstinately focus on the reader. So write your first draft as you usually would — then go back and rework it, swapping places with your readers to consider things from their point of view, with honest empathy for the experience you are giving them.  Ask yourself: what experience is this creating for the reader?  What questions might they have?  Am I making them work too hard to figure out what I am trying to say?

Develop Pathological Empathy

Empathy for the customer experience should be at the root of all of your content, because having a sense of the people you are writing for and a deep understanding of their problems is key to honing your skill. That means you have to meet people where they are, with an attitude of benevolence and largesse, to help them find answers to the problems they have.

Empathy — like writing — isn’t a gift.  It’s a discipline.  It takes some intentional effort and diligence to develop enormous empathy so that you can apply it to your writing.  

  1. Spend time with your customers or prospects.
  2. Understand their habitat.
  3. Be a natural skeptic.
  4. Ask why they do it.
  5. Share story, not just stats.
  6. Use a customer-centric POV.  Replace I or we with you to shift the focus to the customer’s point of view.  Then write (or rewrite) accordingly.

Company-centric: We offer accelerated application development.  
Customer-centric: Deploy an app to the cloud at lunch hour.  And still have time to eat.  

Company-centric: We are the leading global B2B research and advisory firm.  We deliver actionable intelligence, strategic and operational frameworks and personal guidance from experienced practitioners.
Customer-centric: Make better business decisions based on actionable insight and years of experience placed at your disposal.

Company-centric: A Better Way to Learn How to Cook. 
Customer-centric: Become a Cook in 30 Days.

‘Cross Out the Wrong Words ’

You’ve already done the hard part of setting down the words.  Now comes the easier (and, for some, less anxiety-inducing) part of distilling it to its essence — or, crossing out the wrong words and the unnecessary words, and sometimes finding better ones to use.  There are two approaches to self-editing: Developmental editing, which I call editing by chainsaw.  Here’s where you look at the big picture.  Line editing, which I call editing by surgical tools.  Here’s where you look at paragraph and sentence flow, word choice, usage, and so on.

Editing by chainsaw. First, ignore the grammar and specific words you’ve used, and focus on the bigger stuff.

  • State your key idea as clearly as you can near the start.
  • Slash anything that feels extraneous — if it doesn’t support your main point or further your argument, or if it distracts from the key point.  (Even if it’s a good story or anecdote.)  Make every paragraph earn its keep.
  • Make every sentence earn its keep.
  • Move things around.
  • Think of the sentences in a paragraph as a conversation between an elderly, companionable couple.  They don’t talk over each other; they expand or elucidate what the other before them said

Editing with surgical tools. Next, turn off the chainsaw and turn back to the words.

  • Trim the bloat and fat.
  •  Shed the obvious.
  •  Lose Frankenwords, word additives, clichés, and words pretending to be something they’re not.
  •  Trim word bloat.
  •  Ditch adverbs unless they are necessary to adjust the meaning.
  •  Ditch weakling verbs in favor of stronger, ripped ones.
  •  Create transitions between paragraphs.
  •  Draw natural connections between paragraphs.

Start with Dear Mom

The fear of the blank page is the number one cliché in writing.  More often than not, writer’s block — or the reluctance to begin — is rooted in fear and anxiety about knowing where, exactly, to start.  I get that, because I procrastinate, too.  I might not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s evasion.

John McPhee suggests the trick of typing Dear Mother to neuter the fear of the blank page.  If you’re a marketing or business writer, you can adapt that approach by thinking of your favorite customer.

If You Take a Running Start, Cover Your Tracks

At the beginning of a piece, many of us take too long to delve into the topic.  We offer too much setup and background.  In other words, we take a metaphorical running start on the page — before getting to the real starting point.

One of my professors in college used to routinely lop off the first paragraph or two from our essays.  Usually that barely affected the meaning — but greatly improved that first impression I talk about elsewhere here.

Can you trim the start, or lop it off completely? Does doing that help the reader get into the heart of things more quickly?

‘A Good Lede Invites You to the Party and a Good Kicker Makes You Wish You Could Stay Longer’

Give special love to the first and last sentences of your piece — the opening and closing, or the lede and kicker — in traditional journalism terms.

A good lead, then, sets the tone for your writing and hooks the reader into wanting to know more.  Here are some options:  

  • Put your reader into the story.
  • Describe a problem your reader can relate to.
  • Set a stage.
  • Ask a question.
  • Quote a crazy or controversial bit of data.
  • Tell a story or relay a personal anecdote.
  • Other ideas.  You could do other things, too.  Start with a quote.  Use an analogy.  Make a bold statement.  Whatever you do, do it up — because your lead sentence or sentences are among the most important words you’ll string together.

I’d put closings, or kickers, as a close second in importance to the lead.  Finish strong, with a call to action (if appropriate) and a sense of completion, rather than merely trailing off as if you ran out of steam.

Show, Don’t Tell

Good content — and good writing — doesn’t preach or hard-sell.  Instead, it shows how your product or service lives in the world, explaining in human terms how it adds value to people’s lives, eases troubles, shoulders burdens, and meets needs.  In other words, don’t talk about your features, benefits, and shining moons.  Tell me — better yet, show me — why they matter to me.

Specific details make content vibrant, and they add a necessary human element that makes your content more relatable.

  • Recast the biggest takeaway of the piece.
  • Add an element of tonal surprise.
  • Let others have the last word.

Especially in a business-to-business scenario, specific details can help put flesh and blood on the dry bones of a so-called solution, making it real and palpable to the people you are trying to reach.  It’s particularly effective in giving personality to case studies and customer testimonials.

Approach Writing Like Teaching

Good, pathologically empathic writing strives to explain, to make things a little bit clearer, to make sense of our world — even if it’s just a straightforward product description.

Keep It Simple — but Not Simplistic

Good content deconstructs the complex to make it easily understood: It sheds the corporate Frankenspeak.  It conveys things in concise, human, accessible terms.

Hire a Great Editor

Writers have their name on a work, so they naturally get a lot of credit.  But behind the scenes, a good editor adds a lot to the process.

There are three major types of editors: 

  • Copyeditors / proofreaders, who check facts and wield a push broom to clean up messy style issues, punctuation, typos, misspelling, and so on.  
  • Substantive editors, who give a piece of writing a higher level read and offer suggestions on how parts of it might be improved or which parts need to be expanded or condensed.
  • Line editors, who comb through a piece to correct grammar, word choice, and paragraph and sentence flow — while doing a good deal of rewriting as well, all without overwhelming a writer’s voice.

Be Rabid about Readability

In general, the best Web writing isn’t necessarily short, but it is simple, with …  

  • Shorter paragraphs with no more than three sentences or six lines (and just one is fine).
  • Shorter sentences with no more than 25 words in a sentence. 
  • Straightforward words — in other words, avoid clichés, jargon, and buzzwords (for example, avoid utilize when you can write use, instead).

So …  

  • Use bulleted or numbered lists.   
  • Highlight key points (like this one), either in bold or italic, or as a pull quote.   
  • Use subheadings to break up text.   
  • Add visual elements, such as graphics, photos, slide shows, and so on.   
  • Use lots of white space to give your text room to breathe.
  • (like this one), either in bold or italic, or as a pull quote.   

End on an I-Can’t-Wait-to-Get-Back-to-It Note

I like to end a writing session when things are going well and not when I’m sucking wind, so that the next time I pick up that writing again (to rewrite, edit, or whatever) I have some momentum carrying me into it.

Set a Goal Based on Word Count (Not Time )

Make sure you measure your writing in output (words) rather than in effort expended (time ).

Deadlines Are the WD-40 of Writing

However many words you write per day, at some point you’ve got to be done.  So give yourself a hard deadline.  And then strictly adhere to it.  Be stern with yourself: don’t allow yourself to float it further out, or treat it as a mere suggestion, or disregard it entirely. Do the best work you can by the deadline you’ve set, and then consider your writing project finished.

Writing Rules: Grammar and Usage

Use Real Words

Why do we use buzzwords and jargon?  Those words are the chemical additives of business writing online: You can use them, and maybe one or two used sparingly don’t much matter.  But use too many of them and they become toxic.

Know the Difference between Active and Passive Voice

Verbs in a sentence are either active or passive. Passive means that something is being done to something, instead of that something doing the action on its own.

Using the passive voice is not incorrect, but you’ll vastly improve your writing just by making your sentences active.  Active sounds zippier and more alive.  Passive tends to sound a little stilted and awkward, as if you’re just learning a new language.

Ditch Weakling Verbs

Use expressive verbs when you can — when you are describing actions people take or events that occur — because they paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.  With strong verbs your sentences come alive; they throb with a pulse.

Ditch Adverbs, Except When They Adjust the Meaning

Most writers use adverbs gratuitously, tossing them into text when they really aren’t necessary.  They add bloat to the field (or your sentence) and pretty soon they get cut from the roster. Often you can ditch an adverb if you also ditch a weakling verb in favor of livelier one.  That makes your sentence briefer and punchier, and it paints a more vibrant picture.  You should also try cutting an adverb to see whether you absolutely need it to intensify an action or description.  Does dropping the adverb alter the meaning ?

Use Clichés Only Once in a Blue Moon

Lazy writers use clichés as business platitudes and seem to insert them almost reflexively, without much forethought or intention.

Avoid These Mistakes Marketers Make

A while ago, I started keeping a list of the more common transgressions.  Here are the top 17 followed by their anti-wordiness, anti-fuzzy thinking, pro-brevity, pro-clarity equivalents:

  1. Ways by which = Ways 
  2. Continues to be = Remains 
  3. In order to = To (especially at the beginning of a sentence) 
  4. There (are) will be times when = Sometimes, At times 
  5. Despite the fact that = Although, Though 
  6. At which time = When 
  7. In spite of = Despite 
  8. When it comes to = In, When 
  9. The majority of = Most 
  10. A number of = Some, Few, Several, Various (or eliminate entirely) 
  11. When asked = Asked 
  12. Leverage (as verb) = Use (or Put to Use ), Harness, Apply, 
  13. The same level of = As much 
  14. While (if not being used to mean during or at the same time as) = Although or Though, Whereas 
  15. Moving forward = Later, In the future, From now on, Hereafter 
  16. Centered around = Centered on 
  17. Try and [verb] = Try to [verb] 

Other common errors:  

  • Use should have, not should of.   
  • Keep your verb tense consistent throughout; don’t switch around between present, future, past tenses.   
  • I versus me.  If you eliminate the other person’s name, does the sentence still make sense?  Not cool: Colin went for a walk with Corey and I.  Cool: Colin went for a walk with Corey and me.  
  • However and independent clauses.  If you use however to join two independent clauses (think sentences) you’ll need to use a semicolon — not a comma — before however.
    For example: I like eating ice cream; however, it doesn’t sit well with me. Better yet, don’t try to sound so fancy—use but instead: I like eating ice cream, but it doesn’t sit well with me. 
  • Not only [x] … but also [y].  Not only – but alsoare correlative conjunctions (conjunctions that are used in pairs).  If the sentence construction isn’t parallel when you use these conjunctions — that is, if x and y are not the same kind of thing (verb, noun, prepositional phrase, etc. ) — the reader will be confused for a split second.
  • [Company, product, other entity] saw a 10 percent improvement in market share, revenue growth of 10 percent, and so on.  Can a product or company really see anything?  Does it have eyes?  No.
  • In terms of.  If you find yourself using in terms of, chances are you’re not thinking clearly.
  • This / that and these / those.  Unless the antecedent is absolutely clear to the reader, don’t use this, that, these, or those — especially at the beginning of a sentence.
  •  Hyphens after adverbs ending in ly.  If your adverb ends in ly and you’re building a compound modifier, don’t use a hyphen after the adverb.

Break Some Grammar Rules (At Least These Five )

  1. Never start a sentence with and, but, or because.
  2. Avoid sentence fragments.
  3. Never split infinitives.
  4. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.
  5. Never write a paragraph that’s a mere one sentence long.

Limit Moralizing 

Avoid beginning sentences with words that you’d hear from a pulpit, your parent, or a professor.  Specifically, watch the use of … Don’t forget … Never … Avoid … Don’t … Remember to … And one so awful I can barely type it: Always remember to …

Things Marketers Write

This section represents the block and tackle of marketing: if you get these right, you’re winning.

The Ideal Length for Blog Posts, Podcast, Facebook Posts, Tweets, and Other Marketing Content

  • Blog post.  The ideal length for a search-optimized blog post is 1,500 words.
  • Email subject lines.  The ideal email subject line has 50 or fewer characters.
  • Website text line.  The ideal length for a line of text on a website is 12 words.
  • Paragraph.  The ideal length for a paragraph is between 3 and 4 lines, maximum.
  • YouTube video.  The ideal length for a YouTube video is between 3 and 3 ½ minutes.  I’d actually argue for shorter.
  • Podcast.  The ideal length for a podcast is 22 minutes, because that’s the length of the average listener attention span.
  • Title tag.  The ideal length for a title tag is 55 characters.
  • Meta description.  The ideal length for a meta description is 155 characters.
  • Facebook post.  The ideal length for a Facebook post is between 100 and 140 characters — or about the same length as a tweet.
  • Tweet.  The ideal length for a tweet is between 120 and 130 characters.
  • Domain name.  The ideal length for a domain name is 8 characters, mostly because short is easy to remember.

Writing for LinkedIn… Always Be Helping

Everyone on LinkedIn should have …

  • An optimized profile.  Keyword-rich descriptions, standout headline, link-backs to blogs, Twitter handle, and (most importantly), a profile that is actively sharing relevant content on a consistent basis.
  • A robust company page.  First and foremost make sure your company page is accurate and has a complete description.  Next add a compelling banner and be sure to be actively sharing relevant content.
  • A habit to curate useful news or insights via company pages.  There are several ways to effectively curate useful content for a Company page.  From following influencers to diving into Pulse each morning to following relevant companies and other thought leaders, it’s easy to find, curate, and share relevant content.

Writing Your LinkedIn Profile…  ‘Responsible’ Is Overrated

Differentiate yourself by uniquely describing what you have accomplished … and back it up with concrete examples of your work by adding photos, videos, and presentations to your LinkedIn Profile that demonstrate your best work.  Providing concrete examples to illustrate how you are responsible or strategic is always better than just simply using the words.

Other tips: Claim your LinkedIn vanity URL, which makes your profile look more memorable and professional, and makes it easier to share.   Consider the key words you want to be known for, and optimize your profile by including those words in your headline and summary.   Customize your profile rather than using the LinkedIn defaults. 

Writing for Email… What Would You Open

People on your email list have asked to receive your emails.   That’s an advantage: you have the privilege of interacting with a person by invitation, in the relatively intimate setting of the recipient’s own in-box.

Many still treat email as a broadcast tactic — using a word like blast to describe an email campaign, or not segmenting a list to make messages relevant to the people who care the most, or not testing various approaches to see what works with their audience.

In other words: this is a good time to rethink your email content, to reconsider what you’re sending, and why, and how you’re communicating.  Earlier we talked about swapping places with your reader.  Here, I’m suggesting you swap places with your recipient and write an email you would open.  Much of the typical advice around email marketing writing is straightforward:  

  • Use short subject lines.  Emails with subject lines of 6 – 10 words have the highest open rates, yet most emails sent by marketers have subject lines of 11 – 15 words.
  • Let your free flag fly.  Marketers used to be cautioned to avoid using words in the subject line that would trigger a spam filter, like free or lifetime
  • Use the recipient’s first name.  Emails with the recipient’s first name in the subject line had a higher open rate (18.3 percent compared with 15.7 percent) than those without the name ,
  • Keep email copy short.  As with any content, brevity usually rules.  In most cases you should get to the point right away, because most of your readers are probably viewing their email on a mobile device with a limited screen view.
  • Be a real person.  Write with a point of view — from an actual person to an actual person.  I don’t necessarily mean this literally.  The from line might still be the company’s brand name, but the content should feel as if it comes from an actual person, speaking to me in the first person (using I or we and you ), with natural-sounding language.

Writing Headlines… Learn How to Effortlessly Write an Intoxicatingly Irresistible Headline — and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

The key is this: spend as much time on the headline as you do on the writing itself.  Respect the headline.  The headline is not the metaphorical cherry on top, the dot over the i, the cross on the t, the icing on the cake, or the finishing flourish.

Keep in mind the following prescriptions when writing your headlines:

  • Create a curiosity gap, but with moderation.
  • Promise what you’re going to deliver.
  • Place your reader directly into the headline.
  • Be economical, and test.
  • Ideally, your headline should have fewer than 70 characters, as the chart in Rule 60 suggests.
  • Use numbers.  Numbers set expectations for readers.  I like oddball numbers (like 3 ½, or 19, or 37).  But see what works for you.
  • Use lively words.

Writing a Home Page… We Get You

There are many variables — related to the nature of your business and its goals — that determine what will make a successful home page for your business.  So keep in mind that I’m advocating a general approach and not delivering a prescription.  

  • ·       Speak to your audience.  Who is your audience?  Whom do you want to attract?  And — just as important — whom do you not want to attract?  All good content is rooted in a clear understanding of your audience.
  • They like me! They really like me! Part of understanding your customers is truly knowing what motivates them.  When you know what that is, you’re able to communicate how you can help them.  You want your home page to say, “We get you. And, what’s more, you belong here. We understand your challenges, your fears, your pain, your hopes, your needs.  We shoulder your burdens.  We’ve got your back.  We’ll give you a leg up.”
  • Keep it stupid-simple.  Don’t be tempted to fill space with lots of copy and graphics, especially above the fold — the part of a Web page that first appears in Web browsers when it’s opened.
  • Use words your audience uses.  You don’t need to embellish what you do.  Use words that are familiar to your potential customer.
  • Use you promiscuously.  On your home page, use you more than you use us or we.
  • Convey trust.  Your home page should include elements that suggest others trust you.

Writing the About Us Page… When It’s Not Really About You

The key to a successful About Us page sounds paradoxical: the best About Us pages aren’t really about the company; instead, they focus on relaying who they are in relation to the visitor.

All good content puts the reader first, and that’s no different on your About Us page.  In other words, About Us gives you a chance to talk about yourself, but always in the context of what you do for your customers.  What burdens you help them shoulder, what problems you solve for them.

Here are some other rules to follow when creating your About Us page: Show a human, accessible side.

  • Show your people as real people.
  • Include an Easter Egg.  Surprise visitors to your About Us page with something unexpected.
  • Bring your customers into your story.

Writing Better Blog Posts

The best advice I can offer about writing better blog posts, then, is to simply follow the prescription for better writing in the previous sections of this book.  (What will your audience thank you for?) There’s nothing more magical I can offer than that.  But here are some tactical suggestions that have more to do with structuring a post than with the writing itself:  

  • Keep headlines tight.
  • Add blog bling.  Every post should have a large graphic or embedded video.
  • Time it well.  Usually the best time for publication is between 8 and 10 a.m.  weekdays, in the time zone where your readers live, Guy says.
  • Use bullets and numbered lists.  “ Bullets and numbers indicate an organized mind and empathy for the time constraints of readers, ” Guy said.  I couldn’t agree more.  Also, they tend to create white space.
  • Provide sharing and subscriber options.  Don’t leave your visitors hanging! Give them a path to conversion — however you are defining the conversion action (download, sale, signup, etc.).
  • Keep them short.  Ish.  Posts should have fewer than 1,500 words.
  • Use an interesting approach.  Remember the mandate in Rule 8: good writing has logic and structure.  But the structure itself can help to draw your readers in; revisit Rule 8 for some ideas about approaches and organizing.
  • Show up.  Half of blogging is consistency, or just showing up on a regular basis.
  • Build scale.  To establish yourself, write for your audience’s audience.  A great way to build scale for your blog is to ensure that your writing appeals to industry influencers ,
  • Experiment.

Epilogue

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die 
without putting a word on paper. – E. B. White 

Done is better than perfect. 

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