Tag Archive | "Craft"

5 Practical Tips on the Craft of Copywriting

This post is about the practice of writing. It’s about developing habits that make it easier to sit down and…

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3 Simple Questions that Help You Craft Better Headlines

Writers are communicators. If you’re proud of your ideas, you want to be able to communicate them clearly and precisely….

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Using Empathy and Connection to Craft More Powerful Content

I recently heard our friend Joanna Wiebe say something that blew my mind. I didn’t get it down word for…

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How to Craft Question Headlines that Don’t Flop

During last week’s Editorial call here at Copyblogger, we had a lively discussion about ham. But that’s not the H-word I’m going to talk about today. More commonly, we analyze headlines. There’s nothing more disappointing than a unique, thoughtful, and helpful piece of content that has a headline that doesn’t do it justice. Great content
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4 Ways to Craft Content that Earns Your Audience’s Attention

About four years ago, I wrote about the idea of “Content Shock” — and maybe I was a tiny bit snarky about it. “Content Shock” is Mark Schaefer’s term for the point when there’s so much content published every day that we’re all drowning in it — and content stops working. I stand by my
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Use These 4 Copywriting Pillars to Craft Kickass Presentations

I love presentations. I love going to them and I love giving them. You have a defined amount of time, during which a bunch of people come together to listen to a message. Whether your presentation is online (a SlideShare, a webinar) or in the real world (a talk to a large or small audience),
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3 Advanced Ways to Craft Better Sentences

"How do you determine if you've written a strong sentence or a weak sentence?" – Stefanie Flaxman

While the goal of “improving your content writing” may seem complex, it’s not necessarily more complicated than improving each sentence you write.

Better sentences add up to better content.

So, let’s break down content writing into sentence writing.

I’m not about to show you how to write a “perfect” sentence. Instead, these three tips will help you remember that every sentence you write is an opportunity to practice.

And during your writing practice, you can implement smart changes that keep your reader focused on your message.

1. No sentence is an island

Even if you’re examining just one individual sentence, it’s helpful to review the sentences that surround it.

There are two main reasons why:

  1. You may have overused a word. Sometimes you’ll intentionally repeat a word for emphasis or because it fits the rhythm of your writing. But we often overuse words without meaning to. When you review your writing, vary your word choice to create a more stimulating reading experience.
  2. You may have belabored a point. Give each sentence you write a specific purpose. If you communicate the exact same idea in two different sentences, it’s probably wise to delete one.

When you look at the broader context of your writing while aiming to improve one sentence, you kick off a sort of domino effect. Noticing one weakness helps you correct other weaker sections.

2. Writing skin needs exfoliation

The most “advanced” skill you can learn is to examine your own writing with a critical eye.

A critical eye doesn’t mean you’re so hard on yourself that you get discouraged. It just lets you swiftly identify areas of your sentences that either hinder comprehension or lack the details that magnetically hold attention.

I like the comparison to skin exfoliation because rough drafts, like dry skin, are … rough.

For example, you’re probably already familiar with the benefits of using active verbs instead of passive verbs.

Changing a sentence from “Joplin was devastated by the twister” to “The twister devastated Joplin” exfoliates the sentence to make it smoother.

Removing extra words is another form of exfoliation.

Here’s an example from my recent article on finding more loyal readers. I’ve bolded the extra words in the draft of this paragraph.

Edith likes Frank’s article idea, but she needs to consult with him and educate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can use them to match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.

Here’s the published version of that paragraph.

Edith likes Frank’s article idea, but she needs to educate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.

To give you one more example, in the draft of this article I wrote, “Here’s the final version of the paragraph that we published.” As you can see above, that sentence turned into, “Here’s the published version of that paragraph.”

Developing an eye for excess will sharpen your writing.

3. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When I edit, I always have a browser tab with a Google search bar open.


Because I’m constantly looking up the meanings of words or idioms that I don’t consider straightforward — anything that sticks out and makes me question whether or not it is correct.

Even if I’m 95 percent certain, it’s always beneficial to verify that it’s the most appropriate word or phrase.

My Google search browser tab is also helpful for double-checking the spellings of proper names, places, products, and companies.

The bottom line here is valuing professional editorial standards that help guarantee accuracy. Take the time to ensure your readers effortlessly understand your content and aren’t distracted by a misspelling, or the incorrect use of a word or idiom.

Over to you …

How do you determine if you’ve written a strong sentence or a weak sentence?

What are your favorite ways to review your drafts?

Since it’s also content challenge week on Copyblogger, I challenge you to critically examine each sentence you write before you post your comment below.

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How to Craft Timelessly Powerful Stories with Freaks, Cheats, and Familiars

"You don't have to be a born storyteller. Storytelling is a craft, and it can be learned." – Sonia Simone

A few weeks ago, I recorded a podcast episode about Jonah Sachs’s book Winning the Story Wars. He had a particularly useful observation about three story elements that pull in audience attention. He calls them Freaks, Cheats, and Familiars.

Sachs explains how these elements can be deployed, like the Hero’s Journey, to make stories much more memorable and engaging.

As I was reading Story Wars, it struck me that there’s a well-known figure who illustrates all three of these elements in one person: legendary bodybuilder, action star, two-term California Governor, and crafter of potent analogies, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here’s how it works:


Remember when we talked about not being so damned boring?

Sameness is boring. Conformity is boring. You break the brutal cycle of boring by being different.

Sachs’s freaks are story characters who compel our attention because they are different. They might be particularly tall or short, particularly handsome or ugly, or physically distinctive in some other way.

They also might be quite normal-looking people who stand out because they’re in a particular context. Normally we wouldn’t call Justin Trudeau a freak, but he’s almost bizarrely good-looking for a head of state. I’m a quite ordinary-looking person, but my pink hair stands out, particularly in a business context — and it becomes a freak element that people remember.

Schwarzenegger, of course, achieved freak status with his remarkable physique. To this day, he’s one of the most influential figures in bodybuilding history, with five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia wins.

But there are lots of bodybuilders. I’d argue that it’s Schwarzenegger’s strong Austrian accent that helps make him instantly memorable. That combination — the massive physique with the specific accent — creates a kind of “sketch” of him in our minds, even if we haven’t seen him often.

Freaks make great characters because they have good hooks to make them stick in our minds. A voice, a walk, a scar, a costume. Note that “freak” in this case isn’t pejorative and doesn’t imply that there’s something wrong with the person’s appearance.

One way to determine if you have a freak: if you saw them drawn in a graphic novel, with minimal context, would you recognize them?

Other memorable freaks, from both stories and real life, include:

  • Darth Vader
  • Dennis Rodman
  • The Joker
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Carrot Top
  • David Bowie
  • Gollum


Sachs’s second engrossing element is the cheat.

These are characters who cheat the system — who violate some social norm. They embody the trickster archetype and are notable in that they can be either a hero or a villain. (A few, like the Norse god Loki, manage to be both.)

Good cheats challenge corrupt social norms and undermine them. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a cheat in this sense. So are all those detectives in novels who just can’t seem to follow the rules.

Bad cheats are the ones who undermine the social rules we value. Liars, thieves, betrayers of trust.

Cheats bring massive energy to a story. When we find out that someone is breaking the rules, we’re almost compelled to find out more … and to figure out if this is a brave visionary or a dangerous crook.

Schwarzenegger’s reputation as a trickster started with the documentary Pumping Iron, which showed him cleverly tricking his opponents into sabotaging themselves. His 2003 run for Governor of California revolved around breaking the “business as usual” political norms that voters found boring and unsatisfying.

Whether he was a “good” or a “bad” cheat in that context depended on your politics — but he did manage to win the governorship for two terms. (His opponent, Gray Davis, was a politician whose name perfectly described his political charisma.)

Schwarzenegger continues to bend the political “rules,” as a prominent Republican voice urging action on climate change.

Other memorable cheats include:

  • Han Solo
  • Tim Ferriss
  • Richard Nixon
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Iron Man
  • Bugs Bunny
  • Ulysses


So … freaks and cheats are inherently interesting and memorable, but they aren’t inherently trustworthy.

Stories that motivate us to action need another element: familiarity.

If Schwarzenegger hadn’t been a celebrity, it’s hard to envision him as a successful candidate. People knew his name, his accent, and his penchant for thumbing his nose at the establishment. The first person to mimic his famous “Terminator” accent did so about five minutes after the premiere of The Terminator. (Note: I made that up, but you know it has to be true.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger was widely known, so his oddness seemed fairly safe. He helped things along by being willing to play with his own image. He was widely called “The Governator,” by his fans and critics alike. A typical politician couldn’t call the California state assembly “girly men,” but Schwarzenegger, riffing off of the Saturday Night Live parody of characters like him, pulled it off … because everyone understood the reference.

Stories that are populated only by freaks and cheats will feel unnerving. Familiars allow regular people — those who aren’t freaks and cheats — to feel at home in the story being told.

And sometimes, someone like Schwarzenegger with strong “freak and cheat” credentials becomes a familiar simply by virtue of being highly visible over a long period of time.

Familiar characters are relatable. They seem like “real people.” While they may have accomplished amazing things (they could even be freakish in their abilities), they also feel like someone we could know personally.

I’d argue that all of these folks have elements of the familiar:

  • Luke Skywalker
  • Oprah
  • Captain America
  • Peyton Manning
  • Frodo Baggins
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • The Bush family

The trifecta

The strongest stories will often include all three of these elements, but they don’t always come wrapped in the same character.

Schwarzenegger’s not the only one, though, by any means. Neo in The Matrix starts off as a mild-mannered Familiar, becomes an ultra-powerful Freak, and then evolves into the ultimate Cheat who sees through and disrupts the Matrix’s corrupt nature.

Tyrion in Game of Thrones is an obvious “Freak,” whose physical differences cause him untold pain. He’s a Cheat when he scoffs at the norms of his society and manages to talk his way out of situations that would kill off anyone else. And he plays the role of Familiar as one of the few characters who seems to show actual human feelings. (Game of Thrones makes extensive use of the three elements. Notice that two other triple-threat characters, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, stand out among a cast of ultra-vivid characters as particularly memorable.)

Most comedians also pull all three elements together. Louis C.K., like many comedians, has a speaking voice that’s immediately recognizable (Freak). He gets laughs by poking at social norms, sometimes brutally (Cheat). And he does it as an average-looking guy — digging deep into the psyche of “regular people” (Familiar).

Jonah Sachs didn’t make up “freaks, cheats, and familiars.” He just noticed how they worked to make many, many stories more memorable.

If you’re looking for ways to tell stories that resonate more deeply, that move your audience to action, and that are just plain interesting, give these a try. Don’t think you have to be a born storyteller. Storytelling is a craft, and it can be learned.

Ever use one (or all) of these elements in your content? Let us know in the comments!

Image source: reza shayestehpour via Unsplash.

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Sherlock Holmes and Mastery of the Craft of Writing

"Choose. Focus. Become an idiot." – Robert Bruce

Sherlock Holmes was the greatest Consulting Detective in the world.

Though merely a fiction — written over a century ago by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — his methods of logical deduction are without equal.

Holmes’s mastery of his craft brought him to the fog-cloaked London doorsteps of the most powerful people of his time.

Correction: he was so good, those clients came to him.

They ran, desperate, to his Baker Street rooms, begging for his help, willing to pay any amount of money for his services.

What can Sherlock Holmes teach us about the craft of writing?


I’ll let you find the wealth of anecdote, advice, and adventure in Conan Doyle’s stories for yourself, but here’s a short list on Holmesian mastery to get you started …

Make a decision

When you watch or listen to an interview with a brilliant and successful writer, something happens deep down in your gut.

Some part of you thinks something like, “Ah yes, listen to her. Her fate was sealed from birth. Some are chosen to create brilliant work, and the rest of us are screwed.”

What you conveniently dismiss from such interviews — if they’re included at all — are the stories of the hours, days, weeks, months, and years of silent practice that the writer has put in.

Somewhere, back there, a decision was made.

On a particular day, at a particular hour, that writer had said, “This is the thing I will dedicate my working life to.”

Sometimes — as in Holmes’s case — there are obvious hints regarding what that “thing” is. Most times, there are none.

The first step on the road to mastery is making a conscious decision about what you will decide to master.

Do not wait for it. Decide.

Focus, focus, focus

Our society tells us from youth that we should become “well-rounded” individuals.

If you want to master your craft, ignore that advice.

Sherlock Holmes focused intensely on a narrow set of criminological skills and subjects that ultimately made him an incomparable detective.

He studied specific disciplines within botany and chemistry — only to the point that they served his needs as a detective.

He learned the science of cryptography in order to swiftly crack the codes of master criminal communication.

He became competent enough in human anatomy to forge the early stages of what would become actual forensic analysis in murder investigations.

He would lie down napping, smoking, and thinking for hours about one minute aspect of a case, not moving until an idea — and sometimes a complete solution — came to him.

Think deeply about the core demands of your craft.

What is needed to advance in mastery of it?

What can be ignored as mere distraction?

Practice brutal focus.

Our fictional detective’s methods are studied even now by very real, working detectives everywhere, because he had the discipline to stay within the arena of his expertise.

Note: For those familiar with Holmes’s methods … No, I am not advocating the use of morphine and/or cocaine.

Become an idiot

Idiocy is the other side of the coin of mastery.

In order to focus your working life on mastering your craft, you’ve got to rule out a lot of the trivia that takes up most people’s time.

Sherlock Holmes could determine what part of the city you’d been recently walking through, from a quick glance at the type of mud on your boot.

He was a strikingly horrible violin player.

Within moments of meeting, he could tell you where you were born, what you’d eaten for lunch, if your brother was an alcoholic, and if you’d served in the war (and where).

He knew nothing about current events or the politics of his day.

He could seemingly predict the future, arriving at correct conclusions that left witnesses believing he was an other-worldly being.

He was utterly oblivious to the basic astronomical patterns of the stars and planets.

Holmes accomplished his amazing ability to see the obvious by … becoming an idiot.

Holmes’s greatness — and ours — is largely defined by what we do not know.

He had one driving professional goal — to engage and best the greatest (and lowest) criminals in the world. He shut out the rest, and he did not care if anyone regarded him as less than “well-rounded.”

All of his considerable mental power was directed at the “elementary” practice of deduction and the few peripheral disciplines that supported it.

Distraction pulls us in all directions

The boredom of repetition drives us to other interests. The pressures of culture make us worry we are missing out on something “important” if we dedicate ourselves to our pursuit of mastery.


If you want to master writing, you are giving up running the 800 meters in the Olympic Games.

If you want to master the cello, you are giving up the ability to talk about what’s good on television these days.

If you want to master anything, you must become an idiot about nearly everything else.

Oddly, you must become an idiot in order to become a genius.

Continue to obsess

This path of mastery is not for everyone, but I believe it is one of the great callings and joys this life has to offer.

You’ll never get all the way there … nobody does.

There is only so much time in one day, only so many days in one life.

As our immortal Victorian detective (and the extraordinary man who wrote him into existence) has shown, mastery is one way to truly change the world.

Choose. Focus. Become an idiot.

Image source: Blake Richard Verdoorn via Unsplash.

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How to Craft a Remarkable SEO Strategy for 2017 – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

From understanding the big-picture search trends to making sure your SEO goals jive with your CEO’s goals, there’s a lot to consider when planning for 2017. Next year promises to be huge for our industry, and in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand outlines how to craft a truly remarkable SEO strategy to help you sail through 2017.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to this special New Year’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season and are about to have a wonderful New Year’s.

This week, we’re going to chat about how you can have a remarkable, amazing SEO strategy in 2017. The first thing I’m actually going to start with is not the broad-spectrum, strategic picture, which we talked a little bit here on Whiteboard Friday about, and I’ll reference some of those, but is actually understanding some of those big-picture search trends. What are the search engines doing? How is that affecting my strategy? How does that mean I should influence and affect my specific tactics for 2017? So I’ll walk through a few of these big ones. There are others, but I think these encapsulate many of the big things we’ve been seeing.

I. Understand the big-picture search trends

  • A huge rise in SERP features, meaning that Google is showing many more types of data and types of markup in the search results. We have, I believe, 17 that we record for Keyword Explorer, but there are another 7 or 8 that we do not record, but that we see in between 1% and 2% of queries. So there’s just a ton of different features that are going in there.
  • A rise in instant answers. This is especially true on mobile, but it’s true on desktop as well. Google is trying to answer a lot of the queries themselves, and that can mean they’re taking away traffic from you, or it can mean there’s opportunity to get into those features or those answers.
  • Intent > keywords: We’re also seeing this trend that started with Hummingbird and now, obviously, continued with RankBrain around intent, searcher intent being more important than keywords in how we target our content. This does not mean you can remove keywords from the equation. You have to understand what the searcher has typed into the engine before you can serve their intent, and very small variations in keyword structure can mean real changes in searcher intent. That’s a critical part of how we craft content for people.
  • The value of comprehensiveness has clearly been on the rise. That’s been true for a couple of years, but it definitely is a trend that continued in 2016 and we expect to continue into 2017. You can see a bunch of examples of research in that area, including some from Whiteboard Friday itself.
  • Multi-device speed and user experience, Google’s been harping on this for several years now, and I think what we are observing is that speed is not the only user experience element. Google has taken action against overlays and pop-ups. They’ve taken action, clearly, that suggests that there are some engagement metrics that are going on there, and that sites that have better user experience and that garner better engagement are doing better in the search results.
  • We’ve seen a bunch of trends around unreliability of Google data. That includes search volume data. It includes data in AdWords, around Google showing you which keywords are in there. It includes inaccuracies in Google Search Console, formerly Webmaster Tools, around rankings. My colleague, Russ Jones, has just put out a big piece on that showing, essentially, that if Google says you got this many impressions and this many clicks, that may be totally wrong and false, so be cautious around that.
  • Voice search, clearly on the rise. Not yet a huge trend in terms of an addressable market that search marketers can go after, but we’ve talked a few ways here on Whiteboard Friday and at Moz about how you can think about voice search impacting your results in the future and what types of content you might want to produce to be in front of voice searchers.
  • Machine learning and deep learning, Google has clearly made a shift to that in the last 18 months, and we’re seeing it affect the search results in terms of how they’re considering links, how they’re looking at keyword searches, and how they’re looking at content.
  • Multi-visit buyer journeys have always been important, but I think we are now seeing the trend to where not just search marketers but marketers of all stripes recognize this, and a lot of us are optimizing for it, which means that the competitive landscape now demands that you optimize for a multi-visit buyer journey, that you don’t just consider a single visit in your conversion path or in your optimization path, and that means, for SEOs, considering what are all the queries someone might perform as they come to and come back to my site.
  • Bias to brands, that is a continuing trend over the last few years. We’re still seeing it, and we’re seeing it even more so. I would say we’re seeing it even when those brands have not necessarily earned tons of links, which used to be the big dominating factor in the world of is a brand stronger than a non-brand. A lot of times that was about links. Now it seems that those are decoupled.
  • That being said, we’re kind of feeling an undiminished value of links. If you’ve built a brand, if you’ve done a lot of these things successfully, links are certainly how you can stand out in the search results. That’s pretty much as true in 2016 and ’17 as it was in 2011 and 2012. Only caveat there is that the quality of links matters a lot more.

So, knowing all those things, I think we can now craft some very smart SEO tactics. We can apply those to the SEO problems we face.

II. Map your organizations top-level goals to how your SEO efforts can best assist:

Step two is to map your organization’s top-level goals to your SEO tactics, and that can look something like this.

Here’s Zow Corporate, the opposite of Moz, which is hopefully not very corporate. Zow Corporate’s big three for 2017, they want to grow revenue with new enterprise customers, they want to lower their costs to get more profitable, and they want to improve their upsell to existing customers. So SEO can help with these things by — and this is a really smart framework — you want to take the things that your organization wants to accomplish at its executive or board level, and you want to show that SEO is actually doing those things, not just that you’re trying to rank for keywords or bring more traffic, but that you’ve mapped your priorities in this way.

So I could say SEO can help by identifying searchers that enterprise targets and influencers perform and then ranking for those. We can lower our costs to get more profitable by reducing the cost per acquisition. We’ll drive more traffic with organic search, thus reducing our dependency on advertising and other forms of marketing that cost a lot more. Those types of things.

III. Build a keyword-to-content map

Step three is to build a keyword to content map. We talked about this here on Whiteboard Friday. I’d urge you to check that out if you haven’t already. But the basic concept is to have a list of terms and phrases that come out of your tactics and your goals, that you build a map for and then show like, “All right, here’s how we’re ranking today. Here’s the URL which we’re ranking with,” or, “We don’t yet have a URL that’s targeting this keyword phrase, and thus, we need to build it,” and then the action required there and what the priority is.

IV. Break down the SEO efforts into discrete projects with ETAs and people assigned, ordered by expected ROI

You can also think about adding some additional things to your content-to-keyword map or to your project list by breaking down all the SEO efforts that you’re going to do to hit all these goals into discrete projects with a few thingsan estimated time of delivery, the people who are assigned to it, and an ordering based on the expected return on investment. You can be wrong about this. It’s okay to be, “Hey, we’re taking our best guess, thumb in the air. We don’t really know for sure, but we’re going to try. Here’s the project. It’s link building for the home page. It’s our number-one priority. The value estimate is high because we currently rank number two or three for our own brand name. It’s assigned to this person, to Rand, and the ETA is March 30th.” Great, terrific, and now I know. I’ve taken this from here and from my projects list. It’s part of my goals. It’s where I think I can have a big impact. Terrific.

V. Build a reporting/measurement system that shows progress and ties revenue/goals to clear metrics:

Then, step five, the last one here is to build a reporting and measurement system that’s going to show progress, not just to you internally, but to your entire team, or to your client if you’re a consultant or an agency, and that anyone can look at and say, “Ah! This is where they’re going with this. This is how they’ve done so far.”

So you want to take any tactic or any project and add the metrics by which you will measure yourself. So if we’re trying to rank in the top three for our competitor comparison searches, Zow versus whatever companies Zow’s competing with, and the metrics there are ranking first, then search volume, the traffic we get from it, the conversions, and the retention of those customers who’ve come through, now you’ve got a real picture of how your SEO efforts map up to these big-picture goals. It’s a great way to frame your SEO.

So, with that being said, I am looking very much forward to hearing how you’re planning your 2017 SEO strategy. If you have recommendations and tips that you’d like to see here or questions, feel free to leave them in there, and despite the holiday break, I will be in there to answer your questions as best I can.

Look forward to joining you again next week and next year for a wonderful year of SEO and Whiteboard Fridays. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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