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Clickbait or Damn Good Headline?

When I review applications from students in our Certified Content Marketer training program, I get to read some great content. And giving feedback on headlines to make them more powerful is one of my favorite parts of the process. My reason for that is simple. No one will ever know how good your content is
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How to Craft the Best Damn E-commerce Page on the Web – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

From your top-level nav to your seal-the-deal content, there are endless considerations when it comes to crafting your ecommerce page. Using one of his personal favorite examples, Rand takes you step by detailed step through the process of creating a truly superb ecommerce page in today’s Whiteboard Friday.

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Video Transcription

Howdy all and welcome to a special edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Rand Fishkin. I’m the founder of Moz, and today I want to talk with you about how to craft the best damn ecommerce page on the web. I’m actually going to be using the example of one of my very favorite ecommerce pages. That is the Bellroy Slim Wallet page. Now, Bellroy, actually, all of their pages, Bellroy makes wallets and they market them online primarily. They make some fantastic products. I’ve been an owner of one for a long time, and it was this very page that convinced me to buy it. So what better example to use?

So what I want to do today is walk us through the elements of a fantastic ecommerce page, talk about some things where I think perhaps even Bellroy could improve, and then walk through, at the very end, the process for improving your own ecommerce page.

The elements of a fantastic e-commerce page

So let’s start with number one, the very first thing which a lot of folks, unfortunately, don’t talk about but is critical to a great ecommerce process and a great ecommerce page, and that is…

1. The navigation at the very top

The navigation at the top needs to do a few things. It’s got to help people:

  • Understand and know where they are in the site structure, especially if you have a more complex site. In Bellroy’s case, they don’t really need to highlight anything. You know you’re on a wallet page. That’s probably in Shop, right? But for Amazon, this is critically important. For Best Buy, this is hugely important. Even for places like Samsung and Apple, critical to understand where I am in the site structure.
  • I want to know something about the brand itself. So if this is the first time that someone is visiting the website, which is very often the case with ecommerce pages, they’re often entry points for the first exposure that you have to a brand. Let’s recall, from what we know about conversion rate optimization, it is uncommon, unusual for someone to convert on their first visit to a brand or a website’s page, but you can make a great first impression, and part of that is what your top navigation needs to do. So it should help people identify with the brand, get a sense for the style and the details of who you are.
  • You need to know where, broadly, you can go in the website. Where can I explore from here? If this is my first visit or if this is my second visit and I’m trying to learn a little bit more about the company, I want to be able to easily get to places like About, or I want to be able to easily learn more about their products or what they do, learn more about the potential solutions, learn more about their collections and what other things they offer me.
  • I also, especially for ecommerce repeat visitors and for folks who are buying more than one thing, I want to have this simple navigation around Cart. I don’t, in fact, love how Bellroy minimizes this, but you want to make sure that the Search bar is there as well. Search is actually a function. About 10% to 12% of visitors on average to ecommerce pages will use Search as their primary navigation function. So if you make that really subtle or hard to find or difficult to use, the Search feature can really limit the impact that you can have with that group.
  • I want that info about the shopping process that comes from having the Cart. In Bellroy’s case, I love what they do. They actually put “Free shipping in the United States” in their nav on every page, which I think, clearly for them, it must be one of the key questions that they get all the time. I have no doubt that they’ve done some A/B testing and optimization to make sure, “Hey, you know what? Let’s just put it in front of everyone because it doesn’t hurt and it helps to improve our conversion rates.”

2. Core product information

Core product information tends to be that above-the-fold key part here. In Bellroy’s case, it’s very minimalist. We’re just talking about a photo of the wallet itself, and then you can click left or right, or I think sometimes it auto-scrolls as well on desktop but not mobile. I can see a lot more photos of how many cards the wallet can hold and what it looks like in my pants, how it measures up compared to a ruler, and all that kind of stuff. So there’s some great photography in here and that’s important, as well as the name and the price.These core details may differ from product to product. For example, if you are selling a more complex piece of technology, the core features may, in fact, be fairly substantive, and that’s okay. But we are trying to help. With this core product information, we’re trying to help people understand what the product is and what it does. So wallet, very, very obvious. If we’re talking about lab equipment or scientific machinery, well, a little more complicated. We better make sure that we’re communicating that. We want…

  • Visuals that are going to serve to… in this case, I think they do a great job, but comprehensively communicate the positioning, the positioning of the product itself. So Bellroy is clearly going with minimalist. They’re going with craft. They’re a small, niche shop. They don’t do 10,000 things. They just make wallets, and they are trying to make that very clear. They also are trying to make their quality a big part of this, and they are trying to make the focus of the product itself, the slimness. You can really see that as you go into, well obviously, the naming convention, but also the photography itself, which is showing you just how slim this wallet can be in comparison to bulky other wallets. They take the same number of cards, they put them in two different kinds of wallets, they show you the thickness, and the Bellroy is very, very slim. So that’s clearly what the positioning is going for.
  • Potentially here, we might want video or animation. But I’m going to say that this is only a part of the core content when it truly makes sense. Great example of when it does make sense would be Zappos. Zappos, obviously, has their videos for nearly every shoe and shoe brand that they promote on their website. They saw tremendous conversion rate improvements because people had a lot of questions about how it moves and walks and how it looks with certain pieces of clothing. The detail of having someone explain it to you, as I’m explaining ecommerce pages to you in video form, turned out had a great impact on their conversion rate. You might want to test this, but it’s also the case that this content, that video or animation content might live down below. We’ll talk about how that can live in more of the photos and process at the very bottom at the end of this video.
  • Naming convention. We want price. We want core structural details. I like that Bellroy here has made their core content very, very slim, just the photos, the name, and the price.

3. Clear options to the path to purchase

This is somewhere where, I think, a lot of folks unfortunately get torn by the Amazon model. If you are Amazon.com, which yes, has phenomenal click-through rates, phenomenal engagement rates, phenomenal conversion rates, but you are not Amazon. Repeat after me, “I am not Amazon.” Therefore, one of the things that Amazon does is they clutter this page with hundreds of different things that you could do, and they built that up over decades, literally decades. They built up so that we are all familiar with an Amazon page, ecommerce page, and what we expect on it. We know there’s going to be a lot of clutter. We know there’s going to be a ton of call-to-actions, other things we could buy, things that are often bought with this, and things that could be bundled with this. That is fine for Amazon. It is almost definitely not fine for you unless you are extremely similar to what Amazon does. For that reason, I see many, many folks getting dragged in this direction of, “Hey, I want to have 10 different calls-to-action because people might want to X, Y, and Z.” There are ways to do the “might want to X, Y, and Z” without making those specific calls-to-action in the core part of the landing page for the ecommerce product. I’ll talk about those in just a second.

But what I do want you to do here is:

  • Help people understand what is available. Quick example, you can select the color. That is the only thing you can do with this wallet. There are no different sizes. There are no different materials that they could be made of. There’s just color. Color, Checkout, and by the way, once again, free shipping.
  • I am trying to drive them to the primary action, and that is what this section of your ecommerce page needs to do a great job of. Make the options clear, if there are any, and make the path to purchase really, really simple.
  • We’re trying to eliminate roadblocks, we’re trying to eliminate any questions that might arise, and we want to eliminate any future frustration. So, for example, one of the things that I would do here, that Bellroy does not do, is I would geo-target based on IP address. So I’d look at the IP address of the visitor who’s coming to this page, and I would say, “I am pretty sure you are located in Washington State right now. Therefore, I know that this is the sales tax amount that I need to charge.” Or, “Bellroy isn’t in Washington State. I don’t need to charge you sales tax.” So I might have a little thing here that says, “Sales Tax” and then a little drop-down that’s pre-populated with Washington or pre-populated with the ZIP code if you know that and “$ 0.” That way it’s predictive. It’s saying already, “Oh, good. I know that the next page I’m going to click on is going to ask me about sales tax, or the page after I enter my credit card is.” You know what, it’s great to have that question answered beforehand. Now, maybe Bellroy has tested this and they found that it doesn’t convert as well, but I would guess that it probably, probably would convert even better with that messaging on there.

4. Detailed descriptions of the features of the product

This is where a lot of the bulk of the content often lives on product pages, on ecommerce pages. In this case, they’ve got a list of features, including all sorts of dimension stuff, how it’s built, what it’s made from, and what it can hold, etc., etc.

What I’m trying to do here is a few things:

  • I want to help people know what to expect from this product. I don’t want high returns. Especially if I’m offering free shipping, I definitely don’t want high returns. I want people to be very satisfied with this product, to know exactly what they’re going to get.
  • I want to help them determine if the product fits their needs, fits what they are trying to accomplish, fits the problem they’re trying to solve.
  • I want to help them, lead them to answers quickly for frequently asked questions. So if I know that lots of people who reach this page have this sort of, “Oh, gosh, you know, I wonder, what is their delivery process like? How long does it take to get to me because I kind of need a wallet for this trip that I’m going on, and, you know, I’m bringing pants that just won’t hold my thick wallet, and that’s what triggered me to search for slim wallets in Google and that’s what led me to this page?” Aha, delivery. Great job. You’ve answered the question before or as they are asking it, and that is really important. We want answers to the unasked questions before people start to panic in the Checkout process.

You can go through this with folks who you say, “Hey, I want you to imagine that you are about to buy this. Give me the 10 things in your head. I want you to say out loud everything that you think when you see this page.” You can do this with actual customers, with customers who are returning, with people who fit your target demographic and target customer profile but have not yet bought from you, with people who’ve bought from your competitors. As you do this, you will find the answers to be very, very similar time after time, and then you can answer them right in this featured content. So warranty is obviously another big one. They note that they have a three-year warranty. You can click plus here, and you can get more information.

I also like that they answer that unasked question. So when they say, “Okay, it’s 80 millimeters by 95 millimeters.” “Man, I don’t know how big a millimeter is. I just can’t hold that information in my head.” But look, they have a link “Compare to Others.” If you click that, it will show you an overlay comparison of this wallet against other wallets that they offer and other wallets that other people offer. Awesome. Fantastic. You are answering that question before I have it.

5. A lot of the seal-the-deal content

When we were talking before about videos or animations or some of the content that maybe belongs in the featured section or possibly could be around Checkout, but doesn’t quite reach the level of importance that we’ve dictated for those, this is where you can put that content. It can live below the fold, scrolling way down. I have yet to see the ecommerce page that has suffered from providing too much detail about things people actually care about. I have seen ecommerce pages suffer from bloating the page with tons of content that no one cares about, especially as it affects page load speed which hurts your conversions on mobile and hurts your rankings in Google because site speed is a real issue. But seal-the-deal content should:

  • Help people get really comfortable and build trust. So if I scroll down here, what I’m seeing is more photos about how the wallet is made, how people are using it. They call this the nude approach, which cleverly titled, I’m sure it makes for a lot of clicks. The nude approach to building a wallet, why the leather is so slender, why it adds so little weight and depth, why it lasts so long, all these kinds of things.
  • It’s trying to use social proof or other psychological triggers to get rid of any remaining skepticism. So if you know what the elements of skepticism are from your potential buyers, you can answer that in this deeper content as people get down and through this.

Now, all right, you might say to yourself, “These all sound like great things. How do I actually run this process, Rand?” The answer is embedded in what we just talked about. You’re going to need to ask your customers, your potential customers, your customers who bought from you before, and customers who did not buy from you but ended up buying from a competitor, about these elements. You’re going to need to test, which means that you need some infrastructure, something like an Unbounce or an Optimizely, or your own testing platform if you feel like building one, your engineers do, in order to be able to change out elements and see how well they convert, change out pieces of information. But it is not helpful to change things like button color, or to change lists of features, or to change out the specific photos when the problem is, overall, you have not solved these problems. If you don’t solve these problems, the best button color in the world will not help your conversion rate nearly enough, which is why we need to form theories and have hypotheses about what’s stopping people from buying. That should be informed by our real research.

SEO for ecommerce pages

SEO for ecommerce pages is based on only a few very, very simple things. Our SEO elements here are keywords, content, engagement, links, and in some cases freshness. You hit these five and you’ve basically nailed it.

  • Keywords, do you call your products the same thing people call your products when they search for them? If the answer is no, you have an opportunity to improve. Even if you want to use a branded name, I would suggest combining that with the name that everyone else calls your things. So if this is the slim sleeve wallet, if historically Bellroy had called this the sleeve wallet, I would highly recommend to them, “Hey, people are searching for slim wallet. How about we find a way to merge those things?”
  • Content is around what is on this page, and Google is looking for content that solves the searcher’s problem, the searcher’s issue. That means doing all of these things right and having it in a format that Google can actually read. Video is great. Transcripts of the video should also be available. Visuals are great. Descriptions should also be available. Google needs that text content.
  • Engagement, that is going to come from people visiting this page and not clicking the back button and going back to Google and searching for other stuff and clicking on your competitor’s links. It’s going to come from people clicking that Checkout button or browsing deeper in the website and from engaging with this page by spending time on the site and not bouncing. That’s your job and responsibility, and this stuff can all help.
  • Links come from press. It can come from blogs. It can come from some high-quality directories. Be very careful in the directory link-building world. It can come from partnerships. It can come from suppliers. It can come from fans of the product. It can come from reviews. All that kind of stuff. People who give you their testimonials, you can potentially ask them for links, so all that kind of stuff. Those links, if they are from diverse sets of domains and they contain good anchor text, meaning the name of your actual product, and they are pointing specifically to this page, they will tremendously help you rank above your competition.
  • Freshness. In some industries and in some cases, when you know that there is a lot of demand for the latest and greatest, you should be updating this page as frequently as you can with the new information that is most pertinent and relevant to your audience.

You do these things, and you do these things, and you will have the best damn ecommerce page on the web.
All right, everyone, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you again hopefully on Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SMX Advanced recap: Lies, Damn Lies, and Search Marketing Statistics

Are your marketing tests giving you valid results? Columnist Mark Traphagen summarizes insights from a presentation by Vistaprint’s Adria Kyne at SMX Advanced.

The post SMX Advanced recap: Lies, Damn Lies, and Search Marketing Statistics appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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13 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Are a Freelancer

American flag

There is a good chance that by 2020 you will be self-employed.

An old Intuit report estimated that by that time nearly 40 percent of Americans will make their living as temporary workers — that is, as freelancers, business owners, or independent workers.

This could be good news.

Those who are not freelancers often look at those who are with a trace of envy. From the cubicle, the grass certainly looks greener. It is the life that you could have. And should have.

If only.

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, working for yourself is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have: self-employed workers routinely clock over 60 hours a week.

hours-of-work-graph

Is it worth it? Well, that depends.

  • Are you making a monthly profit?
  • Does that monthly profit equate to a healthy hourly wage?
  • Are those profits climbing or falling?
  • Do you have better alternatives?

The answers to those questions will determine whether or not professional independence is worth it. They’re also subjects we will address in an upcoming Authority audio seminar.

Your declaration of professional independence

In the U.S., the fourth of July is just around the corner. It is the day we celebrate our independence as a nation — when 13 colonies declared themselves a union against the tyranny of a distant king.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the freelancers in our Copyblogger community. Those who abandoned the cubicle, kicked over the water cooler, and channeled their inner Twisted Sister.

We salute you because …

1. You do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Successful freelancers have a certain ferocity about getting things done.

Exhibit A: In a Forbes piece, Brad Storr shares a story about a successful business owner in the packaging industry who, after half-an-hour of struggling to haul a bandsaw through a doorway, lost his cool, and grabbed the blade to pull it through. He cut his hand to the bone and spent several days in the hospital, but he got the job done.

These are the kinds of people who haunt the dreams of productivity guru David Allen. They don’t need a system. They just need David, and everyone and everything else, to get out of the way.

2. You charge whatever you want

On one hand, freelancers get to set their own rates. On the other hand, this proves one of the knottiest problems. How much do you charge? There is no easy answer, but it is based on these three criteria:

  • Your experience
  • The value you bring to the table
  • Your level of confidence

If you bring a lot of value to the table because of your experience and results AND you have a healthy dose of self-confidence, then you can command premium rates.

Recent studies, however, suggest that over-the-top confidence can often compensate for a lack of experience.

What’s for certain, though, is that if you mix low confidence levels with high experience and value, you’ll get robbed.

Which brings me to the next point …

3. You stand up for yourself (without fear of getting fired)

In a corporate setting, there are positions that need to be respected. You can’t say no to a client. You can’t walk away. This isn’t so as a freelancer.

You don’t bat an eye when a client laughs at your rates or judges your work. You evaluate them for what they are.

You can defend your work — and even walk away — if you can’t agree about what you can bring to the table and what you charge.

4. You laugh in the face of failure

You don’t encourage failures or wear failure as a badge, but to you, failure is just that — a defeat. Money was lost. Time was wasted. A job collapsed. You didn’t win. And it hurt.

What makes you significantly different is your response to that failure.

You bounce back on your feet, dust off your denim, and mount that horse one more time. Hell if you don’t break it by the end of the week. If it takes longer, so be it.

It will be broken (see number one above).

5. You believe the best about everything

What keeps you at the task long after most of humanity would’ve bailed is that confidence we spoke about in points two and three. But it’s also an optimism that bristles with delusion.

You believe just about everything you do will work (even if the stats say otherwise). Some call it fantasy. Fair enough. You will will that dream into reality. Or die trying.

6. You are always closing (without fear of annoying people)

The number one problem with becoming a multi-level-marketer is that everyone becomes a potential client. From your spouse to long-lost friends to even family members you swore off years ago. They all become prospects.

Naturally, people grow to hate you.

But, as a freelancer, you are not afraid to talk shop, and sell if you must. You are not afraid to ask for the sale. You are not afraid to talk price. You are not afraid to negotiate. You know what you want. And you will get it.

7. You run the show

Probably one of the things that attracted you to freelancing to begin with were the headaches and groans you suffered working for some petty, incompetent bosses.

Or you probably had a few bosses who you respected, but you just didn’t like the way they ran things. And you were vocal about it.

Working for yourself allows you to make those decisions. And regardless of good or bad outcomes, you are happy to live with the consequences (see number five).

You carve out your space in the universe, which makes you feel alive.

8. You are not afraid of economic change

Seasoned freelancers have an understanding about job security that is uncommon to the rest of the population. They understand that even 20 years with a blue chip corporation does not guarantee security.

Security is an illusion. It’s just you and the economic elements. No matter where you work.

Over time, you’ve developed a sense of making wealth no matter the circumstances. Let an economic recession dry up work and suck your savings dry.

Things will eventually turn around (see number five), and when they do, you will work your tail off (see number one) to get back on your feet (see number four).

9. You like tax breaks

Ah, the perks.

You can justifiably splurge on that brand new 13-inch MacBook Air. Or that Tribeca Loft Black Home Office furniture. Or those late-afternoon client benders at the posh tavern downtown.

If you want to, that is (you may be a Spartan).

There is great incentive to treat these as business expenses because the government is not afraid to take a chunk of your change. It’s a fair trade-off.

10. You work whenever you want

You can get up at 3:30 a.m. every day of the week and work until 8:30 a.m., take a two-hour break, and work another four hours, calling it quits before 3:00 p.m.

Or you can sleep until 3:00 p.m., and work long into the night, hitting the sack at the crack of dawn.

It doesn’t matter when you work or how long. What matters is this: are you getting the right jobs done on time? That’s what matters.

11. You choose your work environment

Recent studies are demonstrating some fascinating research about the environment you work in.

Work for yourself and you don’t have to justify the stand-up desk, two-hour walks through the park, or the cot (another business expense, by the way) you set up in your office.

You also don’t have to justify to anyone that your office happens to be on your back porch one day, the coffee house the next. You’ll get things done wherever you want (see number one).

12. You are able to travel

These last two are all about lifestyle. And they are the typical benefits that are shared when anyone tries to convince you to freelance.

I put these last for good reasons. These are rewards for a rigorous, sometimes unforgiving, work schedule. They are not privileges.

That said, most freelancers these days can set up shop anywhere in the world. The cold wonder of Reykjavik, Iceland. The Spanish island of Gran Canaria. The tropical foothills of northern Thailand.

And you don’t have to justify this to anyone. Except the tax man, and your accountant, of course. And maybe your spouse.

13. You make the best of any day

If you run across a day that deserves to be squandered (sunny, high 70s), you can take advantage of that day — the full morning, the full evening. Run the bike through the trails, or join a gaggle of surfers riding the surge.

Or maybe one day there’s a downpour of biblical portions — a perfect day to finish that David Forster Wallace novel or focus on a neglected side project.

Here’s what it looks like to declare your professional independence

As previously mentioned, professional independence will be discussed during the upcoming Authority audio seminar with Sonia Simone and Henneke Duistermaat: “How I Did It: The Evolution of an Online Service Business.”

Sonia, who was a successful freelancer before joining Brian Clark to form Copyblogger Media, will interview Henneke, a regular contributor here at Copyblogger, about her journey to become a successful entrepreneur.

Sonia and Henneke will discuss:

  • The steps behind creating a successful online service business
  • Mistakes Henneke made along the way (and how you can avoid them)
  • The most important thing you need to do to get started as a freelancer
  • Life beyond “dollars for hours”
  • How to structure your rates

And much more.

So, if you’re thinking about declaring professional independence — or if you’re already a freelancer and would just like some support – join Henneke and Sonia for this one-hour presentation.

It’s free for Authority members. You’ll just need to register. (Do so right here.)

If you’re not an Authority member yet …

You might want to fix that, to get sessions like this one nearly every week of the year, as well as ongoing exclusive networking, discounts, and education.

Sign up for Authority here.

See you this Friday, July 4, 12:30 P.M. Eastern Time …

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Thomas Hawk.

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

The post 13 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Are a Freelancer appeared first on Copyblogger.

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Why a Legendary Album and a Viral Hoax Should Inspire You to Create Content That’s Worth a Damn

image of Peter Green playing guitar

It’s the usual story.

A poor Jewish kid, guitar player from London’s East End. Black curly hair blossoming around his head. T-shirt tucked tightly into his flared jeans.

He’s leading one of the most popular bands of the late 60s. He’s touring the world, playing large concerts, making acclaimed records, dropping acid. He and his bandmates are living the life most musicians only dream of.

But not this kid.

He’s Peter Green. Anxious and unsettled. He’s got a vision for something substantial. Something different. Something that is “worth a damn.”

That something would ultimately be one of the greatest albums ever created.

It was because of Green’s intensity that B.B. King said Green was the only guitarist who gave him cold sweats when he played. And it was because of that intensity drummer Mick Fleetwood said, “We were all about following our friend and our musical mentor into the fire.”

We’ll get back to Peter Green and his legendary record in a minute.

The viral geniuses

But first, there’s this guy from Gawker.

He’s an editor. A mix between machine and magician because the headlines and articles he writes often get more page views in a month (30 million) than the rest of the writing staff of Gawker combined.

Month in, month out.

His secret? True, it starts with viral headlines — headlines that convince even the hardest of hearts to click. But it’s the stories he shares that are the key. He “understands the emotions that might compel someone to click on an item” and then share it.

This is the trick behind Upworthy, too.

Last summer Fast Company called it the “fastest-growing media site of all time.” It generated 8.7 million views in its first month. Monthly page views are now near 100 million, unbelievable for a site less than two years old.

Upworthy has taken a page from the playbooks of Buzzfeed and Gawker and upped the game. The site has nailed the science of curiosity-inducing headlines, though they say that is not their secret sauce. The content they share must pass these three tests:

  1. Is the content substantive, engaging, and maybe even entertaining?
  2. If 1 million people saw it, would the world be a better place?
  3. Does the content actually deliver on the promise of the headline?

At Upworthy paid curators comb the web looking for that super-sharable piece. Then they write 25 headlines, test them vigorously, and roll the post out.

It’s a successful formula for page views, but that’s not the only trick in the viral magician’s bag.

When lying goes viral

Some would call 2013 the year of the internet hoax.

Hoaxes were big, with the biggest being Elan Gale’s “argument” on Thanksgiving Day with cranky airplane passenger “Diane.” That crude, misoginystic exchange garnered 1.5 million page views and blew up his Twitter account.

Talk about putting your name on the map.

The sheer shock and audacity of that exchange kept us glued to his feed and to this article. (No doubt this was a superb example of internal cliffhangers.) We couldn’t keep our eyes away from that wreckage, even if we were completely disgusted and even if, in our hearts, we knew this couldn’t possibly be true.

What is wrong with us?

Nothing. We just love stories, whether they are true or not. We want to be entertained. Enthralled. We want to escape, which is why we float on the stream that is the Internet for most of the day.

But some argue that the stream has crested, and that change is in the air.

Should content marketers do viral?

As content marketers this excitement and attention makes us pay attention. We are asking ourselves: “What can I learn from Gawker? Buzzfeed? Upworthy? Even from an epic fake note-passing war on a delayed flight?”

Do we do the outrageous to get attention? Do we dish out eye candy to lure the eyeballs home?

We know this: online marketing is driven by content. But what kind of content?

Ezra Klein at the Wonkblog, commenting on Gawker’s viral genius, thinks we need to be thoughtful about our reaction to these examples. He shares four lessons traditional content marketers should learn from the popularity of being viral:

  1. Don’t ignore the traffic potential of social media sites.
  2. You can learn how to write for social media.
  3. Don’t be overly impressed by these page numbers.
  4. Re-package boring content to spread on the social web.

Number three should stand out to you like a Buddhist monk armed with an AK-47. Let’s explore it.

The problem with high page views

People live for the immediate, the now. But here’s the deal: people also want substance. They want solid solutions to their problems.

This is why Google rolled out in-depth article search results: to reward long-form content. And this is why Google rolled out Panda: to punish weak, shallow content.

High traffic is like a drug. You want more of it. And so you must push the edges. You must constantly innovate, which is risky and unsustainable.

Our Director of Content, Jerod Morris, knows high levels of traffic all too well.

His site Midwest Sports Fans jumped in traffic and notoriety after Jerod wrote a controversial article that ultimately landed him on ESPN. The only problem is he couldn’t flip that traffic into significant sustained revenue. Display advertising is a hard way to make a living (a point Ezra Klein also made on the Wonkblog).

Just ask Gawker. They’ve switched their business model to a proven one: affiliate marketing. Not unlike Maria Popova and her website Brain Pickings.

So where does that leave you? Somewhere between The New Yorker and Gawker.

Think: Copyblogger.

Back to Peter Green

Peter Green was losing his mind.

Loads of LSD probably had a lot to do with it, but drugs only elevated what he already felt: uncomfortable with stardom. At least the superficial part of it.

Yet, this can’t be missed: The album that followed Green’s anxiety was Then Played On, about which Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke said, “I think it’s one of the most beautiful records and exciting records ever made.”

Now that’s substance.

When it comes to your business, you need the intensity of a Peter Green. This is no different than Sonia’s G.A.S concept, Google’s emphasis on cornerstone content, and Beth Hayden’s argument that content marketing is a long game.

We don’t need to go overboard like Green (he never recovered), but we need to give the world something more than just the quick and dirty.

So create something worth a damn.

Provide real value to the segment of society that wants it right now. That needs it right now. These are the people who are looking to learn how to play chess, strengthen their core, climb out of debt, complete college, and find love that will last.

There is no shortage of needs and wants you can satisfy. We all long for something.

This is your next move

That doesn’t mean you abandon viral content. Better yet, you can mix the viral with the substantial. For example:

  • Hire a designer to create a cheat sheet for the 11 most common chess openings and allow people to embed, share, download, and print the poster. (We just did something similar.)
  • Record a handful of documentaries on people who’ve climbed out of debt using your techniques, then publish it on YouTube.
  • Publish an ebook on the habits of insanely successful college students and give it away.

But make the bulk of your content substantial.

See, when it comes to finding solutions to our problems we want something that is meaningful and practical. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional quick fix, but the bulk of your content should have long-term value.

This is nothing new to Copyblogger.

Our advice? Green himself summed it up in the first line of “Closing My Eyes,” the second track on Then Play On: “Now it’s the same as before.”

We’ve been preaching quality over quantity for years, and we have lots of resources to help you create substantial content.

Or you could grab this free series of seven ebooks on content marketing: How to Build the Audience That Builds Your Business.

They will give you a jump start on the only content marketing strategy that works: building something that is worth a damn.

The image atop the post shows Peter Green in March of 1970, roughly six months after the release of Then Play On. He would leave Fleetwood Mac in May. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

The post Why a Legendary Album and a Viral Hoax Should Inspire You to Create Content That’s Worth a Damn appeared first on Copyblogger.

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7 Ways to Write Damn Bad Copy

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It’s obvious that creativity is an essential part of being a remarkable writer.

But when a results-oriented writer says “creative” and an image-oriented writer says “creative” you have to understand that they are talking about two completely different things.

The results-oriented writer emphasizes problem solving with clear, concise, and compelling copy (for example: How do I demonstrate that our product will solve our target customer’s problem?).

The image-oriented writer puts an emphasis on artistic, clever, or humorous copy (for example: How can I demonstrate how entertaining and crafty I am?).

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a few ways to write good copy that sells. Now, I’d like to take a few minutes to show you at least seven kinds of copy you need to avoid (with a little help from legendary copywriter John Caples).

Copywriters (and those who hire them) beware …

1. Lyrical

This is the type of copy that you see from someone who loves words. Long words in particular.

Words like jentacular (pertaining to breakfast), slubberdegullion (a filthy slobbering person), and recumbentitbus (a knockdown blow).

This is the person whose grandmother squeezed her cheeks and said, “You are our little wordsmith.” Whose English Literature cronies would stroke their soul patches and say, “I think you’re on to something. Not sure what, but you’re on to it.”

Let’s imagine she works for Black & Decker. She is asked to write sales copy for a cordless drill. It might look like this:

Wanted: a hollow place in a solid mass of hard, fibrous substance

Carpenters, with one little boring unit made from the 22nd element of the periodic table you can create a precise aperture in any piece of wood. And, behold, with the ergonomic grip zone constraining is done with amenity and gratification. Visit any one of our facilities if you are predisposed to acquiring a unit.

The only problem is this is a painful piece to read. Nobody knows what you are talking about. It is a guessing game — and your audience doesn’t have the patience to guess.

2. Sentimental

Next in line is the type of copy that sounds like it was written by a college student. One moved by sunsets. Charmed by foreign films. In love with candles, incense, and long bubble baths.

He is a copywriter with a single and solitary goal: to make you “feel” the copy. If you don’t feel the copy, then he’s failed.

Rebirth that dying relationship

He stands in the door way — a tear hangs like a sapphire from his eyelash, ready to plunge into the depths of his lonely and loveless heart. You are drinking from the cup of the dark night, confused by the decaying shadow of his love, dazed by the breath of a broken promise. When he lowers the veil on your heart, you will fling yourself into the depths of hunger and death.

Know what he’s trying to sell? Me neither.

That might work for a Nicholas Sparks novel, but never in advertising. Shoot for the straight and the simple.

3. Outlandish

This is your garden variety snake-oil salesman. The product that promises to …

… eliminate $ 45,000 in debt in less than 45 days …

… the DVD that swears you can look like a Russian body builder with nothing more than a chair and four minutes a day …

… the stock that — once it soars right after Groundhog Day — will make Google’s stock price look like a steal.

It’s the world of yellow highlight markers, images of jaw-dropping tax returns and promises of endless freedom to indulge in every whim.

But it’s also a world of broken dreams where you might make a mint in the short term but over time your reputation will sour.

This type of advertising betrays confidence. It does harm. It stings, and leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Sonia calls this the troll under the bridge — and it’s a sure fire way to kill conversions.

It appears when we are young and suckered into the milk-can con job at the traveling carnival. Or the Sea-Monkey hoax where you are lead to believe you will spawn little people in an aquarium — but what you end up with is just cheap fish food.

You feel stupid for falling for such tricks. You vow never to fall again. You grow a thick skin to advertising. And every honest salesman and every sincere sales page that crosses your path is viewed as a fraud.

There is a limit to credibility. A limit to what people will believe. If you cross that invisible line in your sales copy, people will shut you down.

Better to make a promise that you know your audience will believe without having to stretch their judgment. Better yet, tell the ugly truth . And then what you say after that will be easier to swallow.

4. Humorous

The problem with humorous copy is that humor is fickle. It’s a minefield. For every person who laughs at a blonde joke, you have one person who hates you for it.

Some people like deadpan humor. Others like dark humor. Some like slapstick. Still others like sarcasm. Many like bathroom humor while others want the highbrow sort.

Unless you are absolutely certain that a majority of your paying customers like dark humor, then don’t use it.

What you find funny is likely insulting to others — and that will damage the effectiveness of your copy. That’s not a risk you should be willing to take.

Of course, there are the rare exceptions like the eBay wet suit ad or the used car on Craigslist.

They went the absurd, clever, humorous route, and it paid off.

Your chances, however, are much better if you stick to clear, concise, and compelling copy. Or at the very least, avoid humor until you’re certain you are actually funny.

5. Short

Short copy — so brief that the entire advertisement could fit on the back of a business card — is bliss for those who use it.

Think cologne producers or financial institutions. Sometimes an entire page in a magazine is devoted to the name of the product, plus an alluring slogan: “Seduction is essential” or “Your money is your money.”

Nobody knows what those slogans mean. Not even the marketing director. But it’s that mystery we love.

Unfortunately, mysterious copy does not pay the bills.

It goes against the grain of tested advertising methods that have proven longer copy will virtually always outsell short copy.

A few years ago this lesson was drilled home to me during a short email exchange with John Carlton.

I had the opportunity to get a few minutes of John’s time to review a short ad I’d written.

It was an email promoting a conference. It was less than 200 words. It was a disaster — and John let me know.

He scolded me for being lazy and missing a glorious opportunity to sell the product. It was at that point that I understood what is meant when someone says, “It’s not a question of how long the copy is — but how interesting.”

6. Clever

Clever is what you get when you have a writer who thinks he is smart — smarter than the average reader — and he’s out to prove how smart he is.

So he writes the clever ad.

Clever is also what you get when you don’t have a marketing clue. Let’s say you’re an architect selling the benefits of your firm, and you write this headline:

We will make sure that your house is not square.

You meant “not cool” but, hey, look at you — you said it in a clever way! Word play! Everyone in your firm thinks you are a genius!

Unfortunately, everyone else will think you are a moron for trying to sell them a house that will one day flop over.

Few people actually read clever advertisements. They are confused by the headline, and the few who do read recognize what you are trying (and failing) to do.

If your job rides upon effective advertising, then make sure it accomplishes these four things:

  • Promises to solve a meaningful problem.
  • Paints a picture of what your life will be like if that problem is solved.
  • Proves that you will deliver on your promise.
  • Pushes the prospect to subscribe, download, donate, share or buy.

Effective content marketing builds upon the self-interest of your customer.

And when you give them the kind of content that they don’t want to delete—you won’t need clever advertising.

7. Advertorial

Once a popular and effective approach — used by some of the best copywriters in the land — the advertorial is now overused, if not flat out abused.

What exactly is an advertorial? Nothing more than an advertisement dressed up to look like a piece of news.

Here’s what I see at the bottom of an article on my local news website:

In a box clearly marked “Advertisement” there is a handful of ads that are supposed to be “news”: “Weird Illinois Loophole” or “New Policy in Illinois.”

But what looks like an editorial news piece is clearly an ad:



In the lead you have loaded language like “scammed” and “overpaying” to hit those hot buttons—so even if you miss the word ADVERTISEMENT close readers should sense this is not really meant to inform them, but persuade.

I find this approach misleading — almost sleazy — and not unlike the outlandish approach [see: Example #1 above], and I can’t recommend it.

But here’s the thing — these ads have been running for a very long time. That tells me two things:

  1. They are getting great click-throughs
  2. They are making money

The question becomes: is there a better way to be profitable? I think there is. It’s called content marketing.

Focus on your audience …

There’s one thing that all of the examples above share — a complete lack of concern for the audience they intend to reach. In each example the spotlight is put on the writer:

Look at me, I am a poet. I am funny. Clever. Mysterious!

Good copywriters, good advertising copy, and good content marketing, however, put the focus on the audience, the prospective customer. If you truly take care of your audience, they will eventually take care of you.

About the Author: Demian Farnworth is Chief Copywriter for Copyblogger Media. Follow him on Twitter or .

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The Best Damn Copywriting Advice I’ve Found

The Best Damn Copywriting Advice I've Found

Copywriting is not writing, copywriting is assembling.

Great copywriters collect the varied parts of their research and assemble those parts into a true story that resonates with the particular worldview of an audience. Then that story is tested, tweaked, and deployed again. A story that enters the conversation an audience is already having, can be a story that wins.

The assembly of these parts is key.

Though you’ll never know if a headline, or a collection of bullets, or a call to action will resonate with your audience — not until you let it out into the real world and test it — there is one commonly overlooked practice that’s turned out to be some of the best copywriting advice I’ve ever put to use …

Shut up and listen.

  • Listen to the creator of the product. Let her talk (for hours if necessary) about what makes it work, why she built it, what she hopes it will do for her customers. This practice alone might give you the bulk of the copy you’ll end up using.
  • Listen to your audience. What are they telling you — directly or indirectly — about what they really want and need? If social media has given us anything, it’s an unprecedented ability to hear the demands and desires of real people, in real time.
  • Listen to your competitors. It’s wise to have a view of the entire battlefield. What’s working in your market, what’s not? What can you learn from other’s success and failure (and the language that got them there)?

If you’ve built a useful and amazing product, service, or idea, you don’t need to sweat or agonize or dream up stupid campaigns. Real people will tell you precisely how to assemble the various parts of your copy, many times they’ll even give you bullets and headlines … word-for-word.

This is not laziness, it’s wisdom in practice. Talk less, listen more.

Humble yourself and truly serve your audience, listen to their needs and desires, listen to the language they use. If you listen carefully, your audience can eventually give you everything you need, including much of your copy. Get out of their way …

Shut up and listen.

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse. Get very short stories from Robert on Twitter and Google+.

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