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Best of Copyblogger: 2018 Edition

Once you know what you’d like more of in your life, you have to make decisions that will allow more…

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The Guide to Local Sponsorship Marketing – The 2018 Edition

Posted by Claudia0428

For most Moz readers, local marketing means content, reviews, AdWords, local listings, and of course citations. If you’re a larger brand, you might be doing outdoor, radio, print, and television advertising as well. Today we’re here to humbly submit that local sponsorships remain the most-overlooked and opportunity-rich channel, and they build real local connections for both large brands and small business alike.

This article is the second edition of the ZipSprout team’s guide to local sponsorships. We wrote the first edition in 2016 after a few months of securing local sponsorship campaigns for a handful of clients. Since then, we’ve tripled our client roster and we’ve worked with more than 8,000 local organizations, donating nearly $ 1,000,000 in local sponsorships to 1,300+ opportunities. Since then we’ve also learned how to build campaigns for local presence.

So we knew the guide was due for a reboot.

One of our most significant learnings of the past two years is the understanding of local sponsorships as a channel in their own right. They can be directed toward local SEO or local marketing campaigns, but sponsorships are their own breed of local connection — and just like content campaigns, local PR campaigns, or review management, local sponsorships have their own set of conventions and best practices.

This article is meant for anyone with an eye toward local sponsorships as a marketing channel. Agencies and enterprise organizations may find it particularly helpful, but we’re big believers in encouraging smaller local businesses to engage in sponsorships too. Get out there and meet your neighbors!


The what & why of local sponsorships

Local events, nonprofits, and associations constitute a disjointed but very real network of opportunities. Unlike other channels, local sponsorships aren’t accessible from a single platform, but we’ve found that many sponsorships share similarities. This makes it possible to develop processes that work for campaigns in any metro area.

Local sponsorships are also a unique channel in that the benefits can range from the digital to the analog: from local links to a booth, from social posts to signage on a soccer field. The common thread is joining the community by partnering with local organizations, but the benefits themselves vary widely.

We’ve identified and track 24 unique benefits of sponsorships related to local marketing:

  1. Ad (full or partial)
  2. Advertising on event app
  3. Blog post featuring sponsor
  4. Booth, tent, or table at event
  5. Event named for sponsor
  6. Guest post on organization blog
  7. Inclusion in press release
  8. Link in email newsletter
  9. Link on website
  10. Logo on event t-shirt or other swag
  11. Logo on signage
  12. Logo or name on website
  13. Media spots (television/radio/newspaper)
  14. Mention in email newsletter
  15. Mention in publicity materials, such as programs & other printed materials
  16. Networking opportunity
  17. Physical thing (building, etc.) named for sponsor
  18. Social media mention
  19. Speaking opportunity at event
  20. Sponsor & sponsor’s employees receive discounts on services/products/events
  21. Sponsor can donate merchandise for goodie bags
  22. Sponsored post (on blog or online magazine)
  23. Tickets to event
  24. Verbal recognition

There are probably more, but in our experience most benefits fall into these core categories. That said, these benefits aren’t necessarily for everyone…

Who shouldn’t do local sponsorships?

1. Don’t do local sponsorships if you need fast turnaround.

Campaigns can take 1–3 months from launch until fulfillment. If you’re in a hurry to see a return, just increase your search ad budget.

2. Don’t do local sponsorships if you’re not okay with the branding component.

Local link building can certainly be measured, as can coupon usage, email addresses gathered for a drawing, etc… But measuring local brand lift still isn’t a perfect art form. Leave pure attribution to digital ads.

3. Don’t do local sponsorships with a “one size fits all” expectation.

The great thing about local events and opportunities is their diversity. While some components can be scaled, others require high touch outreach, more similar to a PR campaign.

Considerations for agencies vs brands in local sponsorship campaigns

Agencies, especially if they’re creating sponsorship campaigns for multiple clients, can cast a wide net and select from the best opportunities that return. Even if a potential partnership isn’t a good fit for a current client, they may work for a client down the road. Brands, on the other hand, need to be a little more goal and mission-focused during prospecting and outreach. If they’re reaching out to organizations that are clearly a bad fit, they’re wasting everyone’s time.

Brands also need to be more careful because they have a consumer-facing image to protect. As with any outreach campaign, there are dos and don’ts and best practices that all should follow (DO be respectful; DON’T over-email), but brands especially have more to lose from an outreach faux pas.


Our process

Outreach

Once we’ve identified local organizations in a given metro area, we recommend reaching out with an email to introduce ourselves and learn more about sponsorship opportunities. In two years, the ZipSprout team has A/B tested 100 different email templates.

With these initial emails, we’re trying to inform without confusing or scaring away potential new partners. Some templates have resulted in local organizations thinking we’re asking them for sponsorship money or that we want to charge them for a service. Oops! A/B tests have helped to find the best wording for clarity and, in turn, response rate.

Here are some of our learnings:

1. Mentioning location matters.

We reached out to almost 1,000 Chicago organizations in the spring of 2017. When we mentioned Chicago in the email, the response rate increased by 20%.

2. Emails sent to organizations who already had sponsorship info on their websites were most successful if the email acknowledged the onsite sponsorship info and asked for confirmation.

These are also our most successful outreach attempts, likely because these organizations are actively looking for sponsors (as signified by having sponsorship info on their site). Further, by demonstrating that we’ve been on their site, we’re signaling a higher level of intent.

3. Whether or not we included an outreacher phone number in email signatures had no effect on response rate.

If anything, response rates were higher for emails with no phone number in signature, at 41% compared with 40.2%.

4. Shorter is better when it comes to outreach emails.

Consider the following two emails:

EMAIL A


Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. :)

I work to help corporate clients find local sponsorships. We’re an agency that helps our business clients identify and sponsor local organizations like [ORG NAME]. We’re paid by businesses who are looking for local sponsorships.

Often, local organizations are overlooked, so my company, ZipSprout, works for businesses who want to sponsor locally, but aren’t sure who to partner with. To that end, I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorship opportunities you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

EMAIL B

Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. :)

I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorships you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

In an 800-email test, Email B performed 30% better than Email A.

Matchmaking: How can I choose a sponsorship opportunity that fits my brand?

There are many ways to evaluate potential sponsorships.

These are the questions that help us match organizations with clients:

  • Who is your brand targeting (women, senior citizens, family-friendly, dog owners, new parents)?
  • Do you want to tie your brand with a particular cause (eco-friendly, professional associations, awareness foundations, advocacy groups)?
  • Is your campaign based on location? Are you launching your brand in a particular city? A particular zip code?
  • What is your total budget and per-sponsorship range? A top max price or a price range is a useful parameter — and perhaps the most important.

Once the campaign goals are determined, we filter through opportunities based partially on their online presence. We look at Domain Authority, location, website aesthetics, and other sponsors (competitors and non-competitors) in addition to Reach Score (details below).

Further, we review backlinks, organic traffic, and referring domains. We make sure that this nonprofit partnership is not spammy or funky from an SEO perspective and that is a frequently visited website. A small organization may not have all the juicy digital metrics, but by gauging event attendance or measuring organic traffic we can further identify solid prospects that could have been missed otherwise.

We also look at social media presence; event attendance, event dates and how responsive these organizations or event organizers are. Responsiveness, we have learned, is a CRITICAL variable. It can be the determining point of your link going live in 48 hours or less, as opposed to 6+ months from payment.

Reach Score

From a numbers perspective, Domain Authority is a good way to appreciate the value of a website, but it doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to local marketing. To help fill in the gaps we created Reach Score, which combines virtual measures (like Domain Authority) with social measures (friends/followers) and physical measures (event attendance). The score ranks entities based on their metro area, so we’re not comparing the reach of an organization in Louisville, KY to one in NYC.

As of March 2018, we have about 8,000 organizations with valid Reach Scores across four metro areas — Raleigh/Durham, Boston, Houston, and Chicago. The average Reach Score is 37 out of 100. Of the 34 types of organizations that we track, the most common is Event Venue/Company (average Reach Score of 38), followed by Advocacy Groups (43) and Sports Teams/Clubs/Leagues (22). The types of organizations with the highest Reach Scores are Local Government (64), Museums (63), and Parks and Recreation (55).

Thanks to Reach Score, we’ve found differences between organizations from city to city as well. In Raleigh-Durham, the entities with the highest reach tend to be government-related organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce and Parks & Rec Departments.

In Boston, the highest reach tends to fall to arts organizations, such as music ensembles, as well as professional associations. This score serves as a good reminder that each metro area has a unique community of local organizations. (Read more about our Reach Score findings here.)

Fulfillment

Our campaigns used to take several months to complete, from contract to final sponsorship. Now our average fulfillment rate is 18.7 days, regardless of our project size! Staying (politely) on top of the communication with the nonprofit organizations was the main driver for this improvement.

We find further that the first 48 hours from sending a notification of sponsorship on behalf of your brand are crucial to speedy campaigns. Be ready to award the sponsorship funds in a timely manner and follow up with a phone call or an email, checking in to see if these funds have been received.

It’s okay to ask when can you expect the sponsorship digital benefits to go live and how to streamline the process for any other deliverables needed to complete the sponsorship.

Applying these simple best practices, our team has been able to run a campaign in a week or less.

Two important concepts to remember about the sponsorship channel from the fulfillment perspective:

  1. It’s difficult to fulfill. If your city project involves any more than two or three sponsorships, you’re in for multiple hours of follow ups, reminders, phone calls, etc. There is the desire from most local organizations to honor their sponsors and keep them happy. That said, we’ve learned that keeping the momentum going serves as an important reminder for the nonprofit. This can involve phone call reminders and emails for links to go live and other benefits to come through. Again, be polite and respectful.
  2. It’s SO worth all the effort though! It shows that your brand cares. A sponsorship campaign is a fantastic way to get in front of your target audience in areas that have a special meaning at a personal level. And not in a broad general scope, but locally. Locally sponsoring a beach cleanup in Santa Monica gives you the opportunity to impact a highly localized audience with a very particular cause in mind that would ultimately affect their everyday life, as opposed to partnering with a huge foundation advocating for clean oceans.

Enhancing a local campaign

Some prefer to use local sponsorships as a link building effort, but there are ways — and ample benefit — to going far beyond the link.

Local event attendance

So, so many local sponsorship campaigns come with the opportunity for event attendance. We currently have 11,345 opportunities in our database (62.2% of our total inventory) that feature events: 5Ks, galas, performances, parades, and even a rubber ducky derby or two! If you’re able to send local team members, find opportunities that match your target audience and test it out — and bring your camera so your social and brand team will have material for publication. If local team members aren’t an option, consider working with a notable and ambitious startup such as Field Day, which can send locals out on behalf of your brand. We’ve spoken with them on several occasions and found them adaptable and wonderful to work with.

Coupons/invitations

One client, FunBrands, used local sponsorships as a way to reach out to locals ahead of stores’ grand re-openings (read the full case study here).

For another client, we created unique coupons for each local organization, using print and social media posts for distribution.

An example coupon — use codes to track attribution back to an event.


Conclusion: Local sponsorships are a channel

Sponsorships are an actionable strategy that contribute to your local rankings, while providing unprecedented opportunities for community engagement and neighborly branding. We hope that this updated guide will provide a strong operational overview along with realistic expectations — and even inspirations — for a local sponsorship campaign in your target cities.

Last but not least: As with all outreach campaigns, please remember to be human. Keep in mind that local engagements are the living extension of your brand in the real world. And if somehow this article wasn’t enough, we just finished up The Local Sponsorship Playbook. Every purchase comes with a 30-minute consultation with the author. We hope everyone chooses to get out, get local, and join the community in the channel that truly benefits everyone.

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How Long Should Your Meta Description Be? (2018 Edition)

Posted by Dr-Pete

Summary: The end of November saw a spike in the average length of SERP snippets. Across 10K keywords (90K results), we found a definite increase but many oddities, such as video snippets. Our data suggests that many snippets are exceeding 300 characters, and going into 2018 we recommend a new meta description limit of 300 characters.

Back in spring of 2015, we reported that Google search snippets seemed to be breaking the 155-character limit, but our data suggested that these cases were fairly rare. At the end of November, RankRanger’s tools reported a sizable jump in the average search snippet length (to around 230 characters). Anecdotally, we’re seeing many long snippets in the wild, such as this 386-character one on a search for “non compete agreement”:

Search Engine Land was able to get confirmation from Google of a change in how they handle snippets, but we don’t have a lot of details. Is it time to revisit our guidelines on meta descriptions limits heading into 2018? We dug into our daily 10,000-keyword tracking data to find out…

The trouble with averages

In our 10K tracking data for December 15th, which consisted of 89,909 page-one organic results, the average display snippet (stripped of HTML, of course) was 215 characters long, slightly below RankRanger’s numbers, but well above historical trends.

This number is certainly interesting, but it leaves out quite a bit. First of all, the median character length is 186, suggesting that some big numbers are potentially skewing the average. On the other hand, some snippets are very short because their Meta Descriptions are very short. Take this snippet for Vail.com:

Sure enough, this is Vail.com’s meta description tag (I’m not gonna ask):

Do we really care that a lot of people just write ridiculously short meta descriptions? No, what we really want to know is at what point Google is cutting off long descriptions. So, let’s just look at the snippets that were cut (determined by the “…” at the end). In our data set, this leaves just about 33% (29,664), so we can already see that about two-thirds of descriptions aren’t getting cut off.

Looking at just the descriptions that were cut off, the average jumps all the way up to 292, but let’s look at the frequency distribution of the lengths of just the cut snippets. The graph below shows cut-snippet lengths in bins of 25 (0-25, 25-50, etc.):

We’ve got a clear spike in the 300-325 character range, but why are we seeing descriptions being cut off in the 100-200 character range (and some even below 100 characters? Digging in deeper, we discovered that two things were going on here…

Oddity #1: Video snippets

Spot-checking some of the descriptions cut off in the under-200 character range, we realized that a number of them were video snippets, which seem to have shorter limits:

These snippets seem to generally max out at two lines, and they’re further restricted by the space the video thumbnail occupies. In our data set, a full 88% of video snippets were cut off (ended in “…”). Separating out video, only 32% of organic snippets (removing the video results) were cut off.

Oddity #2: Pre-cut metas

A second oddity was that some meta description tags seem to be pre-truncated (possibly by CMS systems). So, the “…” in those cases is an unreliable indicator. Take this snippet, for example:

This clocks in at 150 characters, right around the old limit. Now, let’s look at the meta description:

This Goodreads snippet is being pre-truncated. This was true for almost all of the Goodreads meta descriptions in our data set, and may be a CMS setting or a conscious choice by their SEO team. Either way, it’s not very useful for our current analysis.

So, we attempted to gather all of the original meta description tags to check for pre-truncated data. We were unable to gather data from all sites, and some sites don’t use meta description tags at all, but we were still able to remove some of the noise.

Let’s try this again (…)

So, let’s pull out all of the cut snippets with video thumbnails and the ones where we know the meta description ended in “…”. This cuts us down to 26,766 snippets (about 30% of the original 89,909). Here’s what the frequency distribution of lengths looks like now:

We’ve cleaned up some of the lower end, but it’s not a dramatic difference. We’re still seeing some snippets cut at less than 200 characters. Some of these may be situations where we couldn’t retrieve the original Meta Description tag, but others seem to be legitimate cuts.

The bulk of these snippets are being cut off in the 275–350 character range. In this cleaned-up distribution, we’ve got a mean of 309 characters and a median of 317 characters. There’s still a bit of a tail to the left, so the distribution isn’t quite normal, but it’s clear that the lion’s share of cut-offs are happening in that 300-325 bin.

What about the snippets over 350 characters? It’s hard to see from this graph, but they maxed out at 375 characters. In some cases, Google is appending their own information:

While the entire snippet is 375 characters, the “Jump…” link is added by Google. The rest of the snippet is 315 characters long. Google also adds result counts and dates to the front of some snippets. These characters don’t seem to count against the limit, but it’s a bit hard to tell, because we don’t have a lot of data points.

Do metas even matter?

Before we reveal the new limit, here’s an uncomfortable question — when it seems like Google is rewriting so many snippets, is it worth having meta description tags at all? Across the data set, we were able to successfully capture 70,059 original Meta Description tags (in many of the remaining cases, the sites simply didn’t define one). Of those, just over one-third (35.9%) were used as-is for display snippets.

Keep in mind, though, that Google truncates some of these and appends extra data to some. In 15.4% of cases, Google used the original meta description tag, but added some text. This number may seem high, but most of these cases were simply Google adding a period to the end of the snippet. Apparently, Google is a stickler for complete sentences. So, now we’re up to 51.3% of cases where either the display snippet perfectly matched the meta description tag or fully contained it.

What about cases where the display snippet used a truncated version of the meta description tag? Just 3.2% of snippets matched this scenario. Putting it all together, we’re up to almost 55% of cases where Google is using all or part of the original meta description tag. This number is probably low, as we’re not counting cases where Google used part of the original meta description but modified it in some way.

It’s interesting to note that, in some cases, Google rewrote a meta description because the original description was too short or not descriptive enough. Take this result, for example:

Now, let’s check out the original meta description tag…

In this case, the original meta description was actually too short for Google’s tastes. Also note that, even though Google created the snippet themselves, they still cut it off with a “…”. This strongly suggests that cutting off a snippet isn’t a sign that Google thinks your description is low quality.

On the flip side, I should note that some very large sites don’t use meta description tags at all, and they seem to fare perfectly well in search results. One notable example is Wikipedia, a site for which defining meta descriptions would be nearly impossible without automation, and any automation would probably fall short of Google’s own capabilities.

I think you should be very careful using Wikipedia as an example of what to do (or what not do), when it comes to technical SEO, but it seems clear from the data that, in the absence of a meta description tag, Google is perfectly capable of ranking sites and writing their own snippets.

At the end of the day, I think it comes down to control. For critical pages, writing a good meta description is like writing ad copy — there’s real value in crafting that copy to drive interest and clicks. There’s no guarantee Google will use that copy, and that fact can be frustrating, but the odds are still in your favor.

Is the 155 limit dead?

Unless something changes, and given the partial (although lacking in details) confirmation from Google, I think it’s safe to experiment with longer meta description tags. Looking at the clean distribution, and just to give it a nice even number, I think 300 characters is a pretty safe bet. Some snippets that length may get cut off, but the potential gain of getting in more information (when needed) offsets that relatively small risk.

That’s not to say you should pad out your meta descriptions just to cash in on more characters. Snippets should be useful and encourage clicks. In part, that means not giving so much away that there’s nothing left to drive the click. If you’re artificially limiting your meta descriptions, though, or if you think more text would be beneficial to search visitors and create interest, then I would definitely experiment with expanding.

Update (December 19): My sincere apologies, but I discovered a substantial error in my original analysis which caused me to exclude many data points from the cut-off analysis. All counts, percentages, and graphs have been updated. The 300-character conclusion did not change based on this re-analysis.

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Best of Copyblogger: 2017 Edition

The task of selecting the top Copyblogger posts from 2017 is a bit like asking me to choose my favorite child. Each post is crafted with care, and I value all of them. But I rolled up my sleeves and devised a strategy. In fact, this year was all about the power of the individual
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The Best of Copyblogger: 2016 Edition

catch up on our top picks for 2016

The year of the rollercoaster is nearly finished, and, as we usually do around this time, I wanted to pull together some of my favorite posts for you.

This collection of posts (and a single podcast) is a celebration of the writers who worked hard every week to teach, inspire, and entertain us — and it’s also a bit of a manifesto for what we want 2017 to be.

Our vision for 2017 is:

  • The year of the individual voice
  • The year of community
  • The year of the real, human writer

Here are some of my favorite Copyblogger posts from 2016, starting with just one podcast episode …

The Return of the Blog

Brian Clark wrapped up the Unemployable podcast for 2016 joined by Darren Rowse, our old, dear friend and someone who epitomizes ethical, human-focused authority.

Darren and Brian talk about how “business blogging” became “content marketing,” about what we might have lost along the way, and about how to get that back again:

Blogging is Back, with Darren Rowse

Paying the bills, bills, bills

Copyblogger has always been a site for writers, and we hold a special place in our hearts for the freelancer — the early pioneers of the “gig economy,” who live on that fascinating edge where stress turns into freedom.

Here’s just a small sampling of posts we ran this year on how to make a better living creating words.

If you want to generate some business with your content, first you have to generate some traffic:

5 Ways to Get More Traffic with Content Marketing

Why is it so hard to charge what you’re worth? Pamela Wilson shares some thoughts:

Are You Cheap or Are You Exceptional? How to Price Your Services

Are you leaving money on the table? If you write for a living, the answer is probably Yes. Kelly Exeter can help:

4 Places Writers Leave Money on the Table

Beth Hayden has written lots of strong, action-oriented content for us this year on improving your writing revenue. Here’s one example:

How to Discover Your Customers’ Favorite Social Media Platforms

Freelancing is amazing — except for the part where you don’t know how much you’ll be making from month to month. Here’s a suggestion from Pamela Wilson:

A Simple Way Out of Your Precarious Freelance Income Problem

The answer is always in the audience

Darren, in his conversation with Brian, made the point that maybe if we’d called it “Community Marketing” instead of “Content Marketing,” more content creators would have kept their focus in the right place.

I think that’s a wise observation. Copyblogger has always taught the value of being a bit obsessed with your audience — and we’ve always been proud of the smart, thoughtful community that has grown around the blog.

Community isn’t just the relationship between you and the audience … it’s also about the professional ties you create with other writers. Stefanie Flaxman delves into what you need to consider before you publish other voices on your site:

Should You Publish Guest Blog Posts on Your Website?

If your content lacks connection, you’ll never build trust. If your content lacks conversion skills, you’ll never make any money. And if your content lacks conviction, it has no soul.

I talk a bit about how those three weave together in this post:

Connection Steps that Lead to Customers

Wise writers know that excellent writing doesn’t mean stiff or “formally perfect” writing. There’s an art to writing with a conversational voice … and Henneke gives us some thoughts on how to get the ball rolling:

How to Write Conversationally: 7 Tips to Engage and Delight Your Audience

Who we are informs so much of what we do. I took a closer look at Robert Cialdini’s “new” (not really) persuasion principle of Unity in this post:

The Ultra Powerful 7th Principle of Persuasion

Content excellence

We’ve said it many times:

Your writing has to be good before it can be strategic.

Crummy content won’t cut it, which is why we are perpetually in the year of the writer. (I suppose at some point we should write a post about the Century of the Writer …)

In 2017, we’ll be offering you monthly prompts that we can all work on together as a community. It starts with writing consistently, so take a look at the prompts below to get your motor running:

Start Your Engines: The 2017 Content Excellence Challenge Begins Now

(Look for January’s prompts coming soon …)

We say “your writing has to be good” — but what does that mean, precisely? A post I turn to again and again to answer that question is Brian Clark’s article on the intersection of meaning and fascination:

2 Essential Elements of Irresistible Content

Writers write every day (sometimes) … but what happens when you have no idea what to write about? Stefanie Flaxman is here to help:

This Is How You Become a Writer

Good writing is brave — and I love Joanna Wiebe’s bold (and smart) voice:

“Your biggest copy opportunity is this: your competitors are chickens.”

That’s how she kicks off this post:

Big Bums, Scuffles, and How to Craft Copy Your Competitors Wouldn’t Dare Write

Kelly Exeter writes about — what I agree is — the single most important thing writers can do to make our words much, much better:

One Skill that Will Take Your Writing from Good to Great

Henneke shares how to create a red poppy in a sea of gray content:

How to Write So Vividly that Readers Fall in Love with Your Ideas

Writing is creative work — and Demian Farnworth, in his wild, inimitable way, brings 21 different definitions of creativity together here (there’s also a dandy poster):

What Is Creativity? 21 Authentic Definitions You’ll Love [Free Poster]

It’s nearly 2017, and bots are writing content now. What they aren’t doing is writing good content — because it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Brian Clark expands on that here:

How to Make Your Writing Real

Making more of it happen

Craft matters. And creativity matters.

But neither one matters if you don’t get the work done. Here are some resources to help you make that happen.

I’m a big fan of the “itsy-bitsy habits” movement, and the work of Stephen Guise. So I was tickled when he agreed to write a post for us:

An Effective (but Embarrassing) Way to Develop Elite Copywriting Skills with Mini Habits

Ever have trouble starting a new blog post? Or wrapping one up? Or … filling the middle with something that isn’t total blather? Yeah, me too. Here’s Brian Clark’s focused process for how to move past these three dreadful symptoms of a single problem:

The 5-Step Process that Solves 3 Painful Writing Problems

Sometimes, the creative well runs a little dry. Luckily, we have Sally Hogshead, who gave us 21 genuinely juicy prompts for excellent content:

21 Juicy Prompts that Inspire Fascinating Content

Sean D’Souza is obsessed with process … and with breaking it down into steps that others can follow. Take a look at his take on content process here:

The Content Junkyard (and Why So Many Articles Fail)

Often, the hardest part of writing is just getting started. Pamela Wilson has some thoughts on ways to get your writing brain working:

7 Fun and Easy Warm Ups to Start Your Writing Day

Content Marketing blah blah blah

I’ll let you in on a poorly-kept secret.

Most of us at Copyblogger hate the term “content marketing.” It’s too vague, it sounds clinical, and it puts the focus in the wrong place (on the content, rather than the community).

But … we also believe in using the language of the audience. And, for better or worse, “content marketing” is what folks call “authoritative creative works like blogs, podcasts, videos, and other useful things, that attract and sustain audience attention and build a case for your business goals.”

And to be honest, ACWLBPVAOUTTAASAAABACFYBG doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

In the interest of deciphering some of the attendant jargon, as well as giving us all a chance to hear Robert Bruce’s “deep, fluid, and cozy voice,” take a look and listen to our Content Marketing Glossary. Demian Farnworth introduces it here:

Content Marketing Glossary: 96 Concepts that Will Make You a Smarter Content Marketer

And here’s the link to jump to all of the Content Marketing Glossary posts with animated videos:

This April Fools’ Day post was a bit of stupid fun — but even though I wrote it, it still makes me laugh:

Okay … Here’s the Real Reason to Attend Digital Commerce Summit in Denver

And finally … there’s a trend you might notice if you click through to these posts. That trend will be moving in a different direction in 2017 … but you’ll need to wait for the new year for the announcement.

So … watch this space. :) Have a safe New Year’s Eve, and we’ll catch you on the flip side.

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Copyblogger’s Holiday Buffet Edition

Copyblogger's Holiday Buffet Edition

You know how holiday buffets are … you take a little bit of cheese, and then another kind of cheese, and then four more kinds of cheese, then squeeze six desserts onto the plate, and finally you take a tiny square of Jell-O because it’s basically a vegetable?

No? Just me?

ANYWAY. This week we have a little buffet assortment for you … without the Jell-O vegetables.

On Monday, Sean Jackson and Jessica Frick were nice enough to host me on the Members Only podcast, where we talked about the days when I launched my first membership community. We laughed a lot and had a great conversation about the value of just plain moving forward, even if you’re not 100 percent sure where the path will take you.

Over on The Showrunner, Jerod Morris and Jonny Nastor dug deep into creating systems for your podcast (or any other aspect of your content or business, actually). Even if you’re not a podcaster, I think you’ll find this one useful.

Monday, I also had fun sharing some of my favorite bits of bad writing advice, sourced from the community (hey, that’s you!) and our editorial team — with some suggestions for what you might try instead.

On Tuesday, we saw a classic Brian Clark post about why education works so well when we’re trying to persuade … and how to structure your content to make it easy for your reader to say “Yes.”

And don’t miss Brian’s new conversation with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger on Unemployable. You’ll hear how the entire content marketing movement truly began, where blogging is going, and why we all need to first return to the foundational element of human connection before we focus on fancy automation, strategic funnels, and conversion optimization.

Stefanie Flaxman wrapped up the week with a small but mighty fact-checking tip that, if you’re in this game long enough, is just about guaranteed to save you an annoying customer support headache at some point in your professional life.

If you’re celebrating a holiday this weekend, I wish you a very happy one, and I’ll catch you next week!

— Sonia Simone

Chief Content Officer, Rainmaker Digital


Catch up on this week’s content


bad advice you can tune outConventional Writing Wisdom You Can Ignore, Effective Immediately

by Sonia Simone


Educate to Dominate Your CompetitionEducate to Dominate Your Competition

by Brian Clark


A Seemingly Minor Fact-Checking Tip that Yields Top-Notch Customer ServiceA Seemingly Minor Fact-Checking Tip that Yields Top-Notch Customer Service

by Stefanie Flaxman


Why Starting a Membership Site Is a Terrible Idea … Until You Just Do ItWhy Starting a Membership Site Is a Terrible Idea … Until You Just Do It

by Sean Jackson


Quick! What Can You Systematize Before 2017?Quick! What Can You Systematize Before 2017?

by Jerod Morris & Jon Nastor


Laura Roeder on Building a Business that Supports the Lifestyle You LoveLaura Roeder on Building a Business that Supports the Lifestyle You Love

by Brian Clark & Jerod Morris


Bad Writing Advice: The ‘Post Truth’ EpisodeBad Writing Advice: The ‘Post Truth’ Episode

by Sonia Simone


How Journalist and Bestselling Author of ‘The Revenge of Analog’ David Sax Writes: Part TwoHow Journalist and Bestselling Author of ‘The Revenge of Analog’ David Sax Writes: Part Two

by Kelton Reid


Blogging is Back, with Darren RowseBlogging is Back, with Darren Rowse

by Brian Clark


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6 Marks of Effective Content: ‘The Lego Movie’ Edition

how to snap together effective content marketing

Shortly after the release of The Lego Movie (2014), more than one professional marketer went on record to say that it was the best piece of content marketing they’d seen in a long time.

Well, I finally saw the movie, and I don’t buy that claim. Why?

To be honest, I have a hunch it won’t pass a simple test — a test I’m calling “The Six Marks of Effective Content.”

And what exactly are those six marks? They are:

  1. A headline that instantly commands attention
  2. An opening that hooks your audience
  3. An element of education, inspiration, or entertainment
  4. A persuasive story
  5. A single, focused moral
  6. A well-crafted call to action

Seems easy enough to pass, but before we dive in, do me a favor if you have seen the movie: Think through how you would grade the movie based on these six marks. And then let’s see how we compare at the end. Cool?

Here we go.

1. A headline that instantly commands attention: A+

If we were to evaluate the title of the movie based on the four U’s of headline writing, The Lego Movie is a below-average headline:

  • Is it useful? No.
  • Is it urgent? No.
  • Is it unique? Yes.
  • Is it ultra-specific? Not really — all we know is that it’s a movie about Lego bricks.

A headline I would write for the movie using the four U’s might look something like:

  • Soap Bubbles and 44 Other Surprising Things You Can Make with Lego Pieces
  • The Fellowship of the Brick
  • Lord Business Is No Megamind

However, the headline doesn’t have to do much because of the hefty value of its brand name. Except for space aliens, everybody knows what Lego bricks are.

See, The Lego Movie as a headline is equivalent to announcing “Free Money” or “Sex.” Few people need to be told the value proposition behind those headlines (that first headline was once used by a bank, the second one by a bookstore).

The creators of the movie didn’t have to be clever — just clear and concise.

That’s because we’ve all been waiting forever (whether or not we knew it) for a Lego movie. Just hearing those three words — The Lego Movie — made us all squirm in anticipation like a batch of soft, fluffy, yowling puppies.

But there is a lesson that shouldn’t be missed here: unless you have an A+ brand name, write magnetic headlines.

The movie seems to be off to a good start.

2. An opening that hooks your audience: A

The second mark of effective content is a strong introduction that immediately hooks your audience member — and keeps her reading or watching.

For your content, use short, engaging sentences that could:

  • Tell a story.
  • Ask a question.
  • Share a metaphor, analogy, or simile.
  • Invoke the mind’s eye.
  • Quote a statistic.

The Lego Movie gets an A here because the movie grabs and keeps our attention when we meet the hero of the story, Emmet — an average guy who religiously follows an instruction booklet.

Then, his world is turned upside down. (I will stop there, for those who have not seen the movie.)

That’s the essence of a well-told story.

3. An element of education, inspiration, or entertainment: A

Effective content marketing educates, inspires, or entertains an audience.

A balanced piece of content will usually have a mix that is 40 percent education, 40 percent inspiration, and 20 percent entertainment:

So, how does The Lego Movie fare? It’s clearly full-scale entertainment, but there is an educational element, too: there is a time to follow rules, and there is a time to break them.

Ancient wisdom, if you think about it. The movie gets an A in this category.

4. A persuasive story: A

A captivating novel, movie, or TV series begins with a character in conflict, then amplifies that conflict so that life becomes miserable, and eventually ends in a satisfying resolution.

The same is true for your marketing story. You need a hero, a goal, an obstacle, a mentor, and a moral.

You can also use metaphors, case studies, examples, and other techniques to engage your audience and illustrate a point.

Of course the movie aces this one.

5. A single, focused moral: B

Yes, great content tells stories that show people just like you overcoming obstacles and attaining their goals. It shows how customers become better versions of themselves — how customers can overcome external and internal obstacles to gain what they’re searching for.

But great content also always states its purpose.

In the sea of distraction that is the web, don’t be afraid to spell it out. Be clear and direct. Clarity is golden.

Here are a few examples of morals in content marketing:

So, how did The Lego Movie do?

While the message wasn’t necessarily direct, it certainly was clear: You are special. Believe in yourself.

That’s certainly a moral, but I think it’s a lame one because when everyone is special, aren’t we all really just average then? ”</p

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The Best of Copyblogger: 2014 Edition

Copyblogger team at conclusion of Authority Intensive

It’s that time of year again …

The time of year when we wind down one year in anticipation of the next by taking a final look back at the best of the best content published here at Copyblogger during the last calendar year. It’s become an annual tradition.

But first, I want to highlight the best Copyblogger moment from 2014.

And it’s an easy one to pinpoint.

It’s the moment when our entire team received an ovation at the conclusion of Authority Intensive in May (see image above, taken by Godhammer).

I’ve never been prouder to be a member of the Copyblogger team, and I can’t wait to have an even better experience in May 2015 at Authority Rainmaker.

I hope you’ll join us.

And now, without further ado, here are the best posts published on Copyblogger in 2014, as chosen by our staff and by you (based on your visits and shares).

Favorites from the founder and CEO

Let’s start with recommendations from the man who started it all nearly a decade ago, Brian Clark.

And for those, I will direct your attention to the sidebar. See where it says “Popular Articles?” That list is curated by Mr. Clark. So anytime you want to know what he thinks is an especially excellent Copyblogger post, just browse that list.

I’ll highlight five here that didn’t make it onto other lists below:

As for other editorial team picks …

Sonia’s top five from 2014

Sonia has come to dread lists like these, where she’s asked to choose between so many of her favorite posts. (Because all of her children are gorgeous, of course.)

Here’s a sampling of great posts that didn’t come from the blog’s editorial team, and that are well worth your attention.

Demian’s top five from 2014

Stefanie’s top five from 2014

Includes two repeats from Demian’s list …

Kelton’s top five from 2014

I speak for our entire staff when I say we hope Demian doesn’t read that last little note. It might go to his head. ;-)

Kelton also added this commentary: “And of course every Rainmaker.FM episode/post.”

Which leads us to …

7 great Rainmaker.FM episodes

To access every episode of Rainmaker.FM, click here. A few you absolutely do not want to miss are:

And now to hand out some hardware …

Award-winning posts from 2014

(Note: To qualify for one of the awards below, the post had to be published in 2014.)

Most Popular Post (based on pageviews): Why Copyblogger Is Killing Its Facebook Page

This post also wins the award for Post That Drove the Most Traffic from Facebook.

Second-Most Popular Post (based on pageviews): 11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs [Infographic]

The above post also wins the Repurposing Award for 2014 — as it was comprised of repurposed ideas from the archive while also being repurposed itself into a popular podcast series on The Lede.

The Post That Attracted the Most Visitors from Google: 12 Examples of Native Ads (And Why They Work)

The Post That Attracted the Most Visitors from RSS Readers: Here’s How Elizabeth Gilbert (Bestselling Author of Eat, Pray, Love) Writes

The Post That Attracted the Most Visitors from Google+: SEO is Dead: Long Live OC/DC

The Post That Attracted the Most Visitors from Twitter: The Prepared Writer’s Process for Creating Excellent Content Every Day

The Post That Drove the Most Traffic from an External Link: A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines

The Most Popular Post with “Damn” in the Headline: Why a Legendary Album and a Viral Hoax Should Inspire You to Create Content That’s Worth a Damn

The Most Popular Case Study: How One Veteran’s Podcast Built a Million-Dollar Business

The Most Popular Podcast Post: The Lede: How to Write a Magnetic Headline (in Under 15 Minutes)

The Podcast That Featured the Most Laughter: The Lede: Hangout Hot Seat with Brian Clark

The Most Popular Post That Closes with an Animated GIF of Emma Stone: Should Your Site’s Design Be Sexy or Smart?

The Post Most Likely to Freak You Out When the Post Image … Moves: 3 Ways Your Web Design Can Better Connect You to Your Audience

The Post Most Likely to Draw the Ire of Mark Cuban: Why Shark Tank is Terrible for Your Business

The Most Popular Parable by Robert Bruce: The Decline and Fall of The Great Gate (and to the chagrin of us all, this was also the only Robert Bruce parable of 2014.)

And here are a few additional posts I personally loved that deserve one final shout-out (and read-through) in 2014:

We’ll close with the best post image from 2014.

There were a lot of great ones to choose from, but the one below was clearly the winner, from our April Fools post 3 Ways to Write a Damn Good Syllable:

Copyblogger chief copywriter Demian Farnworth sits at his desk straining to write a good syllable

That picture might as well be Demian right now, as he puts the finishing touches on Copyblogger’s Cost of Online Business Report, which will be out early in 2015. Stay tuned …

In the meantime, thank you for helping make 2014 such a special one for us here at Copyblogger.

Programming note: Sonia will be here tomorrow with final thoughts to carry you triumphantly into 2015.

Your favorite posts …

We’d love to hear about the posts you enjoyed the most this year.

Join us over on our LinkedIn discussion group to share your own favorites!

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

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Videos from MozTalk: Blogger Edition

Posted by CharleneKate

Have you ever noticed how Rand is often speaking at conferences all around the world? Well, we realized that those of us here in Seattle rarely get to see them. So we started MozTalks, a free event here at the MozPlex.

It normally runs 2-3 hours with multiple speakers, one of whom is Rand. The event is hosted at the Moz HQ and offers time for mingling, appetizers, refreshments and of course, swag. The series is still evolving as we continue to test out new ideas (maybe taking the show on the road), so be on the lookout for any updates.

Our most recent MozTalk back in September was a smashing success. Rand and his wife Geraldine, widely known as 
The Everywhereist, were our featured speakers, and the event focused on blogging, driving traffic to your site, and finding your online personality.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if driving traffic and building your blog’s brand were easy? You launch your blog, you publish awesome content, your metrics go through the roof and everyone just absolutely loves you. Bada bing, bada boom! We all know, however, that the Web is a crazy beast, and the number of individuals constantly sharing their thoughts, stories, expertise, and experiences can be overwhelming. Not to mention that search engine optimization itself has become considerably more advanced and challenging over the years.

So how do you stand out from the millions of personalities, blogs, tweets, and other search results? In the presentations below, Rand and Geraldine dive in and offer tips and tricks on how to drive traffic to your site and get your readers to fall in love with you.


Rand: What Bloggers Need to Know About SEO in 2014



Geraldine: How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with Your Blog

Top three takeaways

As someone who’s in the midst of launching my own personal blog, these particular takeaways really resonated with me:

Give SEO some love. For many marketers, SEO is a no-brainer, but often times it’s harder to convince bloggers that SEO is important. The fact is, search continues to grow massively. There are more than 6 billion searches performed every day, and guess what? 80% of clicks go to organic results. That’s where SEO comes in. Here’s a little secret: You actually don’t have to be an SEO expert to be effective; you just have to be kinda good at it.

Be authentic. Connect with your audience through familiarity and by being genuine. This will not only help you grow a loyal and dedicated following, but create a bond between you and the readers. There’s no better voice for you than your own.

Be patient. If something’s not working, don’t panic. Traffic doesn’t happen overnight but if you stick to your guns and stay true to your efforts then the results will be rewarding. Also, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try new things if you have to.

Join us for the next one

We’ve got our next MozTalk scheduled for
Tuesday, November 18th with Rand and Dr. Pete Meyers, who joins us all the way from Chicago! We’ll be sure to let folks know once we have the videos of the talks on the blog, but for now, we hope to see you there!

Join the next free MozTalk

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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