Tag Archive | "Write"

How to Stop Wishing You Had More Time to Write

“If only I had all the time in the world, my blog would be perfect.” That thought has probably crossed your mind more than once. I know it’s crossed mine. I find myself lost in daydreams about how amazing my motorcycle blog could be — if only I had more time. When writerly productivity is
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How to Write a Killer Book Introduction

It might be a short ebook you intend to give away to blog subscribers. Or you might be trying to pen a New York Times bestseller. Either way, I think I know which bit of your book is causing you problems. The introduction. It’s the biggest hurdle for most of the writers I work with.
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How to Write Marketing Case Studies That Convert

Posted by kerryjones

In my last post, I discussed why your top funnel content shouldn’t be all about your brand. Today I’m making a 180-degree turn and covering the value of content at the opposite end of the spectrum: content that’s directly about your business and offers proof of your effectiveness.

Specifically, I’m talking about case studies.

I’m a big believer in investing in case studies because I’ve seen firsthand what happened once we started doing so at Fractl. Case studies were a huge game changer for our B2B marketing efforts. For one, our case studies portfolio page brings in a lot of traffic – it’s the second most-visited page on our site, aside from our home page. It also brings in a significant volume of organic traffic, being our fourth most-visited page from organic searches. Most importantly, our case studies are highly effective at converting visitors to leads – about half of our leads view at least one of our case studies before contacting us.

Assuming anyone who reads the Moz Blog is performing some type of marketing function, I’m zeroing in on how to write a compelling marketing case study that differentiates your service offering and pulls prospects down the sales funnel. However, what I’m sharing can be used as a framework for creating case studies in any industry.

Get your client on board with a case study

Marketers shy away from creating case studies for a few reasons:

  1. They’re too busy “in the weeds” with deliverables.
  2. They don’t think their results are impressive enough.
  3. They don’t have clients’ permission to create case studies.

While I can’t help you with #1 and #2 (it’s up to you to make the time and to get the results deserving of a case study!), I do have some advice on #3.

In a perfect world, clients would encourage you to share every little detail of your time working together. In reality, most clients expect you to remain tight-lipped about the work you’ve done for them.

cobert-gif.gif

Understandably, this might discourage you from creating any case studies. But it shouldn’t.

With some compromising, chances are your client will be game for a case study. We’ve noticed the following two objections are common regarding case studies.

Client objection 1: “We don’t want to share specific numbers.”

At first it you may think, “Why bother?” if a client tells you this, but don’t let it hold you back. (Truth is, the majority of your clients will probably feel this way).

In this instance, you’ll want your case study to focus on highlighting the strategy and describing projects, while steering away from showing specific numbers regarding short and long-term results. Believe it or not, the solution part of the case study can be just as, or more, compelling than the results. (I’ll get to that shortly.)

And don’t worry, you don’t have to completely leave out the results. One way to get around not sharing actual numbers but still showing results is to use growth percentages.

Specific numbers: “Grew organic traffic from 5,000 to 7,500 visitors per month”

Growth percentage: “Increased organic traffic by 150%”

We do this for most of our case studies at Fractl, and our clients are totally fine with it.

Client objection 2: “We don’t want to reveal our marketing strategy to competitors.”

A fear of giving away too much intel to competitors is especially common in highly competitive niches.

So how do you get around this?

Keep it anonymous. Don’t reveal who the client is and keep it vague about what niche they’re in. This can be as ambiguous as referring to the client as “Client A” or slightly more specific (“our client in the auto industry”). Instead, the case study will focus on the process and results – this is what your prospects care about, anyway.

Gather different perspectives

Unless you were directly working with the client who you are writing the case study about, you will need to conduct a few interviews to get a full picture of the who, what, how, and why of the engagement. At Fractl, our marketing team puts together case studies based on interviews with clients and the internal team who worked on the client’s account.

The client

Arrange an interview with the client, either on a call or via email. If you have multiple contacts within the client’s team, interview the main point of contact who has been the most involved in the engagement.

What to ask:

  • What challenge were you facing that you hired us to help with?
  • Had you previously tried to solve this challenge (working with another vendor, using internal resources, etc.)?
  • What were your goals for the engagement?
  • How did you benefit from the engagement (short-term and long-term results, unexpected wins, etc.)?

You’ll also want to run the case study draft by the client before publishing it, which offers another chance for their feedback.

The project team

Who was responsible for this client’s account? Speak with the team behind the strategy and execution.

What to ask:

  • How was the strategy formed? Were strategic decisions made based on your experience and expertise, competitive research, etc.?
  • What project(s) were launched as part of the strategy? What was the most successful project?
  • Were there any unexpected issues that you overcame?
  • Did you refine the strategy to improve results?
  • How did you and the client work together? Was there a lot of collaboration or was the client more hands-off? (Many prospective clients are curious about what their level of involvement in your process would look like.)
  • What did you learn during the engagement? Any takeaways?

Include the three crucial elements of a case study

There’s more than one way to package case studies, but the most convincing ones all have something in common: great storytelling. To ensure you’re telling a proper narrative, your case study should include the conflict, the resolution, and the happy ending (but not necessarily in this order).

We find a case study is most compelling when you get straight to the point, rather than making someone read the entire case study before seeing the results. To grab readers’ attention, we begin with a quick overview of conflict-resolution-happy ending right in the introduction.

For example, in our Fanatics case study, we summarized the most pertinent details in the first three paragraphs. The rest of the case study focused on the resolution and examples of specific projects.

fanatics-case-study.png

Let’s take a look at what the conflict, resolution, and happy ending of your case study should include.

The Conflict: What goal did the client want to accomplish?

Typically serving as the introduction of the case study, “the conflict” should briefly describe the client’s business, the problem they hired you to work on, and what was keeping them from fixing this problem (ex. lack of internal resources or internal expertise). This helps readers identify with the problem the client faced and empathize with them – which can help them envision coming to you for help with this problem, too.

Here are a few examples of “conflicts” from our case studies:

  • “Movoto engaged Fractl to showcase its authority on local markets by increasing brand recognition, driving traffic to its website, and earning links back to on-site content.”
  • “Alexa came to us looking to increase awareness – not just around the Alexa name but also its resources. Many people had known Alexa as the site-ranking destination; however, Alexa also provides SEO tools that are invaluable to marketers.”
  • “While they already had strong brand recognition within the link building and SEO communities, Buzzstream came to Fractl for help with launching large-scale campaigns that would position them as thought leaders and provide long-term value for their brand.”

The Resolution: How did you solve the conflict?

Case studies are obviously great for showing proof of results you’ve achieved for clients. But perhaps more importantly, case studies give prospective clients a glimpse into your processes and how you approach problems. A great case study paints a picture of what it’s like to work with you.

For this reason, the bulk of your case study should detail the resolution, sharing as much specific information as you and your client are comfortable with; the more you’re able to share, the more you can highlight your strategic thinking and problem solving abilities.

The following snippets from our case studies are examples of details you may want to include as part of your solution section:

What our strategy encompassed:

“Mixing evergreen content and timely content helped usher new and existing audience members to the We Are Fanatics blog in record numbers. We focused on presenting interesting data through evergreen content that appealed to a variety of sports fans as well as content that capitalized on current interest around major sporting events.” – from Fanatics case study

How strategy was decided:

“We began by forming our ideation process around Movoto’s key real estate themes. Buying, selling, or renting a home is an inherently emotional experience, so we turned to our research on viral emotions to figure out how to identify with and engage the audience and Movoto’s prospective clients. Based on this, we decided to build on the high-arousal feelings of curiosity, interest, and trust that would be part of the experience of moving.

We tapped into familiar cultural references and topics that would pique interest in the regions consumers were considering. Comic book characters served us well in this regard, as did combining publicly available data (such as high school graduation rates or IQ averages) with our own original research.” – from Movoto case study

Why strategy was changed based on initial results:

“After analyzing the initial campaigns, we determined the most effective strategy included a combination of the following content types designed to achieve different goals [case study then lists the three types of content and goals]…

This strategy yielded even better results, with some campaigns achieving up to 4 times the amount of featured stories and social engagement that we achieved in earlier campaigns.” – from BuzzStream case study

How our approach was tailored to the client’s niche:

“In general, when our promotions team starts its outreach, they’ll email writers and editors who they think would be a good fit for the content. If the writer or editor responds, they often ask for more information or say they’re going to do a write-up that incorporates our project. From there, the story is up to publishers – they pick and choose which visual assets they want to incorporate in their post, and they shape the narrative.

What we discovered was that, in the marketing niche, publishers preferred to feature other experts’ opinions in the form of guest posts rather than using our assets in a piece they were already working on. We had suspected this (as our Fractl marketing team often contributes guest columns to marketing publications), but we confirmed that guest posts were going to make up the majority of our outreach efforts after performing outreach for Alexa’s campaigns.” – from Alexa case study

Who worked on the project:

Since the interviews you conduct with your internal team will inform the solution section of the case study, you may want to give individuals credit via quotes or anecdotes as a means to humanize the people behind the work. In the example below, one of our case studies featured a Q&A section with one of the project leads.

The Happy Ending: What did your resolution achieve?

Obviously, this is the part where you share your results. As I mentioned previously, we like to feature the results at the beginning of the case study, rather than buried at the end.

In our Superdrug Online Doctor case study, we summarized the overall results our campaigns achieved over 16 months:

But the happy ending isn’t finished here.

A lot of case studies fail to answer an important question: What impact did the results have on the client’s business? Be sure to tie in how the results you achieved had a bottom-line impact.

In the case of Superdrug Online Doctor, the results from our campaigns lead to a 238% increase in organic traffic. This type of outcome has tangible value for the client.

You can also share secondary benefits in addition to the primary goals the client hired you for.

In the case of our client Busbud, who hired us for SEO-oriented goals, we included examples of secondary results.

Busbud saw positive impacts beyond SEO, though, including the following:

  • Increased blog traffic
  • New partnerships as a result of more brands reaching out to work with the site
  • Brand recognition at large industry events
  • An uptick in hiring
  • Featured as a “best practice” case study at an SEO conference

Similarly, in our Fractl brand marketing case study, which focused on lead generation, we listed all of the additional benefits resulting from our strategy.

How to get the most out of your case studies

You’ve published your case study, now what should you do with it?

Build a case study page on your site

Once you’ve created several case studies, I recommend housing them all on the same page. This makes it easy to show off your results in a single snapshot and saves visitors from searching through your blog or clicking on a category tag to find all of your case studies in one place. Make this page easy to find through your site navigation and internal links.

While it probably goes without saying, make sure to optimize this page for search. When we initially created our case study portfolio page, we underestimated its potential to bring in search traffic and assumed it would mostly be accessed from our site navigation. Because of this, we were previously using a generic URL to house our case study portfolio. Since updating the URL from “frac.tl/our-work” to “frac.tl/content-marketing-case-studies,” we’ve jumped from page 2 to the top #1–3 positions for a specific phrase we wanted to rank for (“content marketing case studies”), which attracts highly relevant search traffic.

Use case studies as concrete proof in blog posts and off-site content

Case studies can serve as tangible examples that back up your claims. Did you state that creating original content for six months can double your organic traffic? On its own, this assertion may not be believable to some, but a case study showing these results will make your claim credible.

In a post on the Curata blog, my colleague Andrea Lehr used our BuzzStream case study to back up her assertion that in order to attract links, social shares, and traffic, your off-site content should appeal to an audience beyond your target customer. Showing the results this strategy earned for a client gives a lot more weight to her advice.

On the same note, case studies have high linking potential. Not only do they make a credible citation for your own off-site content, they can also be cited by others writing about your service/product vertical. Making industry publishers aware that you publish case studies by reaching out when you’ve released a new case study can lead to links down the road.

Repurpose your case studies into multiple content formats

Creating a case study takes a lot of time, but fortunately it can be reused again and again in various applications.

Long-form case studies

While a case study featured on your site may only be a few hundred words, creating a more in-depth version is a chance to reveal more details. If you want to get your case study featured on other sites, consider writing a long-form version as a guest post.

Most of the case studies you’ll find on the Moz Blog are extremely detailed:

Video

HubSpot has hundreds of case studieson its site, dozens of which also feature supplemental video case studies, such as the one below for Eyeota.

Don’t feel like you have to create flashy videos with impressive production value, even no-frills videos can work. Within its short case study summaries, PR That Converts embeds videos of clients talking about its service. These videos are simple and short, featuring the client speaking to their webcam for a few minutes.

Speaking engagements

Marketing conferences love case studies. Look on any conference agenda, and you’re sure to notice at least a handful of speaker presentations focused on case studies. If you’re looking to secure more speaking gigs, including case studies in your speaking pitch can give you a leg up over other submissions – after all, your case studies are original data no one else can offer.

My colleague Kelsey Libert centered her MozCon presentation a few years ago around some of our viral campaign case studies.

Sales collateral

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many of our leads view the case studies on our site right before contacting us about working together. Once that initial contact is made, we don’t stop showing off our case studies.

We keep a running “best of” list of stats from our case studies, which allows us to quickly pull compelling stats to share in written and verbal conversations. Our pitch and proposal decks feature bite-sized versions of our case studies.

Consider how you can incorporate case studies into various touch points throughout your sales process and make sure the case studies you share align with the industry and goals of whoever you’re speaking with.

I’ve shared a few of my favorite ways to repurpose case studies here but there are at least a dozen other applications, from email marketing to webinars to gated content to printed marketing materials. I even link to our case studies page in my email signature.

case study email.png

My last bit of advice: Don’t expect immediate results. Case studies typically pay off over time. The good news is it’s worth the wait, because case studies retain their value – we’re still seeing leads come in and getting links to case studies we created three or more years ago. By extending their lifespan through repurposing, the case studies you create today can remain an essential part of your marketing strategy for years to come.

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Ask MarketingSherpa: How do I write emails that sell?

At MarketingSherpa, we get a lot of questions from readers. When one reader asked about how to write more effective emails, we saw it as a good opportunity to discuss stepping back and considering what really makes an effective marketing email.
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5 Keyboard Shortcuts to Help You Write and Edit with Ease

We’re all guilty of it at some point. I know I certainly am. Glamorizing writing is an easy trap to fall into … You forget about the countless hours of drafting and imagine a cushy writing life where the right words flow effortlessly from your finger tips as you sit in your ideal setting and
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How to Write a High-Value Lesson Plan that Makes Your Course Easy to Sell

a step-by-step guide to organizing and delivering your course

The demand for online education is exploding.

The global market for online courses is estimated around $ 107 billion. A mind-boggling figure, right?

Imagine stuffing one-dollar bills into a 53-foot truck. Depending on how crumpled your bills are, you’d need around 1,000 trucks stuffed up to the roof to transport those 107-billion dollar bills.

Would you like one of those trucks to deliver a heap of money to you?

Then you must create a lesson plan so valuable that students get excited about buying your online course.

A high-value lesson plan motivates people to both study and implement your advice. It makes students so happy about their newly acquired skills that they tell all of their friends about your course. That’s how your course starts selling like hot cakes.

Ready to get started?

Step #1: Carefully assess your students’ needs

When developing a course on your own platform, the most logical starting point often seems to be your expertise.

How can you teach your skills to others?

This common approach is asking for trouble. Big trouble.

Because it’s hard to create a valuable learning experience when you think from your own perspective rather than from the student’s perspective.

Think about your course buyers first:

  • Who will buy your course?
  • How will the course transform them?
  • Why are they interested in this transformation?

Imagine, for instance, that you’re a social media expert, and you want to create a course to share your Twitter knowledge. You could answer the three questions above in widely different ways:

  • You might want to target Twitter novices who are hoping to build a Twitter following because they want more traffic to their websites.
  • You might want to target freelance writers who want to connect with publishers and influencers because they want to write for well-known publications that pay higher fees.
  • You might want to target small business marketers who find Twitter a time suck; they want to promote their brands in less time.

Each of these audiences requires a different lesson plan because they have different learning objectives and different levels of experience.

So before you create your lesson plan, define who your audience is and how you’ll help them.

If you’re unsure, read questions in relevant forums and check out the comment sections of popular blogs. Or, even better, ask your own email subscribers what they’re struggling with and how you can help.

Once you understand your audience and the overall aim of your course, you can start creating your lesson plan — the foundation of a popular course.

Step #2: Assign learning objectives to each part of your course

Courses often fail to deliver a smooth learning experience because participants lose track of their objectives.

Students become demotivated when they don’t understand the value of each lesson. They don’t see how your information contributes to their goals. They might even forget why they’re taking your course.

To keep your participants motivated, break the overall objective of your course down into mini-targets for each lesson.

You can fill in the blanks of this magical sentence for each target:

Learn [how this works], so you can [achieve so-and-so].

Each module, each lesson, and each assignment in your course should have a purpose. When participants understand the value of the information and how they’ll benefit from it, they’re more likely to engage with your course and implement your advice.

And what’s more, your valuable lesson plan makes crafting a sales page a breeze, too.

You already know who’s going to buy your course and why (for the transformation). You’ve already listed features (what people learn) and benefits (why they care about learning the information you teach). So, your lesson plan is the ideal selling tool for your course.

But how do you define the purpose of each lesson? And how do you make sure all of the lessons help students achieve their overall goal — their transformation?

Step #3: Create simple, digestible lessons

Ever felt overwhelmed when taking a course?

Or perhaps you’ve studied a course diligently, but were left wondering: “Now, what?”

Ensuring your course meets or exceeds your buyer’s expectations is a tough job. You can’t leave any gaps, but you also can’t overwhelm students by inundating them with too much information.

To avoid any gaps in your lesson plan, start with listing the steps you take to complete a specific task.

Let’s look at an easy example first.

Imagine creating a mini-course for cycling enthusiasts about packing a bicycle for transportation on a plane. You can create this course by making notes of the steps you take when packing your bike.

In this case, it’s even easier to record a video of yourself and provide a running commentary. But when you’re teaching an abstract topic, like leadership or digital marketing skills, it’s more difficult.

For abstract topics, reverse-engineer your processes

As an expert, you often accomplish tasks effortlessly. You don’t think about how you create a presentation; you simply put the slides together. You don’t think about how to write an email or give a client a quote. You simply perform the tasks.

To break down your processes, start by asking yourself, “How did I arrive at this result?”

Imagine creating online training materials for senior managers. One skill you want to teach is conducting performance reviews that motivate staff members and make them more productive.

You can picture yourself going through the process:

  • How do you prepare?
  • How do you ask your team members to prepare?
  • How do you conduct the performance review?
  • What type of notes do you take?

You can mentally rehearse your latest performance reviews and break down the complicated parts. You can play back how you dealt with an underperforming team member. You can think about the questions you asked to help you understand what your team member was struggling with.

You’ll find that you often need to mix different types of digestible chunks, especially for complicated topics or advanced skills. For instance, in my Enchanting Business Blogging course:

  • You learn how to write headlines, subheads, opening paragraphs, the main body text, and closing paragraphs — these are all different parts of a blog post
  • You learn how to generate ideas, outline, write a first draft, and edit — these are all different stages of the blog writing process
  • You also learn how to tell a mini-story, use metaphors, and include specific examples — these are all different writing techniques

You have to dig deep to distinguish different parts, chop up a process, and pinpoint techniques. You have to understand the essence of your topic and the foundation of your skills.

In the Da Vinci course from Sean D’Souza at Psychotactics, for instance, you can learn how to draw cartoons. But first, what’s the foundation of drawing? The course begins with drawing circles.

Now you’ve reverse-engineered your process. You’ve created a lesson plan that’s logical and enticing. Each lesson has a clear learning objective, and your valuable lesson plan is nearly ready.

Step #4: Motivate students to implement your advice

Consuming information in digestible chunks is not the same as learning.

To give your students real value and create raving fans, encourage students to implement your advice. At the end of each lesson, create an assignment for them.

For example, my guide for writing About pages, co-written with Julia Rymut, is a five-day mini-course.

Each day features new information plus an assignment so you can implement what you’ve learned:

  • Learn how to order the key components of an About page to create an engaging flow. Review how your favorite websites communicate the essential components of an About page (analysis of other people’s work helps reinforce the lesson).
  • Learn how to generate ideas for your About page. Complete a 23-point questionnaire so writing about yourself becomes a breeze.
  • Learn specific editing tips for About pages. Edit your page to make your content credible, persuasive, and enjoyable.

Remember, a valuable lesson plan doesn’t simply share information. It inspires students to implement your advice by suggesting activities and assignments.

Step #5: Avoid the biggest pitfall in lesson creation

You’re an expert. You’re brimming with enthusiasm for your topic. You want to share your knowledge and teach your skills. You want to inspire people.

Your red-cheeked enthusiasm is both a huge advantage and an enormous potential pitfall.

While your teaching materials will likely reflect your enthusiasm and get students excited about your course, your enthusiasm may also make you prone to overwhelming your students.

Because you want to teach them everything. Each method. Each trick. Each example. Each exception. And you risk leaving your students gasping for air.

Sharing everything you know is not necessary. Go back to the objective of your course, and ask yourself, “What’s the minimum students need to learn to fulfill that objective?”

Then evaluate your lesson plan:

  • Can you eliminate any learning material that’s not absolutely necessary? (Instead of scrapping lessons, consider turning them into bonus material.)
  • Does each lesson have one, straightforward learning objective, or have you muddled your program by sneaking multiple objectives into one lesson? Try cutting lessons into smaller chunks.
  • For each exercise or assignment, have you covered the relevant knowledge and skills?
  • Do the learning objectives follow each other in a logical order?
  • What could prevent students from implementing your advice? And how can you help overcome those hurdles?
  • Have you warned students about common mistakes?
  • Do the learning objectives match your overall promise?

Too much information makes students feel overwhelmed and leads to inaction. Not enough information leaves students confused and defeated. Good teachers inspire their students by giving exactly the right amount of information.

When running a test drive or beta version of your course, keep a close eye on the questions people ask.

Is important information missing? Are specific assignments stumbling blocks? Do students need a pep talk halfway through your course because they’re losing confidence? Or do you need to slow down and recap the lessons so far?

As a good teacher, do more than share information. Encourage. Motivate. Inspire.

Set the foundation for a thriving online training business

Some say that online learning may be more effective than the traditional model of classroom learning.

People can study at their own pace. They don’t waste time traveling and can save energy by studying from home. They can connect with like-minded people across the world.

But online learning only works if we, as providers, deliver a valuable learning experience.

Creating a valuable lesson plan can be tricky. I’m sure you’ve taken courses that left you confused, cross-eyed, and without hair. Or perhaps you gave up long before that. Defeated, you moved on to the next shiny course. Without making progress.

Your students deserve better than that.

So don’t simply share your knowledge. Create a course that teaches a real skill. Make your course so inspirational that people are begging you to create another course next.

Your valuable lesson plan is the solid foundation of a thriving training business.

Can you hear that truck honking?

The driver leans out of the window, a smile on his face. He’s waving at you, ready to deliver a heap of dollar bills.

Free Webinar: How to Develop an Irresistible Online Course People Will Line Up to Buy (and Then Actually Use)

  • Are you currently planning or developing an online course and looking for a few key pieces of practical advice (from a proven expert) that will put you in a position to have a successful launch?
  • Do you already have an online course that you’re looking to improve before your next launch?
  • Or are you simply curious what this online course craze is all about?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the three questions above, then join Rainmaker Digital founder and CEO Brian Clark on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a free webinar.

By the end of the hour, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of how to develop an online course that your target audience needs … and that they will be compelled to pay for.

Learn More and Register for Free

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on August 18, 2015.

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Struggling to Write for Technical Experts? Try These 3 Powerful Content Marketing Practices

tips for top-notch technical content

Engineers and other technical experts take to the web to educate themselves on their options now more than ever before.

When sifting through online content, engineers and other experts in their fields want facts, not a hard sell. They’re conducting serious research.

In fact, according to a study by CEB in partnership with Google, 57 percent of the B2B purchasing process has been completed by the time someone contacts a salesperson.

So, as content marketers, we need to give them the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions. But engineers have already studied for years to accrue their subject matter expertise. Can marketers actually talk intelligently to them online?

A marketer’s challenge lies in extracting the best information and translating it into relatable content, while not sacrificing accuracy in the process.

Journalists like Ed Yong and Carl Zimmer bring cutting-edge science to the masses on a regular basis, and content marketers can follow their leads.

Here are three content marketing tips that non-experts can use when writing about technical subjects.

1. Gather facts from experts

When you interview experts within your clients’ companies and mine their heads for their hard-earned knowledge, you’ll find that many of them love to be asked about their fields.

It’s not every day a layperson asks a metallurgist about induction furnaces or an architect about designing aircraft hangars.

Fair warning: At first these interviews might be overwhelming or intimidating. Marketers often feel afraid to ask “dumb” questions.

However, a state of “non-knowledge” is a great place to start. Admit to your expert that you’re not too familiar with their topic, and they’ll realize that they need to start at the beginning.

Ask them to use long-form phrases instead of acronyms, and never let them gloss over something you don’t understand just to keep the conversation flowing. Asking for clarification shows how closely you’re following along.

Pro tip

Get approval from a company’s communications or marketing department before talking to any technical experts. You want to make sure they don’t divulge any proprietary or protected technical information that could get them in trouble.

Once you’ve written your content, have the company’s legal team review and approve any information that will be published outside the company.

2. Supplement your interviews with your own research

Read what’s already been written so that your target audience doesn’t have to, and synthesize that content in a way that is straightforward and easy to understand.

Google Scholar and government websites are resources you could use to conduct your own research.

For example, if new EPA rules affect how your client engineers their generators, go right to the source. Government agencies will have published those rules, so familiarize yourself with them and learn how they’ll affect your client’s customers.

3. Clarify and satisfy

It’s a content marketer’s job to simplify ideas so that they’re accessible, but not so much that they’re inaccurate.

Metaphors and storytelling are great techniques to incorporate into your content.

Can you make a connection between something complicated and something that’s encountered by most people on a regular basis?

You also want to consider the different types of people who may read your content. Will highly technical engineering content resonate with your target audience? Or do you need to produce content for a decision-maker who’s considering how an investment will affect the bottom line or deliver ROI?

If both types of people are part of your audience, consider how your content marketing strategy can satisfy both perspectives.

The power of education

When writing online content for a technical audience, it’s imperative to keep your overall goal in mind.

You want to cultivate trust by providing education — not by being a pushy salesperson.

B2B content marketing that informs helps marketers give technical audiences the content they’re looking for. And they’re likely to remember where they got that help when it comes time to buy.

Do you write for a technical audience? Share your methods in the comments below.

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How to Write with Power and Authority, Even if You Feel Like a Nobody

use it! you've got the power

In this overcrowded online world, do you ever wonder why people would listen to your advice?

I used to feel the same way.

I didn’t understand why people would read my writing tips when the web is awash with writing advice from people more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more authoritative than me.

Why would anyone listen to me?

I’ve learned that mindset was flawed.

When I learned how to write well, a new world opened up. I connected with people across the world. I built a thriving blog. People started listening to my advice — and more importantly, they acted on it.

Can you make an impact with your words?

As writers, our toolbox may seem limited. We can’t shout. We can’t use body language. We can’t even bang on a table to add weight to a message.

We only have our words to communicate with passion and power.

But written words are enormously powerful. You know that. When was the last time words made you smile? Or cry? Or inspire you to take action?

Once you learn how to write with power, readers start listening to your ideas, acting on your advice, and buying your products and services. You can inspire change — even if you feel you don’t have the required clout or authority right now.

Want to learn how?

Step #1: Write with clarity and substance

Weak writing rambles, rattles, and prattles.

Powerful writing, in contrast, is simple and to the point.

Many writers misunderstand this …

Writing with substance is not about writing longer articles. It’s not about word count. It’s not sharing as many tips as possible. The opposite is true. Often long articles lack substance; too many superficial ideas that compete for the reader’s attention weaken the content.

Substance is not about the breadth of your ideas; it’s about the depth of your arguments. Even an email of 100 words can have substance. A nugget of wisdom. A super-practical tip. A spark of inspiration.

Substance is about adding value, exceeding your readers’ expectations, and moving beyond the echo chamber.

“If you’re not adding value, you’re taking up space. The more space you take up, the more difficult it becomes to continuously earn your spot, and the more likely you are to become ignored and irrelevant.” – Sally Hogshead

So, how do you write with substance?

  • Have a clear purpose for each piece of content — how will you help your readers?
  • Create a list or mind map of what you want to include in your article.
  • Review your ideas and narrow down your topic — an initial mind map is often too unwieldy, so cull irrelevant ideas that lead readers astray.
  • Revisit your content’s purpose — will your content deliver on your promise? Will you solve a problem?

Becoming an authority is not about you. It’s about your readers. About their lives, their worries, their challenges, and their dreams.

Powerful writing starts with empathy, generosity, and a passionate drive to help your readers.

Step #2: Boost your authority with these content tricks

Focusing on a narrow topic may feel scary. Can you write enough? Will your article seem flimsy?

Don’t panic.

And don’t start adding irrelevant ideas and semi-related trains of thought.

Instead, use the three content tricks below to turn flimsy writing into persuasive and authoritative content.

Authority content trick #1: use specific examples

My favorite way to boost authority is using examples. They are an undervalued tool in your authority tool box.

Examples demonstrate how you translate theory into practice. Examples breathe life into your content by making abstract concepts concrete. Readers can visualize your ideas, and you show you’re not just talking the talk; you know what you’re talking about.

Want examples?

Each post discusses one narrow topic (writing in a conversational tone, writing sales copy, writing with substance) with a series of examples.

Authority content trick #2: add compelling statistics

Statistics are not my favorite type of content. I find numbers boring.

But it’s a mistake to ignore numbers.

Because numbers add substance to an argument. They show you know your field. They instantly make your content more factual.

For instance, for my own Enchanting Marketing blog, I wrote a post about 10 proven headline formulas. First, I present figures to explain how important headlines are:

“The average click through rate on Twitter, for instance, is only 1.64% (source, 2012), so 98 out of 100 people may read only your headline, and fewer than 2 of them click through.”

Then, for each of the headline formulas, I provide examples of popular headlines and support my points with facts:

“The ‘Burning Question’ formula is probably the most underused formula on the list. But its attraction is undeniable: the third most popular post on Moz (8.2k shares) and the fifth most popular post on HubSpot (13k shares) use this formula. We also know from research that questions get more clicks on Twitter than statements, and that subject lines with question marks get 44% more opens than those with exclamation marks (source).”

Statistics boost your credibility and appeal to rationality. But be careful: Don’t let the numbers undermine the clarity of your message. Only add research results and other numbers if they help clarify your ideas.

Authority content trick #3: support with quotes from experts

Can’t find any statistics to back up your argument?

Try using quotes from well-known experts. A quote demonstrates you’re familiar with other work in your field. Notice how I quoted Sally Hogshead earlier?

Strategically selected quotes support your claims. They help you “borrow” other people’s authority to grow your own.

Step #3: Inject power into your words

Does power make you think of dictators, bullies, and other dominant personalities?

As Sally Hogshead explains in her book How the World Sees You, power lives on a spectrum. Power’s gentle side manifests itself in the parental nudge and in the sports coach who motivates you to train harder.

Powerful writing inspires readers to take action. An effective sales page, for instance, encourages readers to click and buy. Strong social media updates make people click to read more. And authoritative blog posts motivate readers to implement your tips.

How?

Embrace your inner bossiness by using the imperative form and shorter sentences.

For instance, read this paragraph aloud:

Your job as a blogger is not simply to write tutorials that share tips, facts, and advice.

A useful tip that’s not implemented is like a riveting book that’s never opened. It’s forgotten and useless.

Instead of acting solely like a blogger dishing out your tips, you should become a mentor for your readers, a chief of your village, a leader of your tribe. You should fire up your tribe and jump-start their actions because your readers are waiting for you.

It feels a little flat, right? That’s because the sentences are long and the final sentences use “you should” instead of the imperative.

The alternative version below (from A Rabble-Rouser’s Rules for Writing Kick-Ass Closing Paragraphs) is more inspirational because it uses shorter sentences and the imperative form (“Fire up your tribe” instead of “You should fire up your tribe”):

Your job as a blogger is not simply to write tutorials.

Your job is not to share tips and facts and advice.

A useful tip that’s not implemented is like a riveting book that’s never opened. It’s forgotten and useless.

You’re not simply a blogger. You’re a mentor for your readers, a chief of your village, a leader of your tribe.

Come on. Fire up your tribe. Jump-start their actions.

Your readers are waiting for you.

Does that inspire you more?

The magic of writing

When I started writing, I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I doubted my skills. I didn’t know whether I had enough ideas.

But every time I had to write an article, I learned more about writing. I followed my curiosity. I discovered what I’m passionate about, and I learned what resonated with my audience.

You might think you don’t have enough to share. Or you might doubt your writing skills.

This is what I’d like to tell you:

You’re unique. You have unique experiences. And you’ll discover your voice and your passions when you write more. Writing brings clarity, deepens your understanding, and strengthens your ideas.

So, commit to writing. To creating valuable content. To being helpful to your readers.

Start making tiny ripples.

That’s how change begins.

Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?

Inside Copyblogger’s Content Marketer Certification program, there’s a lot more for writers.

The training program helps writers make the most of their careers. Writers learn how to position themselves and their offerings, so that they can build profitable freelance writing businesses.

And the program is opening up soon. Drop your email address below and you’ll be the first to hear about it.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

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Cut the Crap and Write Better Now

eliminate the waste for better writing now

“Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think.

If you want to ‘get in touch with your feelings,’ fine — talk to yourself; we all do.

But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts.

Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce.

The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.”

– William Safire

That’s one of the best quotes about the craft of writing that I’ve ever read, particularly that deceptively simple final line. But then, it’s always the simple stuff that trips us up when we think we’ve got it covered.

Why is cutting out the crap in our writing so difficult?

More importantly, how do we do it? Let’s take a look …

Writing is a mind meld

You already know you should be writing to just one person, right?

If you’re, say, the Pope, feel free to pontificate (the verb was named for you, after all) and address the masses with all the eloquent turns of phrase you can manage.

Assuming you’re not a major religious figure, just write to me, your one, single reader.

Even if you have a massive audience, one person at a time reads your work.

It’s nice to think that crowds are huddled around a computer screen raising a toast to your just-published post, but that doesn’t happen.

In order to communicate with this single reader, you’ve got to organize your thoughts before you send them on the journey from your mind to your reader’s mind.

The act of writing forces you to do this.

Determining your message, ordering its presentation, and refining it until it’s crystal-clear all help to facilitate the trip.

Aim your pen

Aim your writing pen at the goal you’re trying to accomplish with your content. Your objective will determine the path it takes.

Do you plan to persuade or instruct?

Why not do both? Even learners need to be convinced your instruction is worth spending time to consume.

Do you want to discover something new?

The research needed to produce effective writing is a great way to expand your own knowledge. That’s why the Latin proverb says, “By teaching you will understand.”

Do you want to seduce and convince?

Use time-tested techniques to persuade with the one-two punch of logic and emotion.

Establish your authority, provide proof in the form of testimonials, and weave it all into a compelling story line.

Think you’re done? Now … cut the crap

You have it. I have it. We all have it. Crap happens.

Every piece of writing starts out suffering from excessive verbiage, woolly thinking, and confusing tangents.

And that’s okay. Write everything down, crap and all. Then cut out the confusing parts. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Edit your writing by removing unclear, ambiguous, or overly complex phrases.

Remember, using more words doesn’t make your writing better.

copyblogger-safire-quoteYou’ll hold your reader’s interest if every word justifies its existence in your post by adding meaning and moving your reader closer to your point.

William Safire calls this “the secret way” to lend order to your writing so your message reaches your reader intact. But it’s not a secret anymore, is it?

Want to keep these concepts in mind as you write?

You can download and print our poster of the William Safire quote above (86 KB). It’s perfect for taping next to your computer screen.

Become a better writer inside Authority

Authority is our content marketing training and networking community designed to help you build the skills you need to profit online.

Put your name on the Authority interest list by clicking on the button below. We’ll let you know when we open our doors.

Join the Authority interest list

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on March 30, 2011.

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Why Learning to Write Is the Toughest and Best Thing You’ll Do

why better writing is worth the effort

Trigger warning: I’m about to list some terms that might give you nightmares. Do you remember these?

  • Gerunds
  • Participles
  • Sentence diagrams
  • Split infinitives
  • Absolute modifiers

Just talking about them might cause you to flash back to middle school. You’re sitting in a sweaty classroom, listening to the chalk squeak as your teacher writes the definition for each term on a dusty chalkboard.

You, in the meantime, are mentally calculating how many minutes are left before lunchtime.

Here’s the thing about learning to write: It’s not about the terms above. Yes, you need to be aware of them. But if you think learning to write well is about mastering grammar, you’re missing the point.

Learning to write goes beyond masterful handling of the parts of speech. They’re just the paper that wraps the gift.

Today, we’re going to cover what writing well really looks like and why it might be the hardest and best skill you’ll ever master. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: read on to learn why.

Well-written ideas are easier to circulate

You’re reading Copyblogger. And you probably read paper books, ebooks, news sites, long posts on social media, and more.

When we want our ideas to spread, we start by making them look good in writing.

With the surge in popularity of podcasting and the widespread use of visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and even YouTube, you might wonder if the written word matters as much as it used to.

But most podcasts and videos start out as words in one form or another. They begin life as a written outline, a thoroughly-planned script, or notes on an index card.

When you’re a proficient writer, those first-draft-quality notes will do a better job getting your ideas out of your head and into a new format.

Jerod Morris, co-host of both The Showrunner and The Digital Entrepreneur podcasts, starts 75 percent of his episodes with some type of written outline. Written outlines help you plan, pace, and express your information.

And any medium will benefit when you write well.

That headline you want to add to your Pinterest image? That quote for the image you plan to post on Instagram?

When you know how to write well, you can count on finding the perfect words more easily and expressing them in a way that’s compelling and gets noticed.

Your ideas stand a better chance of spreading when they’re well-written.

Writing builds discipline (and not just for writing)

Here’s the worst-kept secret about becoming a better writer: To get good at it, you have to write — more than you think and on a regular basis. And you’ll need to keep it up for longer than you may expect.

You may find that in order to keep your writing chops in the best possible shape, you need to write almost every single day.

Our own Sonia Simone, for example, has written something every day for thirty years, with the exception of a short stint in the hospital while she recovered from major surgery. (We’ll let that one slide.)

There aren’t too many things in life that promise the kind of return that writing on most days will give you. (More on that below.)

And the discipline you’ll build from steadily working to improve your writing will build your character.

You may even find yourself looking around for more to write about once you’re in the habit of writing most days.

Clearer thoughts are born from your writing structure

The process of writing clearly usually involves starting with some sort of basic outline.

But since “outline” is another one of those scary words from English class, I want to offer you the phrase I use to describe the initial stage of writing — building the backbone.

Building the backbone refers to the process of working out the basics of the idea you want to express by deciding on a topic, then hashing out the underlying structure of how you’ll present your information. It forces you to bring your ideas into focus and clarify them so they are strong enough to support the concepts you’ll hang on them.

There’s nothing like figuring out your supporting arguments to help you clarify your ideas.

This process can spill over into many other areas of your life.

Structuring your thoughts before you share them in writing will get you into the habit of structuring your thoughts before you share them anywhere else as well. It will help you clarify your message and put it into a form that’s easier to understand.

How can you become a better writer?

Start with the posts below. They’ll cover the basics and help you establish a strong writing habit that you can use to structure and share your ideas.

You can also download and print out this poster (3.3 MB) to help motivate you to write on a regular basis.

And consider joining us inside Authority: it’s where people who want to become better writers get weekly education, support, and encouragement so they can get there faster.

Become a better writer inside Authority

Authority is our content marketing training and networking community designed to help you build the skills you need to profit online.

Put your name on the Authority interest list by clicking on the button below. We’ll let you know when we open our doors.

Join the Authority interest list

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