Focus on Context

We’ve all seen various repeats of “Content is King”, first uttered by Bill Gates in 1996. It was certainly true then, although many people seemed to think (and apparently, some still do) that focusing solely on content was sufficient to achieve success. Mr. Gates, of course, is bright enough to know that the “build it and they will come” approach to marketing leaves a lot to be desired. His mistake was in believing that most people would realize that and fill in the gaps. Some, Bill… but apparently, not the majority. Taking into consideration the self-induced tunnel vision of the masses, if you add the fact that search algorithms have matured tremendously, perhaps even beyond the point that many thought possible nearly 20 years ago, one can reasonably argue that Bill’s statement is no longer true. Or at least, true only in a more general sense. The King is Dead (or at least, deathly ill) Today’s algorithms are significantly more complex than their early predecessors, analyzing not only a host of the old-school probabilistic factors that deal with a page’s usability, accessibility, relationships, etc., but also endeavoring to more fully understand what the page is about. This is an important next step toward TBL’s Semantic Web vision. The coronation of context as the new reigning king took place quietly and gradually… the exact date is uncertain. And like any monarch, its reign may be temporary (though I wouldn’t bet on it). But for now, it deserves a large portion of our attention (for the tunnel-visioned amongst you, not to the exclusion of all else). Benefits of Focused Context The...

Where Do Content Ideas Come From?

I was asked recently what my process was for developing content ideas — and I got to thinking that this particularly nosey client might not be the only one wondering how the gears and wires all go together behind the scenes.  After all, we don’t really discuss idea generation much, we just assume it’s a thing that happens without effort.  Ideas magically populate, we send them to our writers to write and BLAM!, we’re done. Oh, Dear Reader, how I wish it were so…. but it’s not.  Generating content ideas takes genuine effort, real dedication and knowledge of your particular subject matter, whether that’s the mating rituals of assorted beavers or performance boating.  Whatever it is, we’re on it — and we’ll never make dumb jokes about the subject matter in hopes of coming up with really killer content ideas.  Never.  That would be totally unprofessional… (snicker, snicker, mating beavers…) Step One:  Research and Digest The first thing I do, no matter what your subject area (unless I am already a self-proclaimed Master of that Domain), is research it.  I’ll Google around the Internet a while, reading articles, news, looking in on your competition’s blog, and reading yours if you’ve got one.  And I’ll keep feeding myself information until my brain is filled to bursting. Then I sit and I contemplate what I’ve read.  Just like back in school, I’m hoping to put all the pieces together.  If I still have a question about something specific, it’s back to the Googler to do it all again.  Often, I’ll find myself waking up in the night to answer a question...

Marketing for The Tubes: Improving Your YouTube Video Skip Rate

I’ve had a keen eye for marketing as long as I can remember.  As a child, I reached for the Want Ads before the comics and always paid far more attention to commercials than the programming they were embedded in.  After three and a half decades of watching, it drives me crazy when I see big name advertisers consistently misusing a marketing form. Everybody, large and small, has seen the little commercials that YouTube forces you to watch before you can click through to get to your video of dancing cats.  They’re the little annoyances that we all wait impatiently through, until the “Skip Ad” button pops up.  According to a TubeMogul report in 2013, up to 85 percent of all those ads are skipped with glee. So, where does that leave us?  You might as well play the lottery as invest in YouTube ads, it would seem — but I think there’s a lot more to these figures.  I think the blame lies with the marketers and not the click happy consumers who are already proving their potential by seeking novelty in the ‘Tubes. YouTube Commercials Versus Television Spots A YouTube Commercial is not the same as a television or radio spot.  You’ve not got a captive audience, so stop thinking you do.  Even though your TV ads might mean a bathroom break for viewers, eventually they’ll be forced to see whatever it is you’ve got to say.  They’ll be forced — even if it’s not meaningful, even if it doesn’t hook all that well, even if the message is buried deep in artsy-fartsy bullshit. Your average YouTube...

Context Applied to Readability and Ranking

Don’t think this is about the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale – it isn’t. There are times when that’s useful, but by now, most of us should have a pretty good grasp of determining who our audience is and how we should be writing to them. This deals more with how to write for both the readers AND the search engines, without either of them suffering from our divided attention. We’re just moving the slider on that division… substantially. Now that Google’s semantic ability has improved to the point that they can often determine what a document is really talking about, copywriters are largely liberated of the burden of having a separate thought process about writing “for search engines”. In other words, they can concentrate more on writing for the readers (which is really the way it should have been all along, right?) Context should be the focus That doesn’t mean that Google can always read the context accurately, of course – far from it. But over the last couple of years, their ability to do so has improved dramatically. And if the writer has a basic understanding of how Google works, it’s relatively easy to know when a particular document may be difficult for Google to understand, and modify the writing style accordingly. So what can Google understand easily? The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is keywords… that’s probably the first thing that most of us learned about online copywriting, early on. That naturally led to a good bit of abuse, though… such as: Wow… just wow! After a while, Google built a massive library of synonyms,...

Fun with words: Tips for Effective Copywriting

Landing a copywriting job is the real deal – now you have to produce. If you’re lucky, the job is in your niche, which should make things a lot easier. And it does … at first. Exulting in the glories of an HVAC service with outlets in every town on the map requires fresh copy – for every location. Before you know it, your highly informational, sincere copy has turned into a sleaze-filled pitch worthy of any greasy-haired, plaid-suited used car salesman. Me? No way, creepy marketing prattle is beneath me … I routinely sneer at such dreck. But wait, there’s more! Let’s face it – the constant need for quality content is part of effective copywriting. Your job is to attract visitors to a website and convert them into leads and customers. Consistently producing powerful, high-quality copy is tough, but not at all impossible. Here are several tips on how to lose the drivel and write honest copy that sells. Do more research Yes, more. Even if you’ve been a factory-certified Mercedes mechanic for the last 20 years, someone out there may have streamlined a process or invented a new tool. The more information you have, the more ideas you can play with. Simplify your copywriting This step needn’t involve ditching pertinent technical jargon and writing to a seventh-grader’s comprehension level – it means getting your message across clearly and concisely – especially when you have a specific audience. Don’t oversell or talk down to an audience already familiar with the product or process. Don’t be overly clever Writers play with words – it’s what we do. Sometimes that’s...

Take Caution When Using Humor in Copywriting

Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Your doom. There are a number of methods to attract attention when it comes to marketing, from the profound to the sublime, but few can crush your soul as completely as humor.  If you doubt me, take a long look at all the failed marketing campaigns that attempted to integrate humor and instead ended up with PR disasters on their hands.  I’ll just leave this link about Mountain Dew’s 2013 “Felicia the Goat” campaign here for you to read later. Battle-hardened humorists can tell you — comedy is all about bouncing back from failure.  It’s an experiment in motion, with the expert poking their audience, then sitting back and hoping for a positive response.  That’s why humor’s so tricky in marketing and why it’s so dangerous, especially for start-ups: hope isn’t enough to hang your brand image on.  On the other hand, if your company has an established brand image, people generally trust you and no one thinks you’re a company filled with raging assholes, giving humor a try won’t hurt, provided you take some precautions. The Keys to Creating Humorous Content Humor is more than waving a magic wand and wishing some ha-has into being — it is, arguably, the most difficult art form to master.  You must be subtle, you must be sly, but most of all, you must be natural.  And that’s the part where many people fail miserably. Being a natural at comedy means that you’re practiced, that you know the rules and have set them to heart.  But it means something else, too — you’ve managed to learn to look...