30 Blogs to Help You Improve Your Copywriting Skills

Direct mail copywriter Dean Rieck has put together a useful list of 30 copywriting blogs that are actually worth reading. He’s based his selection on who provides the most useful copywriting tips.

The blogs that I turn to when I want to hone my copywriting skills are:

  • Copyblogger – my favourite copywriting blog features several excellent, in-depth tutorials as well as articles by some of the best copywriters on the Web.
  • Nick Usborne’s Excess Voice – I’ve been reading Nick’s newsletters for donkey’s years, but he continues to provide valuable tips and tactics for writing online content.
  • Dean Rieck’s blogs, Pro Copy Tips and Direct Creative Blog, are also must reads in my book. BTW, Dean also wrote the must-read 5-Step POWER Copywriting Method
    on Copyblogger.

I also read Bob Bly’s blog. It’s not so much about copywriting, but always has thought-provoking posts on marketing which usually stimulate a lot of insightful comments. Bob’s a great pot-stirrer!

10 Years of Websites That Suck. Why?

The other day I re-discovered Vincent Flanders’s Web Pages That Suck. Its mission is to help visitors “learn usability and good web design by looking at bad web design”.

It’s totally irreverent and a hilarious and enlightening read. Flanders mercilessly parodies real life examples of clueless web design. He explains why to avoid mystery meat navigation and why you shouldn’t confuse web design with sex along with dozens of other useful design and usability principles.

I was shocked to see the site is celebrating its 10th anniversary. That’s 10 years that Flanders has been giving free advice, in plain English, on how to make a good website. And yet the web is still crammed with sites that suck – sites that don’t even follow the most rudimentary principles of good design, usability and online marketing.

Flanders isn’t the only long-standing evangelist for good websites. Gerry McGovern has been publishing his free e-newsletter on best practice web content management since 1996. Jakob Nielsen’s excellent Alertbox e-newsletter on web usability has been going since 1995! It’s also free.

It’s obvious the message about what makes a good website isn’t getting through. I’m really curious about what website managers know about what creating a successful website. Who do they turn to for advice? And what do those people tell them? Any insights would be most appreciated.

SEO – Who Do You Believe?

Today I read a couple of articles about buying text links to increase the Google PageRank of your site. While not totally contradicting each other, they each presented a radically different take on the issue.

A recent article by Armand Morin highly recommends buying a text ad on a site with a high PageRank in order to improve your search engine rankings.

However, my trusted source, Jill Whalen, writes in her latest newsletter that buying text ads, while a valid strategy now, will probably only work in the short term.

This got me thinking about who I believe when it comes to SEO strategies and why. Because the only people who really know what factors make a high-ranking site are the folks who write the search algorithms at Google, Yahoo, etc. And they aren’t telling.

All the SEO “experts” are just second guessing. So if you’re choosing to take the advice of an expert, the trick is to choose the best second guesser. I put my money on Jill Whalen. Why? Because I think she’s credible, her SEO process is systematic and her tactics pass my test of reasonableness. I’ve followed her advice and it’s worked.

Web copywriters note: Jill has written a very good book on SEO copywriting. It’s a quick read and tells you everything you need to know. There are some useful before and after examples as well.

SEO – Who do you Believe?

Today I read a couple of articles about buying text links to increase the Google PageRank of your site. While not totally contradicting each other, they each presented a radically different take on the issue.

This article by Armand Morin highly recommends buying a text ad on a site with a high PageRank in order to improve your search engine rankings.

However, my trusted source, Jill Whalen, writes in her latest newsletter that buying text ads, while a valid strategy now, will probably only work in the short term.

This got me thinking about who I believe when it comes to SEO strategies and why. Because the only people who really know what factors make a high-ranking site are the folks who write the search algorithms at Google, Yahoo, etc. And they aren’t telling.

All the SEO “experts” are just second guessing. So if you’re choosing to take the advice of an expert, the trick is to choose the best second guesser. I put my money on Jill Whalen. Why? Because I think she’s credible, her SEO process is systematic and her tactics pass my test of reasonableness. I’ve followed her advice and it’s worked.

Web copywriters note: Jill has written a very good book on SEO copywriting. It’s a quick read and tells you everything you need to know. There are some useful before and after examples as well.

Make words the hero of your site

Last year I was hired to do the copywriting for a large website. The agency’s brief to the client said that a large flash animation would be the “hero element” of the site. The agency poured a huge amount of time and money into the flash animation. It takes up about a quarter of the home page – just sitting there looking pretty.

Meanwhile I wasn’t given a brief. There was no content strategy. My two superiors gave conflicting views on the client’s marketing strategy. I was asked to rehash second-rate press releases and scavenge other content off the web. The result: a pretty site with nothing of value for the target audience. In short, a waste of money.

Unfortunately this happens all too often. A lot of businesses happily pour a ton of money into slick graphics and the latest technological bells and whistles for their site. But they leave copywriting out of the budget, putting their entire investment at risk.

Words are the most important element of a business website. Why? Because the main activity people do on the web is read. If you took all the images off your website, would it still work? Most likely. If you took all the words off your website, would it still work? I doubt it.

It’s the words that do the selling on your site. The words build relationships, give you a competitive edge, drive actions and keep your customers happy. (Not to mention help you get ranked higher in the search engines.) So if you want to be a success on the web you need to make words the hero of your site.

Make Words the Hero of Your Website

HeroLast year I was hired to do the copywriting for a large website. The agency’s brief to the client said that a large flash animation would be the “hero element” of the site. The agency poured a huge amount of time and money into the flash animation. It takes up about a quarter of the home page – just sitting there looking pretty.

Meanwhile I wasn’t given a brief. There was no content strategy. My two superiors gave conflicting views on the client’s marketing strategy. I was asked to rehash second-rate press releases and scavenge other content off the web. The result: a pretty site with nothing of value for the target audience. In short, a waste of money.

Unfortunately this happens all too often. A lot of businesses happily pour a ton of money into slick graphics and the latest technological bells and whistles for their site. But they leave copywriting out of the budget, putting their entire investment at risk.

Words are the most important element of a business website. Why? Because the main activity people do on the web is read. If you took all the images off your website, would it still work? Most likely. If you took all the words off your website, would it still work? I doubt it.

It’s the words that do the selling on your site. The words build relationships, give you a competitive edge, drive actions and keep your customers happy. (Not to mention help you get ranked higher in the search engines.) So if you want to be a success on the web you need to make words the hero of your site.

Mobile Internet – first impressions

I got hold of a 3G mobile phone last week. While I’m excited about the potential of mobile internet, the technology isn’t quite there yet. My main gripe is speed. It’s just too slow. I felt like I was back in 1995 with my 9K modem.

The content that has been created specifically for the medium is generally useable and useful. The provider I was using has a restaurant and bar guide with pithy reviews and tabulated contact details. You can click the phone number and your mobile speed-dials the restaurant or bar.

Website content that had been adapted for mobile wasn’t as user-friendly. Browsing through search results on eBay or dating sites is nigh impossible. It’s very hard to orientate yourself on such a small screen. Also, without a QWERTY keyboard entering text into forms is painfully laborious.

One thing is for sure – on mobile, copywriters must make every word count. They need to be absolutely ruthless with their copy editing.

Online Punctuation #1 – General Principles

The essence of grammar and punctuation is to facilitate communication. This is as true on the web as it is in print.

But due to their lower resolution and flicker, computer screens are harder to read than printed pages. So some punctation should be modified to increase readability online.

Punctuation marks serve to control the flow of sentences and to organise ideas. But they’re small. They get lost easily on-screen. I recommend using online punctuation sparingly.

Web writers need to maintain readability while they communicate their message. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Arrange information into lists.

Charles CuninghameWebsite Copywriter

Mobile Internet – First Impressions

I got hold of a 3G mobile phone last week. While I’m excited about the potential of mobile internet, the technology isn’t quite there yet. My main gripe is speed. It’s just too slow. I felt like I was back in 1995 with my 9K modem.

The content that has been created specifically for the medium is generally useable and useful. The provider I was using has a restaurant and bar guide with pithy reviews and tabulated contact details. You can click the phone number and your mobile speed-dials the restaurant or bar.

Website content that had been adapted for mobile wasn’t as user-friendly. Browsing through search results on eBay or dating sites is nigh impossible. It’s very hard to orientate yourself on such a small screen. Also, without a QWERTY keyboard entering text into forms is painfully laborious.

One thing is for sure – on mobile, copywriters must make every word count. They need to be absolutely ruthless with their copy editing.

35 Ways to Differentiate Your Business from Your Competitors

UniqueLast week my copywriting colleague Belinda Weaver wrote about five ways to make your “me-too” small business uniquein the eyes of your prospective customers.

This week I’m continuing the unique selling proposition theme with a list of 35 factors that you can use to differentiate your business.

My differentiation master list

This is the list of differentiators I use when I work with my copywriting clients. You may offer many of the benefits in this list. That’s great! However, the object of this exercise is to differentiate your business from your competitors.

So you need to choose ONE benefit – the most important and outstanding benefit – that offers the most value to your target market and is not offered or not promoted by your competition.

What you are and what you could be

As you read through each benefit on the list consider whether it may be possible for you to offer it if you don’t already, or do it better than your competitors.

For example, the standard guarantee in your niche may be one year. Could you offer a two-year guarantee to distinguish yourself from your competitors? Sometimes tweaking your offer to give a little bit more value is the easiest way to create a killer USP.

35 ways to differentiate your business

Here are 35 benefits that you can brainstorm to come up with a unique differentiating factor for your USP:

1. Do you specialise in serving a well-defined niche? E.g. do you serve a certain size company best, or a particular market segment, geographic location, or type of customer?

2. Do you specialise in selling a particular product/service? E.g. there are lots of nurseries selling a wide selection of plants, but the Palm Place Nursery specialises in selling palm trees.

3. Are you the preferred supplier of choice for a particular group of any type?

4. Do you have a long track record or history of business? Were you the first/original business in your niche?

5. Are you famous for something? Be honest now!

6. Does a celebrity endorse your products or services?

7. Do you have lots of customer success stories and testimonialsdemonstrating excellent results?

8. Do you have the most proof, evidence or highest credibility factor?

9. Are your products/services more enjoyable, easier to use or exciting?

10. Do you give your customers more than what they expect?

11. Are you the newest, latest, most innovative, or up-to-date? Are you the marketplace’s product leader?

12. Are you the highest quality provider? Do you have proof?

13. Is the way you make your product (or perform your service) better than competitors?

14. Are you using innovative technology?

15. Is yours the best, high class, or newest styling or fashion?

16. What about your customer service? Is it demonstrably better in some regard than your competitors? (Everyone thinks their customer service is top notch but can you prove it?) Faster, customised, more high-touch or flexible?

17. Do you offer a guarantee? Is yours the longest or best?

18. Do you offer the best value i.e. have the highest quality/price ratio?

19. Do you offer discounts… for volume, frequency, or first time purchase? Are your discounts the biggest?

20. Do you offer deals, such as “buy two for the price of one”?

21. Do you offer special prices for certain groups or at certain times? E.g. to seniors or out of season prices.

22. How about bonuses or premiums … do you offer more than your competitors (and are they valuable)? Do you offer anything for free?

23. Do you offer better credit terms or easy, long-term payment options?

24. Do you have in-house buying cards or club memberships?

25. Is after-sales service, advice or consultation available? Are you proactive about it or passive (letting them call you)?

26. Do you have 24-hour assistance, or live-person assistance instead of just email?

27. Do you offer free, rapid, or various delivery options?

28. Extended opening hours – are you open nights, early mornings, weekends, public holidays, 24 hours?

29. Is your selection the broadest?

30. Do you carry more stock or inventory? Is a wide product selection instantly available?

31. Do you have clearer labelling or packaging that’s more attractive or easier to use?

32. Do you have installation options?

33. Do you have the cleanest, neatest or most impressive premises?

34. Do you have the most locations, a convenient location, or global offices?

35. Do you best fulfil legal requirements, standards or constraints?

A USP is hard work…

Let me be frank: developing an effective USP is hard work. But the reward will be well worth your time and effort.