Read This Now For Better Web Copy

Your web copy is missing something. But you just can’t put your finger on it.

It’s no coincidence that your reader is missing something, too. He isn’t sure what his next step is, so he abandons the page and gets lost for four hours on YouTube instead.

Readers desperately need their hands held. Think of them as suburban teenagers lost in an Amazonian jungle. If only the jungle had clear paths, with signs pointing the way to the next destination…

Here’s your chance to be a sign-maker. Your web copy can be compelling, thoughtful, informative, clear and concise — but it will never, ever convince someone to take the next step without a clear call to action.

A call to action is a command that pops. It’s a next step that drives readers through the sales process. And it’s the most necessary part of creating web copy that sells.

A few good examples of calls to action

All of the web’s most successful brands grab readers with a call to action, gently nudging them in the direction they want to go. Sometimes, they even corral readers with not-so-gentle commands.

Below are a few great examples of powerful calls to action.

Blogger’s Delight

If you visit Problogger.net and aren’t sure what to do next, you’re in the minority. Wherever you go on the site, founder Darren Rowse has placed a clear “subscribe to the newsletter” call to action first thing on the right sidebar. At the end of each article, you’re invited to share your opinion in the comments. Past the article, you have a clearly marked “What Next?” section, paired with related articles for further reading.

Social Community, Decoded 

Pinterest is a great example of the perfect call to action. At the top of the page, the online community tells you what it is, how to use it and what to do next in two short lines and a red “Join Pinterest” button. I’m sure there’s plenty that’s sticky about the community itself — still, they did a good job reducing any barriers to entry for new users.

Specializing in CTAs

HubSpot has grown quite the reputation for its digital marketing prowess. When you visit the company’s site, you can see that they practice what they preach; the homepage hits you with a handful of benefits and an orange “See The Software” call that works well.

Tips for creating your own call to action

We’re all capable of creating great calls to action. And we absolutely must create them if we want to be respected web copywriters.

Most of these tips are pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t hurt to see them on the page so you can burn them into your brain.

  • Clarity is key: Your call to action must stand out from the rest of the copy, whether it follows a thousand words of copy or three sentences. For businesses, this usually comes in the form of a colored, eye-catching button to direct the visitor to the next step.
  • Start with the benefit: If you can work the benefit of the action into the call, that’d be great. For instance, if you want to coerce users into signing up for an email newsletter about beets, you might say something like “Click here for secrets to growing the best beets.”
  • Make it timely: Using words like “today” and “now” can help snag the customer that may not return without a good excuse to opt in that very day. Create urgency so you don’t lose customers that will convince themselves to come back but will never return.

Check out more great tips for creating calls to action. 

Share with us

Do you have a “go-to” call to action that works like a charm? Share it with us in the comments.

In Defense of Content Marketing

It recently occurred to me that some people (and marketers) still aren’t completely clear on what content marketing is and isn’t. Yesterday, I got caught up in a discussion on Danny Brown’s blog about exactly that.

I’d like to address some of the points in the post, but first, I’d like to start from scratch and build a case for content marketing. So what is it, exactly?

Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. (Content Marketing Institute)

The label is new. The tactic is not.

Because it’s a new term, we like to think of it as a new discipline. But it isn’t. Businesses have practiced content marketing for years. According to That White Paper Guy, white papers made their first appearance in 1922. They became most relevant to marketers in the 80s, pushed forward by the rise of the PC.

I said that white paper guy, not that white paper guy.

Entrepreneurs and other leading voices in business have always used books to help build their brands and the brands of their respective companies. Organizations release research papers. It’s all a part of standing out from the noise of competition and offering valuable information for free. This valuable information points back to your brand and drives new customers into the “traditional” marketing process of evaluating your products and services.

Content marketing manifests itself in many ways, none of which are product-centric, including:

  • Blogging
  • White papers
  • Books & ebooks
  • Research reports
  • Webinars
  • Forums
  • Conferences
  • Videos

What I think the rise of content, social media and conversation marketing in general does is call into question our old definitions of marketing. It turns out this isn’t such a black-and-white field after all.

The show & tell dilemma

Robert Rose’s definition of content marketing is the one that sticks out to me:

Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star.  Content Marketing is showing the world that you are one.

As a writer, this definition hits close to home. Showing always builds a much stronger case over telling. First, you gain the lead’s trust by offering them valuable but free information. Then, you drive them into the traditional sales and marketing process. Finally, you retain their business with a continuous stream of engagement.

One of the biggest questions I have for Danny Brown is the motivation behind writing his blog. Before finding this post, I’d never heard of him or Jugnoo, the company he works for. So, his blog increases brand awareness and connects him with potential customers. It raises the value of his own brand. It’s purpose isn’t to tell the world what he does; it’s to show the world that he does it with passion and insight. And that makes it an integral part of the sales and marketing funnel.

After much deliberation, I interpret Danny’s post to be a criticism of content marketing evangelists who say the practice is a standalone discipline. But I don’t hear anyone saying that. It’s an integral part of the marketing experience that acts in tandem with traditional marketing. It flips the old model of jamming your product or service down your lead’s throat by spoon-feeding the pitch.

Danny also appears to make the argument that content marketing has little impact on the post-sale customer. I have clients who would beg to differ. Sears does it. These non-profits increased brand affinity. Mint.com, HubSpot and American Express all maintain wildly popular content marketing channels.

The reason Danny came across 560 million Google results for content marketing is because the term helps businesses make sense of their digital communications. It’s also why “content marketing success stories” returns more than 77 million results of its own. I believe it will continue to be a strong, crucial descriptor for years to come.

Chime in

Think I’m an arrogant blowhard? Agree with what I’m saying? Share your content marketing success (or horror) story in the comments.

Above All, Pump Out Great Content Frequently

There’s a debate raging in the world of SEO. Some marketers believe Google’s Penguin update takes things too far. Others are just trying to stay afloat in a world of constantly evolving search best practices.

As far as I’m concerned, none of these arguments matters in the grand scheme of things — especially for blogs. Because there’s only one golden rule when it comes to creating a search-friendly web presence.

Create great content and do it often.

…said the blogger as he posted the laziest picture of all time.

For bloggers, I hold this to be a self-evident truth. Leave the really complicated white-hat SEO stuff to marketers.

You shouldn’t need to focus content around keywords. That negates the intrinsic principles of blogging: to cater to your audience above all. Wanna be found? Create high-quality content that people can share socially. Build links with other major publishers in your area of expertise. Guest post on other blogs. While not as simple as it sounds, it sure makes a lot more sense than starting with a list of keywords and trying to build content around them.

And creating that high-quality content often means constant reindexing in search engines.

The veil of competition

Of course, keyword optimization still plays a role for businesses. But businesses assume a level of competition that’s well above what you’re trying to do as a blogger.

Bloggers are only competing for mindshare. They’re competing for a few precious moments out of their audiences’ busy schedules. They aren’t directly competing with other bloggers.

Other bloggers are your friends.

They’re partners in the world of disseminating high-quality content to readers. If you have the time and energy, you can build relationships with other bloggers to help grow your own audience.

The best thing you can do for your own blog is make sure you’re posting often. With this in mind, you can grow organically. Sure, you’ll get a huge traffic spike when your post goes viral — but the readers that stick around for the next post are the ones that are most valuable to you.

In the long run, that’s all Google is looking to do anyway: reward high-quality, high-consistency content creators with high-quality, high-consistency readers. The system isn’t perfect. It’ll keep evolving. The only thing that must remain consistent is the search engine’s focus on delivering high-quality content to those who want or need it most.

Why you’ll be found anyway

What I’ve learned over my years of blogging is that it takes time to build an audience. The only way to speed that up is to post tons of content.

That’s exactly what’s happening here at Copywriting Is Dead. The more I post, the more people find me organically. I’ve never spent time on keyword research. Why spend time on keywords when you can’t guarantee they’ll return the traffic you want? Instead, you can spend that same time creating more content that your audience may find useful.

If you’re worried about slow traffic on your blog, have patience and post new content often. To keep their attention, your audience expects consistency almost as much as it expects quality.

Is the D-Word Killing Web Culture?

A single word embodies the trend that’s eating away at news reporting like a slow cancer. That word is ‘douchebag.’

You see it in headlines, articles, videos and (perhaps most often) comments sections.

Spoiler Alert: Douchebag is a word that means absolutely nothing at all. It’s something you say when you’re too lazy or too dumb to offer constructive criticism.

Pictured: A total douchebag.

Don’t take that as a personal attack. I’m the first to admit that I’ll drop the phrase when my blood’s boiling…or, as previously mentioned, when I’m too lazy to come up with something useful. Strangely enough, I hear it used most often when the ‘douchebag’ in question is not present to dispute whether or not he/she is a big old bag of douche.

I’ll tell you when it’s least okay to use it, though. It’s least okay to use it when you’re in a position of power. And you’re a ‘respected’ web writer and/or reporter of news. And you’re too lazy to do your goddamn job.

Origins: Why I came to hate the word (and why you should, too)

In his new book Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday details the poisonous, counter-productive effects of snark, the internet’s addictive, sarcastic and bitter version of spin. You can guess where this is going: ‘douchebag’ is clearly the queen bitch of snark, offering a hollow, narrowly defined slander to the crux of any criticism on the web.

According to Holiday,

To be called a douche is to be branded with all the characteristics of what society deigns to hate but can’t define. It’s a way to dismiss someone entirely without doing any of the work or providing any of the reasons. It says, You are a fool, and everyone thinks it. It is the ultimate insult, because it deprives the recipient of the credentials of being taken seriously.

It’s the most dangerous result of groupthink: a blogger with an inherited audience stirs the pot by calling someone a douchebag. And people not only believe it; they spread it to their friends. They click the headlines because: “Holy shit, this guy/gal must’ve done something seriously horrific to earn the title of douchebag!” Then, they share the article on Facebook or Twitter because it’s bound to get likes and retweets.

And the circle of slander and counter-productivity keeps on a-spinnin’.

An experiment in douchebaggery

It all came to a head for me a few weeks ago when Jezebel posted the following headline: 10 Reasons Why Ryan Lochte Is America’s Sexiest Douchebag.

That made me wonder: how often are blogs with high traffic using the term?

  • Jezebel, the original offender, has 171 listings for ‘douchebag.’ And ‘douche’ has 186 of its own.
  • Flip through Gawker’s douchebag and douche archives and get 350 and 293 matches, respectively.
  • A search of the term ‘douchebag’ returns 409 results on TechCrunch. ‘Douche’ registers nearly 700 links.
  • Dare we try Google? Douchebag gets a whopping 13,200,000 hits. Douche? A cool 109 million.

This is an epidemic of startling proportions. And if you agree that it’s hateful and pointless, you can do something about it. You can stop clicking on headlines that use the term. You can stop going to websites that abuse the word.

For the record, I don’t find the term douchebag offensive. I do think it says something about the mental capacity of the person using it for profit. If we all just put a little bit of thought into what we say before we say it, we can return the internet to its double-rainbowed glory.

Pictured: the big happy family that is the Internet.

To sum up: if you profit off of careless use of the word ‘douchebag,’ we won’t call you a douchebag. We’ll call you a conniving, ignorant, lazy, opportunistic, bitter, jealous sycophant with nary a shred of human decency. Or some combination thereof.

The Best Second Draft Writing Technique

Enhancing your ability to write a second draft is key to stepping up your writing game. But turning a critical eye on your own writing is excruciatingly difficult, especially when you have no time to put space between yourself and that first draft.

And it isn’t even an ego thing. Taking yourself out of your own perspective is just really difficult. For many writers, getting through the changes that must be made during the second draft is damn near impossible.

I felt the same way. I still don’t always have the time to do a full second draft without client feedback. When you build rapport with clients, it’s nice to get those second eyes on the draft.

But if you’re trying to make an impression with a new client, you want that “first” draft as clean as possible. And if you need it turned around quickly, you’ll need the best technique available to you: redrafting.

Rewriting is your best friend.

This can be a tough sell for new writers. After all, why would you go back and redo what you just did? It took you long enough to do it the first time.

I’ll tell you why you rewrite what you just did: because there’s no such thing as getting it perfect in the first draft. One-draft writing may produce strong results, especially after you’re familiar with the wants and needs of your client (and your client’s audience). But the perfect first draft is a total myth, a lie we tell ourselves to preserve our natural laziness.

Questioning what you’ve created is important, albeit extremely difficult. When you get in there and do a rewrite, you can skip the questioning part and start from scratch. The content will be fresh in your mind. Even if the rewrite isn’t radically different than the first, you’ll have two documents to mix-and-match the strongest content.

We don’t always get it right the first time. How do you revise? Share your strategies with us in the replies.

Read Good? Write Gooder

There’s no understating the importance of a healthy, balanced diet of strong reading material.

Seriously. It’s one of the best things a writer can do to keep those fingers pumping out fresh material. Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of our generation, says that good writers read four to six hours a day.

Sound overwhelming? Just a tad. That doesn’t mean you can’t set other goals that are perhaps a bit less lofty but still ambitious. These days, we’re trained to think “unwinding” requires you to crash in front of the television with a bag of pretzels.

The next time you plan to do that, imagine Papa Hemingway is standing at the entrance to the room, judging you. Were he alive today, he would be.

On second thought, he’d probably be out wrestling a bear. Or in his study, reading and writing.

Zoning out in front of the television–turning your brain “off”–is a total myth, and one that you don’t need to buy into. Sure, the occasional episode of Breaking Bad may help you hone your storytelling skills. But that’s intelligent TV (or a quick mental break). Zonking for four hours before bed is as unproductive as it is unhealthy.

Wherever you want to succeed in writing, you must read. Lively fiction, engrossing academic, practical how-to–whatever the discipline, it’ll have a positive impact on your writing.

Start small. Schedule an hour a day for reading. Then, scale it up.

To help supplement my reading, I like to try and catch myself whenever I wander to a mindless site. When I do, I shut the tab and read a couple of pages out of whatever book I’m working on.

What kind of books have an impact on your writing?

The Hopeless Irony Behind This Tragedy

Just by virtue of it being newsworthy, Gawker will make money off of this:

I can assure you the publication gives little, if any, extra details on situation. It’s a hopeless irony behind an even sadder story. I encourage you to read the original post by comedian Matt Fisher in full.

I’m not saying that Gawker posted this maliciously (other than to possibly help determine the fate of Progressive). I’m just saying that maybe any revenue generated by a post like this should go to Matt Fisher’s family.

My thoughts go out to the entire Fisher family.

Turn Off The Noise: How To Deal With Information Overload

Does your brain hurt at the end of the day? Mine sure does. Constantly consuming information takes a lot out of you. The human brain wasn’t meant to digest so much in such small windows of time.

Just how much are we consuming on a daily basis? According to Robby Walker of Cue, we consume some 63,000 words on an average day. That means you finished a short novel today. Go pat yourself on the back, have a beer and brag to your friends.

Where’s your god now?

Don’t have the sense of accomplishment you thought you would, eh? That’s because it’s very difficult to pull the thread of a narrative or progressive case-building out of that mess of words. Each block of content we consume is related to a different area of interest, stimulating a different portion of your brain, causing a new wave of dysphoria and, in some cases, shutting your thought process down completely.

Where does it all come from?

Imagine that your daily routine is an intricate spiderweb shimmering across two tree branches. Now try to follow the path of a single thread from the center to the edge.

This is especially difficult because the lines run so close together. The spider followed a linear path to create the web, just as your day followed a somewhat linear path of its own. But digging up the tiny details that contributed to each new thread of information is damn hard.

We simply aren’t always aware of where the internet will lead us. You start off reading a scholarly article about inner city sociology and end up perusing pictures of Channing Tatum’s new haircut. Unlike the detail-oriented spider, we weave tangled webs.

How did you get from point A to point B? Ask yourself these questions to become consciously aware of how you process information.

  • What are the sites I visit the moment I lose focus? For many of us, the primary answers may be Facebook, Deadspin, Pinterest or Twitter.
  • How much time do I spend on useless information? The best way to measure this is to focus on how much time you spend processing and creating useful information. The rest of the time is most likely spent screwing around.
  • How organized are my social media channels? If you have a Twitter account, for instance, do you split the accounts you follow into lists? This can be an effective approach to focus your browsing.

Focus on focusing.

I usually lose focus when I haven’t organized or structured my day. Here are a couple of strategies I use to stay focused.

  • Create a to-do list and cross off items as you finish them. Closure on each little task is more satisfying than hours spent on “happy information”, or information your brain is magnetically attracted to.
  • Set short and long term goals. This tactic is intrinsically tied to the to-do list. Longer term goals (weekly, monthly) help you get a bird’s eye view of your productivity.
  • Use software features to stay in the zone. I recently discovered the “focus” setting on my MS Word “View” tab. Presto! Your document now dominates the entire screen. Productivity software like Vitalist, Todoist or RescueTime can help in other ways.

Today’s Top 5 Misleading Articles

To be a strong writer, you have to be a savvy reader. In many cases, the blogosphere (and mass media) have lost any semblance of journalistic integrity. For the first time in history, the burden of journalistic proof falls on the reader.

We’ve amassed five of today’s most misleading articles. You can check out screenshots but I refuse to link to the original articles. These guys don’t need any more pageviews to validate their shoddy reporting. If you’re interested in the original articles, you know where to find them.

1. Fox News waxes ironic over campaign ad.

We can always count on Fox News for slanted information masquerading as “news”. Let’s start with the nutgraph here:

Mitt Romney asked Thursday where all the “hope and change” has gone, as President Obama’s supporters pressed ahead with plans to air a misleading TV ad and a top campaign aide was accused of “lying” about her knowledge of its contents.

You should immediately recognize this as the form of sensational garbage journalism it actually is. The article goes on to call into question the organization behind this ad, calling it a “purportedly independent super PAC Priorities USA.”

Why is this so wrong? Not once does the article present evidence that the super PAC is linked the Obama campaign. Furthermore, it uses subversive language to plant ideas in the head of the reader that have no factual basis.

2. TechCrunch thinks views automatically translate to popular opinion.

Listen, I think SOPA and related legislation are disgraces to lawmakers everywhere. But TechCrunch seems to think that “10 million views” means 10 million people agree with the video in question.

It also makes the assertion that the video accurately “shows” readers what’s up. Look no further than the concluding statement for “proof” that TechCrunch advocates shitty journalism.

Perhaps the most interesting lesson in all of this is that the popularity of the video is in large part due to hitting the front page of the Pirate Bay, a prominent website for downloading illegal copies of music and movies. It goes to show how popular websites can have the force of major media companies when they turn their front pages into billboards for political causes.

The fact that the video garnered 10 million views doesn’t prove anything about public opinion or what “popular websites” are capable of, beyond the fact that it’s been seen 10 million times.

3. Gawker assumes we should care about new trashy show.

I really couldn’t read more than a couple of paragraphs in this one. How in the name of Christ almighty is this worthy of the front page?

First of all, don’t tell me what I should care about, Gawker. In regards to you, the only thing I care about is the fact that people actually read your horrifying publication.

Do the writers at Gawker understand the pop culture implications of what they do? Did you really just spend hours culling together a “story” on a “reality” television show that only serves to reinforce stereotypes? And if you don’t believe me, watch the absolutely terrifying trailer for the show. Then, never, ever watch or read anything about this destroyer of art and intellectualism again.

4. HuffPo spoke to everyone in the entire world for a story.

When you’re done laughing, please remember to stop visiting this website, a beacon for the worst of the worst in journalism.

5. HotAir blows smoke up everyone’s asses. 

So what you’re telling me is that a traditionally conservative publication put together a video to discredit liberals? And you’re also telling me that every single contraception supporter that they interviewed couldn’t explain themselves?

Or are you just showing one side of the argument? Great journalism. Fantastic morals and ethics from a group of people who run on a platform of morals and ethics.

Find any gems lately? Share them with us in the replies.

 

Embrace Awkwardness — Your Comfort Zone is Too Small

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

You want stuff to happen for you, right? Let down your guard. Pop that bubble around you. Emerge from your cocoon.

Get uncomfortable.

I’m uncomfortable just knowing Pitbull can leave his home state of Florida.

People are drawn magnetically to their comfort zones. We’re resistant to change and surprises. Your comfort zone is a magical place where nothing happens unless you expect it to. It’s the place where you dwell when you’re happy with the way things are. It’s also the place you sometimes retreat to when you’re unhappy.

When we go to our comfort zones, we wait for something to happen. And as we established before, nothing happens in a vacuum.

Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone is one of the most enriching experiences life has to offer. It’s why we travel — to explore places that don’t offer the familiar comforts of home. New experiences excite and inspire. For writers, nothing is more important than finding that inspiration.

Pick your ass up off the couch and put yourself into an uncomfortable situation. The new ideas will electrify your writing.

Below are a couple of simple ways to leave your comfort zone.

  • Ride public transportation. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts while surrounded by a whole new world of people and inspiration. Back in Chicago, I took the el and buses all the time. I was harassed, coughed on, preached to, glared at, propositioned, rubbed against — and when action didn’t affect me directly, I got to observe a whole world of new awkwardness and discomfort. I consider myself the better for these experience.
  • Write standing up. Both Hemingway and Nabokov preferred to write standing up. And they weren’t the only ones. We could conjecture for hours on why this strategy is effective and probably still never reach a fully comfortable conclusion. But I’m okay with that, because this post isn’t about comfort. One of the positives here is definitely that you can avoid fatigue by standing up. Your brain is much more likely to shut down on you while your body is in a comfortable position.
  • Say yes more often. It can be hard to say yes to certain social activities that don’t gel with your idea of a good time. Maybe you aren’t particularly fond of the people involved. Or you just don’t dig baseball. If your first impulse is to say no, flip that impulse on its head. Say yes. You may find out you enjoy the experience. Or you’ll find some inspiration. At the very least, you’ll be a better person for riding out your discomfort.