7 Unmissable Blogs for Writers and Marketers

The key to strong writing is plenty of reading. Plan to waste some time on the internets today? Make that time productive by checking out some blogs that’ll help you improve your craft.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is THE go-to blog for copywriting tips, tricks and best practices. Rooted in WordPress, the company features a slew of different tools for content marketing. But the content on the blog features some of the best stuff for writers. It goes beyond copywriting to cover content marketing, blogging, SEO and general communications.

Content Marketing Institute

The brainchild of content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the Content Marketing Institute is one of the web’s premiere resources for up-to-date how-to content. Beyond knowing their craft, it’s important for writers to understand the vehicle they’re driving with their writing. CMI does exactly that. BONUS: You may see some of my own writing popping up here in the near future. Stay tuned.

Problogger

Everything you need to know about blogging, organized in one place. Copyblogger is an extremely popular resource for bloggers of all shapes and sizes. It’s all about visibility and making money at Copyblogger, where you’ll find tons of resources on how to do both effectively.

Cracked

Where to start with Cracked. If you need an intellectual, fact-based and hilarious break from work, Cracked never fails to deliver. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the resources on this list simply because it doesn’t offer tips for writers. I think it’s a strong study for writers looking for applicable examples of strong publishing on the web. It’s a great place to find some inspiration and get a good laugh.

Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice is a successful freelance writer who shares tons of great insights on freelancing through Make a Living Writing. Another great feature of this blog is her guest-blogging policy; submissions that get published earn $50 for their work. That’s a breath of fresh air in a world where your guest posts will get you squat.

Men with Pens

Men with Pens is a great resource for freelancers and copywriters alike. It contains similar material to blogs already mentioned on this list, but you’ll find a unique flair here.

The Rant

The Rant is entertaining writing laced with informative content. Not your typical writing blog, John Carlton’s personal vehicle for sharing insights is still a great place to learn from the best.

Why the Hell Are You Blogging?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Seems like it should answer itself.

The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t. So I ask again, why the hell are you blogging?

One of the toughest things to do in business (as in life) is to turn an introspective eye. You either understand your own goals and motivations or you don’t. And if you say, “Because everyone else is,” then maybe you should reconsider.

Who am I?

Not one single person in the history of business made a real name for herself by following the crowd. Justifying your actions based on groupthink is inexcusable. How often do we question our own motives?

Primarily, I’m writing this blog to establish my brand as a freelance copywriter, simplifying how I attract new clients. There are tons of secondary motives, including some that are slightly less narcissistic (emphasis on slightly). The main point is that I understand exactly why I’m doing this.

So why are you doing it? Maybe you’re using it to improve your organization’s credibility and visibility. In some cases, you may be trying to make money directly through advertisements.

Identifying your motives is the first step. Don’t forget: it’s also important to understand how your motives align with the goals of your audience.

Some Writers Take Advantage

The internet is rife with misinformation. It’s the era of pageview journalism. Publishers across the web are more concerned with making a quick buck than providing useful, timely and accurate information.

Which side are you on?

If you write for an organization, you’re competing for pageviews too. But you’re writing for a narrow audience. Some people need or want your product or service more than others, and that’s who you’re after. Because you’re looking to (perhaps) form a longer lasting business relationship, you and your audience both benefit from high-quality content.

Unfortunately, pageview journalism doesn’t work quite the same way. I’ve written about why it’s important to be wary of what you read online. Dissected, the reasons for this danger are pretty clear. Writers who make money through advertisements want to draw in any and every eyeball they can get. As a result, you get sensational headlines, coverage that doesn’t fit their format and poorly written or researched articles that no one should be reading.

I ask you again: what are your motives? Which side are you on?

Someone somewhere will read your blog. In my opinion, you have a responsibility to even that one reader to create accurate, helpful content.

It’s time to turn the mirror on ourselves. Figuring out your motives gives you a real opportunity to align them with your audience’s goals and desires.

Attributes of Killer Case Studies

A strong story is one of the best ways to sell your company, service or product. Also known as a “success story”, a case study is one of the simplest and most resonant techniques to build compelling storytelling content.

Case studies are 1-3 page stories of how one of your customers/clients found success with your product or service.

This type of content gives you an opportunity to showcase some lively, descriptive writing as part of your marketing collateral. You can also add SEO, promote the story with a press release, use it to pitch reporters, turn it into a webinar or sales deck and feature it in a brochure.

Why are case studies effective?

A good story draws people in, creates an emotional connection and entertains the reader. Of course, those are only three things a story is capable of. They’re crucial to the success of your marketing.

One of the most important things a case study can do for a marketing program is temporarily take the marketer to an outside perspective. Whenever I write a case study, I make it a priority to talk to the person the story is about, rather than the client the story is for. The interview and resulting copy offer a unique view into the benefits of your products or services.

Case studies:

  • Engage customers/clients with a compelling story
  • Inspire empathy from potential customers
  • Illustrate how others applied your products/services
  • Showcase endorsed validation that your product/service works.

Before you get started, consider the structure.

The typical case study format

Successful case studies vary in terms of how they approach the story. But the basic structure is the same. Even if you plan to create a sequential narrative, you’ll still need to follow the guidelines of strong case studies if you want it to land.

The basic case study structure consists of:

  • Background: Here, you’ll explain who the customer is. This area should be short and sweet. Even a well-crafted boilerplate (if your client is into press releases) should suffice.
  • Problem: In this section, you’ll want to detail exactly what caused the client to seek out your services in the first place. In most cases, it’s usually some sort of business problem. For consumer case studies (and some B2B), perhaps there was no problem. But there’s always a catalyst prior to your business building a relationship with the client. Detail the catalyst if it isn’t technically a “problem”.
  • Solution: Now, it’s time for your brand to swoop in and save the day. If the previous section detailed a problem, how did you solve it? Be sure to dig deep. Ask the right questions to find the features or angles that offered the biggest impact for your client.
  • Benefits: Finally, if you can find ways to quantify the benefits, you can detail them in the last section. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle this section with qualifiable benefits as well. But make sure to tie in some hard metrics (even educated guesses) to create a basis in reality.

What else can you do to craft an effective case study?

Tips for creating case studies

Building a strong case study will take a bit of time and energy. Done often for a single client, you’ll get into a groove that’ll greatly speed up the process. (Writing case studies for ecommerce software provider 3dcart has become pretty formulaic for me.)

Here are a couple of bonus tips for writing case studies.

  • Quote often: You’ve interviewed someone who gave you a glowing testimonial! Use that information so the audience knows this is coming from a valid source. (Hint: I usually craft quotes based on my notes and ask for permission from the client before the case study is published.)
  • Find the angle: If you have a narrow audience, writing case studies can get stale. Spice things up a bit by focusing on a different angle every time you write a new one.
  • Be descriptive: Get creative with it. Use saucier language and create a setting. Tell the story almost like you’re writing fiction.
  • Ask and answer questions: Ask the reader a question about what will happen next. Answer the question in the next section. But be careful: this can get cheesy if you take the wrong approach.

Low-Impact Statements Won’t Make You Any Friends

Everyone has that friend that makes a mountain out of a molehill.

“Ugh. It’s Monday and the train is running slow this morning. This is going to be a terrible week.” According to ‘that’ friend, a relatively small thing will impact the course of his or her entire week.

‘That’ friend may have positive things to say as well. “Just saw [insert D-list actor] walking down the street. My life is complete!!!”

These are low-impact statements dressed up as things people should care about. In marketing (as in life), there are ways to do this effectively. Hyperbolizing low-impact statements is not the correct route.

People may write low-impact statements because:

  • They don’t understand their audience (or don’t care)
  • The ideas they share are self-centered
  • The main theme or idea is unclear
  • They are drama queens

Not every sentence you write will land with the kind of impact you desire. But that’s okay. In business writing, everything should lead to the big picture. But, if you’re summing up a theme or message, the sentence must ring with impact. Hyperbole is transparent. How do you increase the impact of the statement without blowing it out of proportion?

  • Empathize with the reader by framing the pain-point, problem or situation. This requires a clear understanding of your audience.
  • Clearly demonstrate how your product, service or organization solves the problem. Do this simply but descriptively. Statements that resonate require clarity and relevance — not exclamation points, italics, editorializations or aggrandized concepts.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, shorter sentences often have a greater impact.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll avoid becoming ‘that’ writer.

5 Weapons to Destroy Buzzwords

I promise you that this innovative, thought-provoking post will create a new level of synergy in your cutting-edge copy.

Alright, so this post is obligatory. But as a man driven to help your business communicate more authentically, I have decided it is a must.

Buzzwords have no place in a writer’s toolbox. Unfortunately, good writers tend to read a lot. As a result, these painful bastards might slip into your diction. It’s the price you’ll pay for competitive research or general goofing off on the internet.

Join me next week for my thoughts on bad puns.

Digital marketing demigod David Meerman Scott helped start the war against buzzwords back in 2007. (Here’s the updated 2009 version.) For the most part, Scott aims his sights at PR folks. And we all know how much I love PR folks. But PR reps aren’t the only ones guilty of using buzzwords. It could happen to you. A good offense is the best defense.

Check out my 5 weapons to destroy buzzwords.

1. If you have no proof, nuke that sucker. We’re often tempted to make outlandish claims about our companies or products. Where’s the harm in calling ourselves leading, cutting-edge, the best, the largest or premiere? In 9 out of 10 cases, you’re either lying or including no proof of your claim. You think you can get away with it by making the claim as generic as possible. I’m telling you right now: it slows down and sinks your point. Avoid these types of words.

2. If it isn’t specific and descriptive, get out the dynamite. Your company and product may be generic. Is that how you want to present it to people? And it’s catastrophic to write generically-worded copy if your product is outstanding. Forget words like unique, customer-centric, dynamic, flexible and revolutionary.  You should even erase award-winning from your vocab. If the award is relevant to the copy, you have better options, like…

3. If you’re telling instead of showing, let the cannons rip. This tip isn’t unique to business writing. Lively writing across any medium requires you to show, rather than tell. Words that tell are usually hollow, shallow and meaningless. Many of the words we’ve discussed so far fit the bill here. If you’re the best or the only, you better be prepared to back those assertions up by showing readers why they’re true.

4. If it’s cliche, give it a swift kick in the balls. FYI — don’t drink the kool-aid if you don’t have the bandwidth to accomodate low-hanging fruit coming down the pipeline. You have an email address, right? You probably hear these kinds of cliches daily. Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not replicate them.

5. If it says nothing, get medieval on its ass. Perhaps this assertion is a culmination of the rest. Still, it’s worth saying: putting words on the page doesn’t mean you’re saying anything. Business is all about communication. Make sure you get your point across. Avoid words that say nothing.

Do Shorter Sentences Hit Home Harder?

Crafting sentences is an art.

We don’t always think in sentences. Putting thoughts straight to paper usually results in stream-of-consciousness. It’s way easier to loose a reader that way.

Keep your readers. Write shorter sentences.

Let’s look at the contrast. Virginia Woolf is the master of stream-of-consciousness. But her writing exists in a medium drastically different from the business writer’s. As a result, she gets a pass. Everything else about her writing is so enthralling that we award her with artistic license.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air for readers. His prose made it nearly impossible for readers to miss the point. And that’s one reason he’s lauded as one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I drink an entire case in one sitting.”

Consider this slightly-altered quote from The Sun Also Rises:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that because you lose the taste.

This isn’t the original quote. But what if it had been? Worse yet, what if Hemingway wrote the entire book in that style?

Thank the modern literary gods that he didn’t. Here’s the statement as it originally appears:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.

Clearly, this is a cause-and-effect statement. But consider how much more impact the thought has when the concepts are separated by a stop.

For professional writers, long sentences are usually the result of combining multiple thoughts. In good literature, to contrast, we excuse long sentences. Exhaustive description is usually the culprit in lengthy diatribes.

But your audience probably won’t read your writing for fun. They want the point. Short sentences lead to clearer points. The. End.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!