How To Write a Blog, Part 3: Why Care About SEO?

The first article in this series outlined my process for how to write a blog post. The second one gave you a framework for success with some planning

In this article, I’m going to cover an essential concept for bloggers: on-page search engine optimization (SEO). I include it in the Research step of my process, but this is an important topic and worth a separate post.

Why Should You Care About SEO?

Chasing SEO rankings can be frustrating, especially if you’re a one-person shop or small business. You may not think you have a chance of ending up on the first page of search results, but SEO is essential if you want to:

  • Boost your reputation for credibility and authority
  • Attract new customers and retain existing ones
  • Build your brand
  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Stay ahead of your competition

There are two broad categories of SEO: technical and on-page. Your webmaster can help you with the intricacies of technical SEO; that’s above my pay grade. As a blogger, however, you can take some simple steps to improve your blog’s on-page SEO.

What Is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO is just Google’s term for good writing. It includes all the things a writer should be doing to produce great content, plus one more to make search engines happy. Good on-page SEO:

  • Answers readers’ questions
  • Employs clear, concise, well-formatted copy
  • Provides information for search engines so they can find and display your content 

Keyword Questions You Were Afraid to Ask

On-page SEO starts with keywords, so let’s dive in.

What Is a Keyword?

A keyword is a word that a user enters into a search engine when looking for information. For example, I typed “backpack” into Google’s search bar. Here’s the search engine results page.

Pictures of backpacks from Google

In about a second, Google served up 740,000,000 (!!!) results: images, maps, snippets of information, and links to other sites. It even helpfully organized all of this data into separate tabs to help me find what I want. Even so, it’s overwhelming. 

What is a Long Tail Keyword?

A long-tail keyword is a phrase that more accurately describes what someone is seeking. Searchers use phrases to help narrow down the list of results and make them more relevant. For example, when I entered the long-tailed keyword “waterproof backpacks on sale near me,” Google presented the following information. 

Google search results with pictures of backpacks and a map of stores near my location selling backpacks

Google knows my location, so it shows nearby stores selling waterproof backpacks on a map. It also lists many more places where I can buy waterproof backpacks. The search results page has about two-thirds as many listings (448,000,000 is still a huge number). But the information presented is much more useful.

When you’re a small business, it can pay to use long-tail keywords. They’re more likely to answer a specific user question, and therefore more likely to put you closer to the top of the search results page.

Note: from now on, I’m going to use “keyword” and “long-tail keyword” interchangeably. 

What Are Paid Search Results?

Paid search results are advertisements. Many businesses pay to advertise on Google and, while they have to match the keyword you entered to show up in your results, some paid advertisements get ranked at the top of the page. They’re also marked to show they’re ads. 

There are two ways to identify a paid ad:

  1. Look for the word “Sponsored” near the top of the page, as shown in the screenshots above. 
  2. Depending on what you’re searching for, you may also see “Ad” in a small box in the search results listing.

What Are Organic Search Results?

Organic search results appear below ads on the search results listing. Google ranks items based on how well it thinks the content matches a searcher’s intent. (It’s not that simple, but this is a good enough explanation for our purposes.) 

Do I Have to Buy an Ad To Show Up on Search Results Pages?

No, you don’t have to buy an ad on Google. Paid advertising can get expensive, especially for popular keywords. Besides, most users have learned to ignore paid ads and skip to the organic search results. 

Can I Have More Than One Keyword?

Absolutely. For the best results, you should plan to use a combination of keywords and long-tail keywords in your blog.

However, you need to select one as your target keyword. You’ll incorporate your target keyword into the blog title, at least one header, and the body of your text.

The rest of the keywords are called related keywords. Google recognizes related keywords, so it’s worth working them into your content. (We’ll talk about using keywords in the next couple of articles in this series.) 

So how do you research keywords?

Step 1: Know Thy Customer

If you haven’t done any planning for your blog, stop now. Go back to the second post in this series, “How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan for Strong Results. One of the topics talked about understanding your customer well enough to know what problems you can solve for them. If you need to, review that before you go any further with keywords. When you understand your customer and her challenges, figuring out your keywords becomes much easier. (And that’s one of the reasons why the planning step is so important.)

Step 2: Build a Keyword List

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself how you might search for the topic you want to address. Write down every idea that comes to mind; you can prune later. If you get stuck (I do), ask a customer, colleague, or friend how they might go about the search. 

Once you have a list, key the words and phrases into Google’s search bar and note the suggestions that it displays. For instance, when I keyed “backpacks on sale” in the examples above, Google presented the following results. 

Google's list of recommended searches

Right there, I have more ideas for search terms (keywords) others are using. You may want to do this several times to get ideas for more keywords.

You can also use the Google Keywords Planner to get more detailed results. Here’s an example of what I saw when I searched for “backpack,” “waterproof backpack,” “tote,” and “backpack near me.”

The Keywords Planner gives you a lot of good information.

  • Broaden Your Search lists suggestions for other keywords
  • Refine Keywords helps you target a specific audience using several criteria
  • Avg. Monthly Searches tells you the popularity of the keyword with searchers 
  • Competition indicates how many other people are using the same keyword

The rest of the information applies to paid ads. The data will show just how popular a term is by showing how much advertisers will pay to use it. You may not care about paid advertising, but this is useful information for gauging how popular your keywords are.

You can download this list if you want, though it can be a long one. I prefer to add the keywords I’m interested in, the average monthly search data, and the competition ranking to my own spreadsheet.

Step 3: Review the List

Once you’re satisfied you’ve identified the relevant keywords, review the list. If you have a long list, score each keyword (high/medium/low, or 1, 2,3) to help you focus on the best choices. Sort the list by score and see what pops out.

If it seems like the keyword list is steering you to different topics than the one you planned on using, you have two options:

  • Look for different keywords 
  • Reconsider your topic or the angle you planned to take

Step 4: Choose One To Be Your Target Keyword

Once you have a final list of keywords, pick one to be the target keyword/phrase for the blog. There are two philosophies about how to do this:

  • Popularity. Higher competition for a keyword means more advertisers are bidding for that term. If you want to tackle a popular topic, this might be the right keyword to use. But it will also be tough to get a high search ranking–if that’s important to you.
  • Lack of popularity. The opposite approach may identify a niche. The fewer advertisers there are bidding for a term, the easier it’s going to be for you to rank highly in search results. 

There’s no right answer here, and sometimes it comes down to a coin toss.

Now What?

Good for you! Your keyword research is done. Next up in this series on how to write a blog post, I’ll talk about writing eye-catching titles and calls to action. Titles are the first place where you put your keyword list to use. They signal to the reader (and to search engines) what problem you’ll be solving for them and they’re key to getting a reader to pay attention to you.

Tools You Can Use

Moz offers a Keyword Explorer tool that’s free for up to 10 keyword searches a month. This option is perfect if you’re a blogger and don’t need anything else.

SEMRush and Ahrefs are also excellent sources for keyword research and much, much more. But like Moz’s full-service offering, subscriptions can be expensive. They may not be worth the investment unless SEO is your thing.

If you use WordPress for your blog, I highly recommend adding the Yoast plug-in. Even the free version will help you improve your SEO with actionable suggestions. If you want to learn more about using keywords, Yoast has an excellent blog on the topic.

Tips for Success

Google offers a great series of workshops in the Google Analytics Academy. I recommend watching Analytics for Beginners to develop a basic understanding of this topic.

Don’t overthink your keywords. About a third of the effort you spend on your blog should go to planning and research together.

Need Help With On-Page SEO For Your Blog?

Are you stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know where to start? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to find and use keywords successfully.

How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan For Strong Results

If you’re making the effort to write a blog, you want people to read it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition. Hosting Tribunal says it in a nutshell: “To date, there are more than 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily.” 

How can you stand out? Some forethought and planning will help.

  • What precisely do you want to gain from blogging? If you’re not sure about this before you start, the whole thing becomes an exercise in frustration.
  • Answer your customers’ questions. That means you have to know who your customers are and what they want.
  • Put your spin on it. Yes, a lot of people write blogs. And yes, your customers care what you have to say.
Develop a plan before you start writing a blog
Photo by Daniel Gonzalez on Unsplash

Plan For Writing a Blog

Before you start dashing off ideas, take a few minutes to think through your goals, your audience, and your angle. Clarity at this stage makes writing a blog much more rewarding.

Don’t start writing until you can answer the questions below. Or at least recognize that for you, blogging is a hobby, not a way to grow your business. (No judgment from me. I’ve blogged for all sorts of reasons, not all of them related to business.)

Question 1: What Are Your Blogging Goals

If you’re going to commit to the work of writing, figure out what you want to achieve before you start. It’s OK if you’re going to write because you love it. (I do.) But don’t miss this opportunity to reach a specific goal.

Do you want to:

  • Acquire sales leads?
  • Attract people to your website?
  • Build a following?
  • Demonstrate your expertise? 
  • Expand your network?

Be specific. There’s no wrong answer, and you may have more than one goal. Best to sort that out now.

Question 2: Who Do You Want To Reach With Your Blog? 

Determine exactly who your audience is. (Clue: the answer is not “anyone who….”) Be as specific as possible; you’ll do your best job when you write as if you’re addressing a single person. 

Marketers will tell you to create a persona, a detailed description of your ideal customer. For most of us, it’s easier to pick a favorite customer: someone you like and someone who you would like to work with again.

Photo by Anton Belitskiy from Pexels

Question 3: What Problems Can You Solve For This Person? 

What would your favorite/ideal customer want to know? This is not the same question as, “what can you write about?” For example, I write about a lot of things, but my writing solves problems like these for my clients:

  • A start-up in the autonomous vehicle space wants a white paper that explains their idea to investors in a simple, non-technical way.
  • A digital marketing agency needs updated website content that showcases their recent work in industries they want to penetrate.
  • A consultant lacks case studies that highlight her expertise for potential clients. 

Question 4: What’s Your Angle

Your angle is your take on the topic. It’s your position or viewpoint, based on expertise and a deep understanding of your ideal customer’s problems. Your angle helps you stand out from the army of other bloggers writing on the same subject.

Many would-be bloggers tell me they don’t think they have anything new to add, that everything’s already been said by people who know more than they do. That’s probably true.

But it’s equally true that your customers rely on you, not other bloggers. They want to know what you think, what you believe, how you feel. In short, they depend on your expertise.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

If you’re having trouble coming up with an angle, answer these fundamental questions to solidify your perspective.

  • How do you feel about the topic? 
  • Why is this worth writing about?
  • What do you think your reader should know?
  • What’s in it for them, from your perspective?

If you need inspiration, this is an excellent opportunity to agree with or dispute what others say. It can generate more ideas for content and maybe even boost your SEO. (More on SEO in the next blog in this series.)

Question 6: What’s Your Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) is what you want readers to do when they’ve finished reading. Should they:

  • Contact you?
  • Download a checklist, white paper, or case study?
  • Set up an appointment?
  • Visit your website?
  • Buy something?

It’s OK not to have a clear call to action. Just make it a conscious decision; don’t let this be a missed opportunity.

My Favorite Planning Tool When I Write a Blog

Sticky notes are a great tool when you plan to write a blog
Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

Yup, you got it—sticky notes. They are my all-time favorite planning tool for anything from updating my herb garden to managing a major systems implementation.

If you want to know why, my friend Shawne Greene says it all in her blog.

Tips for Success

Once you’ve completed this planning exercise, you may not have to do it again. What you learn in this step will probably hold true for a while.

Blogging regularly can seem overwhelming. You do have other things to accomplish. Schedule a time and write several related posts at once. It’s more efficient, and you will be able to catch inconsistencies more easily.

To save your sanity, create a content calendar dedicated to the activities needed to publish a blog. Establish how often you want to post and put that in the calendar. Add milestones to account for the different stages of work, and for any tasks that others need to complete in support.

Keep an idea bank. Jot down anything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy. A list of ideas will is another resource for when you need inspiration.

Other Posts in This Series

This is the second in a series of posts on writing a blog. Here’s the series:

  • Get started with my thoughts on whether non-writers can blog (spoiler alert: they can, and should), and the process I use in How To Write a Blog, Part 1.
  • Learn what a writer needs to know about credibility, SEO, research, and the importance of getting your facts straight in How to Write a Blog, Part 3. (Coming soon.)
  • Read How to Write a Blog, Part 4 for the nuts and bolts on writing, editing, and publishing your blog. (Coming soon.)

Need More Help Writing Your Blog?

Stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know what to do next? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to make progress.

How To Write a Blog That Gets Results, Part 1

Here’s the thing about writing a blog that gets results: most people know what they want to write. What they’re missing is a process to guide them in creating a blog that people will read.  So I’ve created a series of posts that lay out the process I use.

This post covers the preliminaries: whether you should write a blog (even if you’re not a writer), an overview of my approach, and a couple of my favorite writers on the subject. Future posts will cover: 

  • Do some planning so you get results
  • Research and search engine optimization (SEO)
  • How to create a strong headline, an outline, and a call to action
  • Writing, editing, and publishing
  • Saving your sanity with a content calendar 
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Should I Blog?

Content is king, or so the pros tell us. We need, we must have, our business will die without blogs, videos, and social media posts. Lots of them, frequently posted, and all with fresh content. It can be overwhelming. Who needs something else to make them crazy right now?

For many of us, the easiest place to start with content is a blog. After all, how hard can it be? We write all the time: emails, presentations, reports–each of us generates a ton of content. Pick a topic and have at it, right?

As it turns out, blogging is a bit of work. But here’s the thing: the more effort you put into the upfront work, the easier it will be to write the blog and the likelier you are to be successful. 

But I’m Not a Writer!

You don’t have to be a great writer to author a successful blog. You just need some expertise or a point of view about something in your field. Most of us have at least one of these qualifications, usually in aces. 

You also need a process to guide you on how to write a blog. There are some basic things you can do to produce excellent content that your audience will appreciate. They aren’t complicated and, even better, most of it doesn’t involve writing.

How To Write a Blog: A Process

Here’s the process I follow when writing a blog for myself or my clients. I’ve adapted this from several sources and added some bits that I think are important. I’d particularly like to acknowledge Anne Janzer’s “The Writer’s Process” and, “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley. (Both authors publish excellent newsletters, too, if you’re interested.) 

Plan

Before you ever put pen to paper, answer these simple questions.

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What do you want them to do once they’ve read your blog? 

Only after you’ve completed this step should you proceed. Because if you can’t answer these questions, the content you’re so proud of will fall on deaf ears.

In fact, I think this topic is so important that I’m going to address it in its own post instead of combining it with the next step, research.

Research

There are two parts to this step: keyword research (for SEO) and research to confirm facts, gather quotes from experts, and find appropriate images

Yes, you should do this before you start writing. You may uncover something that changes what you want to say or how you want to approach the subject. To improve your SEO rankings and build credibility, you’ll want quotes, experts to cite, and websites you can link to.

SEO research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or involve the use of arcane technology (though it can). I’m going to recommend some simple tools and a basic approach that will get you started. Where you go after that is up to you.

Design

Draft a strong headline and a call to action (CTA), and identify the major points you want to make. Take it from an experienced writer: headlines are often the hardest part of the entire process.

I know you’re itching to write, but Google and humans both pay a lot of attention to headlines. You want something crisp, concise, and compelling that will draw people in. And if you don’t bring them in, all this work is for naught. 

As for a call to action: you don’t always need (or want) one, but make that a conscious decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to let people know what you offer and how they can reach you. 

Once you’ve got your opening headline and closing CTA, the rest should fall into place–another reason why you want to do this before you start writing.

Write!

This is the easy part because of all the work you’ve done to get this far. Have at it. Write to your heart’s content. You’ll worry about cleaning it up in the next step. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about length right now; focus on getting your message across. 

Polish and Publish

Editing your work can be a painful experience. Frankly, it’s challenging. I’ve just told you to pour your heart out, and now I’m saying, “wait a minute here.” The thing is, it’s essential to get your ideas out of your head so you can share them. In this step, you’ll polish those gems until they shine like the diamonds they are.

Never fear, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to edit your writing in a future post, along with a few things to know to prepare your blog for publishing. There are some excellent automated tools to help, and I’ll tell you what they are, too

Tools to Help You Write a Blog

As part of this series, I’ll be recommending tools to help you be a better writer. Tools won’t fix everything, but they can help you avoid basic mistakes. (See my blogs, “The Writer’s Toolkit” and “More Writing Tools That Will Help You Now” for a sneak peek at some of them.) 

Need Help with Writing a Blog?

Are you stuck right now? Do you want to brainstorm? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to make progress.

More Writing Tools That Will Help You Now

If you’re in business you’re a writer. Text, email, and social media are text-based. You can write a whole sentence using emoticons 😝 and acronyms IMHO (in my humble opinion) but unambiguous business writing requires a command of the language. Good news: writing tools can help you with English, whether the language is new to you or you’re an experienced writer.

One of the first posts I wrote covered a few basic writing tools: Grammarly, Hemingway App, and the old standbys: the thesaurus and the dictionary.  I still use them frequently although I’ve discovered other tools to help me build skills, check the quality of my work, and even inspire me. Here are some of my recent favorites. I hope you find them useful, too.

Gather Ideas and Inspiration

  • The Etymology Dictionary is for word nerds. Enter a word or phrase and find out how it originated. Great for research—and for understanding where today’s vocabulary came from.
  • Use Answer The Public (answerthepublic.com) for an idea generator. Enter keywords and discover the most popular searches. ATP pulls data from Google searches and may give you ideas for your next article. 

Polish Email and Simplify Social Media

  • I use Grammarly every day for on-the-go checks of my writing, especially on my iPhone and iPad.  ProWritingAid is similar, though the free version seems more robust than Grammarly. The statistics and ever-so-helpful suggestions for change can overwhelm, however, and may not be valuable to you. 
  • CoSchedule (coschedule.com) offers a free headline analyzer tool. I use it for punching up email subject lines and blog titles. Shoot for a score of 70 or higher.
  • Have you ever grappled for new ways to say the same thing? Check out Related Words when you don’t exactly want a synonym or you’re looking for a different way to phrase something.
  • If you do a lot of social media posting, look at PromoRepublic for scheduling your posts. It’s reasonably priced and well worth it for the treasure trove of ideas, content, and templates that save time and help you create eye-catching graphics.

Create Eye-Catching Data Visualisations

If you’re a data wonk, Onomics offers free data visualizations. I haven’t needed to use it yet, but it came to me highly recommended and I’m looking for an excuse to dive in.

Writing Tools Help But They Don’t Write For You

earnest hemingway at his typewriter

Writing is a creative process. Sometimes you break the rules deliberately. Your style of writing is your style of writing. Yes, there are rules, best practices, and the right way to use punctuation. And if everyone followed the rules, we wouldn’t have Ulysses by James Joyce, Catcher in the Rye by Holden Caulfield, or anything by Ernest Hemingway. 

Writing tools are just that: tools. They catch errors and generate suggestions. Use that information wisely but don’t let it rule your writing.

Know a Someone Who Could Use This Information?

Forward them a link to this post. 

Better yet, I give a talk with practical suggestions to help businesspeople become better writers. It’s loaded with simple tips and will help you see improvements right away. Interested in learning more? Contact me and let’s talk.

How to Script a Memorable Video

There’s a good reason why videos are increasingly popular. They’re easy to consume and they can be easy to make. You don’t need an expensive crew, equipment, and studio to produce a decent-quality video.

You can do a lot armed with just a smartphone.

In a memorable video, the speaker communicates their message clearly and succinctly. Viewers are gripped by your call to action. They leap to their feet, ready to volunteer, write a check, fund a capital campaign. Inspired, they share your message with other equally generous people.

Ah, if it were only that easy…

Three Steps to Scripting a Memorable Video

We’ve all sat through DIY videos listening to speakers “uh” and “erm” their way along. The speaker seems lost and befuddled, wanders off into side-topics, gets distracted by the cat (or dog or kid) that comes into the room, and completely forgets their point.

Don’t be that person. Instead, follow these tips to script a memorable video.

Step 1: Grab Attention With a Powerful Title and Opening Sentence

You’ve only got a few seconds to lock in audience attention. Don’t waste this time. Hook your audience from the start. If you can’t communicate your message right away, nobody will bother watching the rest of your video.

Start with a powerful title that piques curiosity, then lure viewers in with an equally powerful opening sentence. Script the opening sentence to support your headline, then polish, polish, polish.

Tips

There are lots of free tools available to help.

  • Check out this article from HubSpot. Yes, it’s about email subject lines. But you can use this approach to craft great video titles.
  • Use the free headline analyzer at CoSchedule.com to craft a memorable video title. (CoSchedule’s headline analyzer will also score it for search engine optimization (SEO) characteristics. This will be useful if you post this video on your website.) Aim for a score of at least 70.

Step 2: Close Out On a High Note

It’s counterintuitive I know, but next, write your closing. Script a sentence or two that recaps and reinforces your message and includes a call to action. Polish until it shines. This is what people will likely remember, so it’s worth the effort.

Hit a high note
Close out your script with a bang.

Tips

  • A call to action is the step you want your viewer to take. It may be to enroll in a workshop, donate generously, or volunteer. Whatever it is, make sure you clearly state that next step.
  • Don’t forget to include your or your organization’s name and contact information (name, website, email, and/or phone number).

Step 3: Fill in With One to Three Talking Points

Now develop the body of your script. Here’s where you tell your story.

Most videos are short (30-90 seconds) — just enough time to make a couple of points. You need to decide whether you want to dive into one point or skim lightly over two to three points. The more you have to say about any one topic, the fewer topics you should have.

Jot down a few five or six words for each bullet point. As you write, hone your message so that it is tightly focused. If there’s a specific example you want to use, note it. Write down specific words or phrases you need to remember.

Tips

  • Worried about forgetting something? Keep your notes on your smartphone or on a pad nearby and refer to them if you need to when you’re recording.
  • Should you script every word or just use bullet points? I’m not a fan of scripting every word, but then I’m comfortable ad-libbing. See Bonus Tip 4 for my thoughts on this topic.
  • What kind of details should you share? It depends on your audience. For example, bankers, accountants, and lawyers may be more comfortable with bare facts. Parents might want to know how your organization helped another child before they trust you with theirs. Medical professionals might not want to share anything because of patient confidentiality and safety concerns.
  • A little humor can work, but it can be tricky to pull off. If you’re not a natural with humor, don’t force it. And if you are, avoid snark and irony. It may backfire if your audience is listening but not watching the video.

Bonus Step 4: Practice, But Don’t Practice Too Much

The key to any successful video is practice. Practice enough so you’re comfortable, but not so much that you sound rote. Be able to deliver your opening and closing as scripted, but allow yourself to explore your topic in different ways with each run through. You may discover something you forgot when scripting your talking points or find a better way to say it.

practice
Don’t practice so much you sound like a robot!

An old Toastmasters trick: memorize your opening and closing sentences. Know the major points you want to make, and let your words flow naturally as you move from open to close.

Tips

  • It’s perfectly OK to get excited, even passionate about your subject. Just don’t overdo it. Worse, don’t fake it.
  • If you’re recording your video yourself on your smartphone, your first recording or two (or more) may sound forced and unnatural. You may be nervous and you’ll probably make a couple of mistakes. That’s OK; this is practice, remember?
  • The trick is to recognized when you’ve practiced too much. Be aware when you start feeling tired or sounding rote. Time for a break.

Do I Need a Videographer For a Memorable Video?

It depends. Some of the most effective videos I’ve seen were shot on smartphones with no set, script, or video team. They succeeded because the speaker was passionate about their topic and wanted to share that excitement with me, the viewer. Their energy shone through and pulled me in.

But there’s a good argument for paying a professional videographer. It takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you’re not technically inclined. A professional videographer will add polish to the final product in ways you probably can’t.

I’m all for paying a pro to do something I can’t do as well or when it would just eat up my time. In the long run, a professional videographer can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. They can be well worth the investment.

More Examples

If you want to see a wide range of videos, from polished to home-made on no budget, check out Indiegogo. It’s a fundraising site for everything from start-ups to non-profits, and most projects include a video. Some are great, some are awful. Worth the look.

Oh, and don’t forget to lock the door to the room to keep pets out while you’re recording your memorable video.


How to Get Attention With Your LinkedIn Summary

Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is the place to be for most professionals. It’s more than your online resume: anyone wanting to confirm your experience will check you out on LinkedIn. If someone searches for you on Google, a link to your LinkedIn profile may appear. Even if you spend more time on other social media platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, your LinkedIn profile is important.

Annoyed Adult
Readers will look at the first line or two–that’s it!

That means your Summary needs to shine. It may be the toughest part of your profile to write. Everything else is dates and skill and accomplishments. But this, this needs to catch the reader’s eye right away.

To make it worse, a reader will only see the first two-and-a-half or three lines of your Summary, even though you’re allowed 2,000 characters–a full page. And you’ve probably slaved over that page, too. No pressure, right?

Where do you start? What do you do first? How do you write a killer LinkedIn Summary? The steps below will get you off to a good start

While writing a LinkedIn Summary can be challenging, spend some time on the first three steps. Once you’ve completed them, the rest will flow more easily.

The Hard Part: Who’s Your Audience?

Empty Theater
Who do you want to reach?
  1. Decide what you want your Summary to do. Do you want a new job? More customers? A stronger network? Making this decision will help you create a clear message. Yes, you can do more than one thing at a time but choosing one will make your job simpler.
  2. Determine who you need to reach. This is the audience you’ll be writing for and it’s important you know exactly who they are. If you’re looking for a job, you’ll want to attract recruiters and hiring managers in your field. ILooking for more customers? Then corporate decision makers in your industry are probably your target. If you want to expand your LinkedIn network, then you want to attract colleagues.
  3. Why would someone look for you? What problems would they ask you to solve? (This is not the same as “what I can do for you.”) Make a list. Dig deep on this one. Sure, a hiring manager may be looking for a Senior UX Designer. But the real problem is her top designer quit right in the middle of the biggest project of the year. Deadlines are tight and she needs someone who can ramp up quickly. Your ability to learn quickly and work productively under pressure is probably more important to her right now than anything else.  

The Not-So-Hard Part: Write Your LinkedIn Summary

man coffee cup iPad
Now it’s time to write
  1. Write a very short lead that will appear “top of the fold” on your LinkedIn Profile page. Summarize why you’re the right choice. Include contact information so the reader doesn’t need to click to find it. (They may not know where to look. Besides, LinkedIn has a habit of changing their user interface without warning.) Keep it very short-175-200 characters, not counting your contact info. Why? Because that’s what a reader will see without having to click “more” to read your entire summary.
  2. Write the rest of your content, ending with a call to action. Keep it short, solution-focused and compelling. If you need help, see my blog post “How to Create a Powerful Message.”
  3. Ask friends and colleagues to review and give you feedback. Polish, polish, polish. Edit your text carefully. If you’re not good at editing, have someone else do it. DO NOT RELY ON GRAMMAR AND SPELL-CHECKERS!!!!!! Seriously, if you screw up here you blow your credibility. Don’t be that guy. Or girl.

Tips

  • Create a draft in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. That way you can keep several versions around and play with them to your heart’s content.
  • Before you post your final Summary on LinkedIn, turn off Notify Your  Network. (Check LinkedIn Help for information on how to do this.) Turn it back on when you’re all done and ready to publish to the world.

Need more help with a LinkedIn Summary? I know some excellent professionals who would be delighted to speak with you. Contact me to get the information.

How To Create a Powerful Message

Creating a message that worksIt’s time to write that marketing email or sales letter or request for a donation. You need to convince someone to buy something and you don’t know where to begin. Here’s are six steps to create a powerful message that gets results.

AIDA Isn’t Just an Opera

Writers use a number of formulas to get create messages. AIDA (Attention, Information, Decision, and Action) works well for me, whether I’m writing content for a website or persuading a prospective client to buy my services.

Creating a Powerful Message in Six Steps

  1. Before you start, figure out who you’re communicating with and what problem you can fix for them. This not about what you’re selling or why you’re the best. It’s about your audience. Why would they want what you’ve got? What problem are you solving for them? Say you’re a coach. Newsflash: your clients aren’t buying coaching. They’re buying help finding a job, getting a promotion, or getting along better with their partner.
  2. Once you’ve got a clear definition of the problem, write your Attention statement. This step can be daunting.  You’ve only got a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Your text should identify the problem from a potential customer’s perspective. (“Wouldn’t it be great if you could…” “Stop worrying about your next job.” “People just like you are….”)
  3. Now comes Interest. This can be a sentence or a couple of short paragraphs that expand on your Attention sentence. Provide more information that shows you understand the problem your readers are facing.  Make the case that you get it. Facts and figures are good here but don’t overwhelm the reader.
  4. The Decision sentence(s) explain why your solution is the right one for them. Summarize your expertise; use quotes from customers; support them with numbers if you can. (“Our customers tell us we….”. “95% of the people who bought this product ….”. “Your donation will let us help 100 needy animals…”).
  5. Wrap up with your call to Action. What do you want these people to do after they’ve read your message? Do you want them to sign a petition? Read an article? Click on a link? Buy something? Tell them what to do next. (“Click the button below to sign up for….” “Call us today to reserve your seat.” “Check out this video on YouTube.”)
  6. Finally, polish, polish, polish. First, check the message with your current customers. Have one or two review your text. Use a thesaurus or use Related Words to punch up the message. Next run the text through Grammarly, Hemingway or another editor to be sure it’s clean. Finally, have a human copyedit it.

Tips

Customers buy from youLike any new approach, this one takes a bit of practice. I find that if I spend a lot of time accurately identifying the problem I solve, the message falls into place fairly quickly.

There are other rubrics you can use: The Four (or Five) P’s of Marketing and The Four C’s of Marketing are two of the most common.

If you’re just starting out and you don’t have customers yet, ask a boss who liked you for input. Or check in with friends and family. If you can explain it to them, you can probably draft a great message anyone will understand.

The Ethics of Good Copywriting

I’m fascinated by the power of the written word. I can spend hours immersed in a thesaurus, picking the precise word to express a thought. I analyze speeches, blogs, and news articles to understand how the choice of words and images can sway readers. Same thing with websites, billboards, flyers, advertisements, and social media posts. And that’s led me to a meditation on the ethics of good copywriting.

Good copywriters tell stories that make their clients happy. Websites get more attention, social media accounts get more followers, blog posts are read and quoted more often. Products and services are purchased, candidates win political offices. Clients are delighted; copywriters get more work.

The Dilemma

What do you do when a client sells something or promotes a point of view that you find dangerous or offensive? Should you write great copy for a bad purpose? Maybe to sell a product you know is defective, or a service from someone you suspect is not ethical? Sounds pretty straightforward: don’t take the job. Or do, and you hold your nose while you sign the contract.

Here’s another example: should you write great copy for someone you don’t agree with? They’re not evil, they’re not out to do harm; they simply have a different viewpoint from yours. Maybe a diametrically opposing viewpoint. Maybe they’re for lower taxes and your cause is funding social services for the needy. Or they want to preserve a natural habitat but you’d like to see more jobs in the area. What do the ethics of good copywriting tell you?

Ah, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Even More Challenges

With the panic over fake news and the social media echo chamber, copywriters can feel driven to shout over the crowd to be heard. We use more emotional words; the tone becomes more hysterical. We play up social divisiveness to drive clicks and views. Us vs. them is an easy way to get attention. Us is the righteous few; them is the great unwashed enemy. Boo hiss on they, them, the others. The not us.

Charts on a laptopAnalytics count each mouse click and record it for posterity. Clients use those numbers to gauge success. Which words drive the stronger response, get more of whatever it is we’re measuring? Let’s push harder to get more of that. It’s like heroin. Our clients are addicted. We’re addicted.

If things don’t work out quite right, if the results are unpleasant or unexpected, the reaction is to say, “I just write the stuff. I can’t control how people react to it.

In a word, bullshit.

What Can Copywriters Do?

Take ownership of and responsibility for your content. Don’t act like a tech bro: you are obliged to consider how people will use your work. You are being paid to stir emotions and drive specific reactions. You need to think the implications through.

Recognize that someone with a different viewpoint isn’t the enemy. Lots of us disagree with each other. Some people like chocolate, some like vanilla. Vive la difference. Broaden your mind a bit by working for the other side. You may even learn something.

Talk to your client and insist on honesty. So much content relies heavily on emotion-laden words and dog whistles. Don’t take that easy road; challenge yourself to make the point in other, better ways.

If you can’t, maybe you need to find a new client.

How to Script a Memorable Video

There’s a good reason why videos are increasingly popular. They’re easy to consume and, more important for those of us with a message, they are easy to make. You can do a lot armed with just a smartphone. You don’t need an expensive crew, equipment, and studio to produce a decent-quality video.
record a video
In a memorable video, the speaker communicates their message clearly and succinctly. We are gripped by the speaker’s call to action. We viewers leap to our feet, ready to obey. Inspired, we share the speaker’s message with others. Ah, if it were only that easy… We’ve all sat through DIY videos listening to speakers “uh” and “erm” their way along. The speaker seems lost and befuddled, wanders off into side-topics, gets distracted by the cat (or dog) that comes into the room, and completely forgets their point. Don’t be that person. Instead, follow these tips to script a memorable video.

Step 1: Grab Attention With a Powerful Title and Opening Sentence

You’ve only got a few seconds to lock in audience attention. Don’t waste this time. Hook your audience from the start. If you can’t communicate your message right away, nobody will bother watching the rest of your video. Start with a powerful title that piques curiosity, then lure viewers in with an equally powerful opening sentence. Script the opening sentence to support your headline, then polish, polish, polish.

Tips

There are lots of free tools available to help.
  • Check out this article from HubSpot. Yes, it’s about email subject lines. But you can use this approach to craft great video titles.
  • Use the free headline analyzer at CoSchedule.com to craft a memorable video title. (CoSchedule’s headline analyzer will also score it for search engine optimization (SEO) characteristics.) Aim for a score of at least 70.

Step 2: Close Out On a High Note

It’s counterintuitive I know, but next, write your closing. Script a sentence or two that recaps and reinforces your message and includes a call to action. Polish until it shines. This is what people will likely remember, so it’s worth the effort.
Hitting the high note

Tips

  • A call to action is the step you want your viewer to take. It may be to enroll in a class, donate to a charitable cause, or hire you. Whatever it is, make sure you clearly state that next step.
  • Don’t forget to include your or your organization’s name and contact information (website, email, and/or phone number).

Step 3: Fill in With One to Three Talking Points

Now develop the body of your script. Here’s where you tell your story. Most videos are short (30-90 seconds) — just enough time to make a couple of points. You need to decide whether you want to dive into one point or skim lightly over two to three points. The more you have to say about any one topic, the fewer topics you should have. Jot down a few five or six words for each bullet point. As you write, hone your message so that it is tightly focused. If there’s a specific example you want to use, note it. Write down specific words or phrases you need to remember.

Tips

  • Worried about forgetting something? Keep your notes on your smartphone or on a pad nearby and refer to them if you need to when you’re recording.
  • I get asked a lot whether someone should share personal information. It depends on your audience, so you need to know who you’re talking to. For example, bankers, accountants, and lawyers may be more comfortable with bare facts. Parents might want to know a bit about you as a person before they trust you.
  • A little humor can work, but it can be tricky to pull off. If you’re not a natural with humor, don’t force it. And if you are, avoid snark and irony; even with body language, it may not work. (Your audience may be listening but not watching the video.)

Step 4: Practice, But Don’t Practice Too Much

Practice enough so you’re comfortable, but not so much that you sound rote. Be able to deliver your opening and closing as scripted, but allow yourself to explore your topic in different ways with each run through. You may discover something you forgot when scripting your talking points or find a better way to say it.
musician practicing
An old Toastmasters trick: memorize your opening and closing sentences. Know the major points you want to make, and let your words flow naturally as you move from open to close.

Tip

It’s perfectly OK to get excited, even passionate about your subject. Just don’t overdo it and don’t fake it. Too much practice will kill the passion; don’t let that happen.

Do I Need a Videographer For a Memorable Video?

It depends. Some of the most effective videos I’ve seen were shot on a smartphone with no set, script, or video team. They succeed because the speaker is passionate about their topic and they want to share that excitement with you. Their energy shines through and pulls you in. But there’s a good argument for paying a professional videographer. It takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you’re not technically inclined. A professional videographer will add polish to the final product, in ways you probably can’t. I’m all for paying a pro to do something I can’t do as well. In the long run, a professional videographer can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. They can be well worth the investment.

More Examples

If you want to see a wide range of videos, from polished to home-made on no budget, check out Indiegogo. It’s a fundraising site for everything from start-ups to non-profits, and most projects include a video. Some are great, some are awful. Worth the look. And stay tuned to my website. I’ve been exploring videos lately and hope to be adding some soon. Oh, and don’t forget to lock the door to the room to keep pets out while you’re recording your memorable video.

How to Write a Killer Bio

At some point in your professional life, you’ve probably been asked to write a bio. When you protest, you’re told “It’s simple. Just a few facts. Really, we don’t need much.” Ack.
It’s not all that simple. How do you know what facts to include and what to leave out? What will your audience find interesting? And what the heck do you do if hate to talk about yourself? Ack!
Here’s an outline to get you started, some tips to help you along, and a great resource with examples and templates.

Write Your Own Bio

  1. write a bioFind out what the bio will be used for and understand readers’ expectations. There are probably length limitations; it’s best to know before you start to write. No point in writing 500 words when 50 will do, or in embarrassing yourself by handing over something much shorter than expected.
  2. Who are you writing for? Your bio needs to be written so that it that meets your audience’s expectations. Bankers, accountant, and lawyers? Keep it formal and fact-based. Moms and dads? Less formal is fine—they want to feel they know you, so including a personal detail or two is good.
  3. Where will they read it? Is this for social media, a presentation you’re giving, or for a website? Length will also be an issue here. You want crisp and tight, especially for Twitter. Longer and more wordy is OK for a handout or a website when there are fewer restrictions on space. But don’t ramble on! You still want to keep it crisp.
  4. Line up your facts. What is it your audience will most likely want to know about you? How much of your professional life/career will they want to know? Would they care what your hobbies are? Use 10 years as a guideline, but know your audience. Academics will want to know your complete CV (space allowing). Parents and colleagues will care more about your more recent experience. Include your degrees; include certifications and awards if they’re relevant or demonstrate something important about you. Add hobbies if you’re comfortable sharing personal details. Some folks aren’t—and some audiences don’t care.
  5. A bio isn’t a resume. Summarize your facts in paragraphs, using complete sentences and correct punctuation. Start with your present situation and write in reverse chronological order. Next most recent situation or job, the one before that, then the one before that. You get the picture.
  6. Let a bit of your personality shine through. This is you you’re talking about after all. Balance your audience expectations with who you are. A stand-up comedian or improv artist would likely show their sense of humor. A doctor might prefer to show her human side, or perhaps mention a research project she’s particularly proud of. If you have a hobby you’re proud of, mention it. For example, I love to cook and knit. It’s something that I’m willing to share with my audience and it helps them get to know me better.
  7. Review review review. Send your draft to others and ask for their input. Review first for factual accuracy. Then review for flow—does the bio make sense? Next tackle grammar and punctuation. (Don’t rely on spell/grammar checkers!!!) Finally, give it a good copy edit. Have others do this for you if you can—another pair of eyes (or two) will catch things you’ll miss.
  8. Submit and ask for feedback. Some folks won’t care; others will want to rewrite your entire bio. Be sure you control the final product.

Tips

  • Explain it to Grandmaif you get stuck, use the grandmother trick. How would you explain what you’ve done to your grandmother?
  • Watch out for humor, especially if you tend toward the ironic or snarky. What’s funny or edgy delivered in person might seem cold and callous on paper.
  • Read your bio out loud and see how it sounds. More and more people are relying on the spoken word from their devices. Make sure your bio flows when you read it out loud.
  • When copyediting, read your bio backward. Errors will pop out more clearly.
  • Don’t let great be the enemy of good. There is such a thing as too much review where you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns. Time to let your baby go.
  • If you are asked frequently for your bio and you feel like you’ve got to rewrite it every time, stop. Do you really need a custom bio for each event? If you do (and you may), create a master bio and select what content you want from that. Stop reinventing the wheel.

Examples

A number of sites offer great bios, templates, and examples. Among the best I’ve found is from HubSpot. It includes examples for everything from Twitter to longer form bios, along with more tips for how to get this job done.