writing for the web

[099] Shut up and write with Stella Orange

Do you ever struggle to get words on the page?

If so, you'll love this episode with copywriter Stella Orange, who shares her tips on writing stylish copy - fast.

Here’s what's covered in this episode:

  • Stella's business story - from outdoors educator to copywriter
  • Stella's tips on writing great copy - quickly
  • Common mistakes people make when writing sales copy
  • Stella's thoughts on tackling writer's block (and why it's rarely a writing problem)
  • How Stella has created multiple streams of income in her business including her Write Club

Key resources

Stella's website

Stella on Twitter 

Stella's blog post on why you may not need to write a sales page 

How to get people to say 'yes' to you with Matthew Kimberley (episode 57)

How to have better sales conversations with Petra Foster (episode 71)

Soulful PR Session with Angela CorpeITV's Good Morning Britain (Oct 20)

Soulful PR session with Hannah Fearn, opinion editor, the Independent (Nov 23)

Soulful PR session with Andrea Thompson, Features Director, Marie Claire magazine,The Guardian (Dec 15)

**MY BOOK ** Your Press Release Is Breaking My Heart (A Totally Unconventional Guide To Selling Your Story In The Media)

My Soulful PR group coaching  programme (next intake starts in March)

The Soulful PR Business Club 

My FREE Soulful PR Facebook Community

Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

What to do next

If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it using the social media buttons at the top of this page.

I’d also love it if you could take a few minutes to  leave an honest review and rating for the podcast on itunes. I read every one personally and may even read yours out on the show.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live.

The only thing you need to know about PR (if you want want to be awesome at it)...

If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably heard me to talk about Andy. If that applies to you, stick with me for a moment while I fill everyone in.

I met Andy at an event I was running last month called What Journalists Want - an annual workshop where I get journalists and PR pros together to talk about what makes a great media story.

Andy was working at the venue, and as we were setting up for the event, he mentioned he was holding his first photography exhibition.

“I used to be homeless, see,” he told me. “So I photographed every doorway I ever slept in.’

I wanted to hear his story and I knew others would, too. So I introduced him to colleagues from the national media and, a few days before his exhibition, I did a ring round to remind them. 

To date, he’s had coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC London, the Evening Standard, Huffington Post & Buzzfeed.  

You can see his story here on BBC London (start watching at 20.59)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06r71qd/bbc-london-news-07122015

And here's me and Andy at his exhibition at the Swiss Church in Covent Garden. London

JM&ANDY,

The irony is, of course, is that there I was hosting a conference for people are paid to work in PR - who had paid hundreds of pounds to come to the event - and the best story of the day came from a casual conversation with a guy working at the venue.

No PR company. No press release. No pitch.

Just a good story. The kind of story you want to talk about with your friends.

The more I tell that story, the more I think it tells you everything you need to know about PR.

When Andy told me about his exhibition, I wanted to hear his story. I wanted to read it in a newspaper, see it on TV or listen to it on the radio.

I had exactly the same feeling when a client told me his parents had separated in their eighties (inspiring his relationship coaching business). When another client told me she wasn’t buying any Christmas presents this year. And when another - an expat living in Denmark - told me about the Danish concept of hygge.

The first story has been commissioned the by the Guardian, the second by the Daily Mail, the third by the Huffington Post.

Proof that they are stories people want to hear.

PR is really just about telling stories.

But where most people go wrong is this: they pitch stories they want to tell rather than stories people want to hear.

Which is why most press releases and pitches you send to journalists get deleted, unopened.

And here's another thing: the stories people want to hear are often the ones you least want to tell. Which can mean making yourself vulnerable: to other peoples' opinions and possibly even their criticism. But in vulnerability there is also an opportunity to connect (which is why this article on why we need to talk about miscarriage  got 10,000 social shares in a matter of days).

So if you’re thinking of sending out a press release or pitch today - you have a choice.

You can keeping pitching the stories you want to tell: the new appointments, the product launches or ‘groundbreaking’ projects that no one wants to hear about.

Or you can take a step back and ask yourself: ‘how can I turn this into a story people want to hear?’

Maybe you can’t. In that case you need to ask yourself this: ‘what stories can I tell that  people do want to hear?’

 

Want to know more? Sign up for my FREE five day training course

[007] How to build a blog that gets noticed with Kyla Roma

A business blog can help you build influence, strengthen your relationship with clients and attract new ones. But where should you host your blog? What kind of content should you create? And - in a crowded blogosphere - how can you make sure yours stands out?

Read on and find out...

Here’s what we cover in this episode:

  • How to create an effective business blog for less than $100
  • Getting help building a website if you don’t want to build your own
  • Where to find free/low cost images (and the difference it can make to your blog)
  • How to blog if you don’t like writing
  • The secret of generating compelling content - and headlines

Key resources and links

Free or low-cost images: death to the stock photo, Unsplash & Pexels.

Beaverbuilder drag and drop WordPress website builder.

The Asking Formula by Ryan Levesque.

Kyla Roma's website.

Kyla on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram

How to do PR when you’re an introvert 

What to do next

If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it using the social media buttons at the top of this page.

I’d also love it if you could take a few minutes to leave an honest review and rating for the podcast on itunes. I read every one personally and may even read yours out on the show.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live.

How to write ridiculously useful web copy

Are you completely focused on reading this article?

Perhaps you’re watching television or flicking between this post and your inbox.

Maybe you’re in a meeting.

Even if you’re 100 percent focused right now, I bet you’ve multi-tasked today: checking Facebook over breakfast, reading emails during a meeting or watching television while you shop online.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that most people don’t read web copy, word-for-word.

They skim and scan.

Keep it simple

When you’re writing for the web, you need to keep it simple. That means short words, sentences and paragraphs. No complex or technical vocabulary. And no ‘word waste’ (that’s anything that doesn’t add meaning or insight).

Choose strong verbs, use adjectives sparingly and your writing will have more bite.

It’s the difference between this:

The keen sharp spike of pleasure when I make something new and an all consuming feeling that continues to drive me to explore more.

and this:

Cooking excites me.

Every word works for its place on the page.

Just as it should do.

Break it up

According to the  latest research, the average attention span is now just eight seconds.

So when you’re writing for the web, you need to break up your text with bullet points, subheadings and images.

Add value by adding hyperlinks - both to your own site - like this article on 11 signs you're a good writer (word nerds will love #11) - and to other peoples’, like Hubspot’s 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on your website. Should you care?

Use active voice

Note the difference between these two sentences:

The newspaper is being read by the girl (passive voice)

and

The girl is reading the newspaper (active voice)

The second is more engaging because the subject of the sentence (i.e. the girl) is performing the action stated by the verb (reading the newspaper). It is more direct and uses less words.

The wrongness of passive voice isn’t universal, but wouldn’t it have been clearer if I had said passive voice isn’t always wrong?

p.s. I stole that line from this Copyblogger article but that’s ok. Here’s why it’s good to be a copycat.

Write killer headlines

Sadly there’s no magic formula for headline writing (although I’ve written more here about what motivates people to read, watch or listen to something). But some types of headlines do seem to work with most audiences.

Posing questions works well - as in this post: Want to get more press coverage? Try using these 9 influential words. It’s also a bit of a tease, as is 23 questions you should ask yourself before you pitch an idea to a journalist. It’s no accident that both use numbers (the odder the better) as does my most popular post: 49 words you should avoid in your press releases. Putting contrasting ideas together can also be effective, as I found with another of my greatest hits: why using big words can make you look stupid. 

You might also like how to write exciting copy about boring things.

Do think about what people might type into a search engine to find your content and try to use key words and phrases in your headline (and opening paragraph). But don’t get too hung up on SEO.

Quality should come first.

Always.

How to write a blog post every day (21 tips to get you started)...

If writing is part of your job, you’ll know that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike. To get that press release or article done you just have to sit down and write - even when you’re feeling stuck, stale or just short on good ideas.

But when it comes to blogging too many people lose momentum - or put off starting a blog altogether - because they fear they will run out of ideas.

When I first started this blog, I was keen to build up a bank of content, so I posted every day for several months, which wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined. And although I don’t need to post every day any more, I’m pretty confident that if I needed to, I could.

So if you have to create content every day for your job (or you’d like to) here’s some tips to get you started.

1. Steal ideas

The internet is full of stuff that will ensure you never run short of inspiration, from content idea generators like this one to other peoples’ blog posts, podcasts and headlines. And the best thing is...it's all FREE! Read more about how to steal ideas in this blog post:

Why it’s good to be a copycat (plus five ideas you can steal from me)

2. Keep a list of headlines

Create a spreadsheet to record headline or blog posts that catch your attention. I’ve currently got around a hundred on mine, which I’m constantly adding to, so if I’m running low on inspiration, I’ve always got ideas to work with.

If you’re on the move, use a tool like Pocket or Evernote to ‘grab’ content ideas to add onto your spreadsheet at a later date.

3. Write at the same time every day

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what gets you there.’

Make a commitment to write at the same time each day (such as first thing in the morning) and you’re much more likely to stick to your plan.

4. Use a timer

As the adage goes ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’

I often set my timer for paragraphs or sections of articles I’m writing. I planned this post (see point 6) and decided which articles I was going to link to in advance, but I’m setting my timer for two minutes per point, which stops me wasting time.

N.B I completed this one with 49 seconds to spare!

5. Use lists and numbers

People love list and numbered posts because they’re easy to scan and share. The three top performing posts on my blog are all list posts.

49 words you should avoid in your press releases

Eight things you can do to boost your press coverage when you don’t have any news

Four mistakes you might be making with your 'about' page 

6. Plan before you write

Speed up the writing process by finding any blog posts or articles you’re going to link to before you start writing. If you’re not stopping and starting to look things up, you’ll write much quicker.

7. Keep a list of questions

A good business or professional blog should provide value to readers (see 24), helping them solve their problems or just make their life easier in some way. So keeping a list of frequently asked questions can be a great way to create content. I keep a running list of questions people ask at my live training events. I also sometimes send out surveys to my email subscribers (using free tools like Wufoo) asking people about the challenges they are facing in their job/business, which is great way to generate content ideas.

8. Say something unexpected

People love controversy and debate, so statements that surprise people can be excellent click bait. My posts on why big words can make you look stupid and why it's good to be a copycat (plus five ideas you can steal from me) are amongst the best performing on my blog because they challenge received wisdom.

9. Create ‘how to’ posts

‘How to’ posts are always popular with readers and allow you present content in a more attractive, accessible way with screenshots, images and photographs. There are plenty of resources to help you create attractive images such as Canva and Picmonkey.  You can even add audio and video files with resources like AudioBoo and Screenflow.

My post on how to write exciting copy about boring things is one of the most popular on my blog.

10. Tell a story

People love stories, so don’t be afraid to mine your own life (or your friends’ - with their approval of course) for material. What tackling my fear of water taught me about getting press coverage is one of the most popular on this blog.

11. Create a content schedule

It doesn’t matter how creative you are,  there will be times when you’re stuck for ideas. That’s why creating a content schedule (which can just be a simple spreadsheet) listing what you’re going to write and when can be a lifesaver. If you’ve got a title and a commitment to post on a particular day, you’re far less likely to procrastinate.

12. Accept failure is inevitable

There will be times when you write something that doesn’t go down as well as expected. You may even find yourself on the receiving end of criticism or even abuse (thankfully the latter is rare). Analyse what went wrong (and what you might have done differently) and move on - quick.

13. Keep an eye on your webstats

Sounds obvious, but if you notice particular kinds of content e.g. list posts is performing well with your audience, you should probably do more of the same.

14. Make use of ‘dead’ time

Don’t waste that 20 minute train journey or wait for a meeting messing about on the internet. If you plan out your blog posts in advance, you can write chunks of it when you get ‘dead’ time.

A single blog post generally takes me 1-2 hours (including planning), which means I can get a section of a post written on my 17 minute train journey into London. It doesn’t sound like much, but it all adds up...

15. Don’t navel-gaze

The single biggest mistake I see people making with blogs is to write solely about themselves/their organisation...which makes pretty dull reading for most people. Be honest with yourself: will anyone really care about your charity fundraising day or your CEO’s rambling thoughts on suchandsuch?

Keep in mind that business or professional blogs should help your audience solve their problems or make their lives easier in some way and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

16. Write in batches

A quick admission: I don’t do this myself because the thought of spending eight hours’ solid writing blog posts doesn’t appeal to me. But, for some people, blocking out a day or a month (or a week, depending on how much content you have to create) can be a great way to get the job done.

17. Bring together opposing ideas

If you’re stuck for inspiration, putting together two opposing ideas can be a great way to generate content - and it’s create clickbait for headlines. How to write exciting copy about boring things is really popular on this blog, as is why using big words can make you look stupid. 

18. Use guest posters

This isn’t something I do very often because of my USP (the fact I’m a journalist giving advice on PR), but can be a great way to generate fresh content - and a new audience - for your blog.

19. Repurpose old content

I recently carried out a ‘content audit’ of my blog, getting rid of anything I felt was out of date or below par. The process gave me loads of ideas on how I might repurpose existing content e.g. refreshing/updating old blog posts, turning list posts into separate blog posts, putting the content into different formats (e.g. presentations, infographics, video lessons etc), offering it for guest posts...

Here are two blog posts I’ve found really useful on the topic:

12 ways to extend the life of every article you write

Three clever things to do with old blog posts

20. Pose questions

Questions can be a great way to ‘hook’ readers in, as with this example:

Think you need to hire a PR company? Read this. 

21. Find news hooks

Current news stories can also be a great ‘hook’ for blog posts (particularly if they are a bit off beat or ‘quirky’).

 

Four mistakes you might be making with your 'about' page...

Five mistakes you might be making with (5)

“Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

That’s what the author Daniel Pink  told delegates at the American Booksellers' Association's annual conference back in 2012.

He was absolutely right. We’re all selling something (if it’s not products or services, it’s ideas) and social media puts us right in front of our potential customers, every single day.

Your ‘about’ page is one of the most important sales opportunities for your business or organisation (it’s certainly one of the most visited pages on my website). It tells people what you do and communicates your vision and values. But many businesses or organisations overlook the opportunity to sell themselves.

While there’s no magic formula for the perfect ‘about’ page (what works for one business or organisation may not necessarily work for another), there are some definite no-nos. Here’s a round-up of the most common mistakes:

1. It’s all about you, you you!

It’s so obvious that people miss it.

Your ‘about’ page shouldn’t be about you; it should be about how your products and/or services can help people.

Think about the last time you visited an ‘about’ page. Perhaps you needed information (as a journalist, I often look at ‘about’ pages to check if an organisation is the right source for a quote) or wanted to buy in some expertise (copywriting or design, for example).

You didn’t want a long, rambling history. You wanted a couple of paragraphs that would tell you if the organisation or individual could help solve your problems.

So don’t navel-gaze; create copy that shows visitors to your website how you can help them.

And remember the principle of ‘show don’t tell.’ If you’ve got a blog, provide links to your most popular posts. Or provide a downloadable tips pdf or a video lesson (add an opt-in box and you can collect email addresses for marketing purposes). Anything that demonstrates your expertise will make you far more credible.

Don’t navel-gaze; create copy that shows (1)

2. You haven’t thought about your audience

When I ask clients what sort of people they have in mind when they’re creating web copy, they often say ‘everyone.’ But I’ve yet to come across a business without an ideal customer or a not-for-profit organisation that isn’t clear about the kind of people it wants to engage with.

If you try to create copy that appeals to ‘everyone’ you’ll end up pleasing no one. So before you start writing your ‘about’ page, ask yourself these key questions:

1. Who is your target audience (you may have several - in which case answer these questions for each type).

2. What are their biggest problems? What keeps them awake at night?

3. How can you help solve their problems/make their life easier?

Being clear about your audience will help you create the right kind of content for your audience, in the appropriate style and tone.

3. You don’t have an ‘elevator pitch’

So many ‘about’ pages leave me feeling confused. That’s because many organisations and businesses struggle to describe what they actually do. But if you want to your site visitors to stick around, you need to nail it in a sentence or two.

Take a look at the mental health charity Mind’s ‘about’ page, which makes its mission and purpose clear in just 23 words.

unnamed

 

And although the copy could be tightened up in places, Sweatshop’s ‘about’ page is clear about the company’s mission: is help runners - of all levels of experience - find the best running shoes.

4. You’re too vanilla

You’ve heard the line about people wanting to do business with people.

Yet many ‘about’ pages I see have no personality. The tone is serious, the language formal. Some are stuffed with technical jargon.  And they’re often written in the third person, which can alienate the reader.

You can’t get a feel for the people behind the business or organisation. So there's no heart in it.

In my own About Me page, I’ve been really clear about how I like to work (and how I don’t). Not only does this communicate something about me as a person, it’s also about helping potential clients to decide if I’m the right person for them to work with (and saving us both time if I’m not).

Take a look at this ‘about’ page from Howie’s.

 

unnamed (2)

Not only does it tell a story (and stories can be a powerful way to draw people in), it communicates something about the company’s core values (high quality, environmentally friendly). It’s also selling a lifestyle (outdoorsy, healthy, green) that potential customers can identify with. Notice too the kind of language and phrases used: ‘we believe’ + ‘last longer’ + ‘better for the environment’ + ‘no silly stuff’ + ‘common sense.’

It can be helpful to think of your ‘about’ page like the blurb on the back of a book (or if you’ve gone paperless, like me, the ‘product description’ on Amazon). That means keeping it crisp and punchy: short sentences, short paragraphs and simple words.

Did you find this article useful? If so, why not post a link to your ‘about’ page in the comments section below with your comments or questions...