Expert marketing help for small businesses

Content Marketing Insights For Small Businesses

Content Marketing Insights For Small Businesses

5 Critical Writing Tips Your Business Can't Afford To Ignore

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You don't always get a second chance to make a great first impression. Your website copy is on the front lines. Make sure it's dressed to impress!

Your words have a lot of power in helping potential customers learn more about you, trust you, and be persuaded to buy from you. Every day, consumers make snap judgements about brands based on what is written on their websites, social media networks, emails, and digital ads.

Is your writing doing its job?  

Does it effectively communicate your brand's value, connect with your audience, demonstrate your expertise, and prove your credibility? With so much content being published every 60 seconds online, the bar for quality writing has never been higher. 

Luckily, you've come to the right place. I've come up with what I believe are the most important parts of creating a quality piece of writing.

1.  Write for your audience. 

There's one thing you absolutely need to do before you start. Define your audience. Knowing who you're writing for will help you determine the appropriate tone, voice, length of copy, word choice, and type of information to include in your copy.

12 questions to help you identify your target audience: 

  1. Are they predominately male or female?
  2. What generation do they make up? (Generation Z, Millennials, Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers)
  3. What are their interests?
  4. What are their life experiences?
  5. What is their stage of life? (retired, married, single, single with kids, college student, etc.)
  6. What are their biggest pain points?
  7. What are the best digital channels to reach them?
  8. Do they prefer short or long pieces of content?
  9. What information do they need to take the next step to making a purchase? 
  10. Where do they live? Are they local, national, or international?
  11. What language do they speak?
  12. Do they own or rent a home? Own or lease a car? 

2.  Make your writing easy to understand. 

A good rule of thumb: Your basic level of understanding is usually your reader's advanced level of understanding. Don't assume they are on your level and know your industry, business, and services like you do. Put yourself in their shoes. For example, I recently wrote some instructions to help some of our clients post content to social media. One of our account managers reminded me that the word "boost" in the sentence, "We recommend you spend about $20 to boost this post," would be confusing to our audience of small businesses owners—who know very little about managing social media.

For me, this is basic marketing 101, but for an auto body shop owner or pest control business, it probably isn't. 

Making your writing easy to understand, doesn't mean dumbing it down so much that you become condescending to your audience. There's a fine line between using business jargon and using first grade vocabulary and semantics. Unless you're writing a legal or highly technical document, keep jargon out of it. Even if your audience knows what you're talking about, you will only appear stuffy and out of touch. 

Most people prefer to read copy that has a conversational tone.

It’s ok to be less formal and include contractions like it's (for it is) and they'll (for they will). You can also use first person "I" and "we" and  second person, "you" and "your." 

3.  Get to the point faster.

Studies show you have about eight seconds (five-seconds for Millennials) to get someone's attention. So, stop beating around the bush and get to the point already. 

Drawn-out sentences confuse the reader and muddy your message. William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well," declares, "If you find yourself hopelessly mired in a long sentence, it's probably because you're trying to make the sentence do more than it can reasonably—perhaps express dissimilar thoughts. The quickest way out is to break the long sentence into two short sentences, or even three." 

He further suggests—and I agree 100%—to "keep your paragraphs short. Writing is visual—catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain. Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas a long chunk of type can discourage a reader from even starting to read."

After you've written a few drafts, go through your copy and delete any unnecessary or filler words.

 Grammarly recommends you avoid using words and phrases that include: 

  1. At all times
  2. Each and every
  3. In order
  4. Basically, essentially
  5. Totally, completely, absolutely, literally, actually
  6. Very, real, quite, rather, extremely
  7. That
  8. In the process of
  9. Being that
  10. As being
  11. During the course of
  12. For all intents and purposes
  13. Point in time
  14. Pretty
  15. Simply

4.  Be original. 

I love Jason Fried's (Basecamp co-founder) description of the sad state of most online content, "If you could taste words, most corporate websites, brochures, and sales materials would remind you of stale, soggy rice cakes: nearly calorie free, devoid of nutrition, and completely unsatisfying."

So many businesses fall into the trap of copying what their competitors are writing, because they either don't have the time to come up with something original themselves or lack the talent to do so. Don't compromise the quality of your writing. It's not worth it. 

If you need some inspiration, follow brands like Jet Blue, Copyblogger, and Woot.com, who have each nailed great copywriting with a unique voice and brand personality. 

I love Woot.com's description of themselves on their website:

Woot.com is an online store and community that focuses on selling cool stuff cheap. It started as an employee-store slash market-testing type of place for an electronics distributor, but it's taken on a life of its own. We anticipate profitability by 2043—by then we should be retired; someone smarter might take over and jack up the prices. Until then, we're still the lovable scamps we've always been.

This may not speak to everyone, but it definitely speaks to me—someone who loves her daily dose of snark. They aren't trying to appeal to the masses but only to those who will appreciate their light-hearted sarcasm as much as they value the products they sell. Their writing is honest and real, which definitely gets my vote!

I suggest checking out Copyblogger's "The Art Of Being Interesting," for twenty-one techniques to make your writing more interesting. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Unleash your inner dork. (That's me!)
  • Be startlingly honest. (I love Halloween demon babies. Yes I do!)
  • Disprove the proven. (Elvis is alive. Or dead. I don't know. They've both been proven, haven't they?)
  • Tell a good story. (I liked watching my grandmother embalm bodies when I was a kid. Too much, too soon?)
  • Predict the future. (I predict this article will get 5 million shares. Thank you in advance!)

There's more. Click to get the full list. 

5. Be relevant.

Not only should your writing be interesting and authentic, it also needs to be relevant. What's the point in putting on a wildly entertaining dog and pony show if your audience hates dogs and ponies? 

While you're trying to be interesting, don't forget to include the most important part of the equation: relevant and useful information that will either help your customers solve a problem or get them closer to making a purchase from you! 

If you're thinking, "This is great advice and everything, but I'm not a good writer," you might consider hiring one. And boy (or girl), are you in luck! 

I'm here to help if you need it!

Melissa Garcia