Words are funny things. Sometimes the way a word sounds isn’t how it is spelled, even if our teachers did say to ‘sound it out’. Sometimes words can have more than one meaning. Sometimes words can be beautiful and poetic, capturing a heart or soul. Sometimes they can be used to inflict pain, the kind that scars the heart and soul.
When it comes to your business, words may be more important than you know and can wield the same powers to capture or harm your customers, or significantly impact their perception of you. You use them as part of your copy or content on your website, on your social media, in your email campaigns, on your signs, commercials, and in your interactions with your (hopeful) customers and clients.
I think of my mother and her voice reminding me to ‘choose my words carefully’, meaning that depending on the situation, I could get myself into big trouble if I speak before I think.
This old saying holds true in developing your Brand and the marketing that supports it. Planning is critical in developing content. In this context, ‘content’ is different than ‘copy’ in that copy refers to elements of advertising such as brochures, ads, commercials, etc… My focus on content is geared towards creating a user-friendly experience through the Internet, which will help users find solutions to what they are looking for and create conversations. Seems simple, right? Not exactly. The job of a copy writer is much different than a content strategist in that the latter has to consider many factors that make the internet truly unique when it comes to its audience and advertising, marketing, and branding all the while being aware of keywords, links, page structure, and so on, and so on…
Whatever element you are working on, there are three important questions you need to answer:
1. What is your goal?
2. What will the reader/visitor want to know?
3. How can you develop & engage in a conversation (create a call-to-action)?
The answers will be different for everyone. You may notice that I didn’t add, ‘What do you want them to know?’ There is a reason for that – the answer to that question really doesn’t matter. You need to provide the reader/visitor with the information THEY want to know and are looking for.
A website developer worth his salt holds true to a phrase often used in the industry, ‘Content is King.’ There is no substitute for sufficient, unique, meaningful, and sought after content (which also includes images and videos). So, I’m now going to give you a few tips in developing your own content for different elements of your online marketing. First let’s tackle email campaigns and Social Media.
Email Campaigns are those mailings that you send out to a targeted group with one, or, several messages or topics. In these communications *Don’t:*
**Be long winded.** An email blast should be one topic with a specific purpose & target audience. Try to keep a newsletter to three main topics and keep your paragraphs short, 250 words should be the max. If you need to, link to your website ‘for more information.’ Use the sidebar for quick tidbits, for example, “Come see our new display pond at…,” or “Refer a friend & receive a finny friend (value $50).”
**Steal.** I hate scraped content. Somehow with the growth of the Internet there is also a growth in plagiarism. Just because you read it on the web doesn’t mean you can take the information (copy and paste) and use it as your own. It is stealing. Period. Don’t do it. It ruins your credibility. At the very least, ask the writer for permission to use it and make sure you cite that person in your newsletter. The best thing to do is write the content yourself (unique content). If you are not comfortable with doing that, work with a content strategist who can take your ideas and information and put them into a meaningful article.
**Use bad pictures.** Make sure that when your campaign is delivered the image will be clear and not grainy, out of focus, or too small. Oh yeah. Don’t steal those either.
**Talk about yourself.** That’s great. You just went to a conference and won some award that no one else has ever heard of before. That information really doesn’t do anything for the reader of a newsletter or email blast. Save it for a press release. That’s where it belongs (if it’s actual news).
My last article, in *POND Trade Magazine’s* May/June issue, tackled how to create email campaigns and avoid ending up in the dreaded SPAM folder, make sure you read that again as all of that information fits in here as well.
Social Media is such a new and constantly evolving part of online interactions and marketing. But when it comes to your business, the approach is much different than your personal endeavors.
Whether you Tweet, Facebook, or get LinkedIn, the first thing you have to do is ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish on these platforms. Define your goals and set parameters for your ‘conversation’. Yes. I said conversation. It is called ‘Social Media’ for a very good reason. The intent is for the users to actually be SOCIAL.
Also, it is nice to have ‘Friends’ and ‘Fans’ (or ‘Like’ now other pages) of your colleagues & peers, but are they really going to make you money? NO. You need to be ‘friends’ with your customers & potential customers. (It is a matter of debate with me as to whether it is better for our industry, not all industries, to have your business set up as a personal page or fan page. I recommend devoting time to both equally and determining which one is more successful for you.) For me & my thoughts for our industry (small business in particular), most likely your ‘fan’ pages will not attract fans the way a celebrity’s page will, or a large restaurant chain, or a local popular hangout and does not have the same comedic appeal as the ‘I don’t know Where Waldo is, nor do I care’ page. It is easier to request ‘friends’ than recommend a page. This is something you have to consider when utilizing these applications. When you do get social, please *Don’t:*
**Advertise.** Your Tweets, Status Updates, etc… should not be a constant opportunity to talk about your latest sale or promotion. In our industry, it often also means talking about your latest project or going on a rant about the quality of your work. It just won’t work for the reader and they will tune out.
**Bring Jesus to that table.** Sounds harsh I know but religion and business are not things that mix well. Remember separation of church and state? The founding fathers knew it too. Which brings me to…
**Talk about which way you lean.** I don’t care if you are on the far left, far right, or stuck in the middle, politically speaking that is. And your customers shouldn’t care either. And, if they do, you don’t really want them to know in case they are the polar opposite. Politics and religion polarize people and that is not something you want to do when communicating for your business.
**Get personal.** What I mean is (on Facebook, MySpace, etc…), don’t use your personal page as your business page and vice-versa. Your customers don’t want to know the intimate details of your life and relationships. Have a separate page for each and keep it that way. For both email campaigns and Social Media, *Do:*
**KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).** Don’t get all technical on your audience. Write things in a way they will understand.
**Give out valuable information.** Talk about things that matter to your customers. Yes, they will OCCASIONALLY want to know what sales you have going on, but really they want to know how to get the most out of your products & services in a non-salesy way. The key to this is really understanding your audience.
**Link.** Provide links to websites and articles that will be valuable to your fans and friends. Let them know that you are constantly on the lookout for information for them and that you are a valuable resource to them.
**Be Brief.** No further explanation needed. This is very, very important in email campaigns.
**Be Consistent.** The hardest thing is making the commitment that once you start, you keep it going. If people start following you in Social Media and like what you have to say, they will look for your posts. The same thing applies to email campaigns. A well-done newsletter will be anxiously awaited by its recipients.
**Website Content** is a bit different. In my mind this is truly where ‘Content is King.’ Where there is bad content, there is anarchy.
My secret weapon (and this is top-secret information) for developing website content is (drum roll please…) *THE OUTLINE.*
It is something we all learned to do in school. We take information and we put it into outline form so that we can organize the information in a way that makes sense. The same can be applied to developing your website content. Here is an example:
I. Home Page
a. About Us
i. Our Company
ii. Meet Our Staff
iii. Our Locations
i. Pond Supplies
iii. Pond Plants
ii. Pondless Waterfalls
iii. Rainwater Harvesting
i. Pond Care Tips
e. Contact Us
i. Contact Us Form
When developing a site I firmly believe this is the first step to developing a GREAT website. Forget colors, or logo placement, or font size (although they are important too). To be blunt, if your content sucks, so does your website. It will be a one-time visit. Your visitors will see everything they need to see the first time they go there and then not have much reason to go back.
**What does this mean?**
It means your website, your CONTENT, is a constant work-in-progress. It is something you should update at least once a month at a minimum. It is something that should grow with your business, it should be your best salesperson & showroom, and it should be a valuable resource to your customers and any other visitors. One of the best examples that I know of in the industry is Stone Forest Materials http://stoneforest.net . (Disclaimer: Yes. My company did it and I am biased. But, it really is good.) What makes this site great is that they work on it constantly. Updates, new pages, new content, new pictures, new events, new news, new products, new programs, new features, and lots more.
All of these updates and phases to development also mean that you have to plan. I know I say that in probably every article I write, but that is because it is one thing that is vital to any successful marketing plan and the one thing that small businesses rarely do or do well.
Once you have a general outline, you can start filling in information. Short, descriptive paragraphs are best. You want to be able to say exactly what you want the visitor to know without dragging it out. Remember, the Internet is FAST. People move and navigate quickly through a site doing more skimming than reading in search of exactly what they are looking for and quick to move on to the next site. Also, while filling in the information, you may see gaps in the content, things you haven’t considered and want to let people know about your company. This is good because you can either fill it in now or plan to use that content later in future phases and updates to the site.
Outlining your information can also help determine the navigation of your site which will help the visitor find the information they want and need quickly and easily. Once you have developed the content for your site, it will also help you determine where you want to add information down the road in future phases of your website or in updates.
There is another benefit to good content and updates to your website: organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search Engines love to see relevant and fresh content. Equally important is UNIQUE content. For all of those in the industry who (wrongly) believe that they can take information from a source, change the city, state, and zip or add a couple of words and it will pass as good content, the search engines know it and may penalize you for it. Creating unique content and adding to it will increase your search engine rankings. So before you spend money hiring a SEO professional, first take a look at your site and see what changes you can make yourself over a period of six months and be sure to track your results during that time (Google Analytics is a great tool, as long as you actually use it).
As I have said before, you MUST update your website regularly if you want to get the best results from it. But, if you have done your updates and are still not getting the results you’re looking for, first speak to your site’s developer for suggestions then go to a SEO pro-fessional. (Please note that I hold good, qualified, and reputable SEO pro-fessionals in high regard. When you have already optimized your content, they are a valuable resource.) And, don’t forget to promote your website and drive traffic to it.
No matter what you are developing, or who you are talking to, the words you choose can define you in either a good way or a bad way. Remember to choose your words carefully to help build your Brand and your business.
For more information on Social Media, Read: Social Media Marketing Madness by Pamela Greiner in POND Trade Magazine’s July/August 2009 Issue. Or visit: www.pondtrademag.com/articles/ar-60 for more information on Search Engine Optimization, visit: www.seomoz.org