The Sarky Type – content with more bite

Oi! Business owner, you can’t hide, I can still see you (and your clichéd phrases).

If it makes you feel better, many businesses barf up hackneyed lines all over their website. 

But why?

Old habits die hard

That would have been a great title for that particular film franchise. A missed opportunity.

Without doing research, I can’t answer definitively.

(I’m so lazy.)

Instead, you can have my opinion based on my experience as a website builder and business writer. 

I think all these clichéd phrases are a hangover from early sites. 

The Hangover was a terrible movie.

Some find it difficult to shake off their stuffy business sensibilities. Even when they want to change things up, they still lean towards playing it safe.

Back in the 90s/00s the rules were clear: speak corporate professional jargon. Business-to-business (B2B) copy is legally obliged to be uninteresting.

This is probably why organisations have been spewing this shit across their web pages for years. They assumed it was what their clients wanted. Trouble is, not many bothered to ask their clients what they wanted.

This stuff lingers on.

Marry that with ‘industry best practice’ and you’ve got yourself some of the worst content imaginable.

As business owners, we’ve found ourselves in an odd situation. We’ve unwittingly created a terrible template for business copy

Business-to-consumer (B2C) swerves the problem

B2C websites are for public consumption. 

They get to relax the tone, drop in a little conversational writing and no one faints at the audacity. 

Side note: before you turn your nose up at conversational writing, it’s important for SEO. Thanks to applications like Alexa and Siri, voice search makes up 20% of the pie on mobile devices. Think about that before you write your copy like a Pathé News announcer.

Talking directly to the customer and speaking to them as a human is pretty standard when you’re selling a soft drink or gravy granules.

And yet we (for reasons unknown to me) treat other businesses like they were another species of human – a ‘professional’ human (a personality vacuum in a suit).

It’s so dumb.

Examples of B2B clichéd phrases

“We’re delighted to announce…”

This should be reserved for couples who insist on posting about the birth of their spawn on social media. 

You know the ones, they see themselves as celebrities who think all their Facebook ‘friends’ give a shit about what they’ve managed to genetically produce.

Yeah, that guy you met in Ibiza 12 years ago is desperate to know about your life milestones. 

No one in business is delighted to announce anything. And I’ll fight anyone who says they are.

(Well, I’ll pay someone to fight on my behalf. I don’t like to mess up my hair.)

“We’re the market leaders.”

Oh, well hold up! Take me to your CTA! No, take all my money immediately! Every goddam business says they’re the market leader – industries are full of ‘em.

“We are passionate about customer service.”

If you have to say you are, you’re probably not.

When B&M pop the word ‘luxury’ on their liqueur chocolates you know they lie. I can confirm that the chocolate is of poor quality and the booze inside, lighter fluid.

“We pride ourselves on…”

This phrase is usually followed up with something about customer-focused whatever. It really is another skin tag on the arsehole of business webcopy.

“We’re an innovative and agile company.”

I don’t even know what that means and that’s the trouble with all these phrases. 

Any meaning they once had has disappeared. These lines are used without conviction and they are regurgitated over and over again.

I landed on a website the other day (I was being nosy) and found this on the homepage:

“We are the people who provide advanced, cloud-led digital transformation solutions

IT companies LOVE the word, ‘Solutions’.

But “transformation solutions” has me stumped. It’s so vague. It’s something I imagine Matthew Kelly might have said on Stars in Their Eyes, “What a transformation solution!”

And mission statements

These really are a cesspool of business bullshit. 

You won’t get half a sentence in without seeing the word ‘empowering’. Potential clients love that stuff, an entire page dedicated to your “core values”.

They frankly, don’t care. 

Businesses say they’re different

But they’re not really.

Trying a new approach means taking a risk so they end up staying exactly where they are. Which is in a safe uninteresting place overrun with clichéd phrases.

Go and look at your competitors’ websites.

I guarantee you won’t be impressed.

One of the reasons for this is plenty still don’t hire professional writers. If you do, you’re already doing something different. 

Organisations that are different

Let’s take a look at a really dull sector: life insurance.

Most within that industry will euphemise the subject of death. They tread around it and avoid mentioning it, using terms like “When the unforeseen does occur”.

All their copy and content will have an air of solemn reverence – it’s never been done any other way.

Then a business called DeadHappy rocks up and all hell breaks loose. 

It wastes no time smashing through taboos.

It chucks headings on its homepage like “Die responsibly”. They have an insurance plan titled, “Make a death wish”.

Now, for the twin-set and pearls brigade, that’s a shade too far.

But that’s ok because they can pop along to SunLife and grab an over 50s plan. It’s safe to say, those people aren’t DeadHappy’s audience. 

They are cornering (and probably dominating) the younger market (which no one bothered to cater to before). Those crazy kids want insurance that’s quick to arrange without the threat of a prize draw or a free ballpoint pen. 

(They probably attract some old folks that don’t fit the stereotype.)

When I create copy I’m imagining the ideal customer as a person.

And not a faceless concept.

Sounds bloody obvious (and I’m always saying it) but only a handful of B2B peeps really do it (and do it well).

Approaching branding and in turn, copy like DeadHappy would be radical in a B2B setting. But it always comes back to the same thing for me: personality types.

Don’t just focus on the businesses within your target industry – think about the personalities within that area you’d like to attract.

Food for thought.

And if you’d like to know how I can shake up your tired business copy, hit the button.

Some of us are too busy to care about the nuanced points of content writing and copywriting.

I’m not at all busy. I hate being busy. Charge more, do less. Fuck. Yes.

Most people running a business (busy or not) don’t know (and don’t care) about the endless debate between content writing vs copywriting. 

It bores the living shit outta me too, tbh. 

Just like Bobby Brown, it’s your prerogative to avoid that particular writer’s discussion, but having a basic understanding of this thorny issue will make your website content much better. 

Content writing

Website content writing is SEO optimised text that attracts organic traffic.

Its entire purpose is to get you found by the right kind of people. Blogging is a huge part of content SEO and it’s considered (by me, at least) as the long game to attraction.

If you blog, think about the process.

I’m guessing you research the topic. You figure out the keywords you want that post to be found for and I dare say, you SEO the bejeesus out of every aspect of that post. Once it’s done, you promote the life out of it.

All that is part and parcel of brand awareness.

I nearly typed ‘bland awareness’ which for many is so apt.

All this content is building a reputation. 

And a reputation sets you up as an authority, which in turn, cultivates trust (lest we forget the E-A-T principle of SEO).

This is a drip-feed of information about what you do and what you sell to potential customers. We do that, not only on the basis that they will find us but also, remember us.

Content marketing works in a similar way to TV ads. 

You’re constantly reminding prospects who you are so when they need that thing you sell, they’ll know who to turn to.

All this happens over a long-ass period of time. 

Producing online content is relentless. It’s hard graft. But a website without a content strategy is a lame duck, and without it, your organic traffic efforts are fer nuffin’.

Copywriting

So, you’ve got some clients mooching around on your homepage, great, but now you’ve got to do something with them. 

We need to give those visitors a reason to stay and we absolutely want them to take some kind of action – an action that we have orchestrated.

Direct response copywriting is how we convince customers to do that thing. 

If you want to sell a product or get a blog sign up, you write using that technique. And it’s a technique that has hard and fast rules.

(I struggle with rules. I’m not great with authority either.)

Unlike content writing, copywriting has a short term goal.

And that goal is to elicit a decision from the reader. A decision that requires some urgency, in the same way, that infomercials want you to act now to get that half-price Dormeo mattress.

Content writing and copywriting are similar

Both techniques require you to know your target customer like your own mother.

If you don’t know your own mother, sorry. 

Content writing and copywriting is only effective if you establish a problem that you can solve.

Both also ask that you speak directly to your client. In the same way that you might have a one-to-one conversation.

Why do you need both?

Selling a product and attracting organic traffic are two different things.

The writing style you use is determined by the pages of your website, the purpose of which can vary.

A landing page, for example, has one purpose, a short term goal that requires urgent action. You’ll predominantly use copywriting on those kinds of pages.

A blog post is all about long term brand awareness so you’re much more likely to adopt content writing techniques to engage your audience.

Can you combine content writing and copywriting?

The marketing technique of mixing shit up has already been invented and it has a snazzy name… wait for it… 

Brand Response.

Christ.

Brand Response is the marketing communications industry’s Genius of the And. It sounds too good to be true. It asks us to live with two apparently contradictory ideas at the same time. It can be defined simply as a strategic and executional campaign approach where brand-building drives response and this response, in turn, builds the brand in a virtuous circle of effectiveness.”

Marketing Society

In summary, you’re getting both short term and long term goals in a single hit.

You’re doing the thing of creating a buzz around your business – building on the desire to want to be remembered for a long while to come, whilst asking of those reading your content to do something immediately after the fact.

You can do exactly that with your blog.

The dark art of merging both content writing and copywriting to murderous effect. 

I’m clearly thinking about my own blog.

If you apply the rules of direct response, all the while keeping your brand awareness sensibilities, you’ve got the basis for a cracking business blog that not only informs but converts.

Interestingly enough, direct response copywriting is often long-form, and according to Crazy Egg, it outperforms short-form by 30%. 

Oh, and the grandmaster of advertising, David Ogilvy said something along the lines, “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

What a wordsmith. Sadly, he was nowhere near as pretty on camera as his nephew. 

So, what do you do now?

Well, I suggest you mull all this over.

Take time to fully appreciate how brilliant using both techniques (and even merging the two) could be for your website. If you’re still on the fence about employing someone to write for your business, then you’ve either missed all my other posts or you don’t understand the value.

If however, you’re starting to see the proverbial light, you know where to find me.

(Hint. Click the button below.)

PS Sign up to get more of this!

SEO copywriting

In truth, this post is to remind me what the hell I’m doing as an SEO copywriter (and SEO content writer – covering all bases there). It’s also to help those who might hire me. If that isn’t you, go and do something else. 

Putting the ‘writing’ into SEO copywriting

Forget about SEO for just one moment and let’s talk about words. I’m not bad with words, I enjoy writing them.

They’re fun to be around – much more fun than any human, even the ones I think are interesting and/or bangable. And unlike the people in my life, they’re easily manipulated. I put them in whatever order I want and sometimes good stuff happens.

I’m making the point that writing well is the greatest gift you can give to your website and online environs. SEO-optimised text – with zero writing ability is keyword cramming. And that reads like shit.

Going keyword bonkers is shooting yourself in the SEO foot.

Don’t be this mug:

“We are artisan bread makers in Hull. We bake our artisan bread on-site in our bakery in Hull. We are passionate about artisan bread and are the leading artisan bread supplier in Hull”

I think you’ll agree, that was terrible.

Here are my three degrees of SEO copywriting:

  1. Get seen: be visible to those who want what you offer
  2. Attract clients: hook in prospects with excellent writing
  3. Build trust: show what you know and people will buy

Who’s all this writing for?

I’m a B2B copywriter. In plain English, I write SEO content for other business types.

I could have just said that – saved some time, but why do that when I can over-explain things? I blame mother. She gives me pointless details about mundane events, like meeting deaf Anne at Tesco:

“You remember deaf Anne – she lived at the bottom of grannies garden”

Deaf Anne sounds like a hedgehog.

“Had two sons. Married a welder”

Nope, I still have no idea.

“She was a part-time pirate. Liked to drink and dance naked at the Legion.”

Where was I? Ah, yes…

Putting the ‘SEO’ into SEO copywriting

I’ll try to make this quicker than a teenagers’ first time.

Content SEO.

Content has its own category because it’s IMPORTANT. And yet, keywords are all people talk about. The only keywords I really get giddy for are the long-tail sort (LTK) because they get to the heart of what you’re really all about. 

For example, why be an ‘accountant’ when you could be an ‘accountant helping big earners with tax avoidance schemes’. Seriously though, why be an accountant? 

I think I’ve made it pretty clear, writing shit-hot words is SEO copywriting, that also includes:

  • Understanding why you create content 
  • Knowing your audience like your own private parts
  • Being savvy about your prospects search behaviours

Technical SEO. 

I don’t fiddle with the arse-end of websites, and I don’t write code (I google code). In terms of content writing, the (sort of) technical aspects of SEO that I dabble in are:

  • Permalink structures (the links for each post/page)
  • Meta titles and descriptions (the snippet that shows in the search results)

On-page SEO.

SEO is about making what you’re selling, easy to find but also, easy to consume. Text-dumping on a page without formatting is a shoddy way to behave. When I write something nice for you I’ll also be doing this:

  • Creating a hook-worthy title
  • Laying down some subheadings 
  • Recommending internal links
  • Suggesting outbound links (to back up any claims made)
  • Add keywords
  • Include a CTA (Call To Action)

Adding the LOLs to the copy

Humour sells.

We like to laugh, and we remember the ad campaigns that made us snigger. I write copy for businesses that want that. Humour is subjective and so is great branding.

I’m telling you now, you shouldn’t try to be the everyman in your industry.

It doesn’t matter if your business sells to other companies or the great unwashed, you need to decide who’s buying your product. A client will usually give me a starting point (favourite comedian or funny brand) as inspiration and off I go, giving them that thing. It’s like acting only I don’t have to leave the house.

Here’s how I work

Having to deal with rubbish clients grinds my gears but it means I’ve refined my process to avoid the dickwads. I now get the prospects I want.

What I need from you.

A sense of humour and a lot of information. I’m going to ask you questions, lots of questions, and some might be tricky to answer but answer them you must for I won’t be able to produce top-notch ‘hilarious’ content without those answers.

Research.

I online stalk your business. I research your industry, the chosen topic, and your target market. I check out your potential clients’ search behaviours, and research long-tail keywords that are relevant to the copy.

Writing.

I’ll be writing as you (or me, if you want me as a guest blogger) and based on all the info I gather, you’ll get original wordage for your brandage.

First draft.

I understand you’ll want to make sure I’m giving you what you want. I’ll hand you the first draft to check through and you’ll get to pop all your suggested edits under each section of the copy.

But…

TRUST your content writer.

Some folks like to act as editor-in-chief when they get the first draft, it does something to their brains. If you’ve hired me to write words, chances are you’re not very good at the job yourself.

The original content needs to remain the same. I won’t accept a draft back if it’s been tampered with.

The deal is, I edit my own work. You’re not paying me to edit yours. And if you harbour desires to write, don’t hire me or start a personal blog.

There might be times when I disagree with your suggestions.

I’ll always give you a decent reason, it’s up to you to accept my ability to know how to write content over yours.

Some of your ideas might work – in truth, you’re much more likely to hamper the copy with unnecessary words and clichés. In reality, it will take more time to edit your version of the text than mine.

Proofreading.

This is the right time for suggested edits and grammatical fixes.

But not by you (or me) – someone qualified. Humans are shit at spotting their own mistakes. Doesn’t matter a damn if they write for a living because writers are humans too (yes, even me). Having fresh eyes on the text is something I won’t do without, and it will make your new copy infinitely better.

Completed project.

Hello to shiny new content. Pretty isn’t it. Having a focused brief and rigorous planning stage means there will never need to be endless rewrites. You get one chance to moan about the work, so make it count.

You’ll probably moan less if you hire someone you like, and whose ability you trust and value.

If that someone is me, hit the button.