How to get the most out of professional copywriting courses

To be honest, I’ve always been the type of person that has cast a glance over professional training and thought – not really my thing. The truth is, I just never really thought that spending a day listening to someone talk about your job and develop your skills would ever be anything that would benefit me, and being the sceptic that I am I just figured “I’m never going to learn anything from this anyway.”

Well I’ve never been the kind of person that’s afraid to admit when I am wrong – and to be honest when it comes to professional training courses I was. After five minutes with a professional trainer I realised that I had been missing out some of the most basic skills that I thought I had learnt years ago – and that my job could be made a great deal easier by simply employing practical techniques and embracing the benefits that modern technology can really offer me.

And to be honest, the catered lunch wasn’t too bad either… well, except for the distinct lack of cake.

You see sometimes in life you have to go back to basics to really appreciate your role and I think that many of us can fall victim of trying to be too advanced in what we are doing that we forget the simple things that can turn a good piece of writing into a great piece of writing.

I’m thinking: time management, punctuation and grammar, planning, research… all of the extras that really have the ability to shape your content and make it punchy rather than making it just another piece of writing on the page.

You see after eight hours of having these techniques drilled into my mind, they stuck, and I realised that while we are so consumed with using modern techniques and initiatives, we often forget the basics of best practice and that simple is often the best basis on which to build a professional piece of writing.

So – how can I really get the most out of a professional course?

I think the key concepts that you have to understand about any type of professional course is that you are only going to get out of it what you actually put into it, you have to go in with a completely open mind and you have to be prepared to learn.

And of course you are going to be going over some stuff you already know, if you didn’t know anything on the course already then it would be concerning – perhaps you are actually in the wrong course? Courses are designed to build on your existing skills and teach you something new, if you don’t have experience as a copywriter then an eight hour training course isn’t going to make you one overnight.

Network, network, network…

… at the end of the day you can use these types of courses as a great opportunity to get to know other people who do your roles and even put yourself out there a bit. You can meet like-minded people and who knows, you might even score yourself a job.

I’m always disappointed when I see people sitting around at their lunch desks tapping away on their laptop or just playing away on their phone – at the end of the day it’s only eight hours of your life, so get out and get involved! You never know who you might meet or what you might learn, and in this industry making a name for yourself is a great way to grow and develop and eventually land yourself that dream job.

Writing for your client – and getting it right

“The best way to persuade people is with your ears – by listening to them.” – Dean Rusk, Former U.S. Secretary of State

In a world where we are constantly presented with a thousand different ways of doing something, a thousand different types of equipment and a million other choices it can be hard to choose one product or one brand out from the crowd. As a content writer it’s your job to work with any client and make their product the one that people want to buy, make their service the best one available and make their website really stand out from the crowd.

So… how do you do this?

Well it’s not easy, but there are a few ways that you can make life a lot easier for yourself and one of the best places to start is at home, with a good solid knowledge about your clients.

RESEARCH what you need to know about them and make sure you do your homework:

  • Who is their target market?
  • What are their aims and long-term goals?
  • Is there a part of the market that they haven’t considered?
  • What are the best forms of promoting their products?
  • Does their website effectively target this market?
  • Why do they do what they do?

By asking just a few simple questions you can learn so much about a company before you even start working on their website, so make sure you take your time to really look through what they have to offer and start focussing on your target market accordingly.

WRITE copy that appeals to their target market, if it’s young skateboarders then you will be writing in a far different style than that of a more laid back elderly person so make sure that you tailor your style of writing to meet their needs – and this isn’t just reflected in your writing it can also be seen in the size and style of font that you use as well as the colours on the website.

REMEMBER Google. It’s all too easy to get carried away with what you are writing to remember the basic rules of SEO copywriting and ensure you headers and keywords are all in the right place. Also ensure that you develop a good content strategy throughout the website which not only stays in line with the company’s needs, but also that of what Google is looking for.

EMBRACE modern technology. We all know that Facebook and Twitter are a lovely way to whittle away those hours on end that we seem to lose out of our regular 24 hour days, but all the time that you spend on social networking sites is time that potential customers could also be spending there. Target ads and social media campaigns are a great way to bring in new clients to a website and help to increase your brand profile and image at the same time.

DON’T assume that pretty pictures and flashing images will draw your clients in. With increased competition more and more consumers are starting to look through content to see what one competitor might have over another – so make sure that it’s there! Make your content clear and concise and you will not only benefit your client, but you will also impress Google and hopefully push your client further up the search engine rankings.

 

Targeting the needs of your clients

When a new client comes on board you are often confronted with a whole host of questions – what is this client about? What are their needs? Who are their target audience? How do I reach these goals? It’s never easy starting with a new client, as with any type of relationship it takes time to nurture and grow, but there are ways that you can start to work well with your client from the very start, and the best way to do this is by directly looking at their needs.

As a client, chances are they already have a good idea about who their target market and audience is, so make sure that you tap into their knowledge base and retrieve what information you can from them – this will help to give you a good start and it will also impress your client that you are spending so much time getting to know the brand that they portray and the type of company that they operate.

It’s important to also do your own research outside of what your client tells you and not to rely too heavily on what they have to offer, this will help to give you a broader scope of what the market is after and make sure that you are appealing to a wider audience which in turn can attract a broader range of people than that which would traditionally be brought in through the general catchment area of your client.

Identifying the “target market”

I think it’s very easy for each company to say that it has a “target market” but if you think about it more broadly in marketing terms then this target market should be everyone. As a business you are looking to reach out to as many people as you can, to continually take on new clients and to continue to expand and grow your business into a complete success, to narrow your target market here can be a mistake, especially as the needs of your clients are ever changing.

As a large business you could elect to be fairly picky and choosy about the type of client that you want, but in tough economic times it’s important to take this with a pinch of salt and understand that a company that may once have been a major client of yours may no longer have the money to continue – so make sure you have back-up plans and you aren’t heavily reliant on one single client to fund your business.

It can be a hard decision to make – picking high-end clients can bring you a better return for your work and a greater income, but on the flip side you could find that smaller clients may be more consistent and better for a smaller business who doesn’t want to rely too heavily on one client.

Staying up to date with your clients

Technology is constantly driving changes within business so it’s important that to function effectively you stay on top of these changes and your target audience. If your clients are fairly traditional and then move into the technology arena you may find that their target market changes significantly and the same goes if they move the other way.

To be effective at this level of marketing you need to know what your client’s aims are not only today but also tomorrow, in a week’s time and within the next few years. If the target market changes you need to change your strategy accordingly and always make sure that you are ahead of the game.

Writing headlines to draw in your audience

Do you ever open the newspaper in the morning and smile to yourself after glancing over an incredibly quirky, funny and innovative headline? I’m a shocker when it comes to reading the newspaper, which is a bad thing as I did a degree in Journalism, but I do understand the way that newspapers work, especially when they are drawing in their audience, and I do know the difference that a good headline can make to readers.

When you are walking down to your local newsagents, what draws you to the newspaper? Well they’re all made from newspaper print and they are all printed with black big ink and usually a good picture on the front page, so what you do need is something that really sets one paper aside from another, and that’s where the headline plays a key role.

If you see a big, inviting headline sprawled right the way across one newspaper, chances are you are going to pick it up and read it – and to be honest with the cheap cost of newspapers these days, you will probably buy it. This simple and yet effective piece of writing has the ability to draw people in and compel them to purchase, in the same way that a good headline can drive conversions on a website.

What are the key ingredients to a good headline?

Although I spend a lot of time working with SEO clients, I do from time to time work with entire website re-designs and this means looking at the existing text and changing it to suit the need of a new website. In many situations it can mean writing new content or re-writing existing content in a way that it appeals more to a reader – all for the purpose of driving additional conversions onto the website.

A good headline needs to draw your reader in, but it also needs to inform and at the end of the day it will likely be the first thing that anyone clicks on when they enter your website. A headline will usually be placed in bold letters and will jump out from the page, as such you need to make sure that it stands out and encourages your readers to want to learn more.

A good headline should ask questions, while leaving the reader asking for more. Don’t compromise the quality of your headline to fit all the information in, sub-headings are a great way to do this. I was often told that a heading and sub-heading should tell your reader everything that they need to know. A good headline will encourage your readers to convert without even finishing the article – an incredibly efficient and cost-effective way to drive clients to your business.

Key things to remember when writing a headline:

1.       Keep it short and succinct
2.       A play on words might look crazy, but it can work wonders
3.       Make sure you have the keywords embedded in your headline
4.       Make sure your headline reads well
5.       Make your headline asks questions or challenge your reader to look for more information.

Content: Creating a website from scratch

Sometimes inspiration is all around us, and sometimes let’s face it, it’s hard to find. I’m lucky that I get to sit by the window at work and my day is broken up by lovely rays of sun, or more likely, making some form of exclamation about the appalling Manchester weather. But in between these moments it does give me the chance to reflect and make considerations which can help to inspire my thought process and content creation.

Sometimes it’s not so hard – you’re given a website which has pre-existing ideas and a pre-existing style, you are working with clients who are dead set in their ways and who have a complete idea of exactly where they want their brand to be. In this case, once you’ve taken that all under your wing it’s not hard to embrace it and target your content in that way.

It gets harder, however, when you work on a website which doesn’t have any of these ideas and essentially you are responsible for not just creating articles and news stories, but also entire piles of content for the website, the homepage, the faq’s – essentially you are creating the brand and the way that you write is developing a voice for this company which can either make or break its popularity with new and existing clients.

“Think outside the box”

To be honest, when I initially started working thinking outside the box wasn’t really my thing. Firstly, I couldn’t get my head around what the box was or what I was supposed to be thinking outside of, and when I finally managed that I realised that my creativity was about as brilliant as the D grade I used to get in my Art and Craft class.

Luckily content creation doesn’t rely on an artistic skill as such – and if it did I would probably be in the wrong industry – rather it’s about taking in the needs of your clients, the usability of a website, and the way that you think you can pull in an audience and combining these into what can often be just a few short, succinct lines.

Although at the start this might be hard, once you get the swing of your client and you really get into the voice the lines just start to roll off your tongue and in no time you often realise that you have developed tens of pages for a website, all ready to roll.

Be organised!

Anyone who works with or around me knows that I am an organisational freak, and that I like to have my days planned, my work accounted for and my deadlines met. Although sometimes this is a little OTT, I think having the skill of organisation can go a long way when you are creating content for a website and there are definite points within it that you can drag into this arena.

Diagrams are a key part of construction and that also goes for websites – if you are looking to build a website you need somewhere to start. Draw a quick site map, outline your pages, know where your content is going, know where your content is linking and understand exactly what needs to go on which page. Your client will thank you for it.

Websites don’t just build themselves and creating content to meet what your client is looking for often requires refinement… so don’t write 800 pages and then send it over to your client, if they need to change it you will be spending hours fixing up existing text and as we all know this can often be harder than starting again.

Work closely with your clients every step of the way to ensure that they are happy with what you’re doing and that they receive your input. In time this will develop a rapport, and more than that it will make your clients feel valuable. It’s also a great deal easier to change three or four pages than three or four hundred – so you will end up saving both time and money!

the social media phenomenon – and how you can use it to attract a wider audience

Every month the average user in the UK spends 5.3 hours using social media – and although that only averages out to 11 minutes per day, if you take away people that don’t use the internet at all, it’s easy to see how social media is taking over the world.

When I studied Journalism six years ago one of our major areas of study was this idea called “Citizen Journalism”. This concept was the idea that journalists would quickly become redundant as individuals would be able to use their Smartphones and other devices to act as a journalist. They would be able to report on events as they happened, take photos and give clear eyewitness accounts of an event, somewhat negating the need to actually pay someone for this role.

Fast forward to this month and the very same company that I first applied to work with – Fairfax Newspapers – has announced 1900 redundancies over the next three years as they see a move to digital media. That’s a fair chunk of journalists and a fairly decisive show that print journalism is well and truly on its last legs.

One of the major contributors to this Citizen Journalism is social media and sites like Facebook and Twitter have really started to have an impact on the way that we absorb news and the type of access that we have to what happens right around the world and although this is having a direct impact on the journalism industry, there are other industries which are jumping on the social media bandwagon as a way of shameless self-promotion and simple business savvy.

As the popularity of blogging continues to increase there are even more bloggers out there on the market – making it increasingly difficult to get yourself known and respected as a writer, it’s at this point that I turned to social media as a way of promoting my written copy. Although there are many people on Twitter and Facebook doing the same, it almost seems like you’re left behind if you don’t – ignore social media at your own peril.

Six hours and 33 minutes – the average time that a Facebook user spends on their Facebook page each month of the year – an incredible marketing tool.

With the ability to target specific demographics and audience it’s not hard to see why social media favourite Facebook has jumped on target marketing as a great way to fund and develop their website. Ever wondered what impact listing your hobbies, interests and likes has on the advertising that you receive? Well next time you log in to your Facebook account take note of the marketing that you see – it will most likely be related to one or more of those interests that you have listed.

Although it doesn’t match the figures held by Facebook, Twitter is another popular social media website and one that is used constantly by professionals to promote written articles, blogs and various other pieces of work. With a completely different layout, Twitter is often seen as a more “professional” way of putting yourself out there – and a great way to succinctly put your point across.

With the rise of social media, any business owner would be crazy to ignore what it can do – and the unprecedented access it can give your clients.

Clients, followers, shoppers… everyone wants to be able to get in touch with you as a business owner. Whether to ask a question, make a query or to follow up a purchase, this level of close connection with your potential customers can really endear them towards your brand and business. Promoting a personal side of your company can go a long way to heavily promoting its image and ensuring that your clients recognise your company for what it really is – helping to make it a success.

 

Developing a Content Strategy…

When you are developing a new website, or even looking at tackling a new SEO client, structure is key and to give your client the best opportunity to be successful within the online environment it’s important that you develop an appropriate strategy for their website – and stick to it.

In recent weeks I’ve been working with a number of our new clients developing strategies for them and looking to target keywords, phrases and areas of the market which I believe they can start to really excel in.

Whether it’s developing content for a website or for SEO, the technique behind the level of organisation is still key, and in order to give your clients what they are looking for, you need to understand their goals, their needs and the viability that you have to meet these – only then can you provide them with a suitable content strategy.

The fundamentals to a good content strategy

When you first look to develop a content strategy you need to work closely with your clients to find out exactly what they are looking for and at what price. You also need to understand where they want their business to go, not just right now, but in five to ten years.

When I start to develop a content strategy I like to get a good understanding of what my client wants and try to target this through the content on their website. Most importantly I like to look at the voice and approach that my clients are trying to take – and ensure that this is consistent throughout my work.

When developing a content strategy I take a few key steps, and these include:

1 – Meeting with my clients to get a feel for the business and where they are heading. You can learn so much just from meeting the website owners and the way that they speak and interact with you can give a great idea of the persona that they also give to their clients. Being able to speak to them directly and take on board their opinions and views helps to ensure that both myself and the client are consistent in our approach.

2 – Developing content on a website is key and if you are looking to improve your Google rankings then it’s important that you have clear, concise content on your website – and lots of it. This doesn’t mean constructing mumbo jumbo simply to fill space. I look at ways to provide useful content on a client’s website without overcrowding the website or filling it with meaningless text.

3- I take a look at the way the company currently interacts with its clients and ensure that my approach is in-line with these existing relationships. Clients can be won and lost through just a word or a phrase, so it’s important that content is kept consistent throughout a website, and consistent with an existing client base.

4- I look at developing content from an SEO perspective and this means ensuring that it’s easily seen by Google and that it targets areas of the market that my clients are interested in. Targeting keywords that are incredibly popular can leave my client in an over-crowded and increasingly competitive market. I like to take a broad approach and give them the best possible chance of being found by search engines.

5 – Working together with the client is important and their feedback can be invaluable. In general I find that many clients are happy just to let me get on with it, but some do want to have more feedback. Finding that happy medium is crucial to ensuring that your client has the input that they need, while giving you the opportunity to put your work into practice.

Finally… remember to make it unique

If you are developing a content strategy then it’s key to focus on something that you find to be unique – this will attract clients in through the door and hopefully keep them over a long period of time. In addition it will bring in users through Google and at the end of the day it will bring conversions to your clients – and justify the work that you are doing for them.

Blogging… where to start!

Although my job involves writing for a number of different websites and companies, one of the most important parts of my role is to directly interface with clients on a personal basis, and this generally comes in the form of blogging. Now many people aren’t sure what blogging actually is or even how to do it – but I believe the key to blogging is to just to write exactly what is on your mind in the same way that you would if you were talking to someone.

Although many people feel that blogging is completely pointless – I mean who really wants to know about the life of another person – this is simply not the case! In fact in many situations people are eager to know about real life experiences, especially on travel or cooking blogs so that they can directly relate to the person in that situation when they come to complete the task themselves, and in this situation a blog can quickly become popular.

Being a successful blogger

In order to blog successfully you do need to put a bit of thought into it, your blog needs to be practical and yet informative, you need to give your client base a reason to read it, while still providing them with a quirky and original approach to the text. In order to do this there are some key ideas you need to keep in mind and these include:

  • Research – if you want your blog to be read then you do need to put a little bit of time into it and do the proper research that is required. This means reading into your topic and ensuring that you have the appropriate research and evidence to back up any claims or observations that you have made
  • Audience – you need to consider your audience and who you are writing for, this means looking at who is going to read this article and how they are going to read it. You can then find a way to write appropriately for this audience
  • Creativity/Innovation – you need to make your blog stand out from the crowd in a way that people will be drawn to read it rather than cast it aside as “just another blog” this means putting an element into it which makes it different
  • Information – although blogs are ideally creative writing, make sure there’s a point to them and don’t just write aimlessly as this can cause you to quickly lose the interest of your audience.

Get involved!

Being a blogger is easy – anyone can do it and you don’t require any qualifications! There are many free blogging websites available to you across the internet so in most cases you will have relatively little start-up cost and if your blog becomes popular and gets a large number of hits you may even find that advertising agencies come knocking on your door with offers of money.

Ten important elements of good copywriting

When I’m working I often get asked many questions about copywriting, but perhaps one of the questions that I receive the most is “What makes a good copywriter?” The truth is that in many situations I probably couldn’t tell you, mainly due to the fact that I’ve always believed that the ability to write is something that you either have or you haven’t – it’s not something that can be developed over time – but it is something that you can improve.

Although I don’t believe there are any real rules of copywriting, I do think that when you are dealing with a business environment there are several elements of copywriting that you need to grasp and adhere to in order to work successfully, so here are my suggestions to being a successful copywriter:

  • Know your client

Perhaps one of the most important elements of successful business copywriting is knowing and understanding your clients and meeting their needs. This isn’t always easy but sometimes you need to pick up the phone and just have a chat to them, just a simply 10 minute chat might be all you need to understand their goals and ideas which you can portray throughout your writing.

  • Know your deadlines

It’s important to know your deadlines and this is crucial in any industry, not just copywriting. Being able to keep on top of your work is important, you need to be organised and set out the work that you need to do in a way that you can work through it efficiently without becoming stressed.

  • Understand your client’s voice

Remember that most of the time you will be writing from the perspective of your client, so you need to write as though you are your client. It’s important that you understand the way that they think and write so that you can incorporate this into your own writing successfully.

  • Be aware of your target audience

After all this is the group that you are looking to push conversions from. Take a little time to research who is actually going to be reading your writing and ensuring that you are writing directly to that audience. There are a great many differences to writing for a professional website as to perhaps writing for a retail website or even an online shop.

  • Check your spelling

Poor spelling can easily turn a person away so take those extra few minutes to re-read through your text and ensure that any potential spelling mistakes and even grammar mistakes are dealt with quite quickly. This will ensure that you remain professional to your clients and stop you from looking silly after making careless mistakes.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion

Often after you re-read over something a number of times it all looks the same and this can make it really difficult for you to pick out any potential problems that might be contained within the text. If you do find yourself in this position then it’s always worth asking for help from a colleague or friend who might be able to go through the text with you.

  • Make sure that you leave yourself adequate time

Although you might think that you can type quickly and that you are incredibly efficient in your creation of material, the fact is that we all get distracted, so make sure that you leave yourself adequate time to effectively create text – you don’t want to spend half your day on the telephone to a client trying to explain why something hasn’t been done.

  • Communication

Make sure that you keep in contact with your client and any other members of staff that might be working on that website. You want to keep up to date with what is happening with your client and ensure that you stay on top of their needs and exactly what they are looking for. This will help you to give a more professional approach to your clients.

  • Focus on your keywords, but don’t let them take over your writing

We all know that keywords are important in copywriting, especially from an SEO perspective and although it’s important to make sure that you do include them, you shouldn’t let them dictate your writing or the way that you structure something. Take into account the importance of keywords but try and write about the topic in a general sense, you will more often than not find that the keywords just flow.

  • Work with your client not for them

Don’t treat your clients like they are a number, treat them like they are regular people and you may find it a great deal easier to actually work with them. Most clients like a personal touch and you should never feel like your clients are out of reach in any way. Your clients will appreciate you for taking the time to talk to them like regular humans and your writing will benefit from it.

Spelling, punctuation, grammar… Yes, it really can impact your website

People often say to me that I can be incredibly picky about spelling. After four years of studying Journalism and Communications, I think spelling and style is something that has quickly become a second nature to me and something that provided me with many years of torture, but I also believe that the grammatical correctness of any website can go a long way to promoting the professionalism of a business and their consideration for clients.

If you want to look adept, then making sure that your website is written correctly, even down to the most minor details, can have a big influence on the way that clients and other businesses can see you, and for people who are pedantic about the way that text appears, it can make or break your chances of snatching a new client.

Reliance upon the computer…

… has grown out of a complete laziness of many employees. Although computers are able to help us in the workplace, they should never be used as a replacement for human ingenuity and in some situations you can easily be caught out for spelling and grammar errors that the computer doesn’t pick up.

After spending a great period of time in Australia I can often find myself reverting to the “American” spelling of certain words, rather than the UK (English) version and my laptop often does the same! For UK websites this is not appropriate and can often turn people away, so it’s crucial to make sure that your spelling and grammar is appropriate to the region that you are writing for.

Proofreading…

… is realistically a thing of the past, and let’s face it, no business has the time to employ a proof reader. That responsibility now falls to the writer who must oversee every aspect of the content from start to finish. For most writers, proof reading is just a part of the content creation process, but it is one element that is very important.

If you are struggling to proof read a document then pass it to the person next to you. A fresh pair of eyes can work absolute wonders for your writing and can easily pick up errors that you may have glossed over if you have read them too many times.

Take care with your writing; people do notice even small mistakes

Although may people do tend to skim when they read over websites, spelling mistakes can stick out like a sore thumb. If you want to give a professional approach for your business then making sure that your writing is grammatically correct can help to promote this style.

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