Looking for a writer? Or writing yourself? Freelance copywriter Bob Younce has some sage advice gleaned from years of real-world experience. Checkout some valuable insights from the wordsmith himself:
When it comes to creating spectacular copy, there’s one thing you can’t live without. It’s something that separates good copy from great copy, something that makes the difference between your writer’s words being read or being skipped over.
I’m talking about editing.
To be sure, there are a number of important skills that go into good copywriting. Your writer needs a mastery of the language. Your writer needs to understand the audience. And among other things, your writer needs to know how to use voice and how to structure copy.
However, even if your writer has amazing technical skill and passion, failure to edit the work will waste all that effort.
Whether or not you're a first-time blogger or a seasoned writer, there are always new tools that you can add to your content toolkit. The right blogging tools can make your life easier, and to help you better spread your message far and wide across the blogosphere, demonstrating your expertise and increasing your audience.
Here's my list of 10 tools that every blogger should consider using every single day:
1. Google Keywords Tool
If you're looking for ideas for blog posts or for keywords related to products or services you want to promote, then the keyword tool that comes with a Google Adwords account is perfectly suited to this. The Google Keywords tool will help you determine which keywords are likely to be popular, and which are likely to bring search traffic -- especially for certain products and services.
Even better is the fact that the Google keyword data tends to be a lot more accurate for new products, services or events than others. If you are just starting out, you can get some good ideas with the help of this tool, and if you are more seasoned, you can tweak your offerings with help from the suggestions. The Google Keywords tool interface is extremely easy-to-use, making it intuitive as you figure out which keywords to focus on.
You’ve come to the point in your business where you realize you can’t do it all. There are some tasks you’re not cut out for, and there are others that simply take too much time. In the same way that you hire an accountant to handle your taxes, you’ve decided to hire a freelance writer to handle your copywriting. Yet, just like with accountants, not all freelance writers are created equal. Some, in fact, are downright terrible. If you’re not at least a little bit choosey about your contractor, you’ll do your business more harm than good (and waste a lot of money in the process).
Your freelance writer’s qualifications
So, how do you know if the freelance writer you’re considering is the right one? There are several specific things you need to look for in a freelance writer:
Writing skill. It’s not always easy to judge a writer’s talent by reading their Elance profile or by exchanging a few emails. You need objective ways to measure their skill. One way is by looking through their portfolio (which I’ll discuss in a minute) for real-world examples of their work. Another is through third-party testing or verification. Elance offers contractors a number of skill tests in areas of writing and translation which rank proficiency and compare it with other contractors on Elance. Use these test results to help make your decision.
Professional training. Not every qualified freelance writer has a formal education in writing. However, as with most professions, that formal education doesn’t hurt. If someone has a Master’s degree from a recognized institution, for example, they are used to making their writing conform to custom specifications (such as an academic style guide) and are likely to have a greater command of the language. Elance offers contractors the ability to have their academic degrees verified, so you’ll know whether or not a given freelancer’s degree is genuine.
During the three years I’ve been writing and editing on Elance, I have found myself continually bouncing between US, UK and Canadian English. Many clients are from these three countries, of course, but there are also many other countries whose first language is English or where English is one of the official languages, including the 54 countries that are members of what used to be called the British Commonwealth (now just called the Commonwealth). There are also students from countries all over the world who are flocking to universities in the United States, Britain and Canada, and who need editing help because English is not their first language.
Fortunately, there are tools to help writers and editors work in the various “Englishes” and particularly to navigate between US and UK English.
The Set Language Tool
If you’re using Microsoft Word, the first helpful tool for making sure your English is the intended English is the “Set Language” option. If you’re about to write something, go to Review > Set Language on the top menu bar and you will see there are many “Englishes” to choose from.
Like it or not, there is a subtle, psychological element to the way we read things. Whether you’re reading something on a web site (such as this blog post) or reading from a book, your brain has certain patterns it’s looking for. Those patterns affect how closely you’ll read something, how quickly you’ll navigate away or put a book down, and how much you’ll enjoy the reading.
In the case of web copy, there are certain visual aspects you need to attend to if you wish to keep readers interested.
Visual appeal can’t cancel out poor writing
Now, before we go any further, let’s make something clear: using visual techniques to make your web copy more appealing doesn’t do much good if your copy is poorly written. Poor spelling and grammar, weak language, or improper structure can’t be cancelled out with visual tricks.
Instead, think of these visual elements as ways to enhance or complement your high-quality copy. Whether you’re a contractor creating copy for a client, a client evaluating a potential vendor’s portfolio, or even just a business owner creating your own website, look for these things as indications of visually-appealing copy.
Let’s take a look, then, at these elements:
1. Short sentence length
While long, complex sentences may be ideal for academic writing, they translate poorly to the web. Short, concise sentences are almost always better than long ones. The trick here is to convey as much meaning and information as you can in fewer words.
Making a sale is about more than simply telling someone about your product and asking them to buy. To make a sale, you need to make a connection on a psychological level. You can take two sales pitches side-by-side, and one that follows the principles of psychological sales writing will do better than the one that doesn’t. So, what is psychological sales writing, exactly? Let’s take a look at five basic principles involved:
1. Psychological sales writing isn’t about using smoke and mirrors. There are some self-proclaimed sales writing experts that will tell you it doesn’t matter what you’re selling or to whom, but how you sell it. They tell you that you need to use all sorts of tricks and traps to convince the customer to buy. While most won’t go so far as to advocate outright dishonesty, they do suggest obscuring the product and what it does in favor of making the customer feel good. While this kind of mind game might make a sale, it won’t create a long-term, brand-loyal customer. Instead of asking yourself “How can I get the customer to make a purchase?” in your sales writing, you need to ask, “How can I better express the genuine benefits of making a purchase to the customer?”
2. Psychological sales writing is positive. Good sales writing that connects with the reader on a psychological level is positive. It talks about the good things in a product or service. It’s not always obvious, however, what constitutes “positive” writing. Obviously, discussing a product’s weaknesses isn’t part of good sales writing. Rather than describing a product’s limits, positive sales writing talks about what a product can do. It’s the difference between saying:
“This pair of high-tech binoculars won’t let you see anything past 100 yards,” and
“This pair of high-tech binoculars lets you see objects up to 100 yards.” Both phrases describe the product accurately. One does so positively, and the other does not.
Whether you're a client writing copy for your website or a contractor submitting a proposal for a great new Elance job, you need to ensure that you understand who you are writing for—and make sure your copy reflects that. Freelance copywriter Bob Younce discusses how to ask the right questions so that you're hitting your target audience each and every time.
Creating good copy isn’t only about mastery of the language, or about understanding how to use active voice. It’s not even about knowing how to demonstrate benefits of your product or service to the reader. Good copy is also informed by your product or service as well, and it is built to be consistent with and complementary to whatever it is you’re selling.
Accordingly, if you’re going to create copy that sells, you need to understand what you’re selling. You need to know more than just why people should want to buy your product or hire you for a job; you need to connect on an almost emotional level with what you are offering. You need further to understand the target market, and be able to talk to them on their own terms.
A Bad Example
Let’s take a look at how copy, even well-written copy, can counteract your message. Suppose you’re a client, composing copy for a sales page. The product in question is a foreign language course. The course is comprehensive, designed to be used in an intensive manner over several weeks. Your target audience is businesspeople who are going to be relocating to foreign countries for weeks, months, or years at a time. Your headline might be “Learn to speak basic Chinese in just minutes a day!” Now, that’s not a bad headline for some other products. It gives the reader something they want – to learn basic Chinese. It also gives them a benefit – it doesn’t take a long time to do so.
But here’s the problem: the people who will benefit most from your product don’t need to only learn to speak basic Chinese. They need a higher degree of fluency, and they probably need to have some ability to write the language as well. A businessperson looking for a foreign language course is likely to pass right over yours simply because the headline – while effective for some other products – doesn’t meet her needs.
So you’ve just put the final touches on your e-book, your copywriter has finished your website content, or your technical staff has just sent you the completed user manual for your product. Since we now have a global economy and the Internet is teeming with millions of potential clients all over the world, you decide to translate your materials into a few other mainstream languages. You remember a few Spanish phrases from high school, and you know how to ask for a beer in German, but you are no linguistic expert.
Looks like it’s time to call in the professionals. But what are the main considerations to keep in mind once you decide to move forward with your international strategy?
Machine vs. Human Translation
Machine translation sounds like a dream come true. Some of the newest gadgets and applications include a “magic button” to translate any content into any language. Many chat applications – including the now-defunct Google Wave – even include real-time translation features that allow fluent conversation between, say, a Chinese and a Bolivian. Or so they claim.
We live in an age of technological wonders that we could only fantasize about twenty years ago, from video conferencing and instant communication to applications that allow doctors to supply basic care to anyone in the world – you can even confess online! But we are still human, and if there is one thing that truly defines humanity, it’s symbolic language.
So, you’ve spent a lot of time making sure your new website best represents your new company. Maybe you’ve gone onto Elance and hired a talented web developer who put together a visual tour de force that you couldn’t be happier with. But before launching and moving forward with your business, there’s something that you must consider.
If you are overlooking your written content, you’re potentially making a huge error that will prevent repeat visitors and potential customers. As important as a visually appealing website is, its appearance can only take you so far with a weak message. Once a visitor starts looking around, if there isn’t adequate content to engage them, then they’ll end up clicking away from your site just as quickly as they found it.
An effective website only has to be a few things—clear, to-the-point, and fresh. Your potential customers have a wealth of options to visit on the web, including your competitors, so you want to ensure that you maximize their experience while you have their attention. A great visual interface will be the bait, but content will be what keeps them exploring your pages and having relevant, timely content will give them either the information needed to pursue your product or service, or at least come back to your site for further research and knowledge.
What Does ‘Content’ Mean?
Web content generally refers to textural or visual information displayed on a website, not limited to articles, blogs, company history and product descriptions, case studies, slideshows, and photo galleries. While the images on a site are important, it is the writing that is too often neglected. Effective written content can include product news and announcements, interviews you or your team have done with the media, customer testimonials, how-to guides, and much more. These items let your site project your business vision and share your enthusiasm about your people, products, knowledge and success with your readers, and in a competitive landscape, can make all the difference.