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Archive for the 'Writing and the Internet' Category

Increase your email open rates

August 7th, 2018 by Bob Bly

CMO Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media produced an excellent article
recently on how to boost your email open rates.

Most people on your list getting your emails just click away
without opening them. “Open rate” is the percentage of
subscribers who do open them, ostensibly to read even the lead if
nothing else.

To boost your open rates:

1–In the from line, have the email come from both a person as
well as their company. Spell them out; do not use an email
address.

2–Use a short and punchy subject line; ideally 4 to 7 words.

3–Make sure the most important five words and phrases are in the
first sentence of the copy, as this may be all a mobile user
might see.

4–Use numbers and make them odd numbers; e.g. “7 steps” is better
than “6 words.”

5–Use words and phrases proven to increase open rates; some of
these include: special, now, get this now, get your, what,
latest, can, new, just, introduction, latest, available,
upgrade, go, offer expires Friday; and alert.

6–Use questions you are frequently asked as subject lines.

7–Use opt-in e-lists including your own. If recipients aren’t
expecting your email or did not ask for it, they are unlikely to open
and more likely to unsubscribe.

8–Make sure your email reaches the recipient; use an email
service provide that averages 99% deliverability.

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Category: Writing and the Internet | 18 Comments »

This kind of blogging is for dummies

June 12th, 2018 by Bob Bly

An article in a PR e-newsletter suggested that the way to write
great blog posts is to research online what topics you should
write about.

For instance: write on blog topics suggested by Google … get post
ideas from the Google Keyword Planner … jump on a topic that’s
trending or being shared a lot … write on the same topics the big
blogs are writing about or your competitors are ranking for … get
topic ideas from FAQs on other sites.

To me, this is a terrible idea, because it’s a major source of
“content pollution.”

Specifically, it’s a surefire way to create almost nothing but
link bait.

“Link bait” refers to content written for the primary or even
sole purpose of getting high search engine rankings.

Link bait posts and articles … which is what the PR newsletter’s
suggestions will produce … are usually generic, boring, useless,
and devoid of wisdom, new information, or actionable ideas.

Often, link-bait marketers hire dirt-cheap writers on Upwork,
fiverr, or freelancer.com to write these thin posts for a few
bucks a pop.

These hack writers go on Google, find a few articles on the
topic, and cobble them together into a new post or article that
contributes absolutely nothing original to the subject.

I call these articles “Google goulash.”

If you are a good writer and care about what you do, stay away
from link bait, Google goulash, and content pollution.

But how do you avoid this kind of bottom-of-the-barrel
scribbling? Here are 3 suggestions:

>> First, don’t write for peanuts for cheap, second-rate clients.

Write for marketers and publishers who care about the quality of
the copy and content they hire you to produce.

In my opinion, firms that use direct marketing are the best
clients, because they measure everything and live and die by
results.

So are big corporations and also those producing blog posts on
technical topics.

>> Second, write what you know and care about.

When you don’t know a subject and write a Google goulash piece,
all you are giving the reader is recycled information he can
easily get elsewhere.

When you care about your subject and have deep knowledge of and
experience with it, you can deliver much more — insight,
analysis, wisdom, empathy, strategies, experience-based
expertise, and new ideas and case studies that can make a
difference in the reader’s life.

Email marketing whiz Ben Settle advises, “Open your computer and
start writing. Soon a story or theme will emerge. Send it to your
list.

“Do that day after day and you will be successful — even if
you’re not the most talented copywriter or salesman in the room.”

>> Third, especially with blog posts and articles, let your
personality shine through in the writing.

Link bait articles read like they were written by automatons,
which in fact is increasingly the case as software can now
generate this kind of mindless, simple article.

But when you have a personality that comes across in your posts
and articles, you engage readers and keep them reading.

Also, if you do #2 and #3 above — write what you know and care
about, and have a distinctive voice — you gain a loyal following
that comes to view you as a trusted source advisor on your topic.

Your readers see you as an expert, and those readers who are in a
positon to retain your services are more likely to do so, because
they see you as a recognized authority in your field.

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Category: Writing and the Internet | 22 Comments »

Writing: the #1 barrier to digital marketing

February 2nd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Digital marketing has an insatiable thirst for good content and
copy to fuel it and produce results.

And therein lies a problem: companies that lack writing resources
neglect certain digital channels — because they do not have the
time, talent, nor temperament to write the copy these marketing
tactics require.

In my experience, the marketing-related writing tasks that are
most problematic are blogs, e-newsletters, email marketing, and
lead magnets.

>> Blog posts … writing one or two 500 to 1,000-word blog posts
daily is difficult, especially in a corporate environment where
everything published has to go through a review committee.

>> E-newsletters … experienced online marketers know the
importance of having an e-newsletter and building its subscriber
list. But the #1 complaint of marketers I advise in this area is,
“We don’t have the time to write an e-zine or the budget to hire
someone to do so!”

>> Email marketing … not a problem if you send one email blast to
your list a month, but it suddenly becomes a huge burden if you
want to send 2 to 3 email messages a week.

>> Lead magnets … the marketer creates a squeeze or sales page.
They then realize they want to offer a free bonus report. But
they don’t have one. The deadline is around the corner and the
budget has been spent. So they skip the report — and response
suffers because of it.

So how do you get around your resource limitations and get these
things written with sufficient quality and quick turnaround without
breaking your marketing budget?

Here are a few suggestions:

1–Recruit in-house wordsmiths.

At most organizations there are usually some people who, while
not professional writers, are decent “wordsmiths” — as we used to
call them at Westinghouse back in the day.

2–Repurpose and recycle your content.

Don’t reinvent the wheel with every new piece of copy and content
you write.

A blog post can be reworked into an article for your online
newsletter. A series of articles from your e-newsletter can be
compiled and edited into a special report or white paper.

3–Use other people’s content.

You probably already get a ton of material on your topic —
e-newsletters, webinars, trade magazines, and other sources.

As you read them, you can extract and reprint this information,
rephrased in your own words, in your e-newsletter and other
digital marketing. Just be sure to credit the source.

4–Set a schedule to publish regularly.

If you decide to blog or write e-newsletter issues sporadically,
then you have no commitment to get the material done by a
specific date — and therefore the writing is in danger of being
continually put off as more pressing tasks come up.

On the other hand, when people sign up for and you promise them a
weekly e-newsletter, you have an obligation to deliver — and you
somehow get it done.

5–Carry a smart phone, digital recorder, or pen and note pad.

Copy and content ideas will pop into your head when you least
expect them to.

Write them down. Capture ideas immediately. If you don’t, by the
time you get to your desk, you will have forgotten that great
idea or content tidbit you wanted to use in your next blog post
or podcast.

By the way, the problem companies have with getting blog posts,
online newsletters, email blasts, and lead magnets written seems
not to apply to bigger writing projects — including websites,
landing pages, and video sales letters.

That’s because these can usually be planned, and that plan
includes a production schedule the team agrees on and finds
reasonable — or at least possible.

Also because these projects are perhaps bigger, more critical,
and less frequent than the blogging or online newsletters,
marketers are comfortable devoting more time and effort to their
creation.

So they can afford and are willing to pay qualified professionals
higher fees to write these bigger pieces.

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Category: General, Online Marketing, Writing, Writing and the Internet | 16 Comments »

On color and readability in graphic design

July 4th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes:

“Bob, have you noticed how many websites use gray typeface on a
white background?

“It’s difficult to read.

“How about taking a minute to address the importance of color
schemes?”

Entire books have been written about color in design. And I am no
expert in color. Far from it.

But the whole of it can be boiled down to one principle:

The primary purpose of design is to attract the eye to the ad,
and to make the text easy to read — and the latter just as
important as the former.

Anything that makes the copy difficult to read, no matter how
dazzling or creative, is bad graphic design, whether in print or
online.

So at a glance, the color and type rules to follow are these:

1–Make all type large enough to be easy to read for older adults
with average or less-than-average eyesight.

2–The best color scheme is black type on a white background.

3–In body copy, avoid reverse type, which is white type on a
black background.

4–Avoid low-contrast color schemes such as gray type on a white
background, or dark blue type on a light blue background, or the
horrific but not uncommon gray type on a black background.

5–In the body copy for print materials, use serif typefaces —
letters with little extension on them, such as Times Roman.

6–Online, use sans serif typefaces — letters with no extensions,
such as Arial — in body copy.

7–On web pages, subheads can shine and make a statement when you
use an easy-to-read bold serif font such as Georgia bold, for
example, and set them in a darker color to pop off page online
and draw the reader’s eye down the page.

A dark blue looks nice. A deep red or rusty red can also feel
easy-to-read. The color depends on your overall design and what
type of audience and product you are working with.

8–In direct mail, despite what the vendors of handwritten
envelopes and letter mailing say, I have seen no proof that
handwritten outer envelopes or letters outpull typeset. If
handwriting universally outperformed typewritten, everyone would
use it all the time.

Remember, the primary functions of graphic design in advertising
are (a) to attract the reader’s eye and (b) make the copy easy to
read.

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Category: General, Writing and the Internet | 24 Comments »

The #1 challenge of writing a weekly e-newsletter

April 25th, 2017 by Bob Bly

I am a big advocate of publishing your own e-newsletter,
because it is one of the best ways to build a large opt-in e-list
… and to establish a good relationship with your subscribers.
Doing so builds trust that leads to sales.

“But where do you get ideas for all those newsletter articles
seemingly without end?” I am often asked (I have been publishing
this online newsletter continually since 2004).

If you wish to publish an e-newsletter — whether sporadically,
monthly, or weekly — all of which can work … let me share with
you my 5 favorite sources of ideas and inspiration:

1–Things I learn.

If you are an active practitioner in your field, and given the
breakneck speed with which new techniques and developments are
invented, you are learning all the time.

Many of my articles are based on things I learn doing and
observing marketing.

I don’t invent most of them. I merely study and then explain them
in my newsletter essays.

2–Things I see.

When I observe and admire a particularly clever or effective
marketing campaign, I tell you about it here — so you can learn
it and perhaps adapt it to your business.

3–Things I know.

After almost 40 years as a copywriter and marketer, I’ve seen,
read, and tested a lot of things most other marketers have not.

Many of them are evergreen, and I present these rules and tactics
here for you — hidden gems not 1 in 100 of your competitors even
know about — giving you an almost unfair advantage.

4–Rants.

When I see people repeatedly making egregious marketing mistakes,
ignoring time-tested principles, or saying things that are wrong
or stupid, I report their errors (not naming the person
responsible) so you can learn from their mistakes.

I call these “rants” because I do tend to get worked up about it.
I have a highly sensitive B.S. detector and share what it detects
with you — often in opinionated and forceful terms.

5–Recommendations.

Whether it is a new book, new guru, recognized expert, online
course, vendor, or other resource that I think you should take a
closer look at, you’ll read about it here.

I could go on, but for me, these 5 sources give me 90% of the
ideas I need to keep on writing two fresh essays every week like
clockwork.

As for frequency, start with monthly. If open rates are good and
unsubscribe rates low, test going to weekly.

If the unsubscribe rate doesn’t spike, then your subscribers like
your missives well enough to want one a week.

Since at least half of your messages should be content, and half
or fewer sales pitches, a weekly newsletter gives you at least
one opportunity to sell a product a week.

Which can substantially increase your online revenues to the
$100,000 to $200,000 a year level or more — a stream of passive
income that can make your life easier without you working too
hard to get it.

Who wouldn’t want that?

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Category: Writing, Writing and the Internet | 10 Comments »

Why I personally respond to your e-mails and questions

February 22nd, 2017 by Bob Bly

I get a lot of e-mail from subscribers.

And even though it’s time-consuming, I respond to as many as I
can — which is most.

Why?

I believe that when you make your e-mail marketing a two-way
communication, you build a stronger relationship with your
subscribers.

The result: greater engagement, more readership, and increased
sales when you offer your list a product they might like.

A week or so ago subscriber JI sent me this brief e-mail:

“I enjoyed your article today. I like the way you communicate
what you believe and how you respond to people.

“At the same time, I see that I can leave a conversation with you
while taking away my own view of life without hurting your
feelings.

“It’s nice getting to know you over these years and I do love you
as a person for what you are giving the world. Thank you.”

And subscriber RM writes:

“Wow! Thank you so much for your timely response. That was the
first time I had responded to a posting by someone as famous and
accomplished as you and I in no way expected to hear from you so
quickly.

“This speaks volumes to me about your quality and dedication to
helping others. A fairly rare quality in this day and age from
my experience in the business arena.”

I know from publishing The Direct Response Letter for more than a
dozen years that, like JI and RM, many of my subscribers
appreciate that I am accessible — both via e-mail, Facebook, and
phone.

Conversely, I have heard many say they dislike it when they write
to the publishers of their favorite e-newsletters, and all they
get in return is a canned auto-responder message — usually saying
the author is too busy to reply personally.

Maybe I am stupid to maintain a dialogue with my subscribers —
Lord knows I’m busy enough.

But I do it for three primary reasons:

>> First, I think if you have a question or comment, you deserve
a personal response from me.

>> Second, I enjoy hearing from and talking with my readers. Some
reach out to me only once in a blue moon. Others are regulars. I
like both.

>> Third, it lets me know what you are interested in, so I can
produce content that is useful and relevant to you.

I believe the give-and-take interaction between an editor and his
subscribers enhances the experience of getting the e-newsletter
for readers and adds value.

So I plan to continue it for both the immediate and long-term
future.

And thanks for reading my e-mail essays. It’s much appreciated.

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Category: General, Writing and the Internet | 18 Comments »

Are typos a big deal?

February 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber TW writes:

“Bob, here’s a question I’d love to see you address in one of
your e-mails: Have you noticed the constant misspellings and
incorrect homonyms on the web and in e-mails? People not knowing
the difference between ‘to,’ ‘two,’ and ‘too’ — or ‘there’ and
‘their’? Terrible grammar?

“Did you think that the ability to dictate on smartphones and
other devices and our reliance on spellcheck and text shorthand
(“r u home?”) is dumbing us down? Either that or is it
desensitizing us to these types of errors?”

Well, we have always lived with spelling and grammar mistakes —
but yes, they have definitely increased in e-mail and on web
sites. What’s the reason for the proliferation of typos online?

In e-mail, it’s two things.

First, people are crushingly busy today. So they dash off their
e-mails as fast as they can, without reading them over or even
using the e-mail proofing function.

Second, some people believe that e-mails don’t have to be as
flawless as a traditional letter. And so they are sloppy e-mail
writers.

Unfortunately, many of their e-mail recipients are aghast when they
see bad grammar and spelling errors. As a result, such mistakes
distract your readers, diverting attention to the typos and away
from the content of the message.

Some readers even lower their opinion of you and what you are
saying if there is even a single misspelling.

As for web content, there are also two reasons for the
proliferation of spelling and grammar mistakes in web pages,
white papers, blogs, and other online writing.

First, back in the day, before the Internet, when our writing was
all print, we proofread carefully, because if an error was found
after a magazine article, direct mail letter, or product brochure
was printed, it would cost a fortune to go back to press. So we
were much more careful.

Today, if you write and post a new web page, and someone spots
typos, they can quickly and easily be corrected at virtually zero
cost. Easy peasy, no biggie.

Second, with large web sites having dozens or hundreds of pages,
many of the pages come from different sources — product bulletins,
articles, blogs, press releases, newsletters — some of which were
created for other purposes and then repurposed on the site.

So many firms either just don’t have or are not willing to devote
the time to carefully proof each new page.

It’s not that they don’t think proofreading is important, but
rather it is not at the top of their priority list, and they do
not have the bandwidth or resources to get to it.

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Category: General, Writing, Writing and the Internet | 6 Comments »

Are you violating client confidentiality by showing samples on your site?

December 14th, 2016 by Bob Bly

Subscriber GR asks:

“When I send clients an agreement, it states using samples is
important to my business.

“I have a client who doesn’t want the work I do for him displayed
on my site; I’m thinking he’s worried about his competitors.

“I have never done an e-book for a client…. so this certain
sample would be important to me, as future clients may ask if
I’ve done one.

“Since you are an expert, what are your thoughts to solve this
problem?”

My feeling is you should NEVER put in your agreements that you
automatically have the right to use the promotion you wrote for
the client to market your own services.

Why not?

Because some clients want their marketing — or the fact that you
wrote it for them — to be confidential.

They want to keep what they are doing under wraps — and not put
it on display where it is easily imitated or knocked off.

That is their right … and for them may be the sensible path.

So if your copywriting contract requires clients to let you use
their samples to promote your services, many prospects may not
hire you because of that contract clause.

So I never, ever include it in the agreement.

What happens is that once the promotion is produced, I tell them
it looks so great, may I please post it as a sample on my web
site’s portfolio?

At that point 95% give permission to post what you did for them
on your online portfolio. And so — problem solved. They will
even give you a PDF of the finished artwork which makes it a snap
to post the promotion on your site.

As for the 5% who say they do not want you to show the work to
others, you absolutely should comply with their wishes — and do
not share the sample with anyone under any circumstance — as much
as you want to.

This is the right way to handle sharing and display of client
samples. You do not want to get a reputation for violating client
confidentiality, which you will if you show client work to others
without permission.

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Category: Writing and the Internet | 12 Comments »