Monthly Archives: February 2013

The atomic half-life of Web content

I’ve got a  special reason to celebrate this week. It’s my fiftieth blog post as a Gloucestershire copywriter! Thank you for dropping by.

It’s going to be a short and sweet one too. I was listening to social-media expert Jay Baer when he mentioned the idea of the atomic half-life of content – the length of time before the value or usefulness of online or offline content is reduced by half. It set me thinking…

As I understood what I heard, he made the interesting point that website and blog content has the longest half-life of all content. AdWords, for instance, has a very short half-life; stop paying and the value of your campaign drops to virtually nothing with immediate effect. I’ve also seen reference to Twitter tweets having a half-life of 30 minutes.

But blog or website content? Now that’s a different thing. Your investment in high-quality content is like buying an annuity for your organisation. As well as immediate benefit, great content goes on and on serving your prospects and customers for months and years after you (or your SEO copywriter) have created it.

Combine this with everything we know about Google’s ongoing algorithm updates and the increasing importance of meaningful content for Web searchers and there’s a powerful message. Well-written copy from an online content writer is a great investment that will serve you loyally today, tomorrow and way into the future. Think website pages, online articles, customer case studies and more. The potential is unlimited and unlike AdWords, each piece of content is an investment in the future worth of your online presence.

Do you have the time, the specialist SEO copywriting skills or even the inclination to create your own long-half-life content? Not everybody does. And besides, isn’t there something else you should be doing that will utilise your unique skills more effectively? While in the meantime, that vital copy still has to be dragged off your to-do list and put out online…

Just a thought…

 

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

Advertisements

A Cheltenham copywriter’s appeal for no double spaces at sentence ends

It’s something about people of a certain age – often, but not exclusively, women trained in secretarial skills and PA-ship (or whatever you call skills as a personal assistant). Every office I’ve ever worked in seems to have at least one – sometimes more. They were always adorable, but there was one thing that was guaranteed to cause a serious office domestic. That was  space. Not the kind associated with Apollo or Star Wars or suchlike but simple, white apace.  Or more specifically, two spaces. At the end of paragraphs.

It drove me mad before I became one of the copywriters in Cheltenham. And it still does when someone sends draft copy with double spaces after every full stop.

Them too. The merest mention of not having two spaces at the end of every sentence seems to get them up in arms. ‘It’s good secretarial practice’, they’d cry; ‘It’s what we were taught at secretarial school’; ‘It’s what I’ve always done’.

nodoublespace

But why?

In one respect they were correct. Putting two spaces after every sentence was taught at secretarial schools, it was considered best practice and it is what they have always done. But that was years ago when computers and word-processing weren’t even a twinkle in Bill Gates’s eye. Times change and for decades there’s been no good reason at all for continuing to do so – especially in Microsoft Word, or any other word-processing software. Here’s why.

Let’s think back to why, all those years ago, the practice of double-spacing was introduced. It came about because typewriters (you know, those clattery machines you see in old black and white movies) don’t have proportional spacing. Because of this, you have to enter two spaces at the end of a sentence. If you don’t, your typing doesn’t look right. End of.

But word processors changed all that, so with Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and all the others that have come and gone over the last 30 years the need for manual double spacing has disappeared. You see, word processors include a feature called proportional spacing. The software spaces words and sentences so they look just right on the page. The typist, whoever he or she may be, doesn’t need to worry any more.

But some do and it drives me barmy when I get a page of text packed with double spaces. You can search and replace to get rid of them, or set Word to get rid of them, or use an editing tool such as PerfectIT to clear them away. But I just wish people would stop putting them there in the first place. Like putting a hyphen after a colon (:-) it’s just wrong – and for very good reason.

Aargh! Rant over. That’s better.

Do you still put double spaces after every sentence? Please, please, please tell me why.

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

Cheltenham copywriter asks Gloucestershire managers: are you robbing yourselves?

I was listening to Erik Fisher’s excellent productivity podcast, Beyond the To-do List, in the car as I drove back to Cheltenham across the Cotswolds yesterday afternoon. His guest was social media and content strategy guru Jay Baer. Something Jay said resonated with my recent observations about the role of freelance copywriters – and sent an important reminder to business owners and managers in Gloucestershire and elsewhere.

Are you robbing yourself of opportunity?

Baer said: ‘You need to do only the things that you are uniquely qualified to do. If you’re doing things that other people on your team can do, you’re robbing yourself of opportunity.’

This quote came in the context of growing an organisation’s social media presence through blogging and podcasts and suchlike. Baer drew on his own experience as he grew his own social media interests and was making the point that with only so much time and a lengthening list of things to do, you should concentrate on those where you can make a unique contribution to your organisation. Put another way, you should think carefully before you burn time on things you can’t do so well (or don’t enjoy doing) – like copywriting, your accounts or designing your website.

It all comes down to time, skills and inclination

I’ve been saying this for years, and seeing the consequences when it is ignored. Too often, websites sit idle while managers struggle to craft effective website or SEO copy. Much needed brochures remain unwritten because other urgent business tasks get in the way. And client case studies remain just an idea because no-one has the time to research and write them. It’s a shame, when it is so easy to get all of these jobs done and working for you.

Those of you who have heard me speak at business networking or other meetings will know that my elevator pitch includes the following lines: ‘I craft the words that you don’t have the time, the specialist skills or the inclination to do yourself. I get vital copy off your to-do list and out in the marketplace where it can work for you.’

Identify what you do best and stick at it

Time is a factor, so it pays to identify what you do best and stick to it. That’s why many marketeers (who are fine copywriters) will appoint a freelance writer. Doing so frees them up to do what they do best. And to do what makes best use of their time when their hourly rate is a lot more than a good copywriter’s. Besides, they often find it exceptionally hard to ring fence a few hours a week for concentrated creativity.

Clients are often amazed how quickly a skilled freelancer can get a project moving and deliver results –  often after the job has stalled for weeks or months. And of course, as a copywriter I bring professional skills and love writing – not everyone does.

That’s why I write day-in and day-out – so you don’t need to. To do anything else would be robbing myself of the opportunity to do what I do best.

‘Crime prevention’ begins when you hire a skilled freelancer

Are you robbing yourself of the opportunity to make the most of your unique skills by struggling with copywriting or something else? It’s a crime when you could be outsourcing the work to a specialist?  Don’t be a victim and don’t let that copy stay unwritten. Whether you need a graphic designer, an accountant or a wordsmith, ‘crime prevention’ begins by hiring talent and freeing your time for more of what you do best.

Got a favourite productivity podcast I should know about? Please share.

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

A good proofreading podcast could have been even better…

I’ve been listening to the Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts for a couple of years. They’re an eclectic mixture of  management and career-related topics presented by Michael Auzenne, Mark Horstman and Wendii Lord. If you haven’t listened yet, please do so. The quality of thinking and the professionalism is outstanding.

Six keys to successful proofreading

Every so often, one of their podcasts touches ground close to that of this Cheltenham copywriter’s specialism. A case in point was last week’s podcast on how to proofread. When I saw the topic I was onto it in a flash and on the whole I was impressed by the focus on these six points:

  1. Set Word to help you
  2. Don’t let Word check grammar
  3. Read backwards to proof a document
  4. Choose your time and place carefully
  5. Common writing mistakes to look out for
  6. Have someone help you proofread

A good start, and I realise that you can’t cover everything in a single podcast. But I’d add a few more points to elevate this from being a very good cast to a great one.

Exception dictionaries

There was no mention of setting up and using an exception dictionary (or exclude dictionary) in Word. Sure, they talked about teaching the default Word spell-checker to accept custom terms, but an exception dictionary takes this a stage further by forcing Word to always flag words that you might be using incorrectly. Examples would be ‘bear’ and ‘bare’, or ‘to and ‘too’. Setting up an exceptions dictionary is a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. Once it’s done, it’s easy to update the underlying .txt document. Rather than reinvent the wheel by explaining the ins and outs of doing this, here’s a link to a good reference.

PerfectIT

Another addition to your proofing toolkit should be Intelligent Editing’s PerfectIT. I’ve been using this tool for a couple of years and it’s a superb tool to complement MS Word. There’s a free version, but I’d strongly recommend paying the modest fee for the paid for software. Used in conjunction with the standard MS Word spell-checker, this is a valuable tool for achieving stylistic consistency in a document.

I was also interested to hear the discussion about beginning sentences with conjunctions such as And and But. Although the presenters sort of conceded that you could ‘break the rules of grammar’ to use this, I think they were behind the times on this. Good writing is about communicating clearly and effectively, and often as it is spoken. Good copywriting gets its punch, energy, flow and conversational feel (conversational needn’t be unprofessional) from techniques such as beginning sentences with conjunctions and using sentence fragments.

TextAloud

That’s about it. I’d definitely advocate the use of text-to-speech software to help with proofing (I swear by  TextAloud with one of the many available custom synthesised voices). Try it and you’ll notice the difference between it and the standard Adobe or Microsoft system voices.

A final challenge

Lastly, the Career Tools presenters set an interesting challenge about an occasion when it is acceptable (read: correct) not to have matching quotation marks around speech. That would be when you have two paragraphs of quoted speech. You start the first para with a quote mark, leave it off at the end of the para, begin the second para with another, then end the quote with a closing quote mark.

Career Tools and Manager Tools: they’re two interesting podcasts whether you run a copywriting practice or you’re an owner or manager of an organisation that hires freelance copywriters. And that means pretty much everyone, because any organisation that uses words to communicate can use a skilled, experienced copywriter.

I would say that wouldn’t I!

is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.