Category Archives: Copywriter rants

Revealed: what you get when you pay $5 for an SEO article…

This is my 100th blog post, so I thought it had better be a cracker.

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I’ve long wondered what buyers actually get when they pay ‘peanuts’ for SEO articles or other copywriting on sites such as Elance, Fiverr and others of their ilk. I’d heard about the problems with poorly-written copy, writers who don’t have English as their first language and so on…

To find out what professional copywriters are up against from the so-called copy mills, I recently tried a little experiment. Here’s what happened…

Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in article writing, Marketing, Website and SEO copywriting, technical and PR copywriting.

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What caught the Gloucestershire Copywriter’s eye this week?

I thought I’d try something completely different this week and flag up three things with writerly connections that caught my attention on radio and TV last week.

Jimmy PAge, LAdies of London and The Gervasutti Refuge

What caught the Gloucestershire Copywriter’s eye this week…

Page reminisces on Plant’s writing ability

Last Tuesday, Radio 4’s Front Row arts and culture magazine featured Kirsty Lang interviewing guitar icon Jimmy Page about the newly-remastered version of Led Zeppelin IV (the ‘untitled’ album) and the inclusion of a -previously unheard version of ‘Stairway to Heaven‘ recorded at LA’s Sunset Sound Studios. What was particularly interesting were Page’s reminiscences about the recording the original album version of ‘Stairway’ at Headley Grange in 1971 – and how Robert Plant wrote and recorded most of the lyrics in just a few hours. To quote Page:

…Robert was sort of sitting down against the wall and he was just sort of writing and writing and writing and he came up to sing at one point after we’d been working on it we’d got the whole of the structure and everyone’s remembering what parts to come in on … he comes in and starts singing and he’s got a major percentage of the lyrics already done at that point and it’s epic, the lyricism of that is epic. The moods that are created as it goes through are all coming to be and, as I say, Robert is just, he’s, he’s just independent of this, he’s, he’s just writing and writing and writing like it’s automatic writing at this point, he’s channeling, you know and he comes up and starts singing, cause he’s got a picture of it ’cause he’s listening to all the routining … it’s pretty inspired stuff…

As a professional writer who knows what it’s like to get in the zone with business copywriting, novel writing and even a bit of songwriting, I could relate to this. I just liked it, the story of how what is arguably the greatest rock song of all time was substantially written and recorded in two or three takes one afternoon.

From Headley Grange to London’s guilty pleasures

The week’s guilty pleasure came after reading a tabloid article about the ITV series Ladies of London. Although I can’t stand soaps, reality TV is another thing and I couldn’t resist a peek at one episode – and then another. There’s something worryingly compulsive about this hugely contrived fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of several British and American London socialites as they cat fight, quaff Champagne and do the rounds of London’s society events. As an SEO copywriter, I was particularly interested in one scene of Episode 1. That was when the oh-so-in-control (and very successful, with her upmarket Gift Library website) Caroline Stanbury’s marketing team announced that they hadn’t got the functionality to change any of their own keywords in the website copy. Oops! So rich, so cool but… such a schoolboy (or schoolgirl) online marketing error.

The ultimate copywriting refuge?

And then there was George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on Channel 4 and his helicopter trip (helicopters: now that immediately caught my attention) to the amazing Gervasutti Refuge at 2833m in the Mont Blanc Massif. Constructed in 2011 to replace an earlier refuge, this ultra-modern, completely temporary, prefabricated pod by LEAPfactory offers sleeping accomodation for  12 people, broadband, solar power and the most amazing views imaginable over the Val Ferret’s Freboudze Glacier, in front of the east face of the Grandes Jorasses of the Mont Blanc range.

And what did I think? How that would make an amazing copywriter’s studio – if only one could keep one’s eyes on the work and not on the jaw-dropping scenery. Whistley Hill overlooking Charlton Kings is lovely, and inspirational, but the Gervasutti Refuge is something else again.

The newly-remastered Led Zeppelin IV, an episode of Ladies of London (well, maybe not) and a week in the Gervasutti Refuge with Mrs H. The climb out of the Val Ferret is a long, hard one if you don’t take the chopper, but surely a stairway to copywriter heaven.

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

The late Steve Jobs and PC PRO agree with me…

When I were a lad, back in the 1980s, selling building products in South East England, face-to-face interactions were the norm. In fact, with the exception of a bit of phone work to set up appointments and deal with customer enquiries (no LinkedIn or social networking in 1983), face time with customers was the norm. Send out quotes by post (yes, post), then arrange an appointment to discuss a job; meet on site to progress the project; meet over lunch at the Newbury Beefeater; and drop in when passing to maintain profile. It was all about building and nurturing relationships.

Some say you can run a creative project with Skype and email alone

Now I see copywriters in distant parts of the country proclaiming that you don’t need to meet your copywriter to run a writing project. Do it all with Skype and video conferencing and email and IM they say as they try to persuade Gloucestershire businesses that you don’t have to use a local copywriter when you are based in Cheltenham, Stroud, Worcester or Cirencester.

And, if the truth be known, you don’t always need to. But from my freelancing experience since 2006, it sure helps. I’ve worked remotely on occasions and done a damn good job without meeting the client. But it isn’t as easy as people make out and they were uncomplicated jobs. And at the end of the project, despite connecting on LinkedIn and phone chats and email dialogue, and despite a happy client, I often feel the relationship hasn’t developed as well as it could have.

Many of my clients disagree…

I’m not alone in thinking this and many of my clients agree with me. Just as I was told that people buy from people back in the 1980s, so I hear it from my regulars in 2014. Am I a Luddite? Absolutely not. I love technology and I love using it as much as the next copywriter, but have you ever tried to look at, handle and discuss a desk full of hard copy source material over Skype? Exactly. Which is why I was heartened to run into two references from the heartland of tech this week that support my assertion that face-to-face communication is by now means dead.

I was browsing a recent issue of PC PRO

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The first reference was in the July 2014 issue of PC PRO, on page 064 to be exact, in the depths of an RWC feature titled ‘Doing business in a social era‘.  Imagine my delight (and relief) when I read the following and felt the warm surge of validation:

In the 20th century we had face-to-face, supported by letters, then telephone then email. In the 21st century, relationships and friendships are online, which supports face-to-face meetings, often using the mobile phone. People still want to meet face to face, but a lot of the mechanics of getting there is done online. Social technologies just change the dynamics of the way you can work and amplify what you can do face to face

Read more: Doing business in a social era | Enterprise | Features | PC Prohttp://www.pcpro.co.uk/features/389299/doing-business-in-a-social-era#ixzz3G2ZzzQmQ

The last person you’d imagine enthusing about face-to-face meetings

The second reference concerns none other than the late Steve Jobs of Apple – the one and only, the very same Steve Jobs who was wrestling with the disastrous Lisa PC while I was selling concrete and mortar in Berkshire. Goodness knows how it has taken me so long to get to Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s excellent and highly-rated 2011 biography of Jobs, but it has, Anyway, there I was immersed in a chapter about the design and construction of a then-new Pixar headquarters building when I came across this:

Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

stevejobsbook_

Thank you Steve Jobs

Thank you Mr Jobs, the visionary creator of tools that enable us to communicate so seamlessly anywhere and anytime. How true and how marvellous to read this within 24 hours of spotting the  comment in PC PRO.

Need I say more? I think not. Whether you call it face-to-face contact, face time, a well-run meeting, dropping in for a chat or just running into a client out of hours, the role of face-to-face interaction is most certainly not dead. In my book it’s vital; like so many ‘old school’ values that are quickly dismissed by the demographic cohort known as Millennials or Generation Y .

Something to think about

That’s something to remember next time you look for a specialist supplier in London, up North or down in the depths of Cornwall. On balance, and everything else being equal, having someone just down the road who can call in to take a brief or discuss the project and won’t need to charge an arm and a leg to do so, is rather attractive.

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

Gloucestershire copywriter spots silent assassins at tyre depot…

One of our cars needed a couple of tyres last week, so I left the email copywriting that I was doing at the time and headed down to the local branch of a well-known national tyre supplier for some new rubber.  The response to my phone call had been friendly and helpful. The same applied when I pulled up at the depot too. In the warm, clean waiting area there was free coffee and a decent pile of magazines to flick through while the work was being done in a well-organised workshop beyond the window. And a wide-screen TV was running what looked like a very professionally produced series of mini-documentaries about different aspects of tyre care and selection. All good so far…

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The TV caught my attention, as it was supposed to do. I found myself engrossed in a feature on the benefits of fitting winter tyres. It was really interesting, and I was pleased to see that subtitles had been designed in for the hard-of hearing. Of course, it was impossible not to read the subtitles. And as I did, I noticed that the copywriting and proof-reading hadn’t been done well at all. For instance, the word braking appeared as ‘breaking’ and Arctic conditions became ‘artic conditions’ (and not an ASDA delivery lorry in sight!)

My attention was diverted from the (very slick) mini programme to spotting the typos in the subtitles. Worse still, I found myself wondering why, if they couldn’t write ‘braking’ correctly on a tyre-related programme, I should have full confidence in the message that was being delivered (or the brand that was delivering it to me). Some people, it’s true, might not have noticed. But others, like me,  will have done so. And others still may have been distracted by a niggling awareness that something was wrong with the text – without being  sure exactly what.

The silent assassins had struck like the gunshot that kills before the victim hears the report from a weapon. The brand had been dented and the message undermined. And the originators probably hadn’t got a clue.

And the lesson to learn? If you want to reduce the risk of ‘silent assassins’ undermining your marketing message in brochure copy, web/SEO copywriting or in client case studies, a bit of professional support could work wonders. After all, you wouldn’t dream of fitting your own tyres would you? You’d leave it to the experts.  The same applies to copywriting, copy-editing and proof-reading.

And like new tyres at the start of winter, what a difference it makes.

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

MyBizCard woes – anyone else had the same experience?

Have you been asked to complete a MyBizCard.co review for someone? Were you tempted to register yourself and give MyBizCard access through LinkedIn?

Despite being super-cautious about who I sign up with – and up to my ears in work as a very busy Cheltenham copywriter – I was tempted when a trusted contact asked me to do a review. It looked like a good idea so I registered. And then I gave MyBizCArd access to LinkedIn. And yes, then I thought it would be a good idea to contact some of my LinkedIn connections to ask for a review.

And then, like opening Pandora’s box, things started to go awry. First, the site ignored my selected list of contacts and approached ALL my LinkedIn contacts for a review. That was embarrassing because I haven’t done copywriting work for many of them… To add insult to injury, some of the approach emails showed other connections copied in. If that was you, please accept my sincere apologies. It wasn’t my intention.

The penultimate annoyance  came when I discovered that MyBizCard doesn’t show more than three recommendations– and my copywriting clients have been good enough to respond in their droves .

And now, after I and many of my contacts have gone to the trouble to contact each other and respond, the last straw. MyBizCo won’t let me or anyone else see any but the most recent three ratings unless I sign up for their upgrade at $99!

All very dubious indeed. I could say something stronger…

Have you had the same experience? Please tell me what happened to you when you engaged with MyBizCard.co.

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

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’.

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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.