Content is king - but the king needs his sceptre polished every now and again. In this article, marketing copywriter Steff Green offers tips on creating a content marketing strategy for your business and using you website, blog and email newsletter to generate leads and retain customers.
"Content is king! Content is king!" This is the mantra taken up by copywriting gurus and online marketers the world over. I want to know who decided content needed to be king, and whether they had even considered an autonomous collective or a thalassocracy?
At its best, content is a benevolent dictator.
Your small business works best when content, branding, design, products, customer service and rock star awesomeness come together as a seamless whole. In the House of Commons of your business, every representative gets to have their say.
Even though content's crown is looking a little shaky, content definitely plays a vital part of your marketing efforts. As a small business, you've got a tiny marketing budget and precious few hours to spend on costly copy mistakes.
I've worked with hundreds of creative businesses to improve their marketing copy, whether that's tidying up website pages, writing a few blog posts, writing hilarious product descriptions or creating free ebooks. Here are few glimmers of wisdom to keep your content crown shiny:
1. SEO isn't everything
One of the first things any online marketer will tell you is that SEO is vital to your success. SEO certainly helps, because being high in niche searches gives your business additional exposure. Many small businesses realize this, and put a ton of work into implementing good SEO strategies - adding keywords to links, writing descriptive headlines and using alt tags effectively.
But there are many instances when SEO can be useless … or downright harmful. For example, say you've got a link on the front page of your website, or at the bottom of your blog post, and you really, really want people to click on it. Maybe it's a sign up link to your newsletter, or a special promotion you've got running, or a gallery or portfolio. SEO best practice would have you stuff that link with keywords.
But if you want people to click on that link, write "Click Here". Or "Click Now" or "Click For a Free Cookie". Don't worry about sneaking a keyword in there – just get those people to your important pages.
The same is true for vital post and page titles and sales pages. You've got a real live potential buyer looking at your site, so talk to them, not a search engine.
2. People Love Free Things
"Free" is one of those copywriting focus words. It's guaranteed (by Aristotle, I think) to get eyebrows a-fluttering in your direction. Giving something away for free – either on your website or at your retail location – is a solid way of generating sales leads and getting buyers to fall in love with you.
What could you give away for free? It can't cost you too much to create or distribute. It has to be something that relates to questions buyers have about your business, and it has to allow you to show off your awesomeness.
What about content? Giving away content makes perfect business sense – once you've written your freebie, it doesn't cost you anything to produce or distribute. You can demonstrate your expertise by answering some of your customer's pressing questions, and throw a bucketload of personality into the mix while you're at it.
Having a page of free, downloadable resources on your website helps customers to educate themselves about your products, services or industry. And once they're educated and ready to spend their money, they'll remember who gave them all this free advice.
One of the most effective ways to give away free content is to create an ebook or mini-autoresponder. In exchange for their email address, potential clients can learn all about solving a particular problem. Other businesses have a lot of success creating informative blogs.
You could also give away content at a retail location: an info-packed pamphlet or a tiny bound volume explaining different aspects of your business, or a fact-sheet of Frequently Asked Questions to give to interested prospects. The more you educate your customers, the more secure they'll feel choosing you.
3. Think About Post-sale and Added Value
Some small businesses, such as wedding photographers and architects, are unlikely to get repeat business from one client. The key to getting more out of your business as a one-time service provider is to offer added value upgrades on packages, and to ask for referrals.
For example, a wedding photographer could offer a value-added package including a private online gallery and order form for family members, or a deluxe album or memory box, or a post-wedding trash-the-dress shoot.
You want to present these packages on your website and spell out exactly what your customer can receive and what savings she'll make. Since she'll likely be spending more money than she usually does on your type of service, she'll be keen to look at different packages. Make this information easy to find and enticing to read. Show lots of gorgeous photographs.
Another thing you should do is encourage your clients to give referrals. The photographer could even encourage continued engagement by starting a Facebook group where couples can share their photographs, or offer a small freebie (like a bottle of bubbly) if a couple refers a friend.
On the other hand, you might run a business that your customers buy from again and again. You could be a clothing designer, a hairdresser or a bakery. A great way to keep customers coming back is to offer discounts for repeat visits or an exclusive VIP mailing list. A personal touch, like birthday discounts, can also be a great way to boost sales.
4. Extend Branding to Content
Otherwise known as "don't wimp out". If your brand is loud and flamboyant and colorful, your writing should be, too. If your business is sleek and sophisticated, your writing needs to embody this elegance. If you're gothic or high-end or eco-friendly, this should come across not just in what you say, but how you say it.
Branded copy is super-hard to write, and many small businesses let themselves down because they don't demonstrate their brand in their copy. This is the one area in particular I encourage people to consider hiring a professional. You really want to portray that cohesive brand.
5. Choose ONE call to action
A call to action is the thing you want your readers / customers to DO. Do you want them to BUY NOW? Do you want them to EMAIL YOU? Do you want them to SHARE YOUR BLOG ON FACEBOOK?
Each page of your website copy should contain only ONE call to action. By giving readers too many choices, you're spreading their focus and decreasing the chance they're going to choose anything at all. (This is scientifically proven. Just ask Aristotle).
On the front page of your website include a huge button or link for potential clients to click on. This link should go to either a gallery / portfolio / shop page, or a newsletter sign-up, or a contact page. Once people see your work, point them toward your contact form or rates page. Don't confuse their focus by giving them too many choices.
6. Have a Little Fun
A lot of vendors worry that if they're too colloquial in their business content, potential clients will be put off. I find the opposite is true (and I'm famous for breaking into spontaneous Slayer singalongs in the middle of serious business blogging).
Don't be afraid to bring out a bit of your own personality in your business branding and copy – whether you're sweet, generous, bad-ass, opinionated, weird, dark, twisted, sarcastic, hippie, loud, quiet, shy, outgoing or believe yourself to be the re-incarnation of Aristotle himself. Don't be afraid to push your content beyond your comfort zone – honest writing that comes straight from the heart resonates with anyone who reads it, and it's this human connection customers look for – especially in small, local businesses. Sure, you're going to turn a few people off, (it shocked me when I discovered not everyone is a Slayer fan), but more will fall utterly in love.
7. Be involved in your community
As a badass business owner, you're automatically part of a thriving, supportive and creative community. Add your own voice and content to this bubbling talent pot, and your business will flourish. Attend networking and industry events, guest post on blogs (even if you're not a blogger yourself), submit to magazines, volunteer at local events and support causes you believe in. Put your words behind your passions, and you won't believe the opportunities that come your way.
8. Proofread and Proofread Some More
You'll be amazed how many potential customers are badge-carrying members of the grammar police. Typos and grammar mistakes are an inevitable part of writing – even for the professionals – but that doesn't mean they should be anywhere near your finished copy. Not unless you want all those infringement tickets cluttering up your inbox.
Have a writerly friend or professional copywriter look over your copy before you put it out there, even if you're an experienced writer (my husband edits all my work, and he's brutal).
Never edit a piece immediately after finishing it. Leave it alone for hours – days if possible – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Read the piece aloud to catch clunky sentences. You'll be amazed at how many errors slip by even the most eagle eyes.
9. Quality beats Quantity every time
You may have heard how important it is to blog regularly and often – 3-5 times a week if you can, and frequently update the content on your website. That's an awful lot of content to write every week, especially if you're a slow or uninspired writer.
Rather than trying to hit some arbitrary quota, focus on writing the best, most informative and entertaining articles, because these will keep your customers coming back.
If you can only manage one high quality blog post per month, then write only one. But make each article count by ensuring you're making people laugh and making them think, and that you're linking it up on social media sites and sending it to other bloggers and business owners who might be interested.
10. Don't Expect It To Be Perfect
Just like making babies or slaying dragons, great writing takes practice. Fortunately, unlike dragon slaying, you're mistakes aren't likely to lead to singed eyebrows.
I've been a professional writer for ten years, and I look back on work I wrote last year and cringe. Don't beat yourself up for making mistakes or putting up less-than-perfect content – you're learning, and that's an important part of being a business owner.
You're always learning, always honing your technique. Be prepared to tweak your copy again and again, and enjoy the process of writing. Remember, if content really is king, your content will need the sceptre polished ever now and then.
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