Why Blog? (And How to Get Started)

Why should B2B companies blog?blogging-645219__180

Because blogging is a marketing and communications best practice.

And yet, it is difficult to convince businesspeople why they should blog. The most relevant reasons are that blogging freshens your company’s website and attracts visitors to keep your company top of mind for your potential customers and search engines.

This was true several years ago when admonishments for blogging in B2B marketing began and it remains the same today.

Blogging also:

  • attracts more customers
  • demonstrates expertise for becoming a trusted source
  • positions your company as an industry leader
  • inspires conversation
  • provides reference material when engaging in sales
  • establishes an independent publishing forum
  • offers more online reputation control
  • enhances social media presence
  • generates content for re-purposing (more on that later), and
  • encourages the customer journey.

Why Companies Do Not Offer Blogs

So many potential benefits from blogging and yet, many companies are not making the commitment. Based on the feedback I receive, here’s why (long with my response):

1. Company management is not convinced. The above list should help.

2. Lack of time. Blogging requires discipline. Regular submissions to attract and maintain readership require that blogging becomes part of bloggers’ work schedules and not an additional project that will lengthen the workweek. Let’s face it, most professionals have long given up on the 40-hour workweek so adding another responsibility will likely be unwelcomed.

3. Lack of money. If time is an issue, consider hiring a professional writer who understands your industry. While it may seem like resources are scarce, it is likely the money is there but priorities need reconsideration. Offering blogs and other great website content is more important than advertising. Think of it this way: if advertising attracts potential clients who find no substance, you’ve wasted money. Conference booths, snail mail marketing, giveaways and other tactics might need to be placed on the back burner.

And remember, you can get the most from your blogs by repurposing content (more on that below.)

4. Lack of topic ideas. To find subjects for blogging, start by asking employees in contact with customers, including sales, field and customer service staff what concerns are customers expressing. Ideas can also be found from the media and joining LinkedIn Groups and “listening” to conversations. 

How to Get Started

1. Make a list of ideas.

2. Develop an editorial calendar. Look at the next 52 weeks and assign blog topics, always making sure to first create a bank of “evergreen” topics in case the intended blog is not ready. Be sure the blogs are substantive with original unique content. Do not copy other writers’ work!
3. Establish a blog promotion plan and continually look for new ways to market the blog. Poorly promoting blogs is one of the major reasons why people think blogging does not work. Posting on social media is a good place to start, but there are other ways including offering to post as a guest blogger.

Finally, do not forget to re-purpose blog content. Ways to repurpose content include:

  • Using blog text to update the website. Personally, I have found that blogging causes me to think of new ideas that should be added to my site.
  • Modifying the blog for email marketing and newsletters.
  • Pulling parts of blogs out for developing eBooks, white papers, longer articles for third party publication, etc.

I hope this post inspires your company to get started. More great blogging tips can be found here. 

Got questions? Please ask in the comments section below or send an email to annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Insurance Quality Content Dilemma – Part 2

CC0 Public Domai

Last week, I wrote about the choice insurance marketing and communications executives often face when looking for public relations and marketing services. They can either rely on insurance subject matter experts who are not effective communicators or public relations and marketing firms that do not understand insurance.

Then the question becomes, how can insurance industry companies deal with the Hobbesian choice?

The answer is hiring the rare find: a communications firm that understands insurance. Too often, however, insurance industry public relations and marketing executives either cannot find this rare breed or do not have the resources to acquire such talent.

As a result, insurance company marketing and communications personnel, along with vendors that offer industry services, end up exploiting and frustrating internal subject matter experts or hiring public relations and marketing companies that provide assistance on the cheap.

_______________

The best Search Engine Optimization approaches
in the world cannot overcome fluffy content
that lacks substance.
_______________

The first approach can become a human resources problem. The second approach could risk your company’s online reputation by publishing materials that will actually turn potential customers away from your business.

This is happening more than the penny-wise and pound-foolish financial professionals want to believe. They don’t understand that potential clients have become more sophisticated and expect more from content, such as insight and problem-solving strategies. I used to write such content full-time as a journalist, but few publications can support expert reporters.

Once potential customers decide to ignore your company’s marketing emails and social media posts, reversing this rejection becomes very difficult. Reputation damage is much more expensive and difficult to overcome than establishing a credible presence in the first place.

Budget Restraints

But Annmarie, you say, true insurance experts who are also schooled in public relations or journalism can be expensive. Sure, they cost more, but you will not be paying for them to become educated about insurance. Further, the expertise of a quality professional should be reflected in the content and marketing strategies.

With a minimal budget, focus on quality over quantity. I have long told my clients that it is better to publish less often and offer higher quality than to publish a lot of junk. What you want is to see your company’s name associated with must-read content.

This means re-evaluating all the marketing and communications channels and even cutting back in some areas.

Begin by maximizing the company website. There is no point in investing in social media and other digital marketing approaches if the content bread crumbs will just lead to a unappealing website. The best Search Engine Optimization approaches in the world cannot overcome fluffy content that lacks substance. Then there are the ever-changing Google algorithms that strive to reward the best content available and punish those offering content garbage.

Think about it. You get frustrated by wasting your time on shallow content produced by novices. What makes you think your potential customers are any different?

Evaluate the website and ensure that everything adheres to what I call The Credibility Factor. That means:

  • getting rid of all the fluff and telling your potential customers what they need to know to ease the buying process. Simple websites are more effective than fancy and complicated ones.
  • considering the structure and how often a viewer has to click to find what they really want to know.
  • looking beyond the latest and greatest in design and stick with what works.

Once the website is scrubbed of hype, begin planning magnetic content. That means:

  • creating an editorial calendar.
  • approaching internal subject matter experts and freelance writers with the topics and schedule.
  • producing several evergreen pieces first — just in case the schedule falls through – and it will.

Now that your company’s website is top notch, your content rocks and your blogging schedule is consistent, return to social media one venue at a time. As you offer online content breadcrumbs, you want them to lead to your company’s website and ultimately its call to action piece.

For commercial lines customers, you’ll get better results from LinkedIn and Twitter than Facebook. Make sure you have maximized both before moving forward to Facebook. As a tip, I am amazed at how many visitors I get from Google Plus. Be creative on how to use other social media sites. Personal auto and homeowners’ insurers can benefit from Pinterest and Snap Chat with the right approach.
_______________

Get rid of all the fluff
and tell your potential customers
what they need to know to ease the buying process.
_______________

Once you have established substantive content, you can repurpose it as the core of what must be a fascinating and engaging video.

Personally, I am not a fan of videos. Since younger audiences like to watch videos, I am including them.

Here’s why I give them a lower priority. First, I can read faster and would rather not spend two-to-three minutes on a video. Second, videos tend to be very superficial. Video production is not cheap and it requires another set of expertise to be effective.

And finally, please do not produce another boring “teaching” video that mimics a typical classroom experience. The video must personify your company’s brand and insurance is already considered boring enough.

Do you agree with my blog or would you care to share one of your own best practices? Please let me know by responding in the comments section or contact me directly at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Insurance Quality Content Dilemma (Part 1)

CC0 Public Domain

CC0 Public Domain

Insurance marketing and communications executives face a Hobbesian choice when looking for public relations and marketing services. They can either rely on agency counterparts who do not deeply understand the intricacies of insurance or internal subject matter experts who know insurance but are not professional communicators.

The dilemma is the direct result of two primary factors. First, there are few professionals who offer insurance expertise and possess audience-focused communications training and experience.

Second, effective marketing heavily relies on producing magnetic and substantive content. Amidst intensifying online competition, the C-Suite asks their internal marketing and communications departments to become publishers of brand journalism without the additional resources to support the effort.

Often, the C-Suite commonly does not want to accept that publishing is expensive. But it is, which is why so many newspapers and magazines, even those offered online, no longer exist. In a world of free content as a marketing approach, there is no option to sell advertising to underwrite the expense of professional communicators.
_______________
Without understanding the audience,
inbound marketing will fail.
_______________

Those who appreciate and understand insurance tend to be professionals whose aspirations didn’t include becoming writers. Experts in claims management, underwriting, risk management, actuarial, statistics and other disciplines often despise writing. They began their careers not knowing that branding and digital marketing would introduce the publish-or-perish mentality that academics have struggled with for decades.

Such professionals are being asked to work beyond their skill sets while trying to maintain their core competencies through endless hours of continuing education. So it is not surprising that producing content by writing white papers or blogs becomes a hassle amidst their already busy days.

These experts find the writing process to be quite frustrating. After staring at a blank screen for seemingly hours their material is often unorganized or too complicated, making it difficult to read and understand. As a result, the marketing and communications department must invest in heavy editing and re-writing. It’s a time consuming and difficult process that can breed resentment on both sides.

Further, this approach is likely more expensive. Asking highly-paid professionals to write diverts their time and focus away from meeting client needs or rainmaking. Unfortunately, the C-Suite often does not take all these factors into consideration.

Lacking Insurance Expertise

The other option is to hire public relations, marketing and other communications firms. Usually, these well-intentioned companies lack deep and thorough insurance expertise.

The reality is that it takes years to understand the nuances of insurance. The industry not only has several disciplines, but several functions and a multitude of insurance lines.

Workers’ compensation, for example, involves understanding different subjects including health care, the claims process, return-to-work and disability coverage. Additionally, each state has its own regulations and expectations. Personal auto, the largest property/casualty insurance line, focuses on consumers so the approach is different compared to commercial lines such as general liability or business interruption coverage.

Further, the traditional insurance paradigm is evolving to a data and analytics model. Insurance executives, who tend to be conservative in nature, are still learning to maximize predictive modeling so it extends beyond underwriting and pricing to addresses claims management practices and marketing techniques. Forward-moving insurers are focusing on obtaining business intelligence through predictive modeling, which is quite difficult to understand without insurance expertise.

Other disruptors, including artificial intelligence, changing regulations and policy sales via Internet are also having a great impact on insurance companies and the vendors that serve them. Vendors that want to expand into the insurance industry also struggle with understanding what insurers really need, industry nomenclature or the right point person to contact.

Meanwhile, each insurance line faces its own struggles. Auto insurers are excited about telematics when a great deal of consumers want to maintain privacy. Then there are “preoccupiers” such as Uber and Lyft and driverless cars.

_______________
…the C-Suite commonly does not want to accept
that publishing is expensive.
_______________

Then there is the problem of truly understanding the needs of each customer type. Insurers are vying for a greater piece of the growing demand for cyber coverage, for example, when policies are inconsistent and buyers – and even their agents – are struggling to know what should be included in their coverage. The market potential for cyber insurance is enormous, but developing the right policy per each specific customer profile remains a challenge.

For business insurance, a smaller company that lacks a risk manager or a really awesome agent or broker will purchase based on price. Larger companies see the value of services and are sophisticated enough to know that price is just one part of the equation. They want to know how an insurer’s services will support risk management, claims processing and other areas. They also need to be sold on the technology designed to better serve them.

Another limitation is that marketing companies often approach digital marketing from a business school rather than a journalism school approach. They lack professionals who understand how to effectively produce materials because they are not trained in first rule of journalism, which is to understand the audience. I often encounter companies that do not want to invest in determining customer needs and pain points. Without understanding the audience, inbound marketing will fail.

So what is the solution? I’ll address this in my next blog. You can follow it by pressing the follow button on the left hand side.

In the meantime, please offer your comments below.

 

 

Marketing Is Like Making Chocolate Chip Cookies

Copyright Annmarie Geddes Baribeau

Copyright Annmarie Geddes Baribeau

I make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, bar none! Doing so is a lot like marketing and communicating in the insurance industry.

Here’s why:

1) Products and services, like chocolate chip cookies, can seem the same.

Chocolate chip cookies can seem the same before you taste them. Mine have a unique “yum” factor.

In business, the “yum” factor – known as the value proposition — describes what makes your company unique and entices customers to come back for more. That “yum” factor is the basis for messaging.

Think about your company’s products and services and how they look compared to your competitors. Can you identify your company’s “yum” factor that truly stands out from the competition?

_______________

Can you identify your company’s “yum” factor?
_______________

Insurance companies, along with firms that serve the industry, often struggle with this. From actuaries to brokers to third party administrators, the challenge is the same. All of them insist they are trustworthy, cost efficient and customer-focused service-oriented problem solving experts. 

The potential customer wants to know why they should choose your organization.

Personal auto insurers often compete by price and message through personas. Flo or a gecko, however, will not cut it for B2B marketing. Business customers are more sophisticated and consider other factors, such as credibility and quality service, in their buying decisions.

­­­

2) Marketing and communications strategies and tactics, like chocolate chip cookies, generally have the same or very similar ingredients.

Chocolate chip cookie recipes vary. Of course they include chocolate chips, but also sugar, flour and leavening agents such as baking soda. Besides the mix of ingredients, choosing their quality also affects the end product.

A successful communications strategy must include, among other elements: knowledge of the customer, their values and pain points; clear goals, messaging and appropriate channels to reach the appropriate markets.

3) In both cases, ingredients are just as important as techniques.

After identifying the proper ingredients, the skill lies in combining and delivering them cohesively so the intended market clamors for more. It means choosing the right balance of elements to deliver a cohesive and effective message that spurs customer desire.

My chocolate chip cookie recipe comes from a cookbook more than 50 years old.

However, the reason why my cookies carry the guaranteed yum factor is not just because of what is in them, but how I bake them. I’ve shared my recipe many times but others don’t achieve the same results. That’s because I developed my baking technique, which I will also share when asked.

So what’s the take away? If your insurance communications, marketing or public relations approaches are not providing the desired results, it’s time to figure out why. Is it the ingredients, packaging or delivery?

_______________

The trick is determining the right balance
of traditional and cutting edge approaches
that will showcase your firm’s “yum factor.”
_______________

It always surprises me how little insurance industry clients understand their audiences and what they really want. Failing to invest in market research is a key reason.

Further, I am seeing a lot of companies get so wrapped up in digital and online everything that they forget that some of the most traditional ways of selling products still work. The trick is determining the right balance of traditional and cutting edge approaches that will showcase your firm’s “yum factor.”

The key is to find out how current and potential customers like to hear from your company. Finding that out should be part of market research.

4) Let them bake cake.

While I am a chocolate chip cookie baking expert, when I need a nice looking cake, I go to the bakery.

Sure, I can make a reasonable rustic looking cake, but when it’s party time, I let the experts do it. The same is true for insurance marketing and communications. When expertise and time limitations are interfering with results, it’s time to seek outside help.

By the way, if you want that chocolate chip cookie recipe, just contact me at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com. Inbound marketing, after all, is about sharing!

What’s your company’s yum factor?

Tips for Hiring and Working With Freelance Writers

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

Finding a freelance writer who will truly meet an organization’s needs requires a lot of consideration. Like any other profession, freelancers vary on experience, professionalism, expertise and quality. At the same time, those looking to hire freelance writers have to be clear on their expectations.

A quality writer can help boost your content marketing efforts and search engine optimization. As I promised in an earlier blog, I am offering my thoughts on hiring freelance writers. This perspective is based on my experience as a paid writer and public relations professional for more than 40 clients during the past 25 years.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Be clear about your business objectives. I’ve had potential clients who wanted an article, a blog or web text only but when I asked them the ultimate goals, they could not be identified. As a result, I worked with some of them on business plans, marketing plans and value propositions so they could re-think what they really needed. Be wary of writers who will do a job without understanding the purpose or desired results.

• Finding the best writers requires some research. If you enter “freelance writers” on a search engine also add the desired subject expertise.

• Look for writers with proven publishing success. Always examine the writer’s content, which in this day and age should be easily available online.Here are some questions to ask yourself:

☐ Do I like the writer’s style?
☐ Is there evidence of quality content that will draw readers to your business?
☐ Where has the writer been published?
☐ Are there online references? If so, are they specific about what they like about the writer?
☐ Can the writer show evidence he or she can handle the assignment? Writing news releases is easy. Producing magazine features, booklets or annual reports requires specialized experience.

• Only hire writers who ask about your audience. If writers do not ask about the intended audience, they have missed the most important element of effective communication. It shows their priorities are more focused on producing work and being paid than meeting their clients’ needs. For some clients, I have provided some informal market research and customer interviews so everyone better understands the intended audience and their needs.

• Check out the writer’s LinkedIn profile. Does the writer’s network include an impressive array of professionals? Are any of them in your network?

• Know the assignment details ahead of time. Can you provide subject matter experts or will you also be paying for research? When is the assignment due? How long is it? What’s the re-purposing plan? What is the corporate style? Is this a one-time only project? Know this ahead of time instead of making vague inquires.

• Do not expect writers to start work immediately. The best writers are busy. Ask when they can be reasonably available to start and finish your project.

• Be sure you can be available to answer questions and help the project move forward. Often, writers will not realize the full scope of a project until they are fully engaged in it. They will likely have follow-up questions, necessary to complete their assignment. Quality writers will also offer advice on editorial packaging.

• Ask how they want to be compensated. By the word? By the hour? By the project? There are pros and cons to these approaches for both the writer and the customer. Some writers will even barter for products or services.

• Compensate fairly. I remember one potential client who wanted to pay me $10 per hour. I declined. Not only was that less than the minimum wage after I pay taxes, but I had not worked for so little (practically free) since I was in college writing articles to build my portfolio! Proven publishing experience and expertise should translate in a better product that is less hassle to produce. Reliable, quality writers that make your life easier are worth their weight in gold.

• Pay in a timely fashion. Payment in full within 30 days is customary, but everyone appreciates being paid sooner.

• When the project is over, ask them how it went. Finding a writer you enjoy working with is not just a matter of professionalism but personality. Ask the writer for feedback on their experience can help you decide to hire them again or clue you in to internal issues that hampered progress. Offer them the same courtesy. Let the writer know if you intend to hire again and explain why.

What other tips would you offer to someone looking to hire a writer? Please share in the comments section below.

Before You Cut and Paste, Obey Copyright Laws

Digital media experts offer lots of advice on howLeader's Edge logo to successfully market online, but rarely do they emphasize the importance of avoiding copyright infringement.

That’s a shame because website owners who are caught re-using blogs from other sites or publishing photos without appropriate permission and attribution can suffer legal and financial consequences. And thanks to special software that finds reproduced images, it’s also easier to get caught.

As I cover in my Leader’s Edge article, Making a Lasting Impression, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), which publishes the magazine, was reminded of this the hard way.

Stressed for time, an employee published a photo without getting permission, which goes against the CIAB’s policy. As a result, the photographer’s lawyer contacted the organization and offered a settlement fee much higher than the original cost of purchasing permission. CIAB enlisted an attorney to reduce the fee and settle the matter.

_______________
Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.
_______________

Kudos to CIAB President and CEO Ken Crerar, who wanted the story told to prevent the same thing from happening to others. I wrote the article to be helpful to readers, so it also offers tips on how to secure permission with or without licensing fees.

The important point to remember is that posting a photo online is a form of publishing and the same laws apply as with print publishing.

Anyone publishing online needs to take care that they do not copy someone else’s work without obtaining permission. Since there are creators who make the effort to find copyright infringers and sue them, it’s worth combing through all publications and web publishing to avoid copyright infringement.

Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.

 

Manspreading May Cause Butt Dialing

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

The following blog was written by Arlene Miller (a.k.a. the grammar diva) at http://www.bigwords101.com and published here by permission. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Manspreading? Butt dialing? These are real words? Well, yes . . . and no.

The Oxford Dictionary has added 1000 new words to its online dictionary in the latest quarterly update.  Many of these words are slang, such as manspreading and butt dialing.  When words become commonly used, the Oxford Dictionary adds them. Although you now may wonder if such words are now considered esoteric and high falutin — after all, we are talking about the Oxford Dictionary —  think again. The Oxford Dictionary adds words that are in common usage in the English language. However, there is also the Oxford English Dictionary, “the definitive record of the English language.” Although that dictionary is also updated with new words, 500 in the latest update, it is the more formal dictionary. However, both dictionaries are published by the Oxford University Press.

The Oxford Dictionary  – Contains informal and slang words that are common enough to be included.

The Oxford English Dictionary  – Contains new words, but not those considered slang.

Here are some of the highlights of new words added to the Oxford Dictionary:

Manspreading – This word was coined by commuters and refers to men on public transportation who sit with their legs wide apart, thus taking up more than one seat so no one can sit in the surrounding seats.

Butt dialing – Accidentally calling someone with your cell phone in a rear pocket (possibly while you are manspreading).

Awesomesauce Great or wonderful. I have heard this word only on an insurance commercial. I am surprised it is even slang.

Beer o’clock and wine o’clock No, I didn’t make this up. I think you probably decide what times these really are.

Cat cafe – I had never heard of this before my daughter happened to tell me about it a few days ago. Imagine a Starbucks combined with a cat shelter. Yes, this is where customers come to play with cats who live at the cafe.

Brain fart – This one had been around a while and is a temporary loss of mental capacity

Bruh – Used to refer to a male friend and often used as a form of address.

Cakeage –  Like corkage for wine, a charge made by a restaurant for serving a cake they have not supplied.

Hangry – Just like it sounds, being irritable and angry because one is hungry.

Fat-shame – To humiliate someone by making fun of their size. (Now, that’s bullying!)

Fur baby – A pet cat, dog, or other furry animal.

Mx – A title used before a person’s name that does not specify gender.

Rage-quit- To become frustrated with some activity, commonly a video game, and quit in anger.

Rando – A person whom one doesn’t know who is likely acting suspicious or weird.

Redditor – A registered user of the website Reddit.

Snackable – Online content that is easily read and digested.

Swatting – Making a hoax call to  emergency services to bring a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.

Weak sauce – Something of poor quality. This must be the opposite of awesome sauce.

I was going to make you wait until next week, but I won’t! Here are some of the 500 new words that have been added to the fancier Oxford English Dictionary in the its recent update:

  • autotune
  • Blu-ray
  • comedogenic
  • comedy of errors
  • crowdfunding
  • declutter
  • go-for-it (adjective)
  • half-ass (adjective)
  • hardwire (adjective)
  • hot mess
  • jeggings (jean leggings)
  • netbook
  • photobomb
  • retweet
  • sexting
  • staycation
  • tan line
  • twerk
  • -uber (as a prefix)
  • wuss

To Write Successful Marketing Content, Think Like A Journalist

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Online content marketing is an essential way to reach potential customers. This approach has certainly worked for my clients and my company.

The primarily goal of content marketing is to provide “organic” content — as opposed to advertising — to boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract potential customers.

While executives can get excited about the bells and whistles of technical SEO, the truth is that content remains king. After all, if the written material does not attract search engines to your website, what’s the point?

So it’s curious to me that so many companies do not make the necessary investment for unique and useful content that is more likely to garner the all-coveted higher search engine rankings.

You no doubt see the results every time you do an Internet search. Since anyone can publish on the Internet without editorial scrutiny or peer review, the cyber world is filled with a lot of distracting and frustrating written refuse. There’s too much content “noise” on the Internet: material that is too generic, doesn’t answer reader questions or even worse, is duplicative from other websites.

The explanation for Internet noise is simple. Content marketing is a form of self-publishing and yet, much online copy is not produced by publishing professionals.

So to become an awesome content marketer, you need to think more like a quality-minded publisher or journalist. Consider this: just as a byline is the journalist’s brand, the material your organization publishes reflects its brand. Some experts call this brand journalism.

Publishers and journalists understand they must thoroughly know their audiences to offer content so compelling that busy people will sacrifice their time to read it. Yes, I mean sacrifice. By publishing a piece, you are asking the viewer to read your stuff instead of doing something else.

Frankly, I am always amazed at the marketing hype that gets published by people who don’t want to spend their precious time reading the hype of others.

_____________

Is your company’s content so awesome
that someone would actually pay
for the privilege of reading it?
_____________

I’ve also been equally shocked by how many professionals I have encountered who are not well acquainted with their customers’ needs and situations. Such information is necessary for producing quality content that will best serve customers. Investing in interviews, surveys or focus groups is a great way to know your customers better. (And by the way, you’ll also get great content ideas.)

The key is to show – not just tell the customer – why your firm is unique and how that equates to better products and services. That means no direct sales material or the blah, blah, blah about your company’s greatness. Ways to show, instead of tell are: publishing expert advice and insight, providing testimonials and case studies that solve common problems.

Professionals with publishing backgrounds understand that to make money, they must produce material that is so credible, useful and compelling that a person would buy it (through subscription) or it will attract enough readers to sell advertising.

Ask yourself a question. Is your company’s content so awesome that someone would actually pay for the privilege of reading it? If so, they will keep coming to your website for more!

Your organization’s content should showcase your expertise and build credibility with your potential and current clients. This is another reason why I recommend a journalistic approach. Strict journalistic standards push out the hype and sloppy content because every sentence must be justified.

Such journalistic standards include:

  • Knowing the reader. This cannot be emphasized enough! 
  • Assuring accuracy. Fact-check and double fact check when referencing other authors or sources. That means that proper nouns must always be correct or they are factual errors. 
  • Clarifying the purpose of the article, blog or other material and ensuring it answers the famous: who, what, when, where, why and how questions. 
  • Being specific. Instead of writing, “according to a study,” you name the study, the organization that published it and provide a link. 
  • Anticipating and answering reader questions about the subject. 
  • Presenting material in its appropriate “editorial package” by considering the appropriate use of graphical elements such as bullets and art. 
  • Staying concise. That does not necessarily mean keeping material short. Search engines do reward thoughtful and longer pieces. Aim for smaller sentences, tighter and active wording (for example, overusing the phrase “of the”) and phrasing that compel further reading.

Applying such standards for producing unique and high-quality content takes a lot of time and adjustment. So what are you to do?

There are several approaches. You can:

  • Buy generic material about insurance that is pretty affordable, but since it is not original, it is more likely to be pushed down by the search rankings. 
  • Produce content in-house, making sure that you have an editor who will approach the article journalistically. 
  • Hire a freelance writer with a journalism background. Writers with solid reputations, years of experience and who know the subject matter (or know what to ask) will likely cost more. Just think of the time it takes subject matter experts, consultants and executives to produce well-written material. Compare that to the cost of hiring a seasoned writer. Besides receiving quality and unique content, you should also benefit from ideas for re-purposing, new stories, different angles and approaches and creative ways to present material.

Conclusion

Publishing unique and quality content is more important for boosting SEO than technical SEO enhancements. By approaching a subject like a journalist, you will enhance your organization’s brand to build trust and credibility that should attract potential customers.

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Website Writers, Developers Must Work in Tandem

Image H84.20196Developing websites is far different than even five years ago. Website technology and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as examples, have changed considerably.

One thing, however, has not changed. Content is still king.

Too often during the website development process, however, business professionals first involve the designer or focus too much on bells, whistles and technical SEO without including the content writer.

This is a grave mistake. Involving the writer early in the process actually helps prevent unnecessary confusion and frustration.

Websites are a form of publishing. In traditional print publishing, the best practice is for writers to create the content first and then the designer develops the layout and chooses graphics that do not compete with text, but enhance the reader’s experience.

This approach also works well with web design because text – and how it is meant to be presented — can affect the site’s look and content placement.

Getting Started

The best way to approach a website is to establish its goals. Any writer or designer worth their salt will ask some of the questions below and offer to help clients answer them if necessary.

Questions should include:

  • What is this site supposed to accomplish?
  • How does the website work within the company’s overall marketing, communications and branding strategy?
  • Who are the readers/potential customers? Reader demographics, pain points and how readers will benefit must be established. Even basic market research can pay future dividends.
  • What is the overall message about the company and its products/services to the customer?
  • Does this message include the value proposition showing what makes the client unique?

The Designer/Writer Relationship

Introduce the writer and designer as soon as possible to encourage a creative partnership. The writer and designer need to have a shared vision so they can literally be “on the same page.”

During the development process, the designer should be concerned about the site map and material organization. As a natural part of the writing process, however, writers develop outlines similar to site maps to present content logically. Experienced writers will naturally consider the “packaging” of text and how to present it in user-friendly ways. Such writers can already envision reader-enhancing elements such as bullet points, sidebars, graphs, links, etc.

_______________

The writer and designer need to have a shared vision
so they can literally be “on the same page.”
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When the site map or web organization is being considered independently from the writer, the text might not fit the site’s design. What can be very frustrating, even to writers, is once the site is laid out, words often read differently once online.

Here’s why: When text is written and saved as a Word document, it is being read for its own sake. But when it is placed within the context of visual content, it might not stand out as well.

I find this phenomenon to be more unique to websites than in print publications. Text on websites is competing with a graphical frame of navigation tools, links and other distractions that can carry a reader’s eyes to a different space. This differs newspaper or magazine articles because print advertising does not distract the reader to a new space.

When changes need to be made, it is less cumbersome and more cost-effective if the writer has full access to all of the content instead of changing text in the vacuum of Word files. That way, the writer can make sure that coded headlines or other graphic elements that include text are correct.

More On Graphics

Traditional publishing practice also discourages design approaches that also should be avoided on websites. Since many website developers are technicians and not necessarily publishing designers, graphic elements could be misused.

For example, pictures can be worth a 1,000 words IF they are appropriate to the reader and the text.

Let’s say a site is trying to reach executives who buy workers’ compensation insurance. Since workers’ compensation only covers injuries, illnesses and deaths relating to work, a picture of a person sweeping a non-descript floor doesn’t resonate with the viewer. If the picture shows occupational elements, such as a person wearing a work uniform and/or background of a work area reinforces the subject matter.

I know this sounds obvious, but if you look at pictures on websites, you will be amazed at how the chosen stock photography does not reinforce the message. What amazes me even more is how much stock photography features still poses when readers like to people in action.

 ­­_______________
Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written…
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Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written, how easily it can be understood or even sentence length. Design plays a larger role and can distract the reader away from even the best content. White space is great, but too much white space between paragraphs can interrupt text flow.

Type size and its typeface are extremely critical or the words can become too “noisy.” Some fonts do not leave enough space between sentences. Using reverse type (white on black and other variations) can be very powerful, but too much is difficult on the eyes.

Also, remember to verify the viewabilty of the most important content. Take a look at your site through several browsers and devices to ensure the most important content is not buried, especially when considering viewing from mobile devices.

Keep in mind that people still print off information to read, so how it looks after being printed is also very important. Continuing to focus on the site’s goals and keeping them “top of mind” is essential. It’s too easy to get into the “weeds” of details, go down a tangential rabbit trail and lose direction.

And finally, choose website designers and writers carefully. Readers and search engine algorithms favor quality. Unique design is more memorable. If you hire based on the lowest price, you are more likely to see common designs or content that looks too similar to your competitors. In the future, I will write a blog on how to hire creative talent.

How will you approach your next website differently? Please share in the comments section below.

Like this blog? Then you’ll also enjoy my recent
Leader’s Edge article on digital media marketing.

How Different Generations Consume Content Online

Think the younger generations consume the most online content than baby boomers? Not true, according to a fascinating study published by Social Times.

The study also shares when different generations go online, the types of devices they use and how they share content. Good stuff! Check it out by clicking the link below!

How Different Generations Consume Content Online [Infographic] | SocialTimes.