An Easy Way to Find New Information

A friend asked a question via Facebook. "I want to improve my punctuation. Can you recommend a book to help me?" As a writer and former writing teacher, I'm often asked this question, and my answer surprises many people.

Buy a children's book.

Not just any children's book. Go to your local bookstore or go to Amazon and find a children, teen, or young adult study guide to grammar. My favorite is the A+ Guide to Grammar published by Scholastic. It's out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon and from other sources.

Why a children or teen guide to grammar? It's written simply, with clear, logical organization. That's important.  Most people don't sit down to read a grammar book cover to cover. They pick up such a book when they need to look something up quickly and find an answer fast.  "Can I use a semi colon here, or should I break it into two sentences?" "Do I use a comma after the word 'and' in this sentence or not?"  Such questions are easier to answer in a young adult guide to grammar because the author has arranged the pages with the most frequently asked questions in mind.

Another reason I like guides written for young people is that they are written in an engaging, conversational style. Grammar and punctuation is boring enough without feeling like the book you're reading is an old school marm complete with pince-nez and her hair in a bun shaking the scolding finger at you.  That's probably the reason you need to brush up your grammar anyway; somewhere, somehow, you were bored or shamed to death around your writing and so you gave up.  Most people have an inner school marm tucked away in their minds, and the last thing you need when you're trying to improve your writing skills as an adult is to trot her out for another scolding. Hide her back in the closet and find some fun, interesting way to improve.

Of course, the best way to improve your writing is to write, and to receive feedback from a kind friend you trust.  If you don't know such a person, consider visiting your local high school's adult education program or community college for a writing class. It can't hurt, and it will help you "strong sales through gentle marketing" efforts as you take your first steps into writing your website content, articles, blog posts and social media updates.

 


Blog Design Best Practices

Blog design has come a long way from black type on a white background. Sure, some people still have blogs that look like that - Seth Godin comes to mind. That's his style and if it's yours, more power to you.

But for the most part, the online world continues to shift to a more visually-inspired medium. Text remains important. If you don't have anything to say, or you say it poorly, people aren't going to come back to your blog. But if you write well but post to an ugly blog, you make it harder for yourself to attract new visitors and keep them coming back for more.

Blog Design Best Practices

So what's a blogger to do?

  • Clean up your mess. Over time, blogs accumulate sidebar crap. You post something that's nice today and a year from now it's just old. Clean up your widgets on Wordpress blogs, and go over all the extraneous content on your other hosted blogs. Your blog doesn't have to be spare, lean and mean, but does have to work together visually. When in doubt, move it out.
  • Fix broken links.  Do you have a blog roll? Check the links. I was shocked to find that several of my favorite bloggers either had abandoned their blogs or moved them to new platforms, which led to a lot of broken links in both the blogroll and sprinkled throughout my blog posts themselves. Take a few minutes to check for broken links and fix them.
  • Design a new header or icon for your blog.  You can use free online tools such as Pixlr or PicMonkey to create headers for your blogs. Use your own photos, or see the list my buddy Jodee Redmond has published on Freelance Writing Gigs for places to obtain free images under an acceptable usage license. Read the fine print; some sites require attribution, others don't, and it's up to you to know and understand the proper use of images on your blogs.
  • Add a professional signature to your posts.  It's not necessary, but some sort of signature, or consistent closing, does make for a more professional-looking blog.
  • Create pretty social media buttons.  One of my favorite resources is from Carrie Koehmstedt of Carrie Loves Design. She offers free packages of colorful social media buttons, and she's kind enough to share instructions for novices on how to download them and add them to your Wordpress or other blog.  You can find the free social media icon sets here.

Like a good store window, a pretty blog welcomes people inside...and once inside, your prose has to wow them! It is a marketing myth that any design will do. Great writing deserves a beautiful blog.


Three Ways to Annoy Your Readers

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, 10 ways to a flat belly fast, or 99 bottles of beer on the wall...but I guarantee you there are more than 3 ways to piss off your readers.

If you're producing content for your clients, customers or readers, there are three things you should never do.

  1. The Bait and Switch: The bait and switch is leading into a piece with a headline promising one deliverable, then delivering something quite different. Sort of like if I led into this article with my 3 favorite things to do to annoy your readership, and then I started talking about writing well or SEO or something like that.  You've decided to trust me with a minute of your time to read on because you want to know where I'm going with this topic. The fair thing to do would be to pay off that trust by providing you with a piece that answers the question. Avoid an article or blog headline that doesn't match the content. Check your content after you write the piece and tweak or adjust the headline as needed.
  2. The "Many People Think" Syndrome:  Nothing says 'amateur' like vague, general content that includes phrases such as "many people think..." without giving one specific example. Vague, weak content uses a lot of generalities and few specifics.  Or worse yet, give specifics but don't link to the source material. There's nothing worse than finding an article online that promises to help you clean granite kitchen counters, make chicken cordon bleu, or groom your dog, only to find silly instructions like "Wash kitchen counters with soap and water." Okay, what kind of soap? Is it the same for tile, granite, linoleum, butcher's block? And what about chicken cordon bleu? A recipe without specifics is a recipe for disaster.  Be specific with facts, figures, quantities, dates.  And if you are citing another website, please link back to the source material so that your readers can check the citations.
  3. The "Skip To My Lou." Remember the children's song "Skip to My Lou?" Skip, skip, skip...are you skipping around from topic to topic without a roadmap? This blog is about marketing.  That includes content marketing (hence this post.) It does not include gardening. If you want to read my gardening blog, visit Seven Oaks. If you want to read a dieting blog, you're in the wrong place. Would my writing about my latest dieting failures or gardening successes be of interest to you? Possibly, but that's not why people are following me.  Those who find me through Seven Oaks want marketing and writing tips. Period. Don't skip around from subject to subject. Having a good editorial plan and content focus can help you stay on target and on track.

We're all guilty of these three ways to annoy readers at least once in a lifetime. I know that when I am tired, when my fingers ache from too much typing, I tend to write sentences that start with "Many people today know that...."

But here's where a professional differs from an amateur.

A professional content marketing and writer stops, reads the sentence again, and strikes it out.  She rewrites it to be specific.

An amateur churns out page after page of this stuff.

Three ways to piss off your readers. What do you want to add to the list? Leave a comment, below.

 


Does Your Content Stand the Test of Time?

TestofTime2

Standing in the entrance hallway of my home is a grandfather clock. But it's not just any grandfather clock. It has passed down through three generations of family on my father's side. My grandparents purchased it in Germany sometime around 1930, and had it shipped back to the United States. It is a beautiful old round-face clock with a walnut cabinet. It no longer chimes, but when it did, the mellow Westminster chimes sound doleful, a deep baritone singing the hours against the heartbeat of the tock-tock of the pendulum.

This clock has withstood the test of time. Its mechanical mechanism continues to mark the minutes and hours with only a minor resetting each week. Its classic design is pleasing, the dial easy to read, the carvings beautiful but not over-the-top.

I thought of the clock today as I was musing about whether or not the myriad of blog posts, articles and content generated every day will pass the test of time. A year from now, will anyone read my blog posts? Will anyone care about Google Hummingbird, or will we be onto the next Google update, the next latest and greatest thing?

Whenever you think about quality content, ask yourself whether it will pass the test of time. Quality content, like my grandfather clock, is timeless.


a desk with flowers and a turquoise notebook

Reuse Existing Content

You can reuse existing content.

Creating killer content - shareable, sticky, viral, groovy stuff - takes time. And effort. Lots of effort. By the time you've finished brainstorming your wonderful blog idea, researching it, writing it, proofreading it, finding an image and publishing it, hours can whiz by.  Yet the public's appetite for expertly written content is insatiable. So what's a content queen to do?

Use the mantra my Depression-era parents taught me: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle.

In other words:  Mine your gems for a new diamond to share.

Reuse Existing Content

Content doesn't just mean the written word. It can mean info graphics, shareable images for Pinterest and other social media, a slideshow, a video or a podcast. What content do you have that was popular with your readers? Can you recreate the same concept in another media to share it?

Re-purposing an Idea

You don't need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write. If you have a great idea and a lot of research on a topic, you can spin it into multiple articles, blog posts or pieces.

I've done a lot of research on honey bees and Colony Collapse disease, as well as on native plants for gardens.  I've been able to write at least a dozen fresh, original articles based on that research by choosing a different slant or viewpoint on the topic each time.

What research do you have that you can re-purpose into a new idea? Perhaps research on choosing the best printer can be used to write articles about printer maintenance, saving money on ink and toner, and using recycled ink cartridges. Think about the ways in which you can reuse existing content.

Recycle

You can recycle your original content, but do so cautiously.  Make sure that you own all the rights to the content you wish to recycle, and avoid recycling similar phrasing online (it can hurt your search engine optimization efforts). I've successfully recycled articles I retained the rights to be combining them into an eBook I share with my clients.  I've also used blog posts to springboard into longer content pieces, recycling the original post but adding to it for a fresh, long form essay.  You can do the same with original content.

Content Curation

Lastly, content curation offers a new way to share information with your readers when you want to add to their experience without creating your own content. Content curation means finding and sharing links to the original source material that enhances your brand or shares useful information with your readers. Don't upload anyone else's original content to your website, but instead share a link back to the source of the material. Content curation is popular on social media websites and blogs, but you can use it on a number of different platforms, too. Just be sure to read the entire piece (or watch/listen to the entire media) before sharing it.  You must make sure that the entire piece is on topic and on brand, and won't reflect negatively on your company or on you if you share it.


Content Marketing Defined

content marketing graphic

 

Content marketing is the art and science of using original, creative, branded content - blog posts, writing, images, articles, stories, case studies and more - to acquire, retain and create loyal customers.

That's what we do here at Seven Oaks Consulting - content marketing, and all that goes with it, like SEO web page writing, website writing, copywriting, and teaching on this and related topics. But what the heck is it?

The Content Marketing Institute has a great definition here: What Is Content Marketing? (Come back here when you're done, okay?)

The Importance of Content Marketing

A recent survey reports that interest by digital marketing managers in content marketing is soaring. And do you know why? Because consumers are sick and tired of ads. They're tuning them out, scanning past them, ignoring and blocking them. Brafton, a fellow content marketing firm, claims that 75% of all consumers prefer informative articles to ads. I'd actually put that number higher. People want information, not advertising, in today's ad-saturated world.

People are hungry for facts. Information.  And that's where content marketing comes in.

Content marketing:

  • Helps brand your company as THE expert in your area, whether it's dog grooming or nuclear medicine.
  • Informs, entertains and engages readers, which encourages them to stick around longer on your website.
  • Gets SHARED virally on social media sites, thus increasing its reach.
  • Sells as it tells an engaging story.

If you'd like to begin your content marketing strategy, schedule a free 30 minute telephone call with us today.


a blue lobster in a tank

What You Can Learn About Marketing from a Blue Lobster

Deacon Blue is one lucky lobster. A fisherman snagged him off the cost of Prince Edward Island, thinking he had accidentally caught a beer can in his trap. Imagine his surprise when old Deacon Blue waved a claw at him. Blue lobsters are rare, and this pretty boy is heading for an aquarium instead of a restaurant near you.

Reading the story today, I couldn't help but be struck by how people value the different, the unique, to the point that they wish to save it, preserve it and display it. Think about. This guy was a hefty, juicy lobster. I haven't eaten lobster in ages, but I remember it as being quite expensive.  Surely the fisherman could have used the money.

Instead, Deacon Blue's life is spared because he is unique.

Here's what Professor Deacon Blue has to teach us about marketing: make sure you stand out from the crowd. Be unique, be different. Don't be afraid to be a blue lobster. Instead of ending up in the stew pot along with every other person trying to sell the same thing, hopefully you'll get the positive attention you need to attract customers and turn them into buyers and loyal fans.


My New Book

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention MY new book is now available! It's a business eBook called Pricing Your Services: 21 Tips for More Profit. You can order it from Smashwords, Amazon, or your favorite eBook retailer.

PricingYourServices200x300_150DPI

If you're a writer, artist, consultant, coach or service provider of any type, you know how hard it is to set your prices. How much should you charge? Are you charging too much, or too little?  What about sales - should you hold a private sale? And discounts - are they worth it?

My new book shares with you 21 ideas, tips, helps and hints to understand pricing nuances, determine your pricing strategy and set your prices. Instead of floundering around wondering what to charge, you can feel confident and charge what your time is worth.

The book is just $3.99 and available as PDF, for Kindle and a bunch of eReaders.

Purchase your copy of Pricing Your Services today.