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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Reviewing the usefulness of old content links

Old content can still be good or it can be out dated, depending on the topic and the opinions given.

Since May 2012, I have ended each month with a blog post referring back to some of my old content (from my newsletter and blog). I’ll list all seven posts at the end of this one.

It has been interesting to read things I wrote in the past and think about how relevant they are today and how else they can be applied to good business communications.

To be honest, much of my content does still apply as writing doesn’t change rapidly – had I written about mobile phones or social media it probably would have been a different story!

Did it work?

Looking back, reviewing old content each month:

  1. was an easy way to find new content I guess – there was some time involved in deliberately going back to that month of past years and I did have to think of what to write about the old content
  2. created easy posts to write in advance and schedule
  3. helped build more links within my site, especially bringing some of those older pages back to life.
  4. didn’t have any significant effect on the number of readers to those posts (compared to posts made around the same time, there was little variation in reader numbers – with the exception of making procedure manuals accessible which was 3 to 6 times more popular than posts within a week of it going live). Given only one post stood out, I’d say it was more about the topic than the old content link.
  5. also didn’t seem to have attracted particularly more or less discussion either
  6. took advantage of work I did in the past – leveraging is a great concept!

The biggest question to me, however, is what you thought of it.

Was it interesting to revisit old content? Or maybe I was too subtle and you hardly noticed that I was doing it?

Would you like me to continue this into 2013? If so, are there any changes you would like me to make?

My old content driven posts were:

May – planning future communications
June – making procedure manuals accessible
July – knowing the right terms
August – consistency over stats
September – reading efficiently saves money
October – accepting feedback graciously
November – dividing up business tasks
December – honesty in blog comments

Making topics seasonal

My January enewsletter resulted in the question of how to make your blog or newsletter topic seasonal occasionally to generate timely interest and show an external connection.

Don’t assume you can only use major events (like Christmas, the end of financial year and Mothers Day) for a seasonal flavour to your blog and newsletter. Find seasonal things throughout the year that are relevant for your clients – especially things around times when your marketing may need an extra boost.

Here is a list  of seasonal examples I’ve though of to get your creativity flowing…

  • at the start of summer, a hairdresser writing a hair care blog can discuss protecting hair from chlorine and salt
  • many businesses can find a new year’s link – make a resolution to get fit, sort out your accounts, update your will, care for your heath (quit smoking, visit a dentist, get your eyes tested, etc), buy new tyres or learn something new are just a few possibilities. Write about what is possible and give tips on how to achieve it
  • a car detailer could write a newsletter article on how to make a car nice before taking out someone special on Valentines Day
  • anyone in security (including computer security) can give blog tips on protecting empty homes and offices leading up to major holidays (Christmas, Australia Day and Easter for instance) when people won’t be at home
  • any business can support an awareness or fundraising event so write about your efforts even if not directly related to your goods or services – e.g. give a discount to all new parents during world breastfeeding week, offer a part of profits to the cancer council in Movember. Use the newsletter article or blog post to explain why the cause matters. The event or cause may not be related to your industry but make sure it does align with your brand and company beliefs.
  • write blog posts and newsletter pieces about clients or suppliers who do community work around a specific event (such as a client who shaves for ‘shave for a cure’ or a cafe who hosts a ‘biggest morning tea’)
  • in September or October, a VA could write about spring cleaning a filing system and a ducting specialist can write about the importance of cleaning heating ducts
  • a nutritionist could explain the benefits of hen eggs over chocolate eggs around Easter time
  • a physio interested in RSI topics will find plenty of examples during January with the Hopman Cup, Brisbane International and Australian Open underway
  • a town planner has the Tour Down Under and Tour de France to inspire blog posts about including bike paths in developments
  • Clean up Australia Day is a great time to post about reducing clutter (any organisers or storage solution people?) and cleaning (cleaners, cleaning product sellers and chimney sweeps)
  • a conservationist can give non-paper wrapping tips in December and environmentally friendly cleaning ideas for Clean up Australia Day or spring cleaning – in an electronic (not paper) newsletter of course!

What creative seasonal ties have you used in your blog posts and newsletter articles?

Costs of a newsletter

News headline catches a client's eye

For many businesses, sending out a regular newsletter is an effective marketing strategy. So I sometimes get asked how much it costs to produce a newsletter.

There is no clear answer to that, but here are some of the factors that will impact on the expenses for a newsletter.

  1. how long is it? A longer newsletter takes more time and effort to layout plus requires more content so will cost more than a shorter newsletter. However, the cost of 4 pages vs 2 (for example) may be worth it if it means giving good information and/or being able to produce the newsletter less often
  2. are you doing a print version? If so, you need to allow for paper/ink/power costs to do it yourself or a printer’s bill to have it professionally done
  3. how are you distributing it? Allow $1 for stamps and envelopes if mailing it, plus time to put into envelopes; emailing it will generally be much less than that but outsourcing the sending or using specialised software will still cost money. Having a pile available in store or on your website is cheaper but doesn’t have the same impact and results as getting it to people
  4. do you have a template? Your newsletter will work much better if it looks professional so get a designer to make a nice template that works with your brand. I would suggest getting both print and html versions designed, even if you only expect to use one, so you have both options available with a matching look – it’s cheaper to get two designs at once than as two separate projects
  5. what sort of content will you use? Full articles, article excerpts with the full article online or just snippets of news? Making articles to suit can be time consuming, and specific word counts can make even shorter pieces take longer to write and edit.
  6. who will write your newsletter? Will it all be done in-house to suit, collected from outside sources (e.g. members or clients’ submissions, free or paid articles), outsourced to a professional writer, or some combination? Although paid content and editing may have a higher up front cost it will require less of your time.
    TIP: If outsourcing the content (in part or all of it) you can reduce costs by providing the topics and key points to be covered so the writer can concentrate on writing rather than thinking and research time.
  7.  who will layout the newsletter each time? An expert will place content into your template much quicker than most people – again, there is a cost in time or money. However, the best results often require additional content editing during layout (such as adjusting words to avoid orphans and strange page breaks) so it’s good if your writer and designer (whether in-house or outsource) can work together on the newsletter
  8. although a relatively small cost, uploading your newsletter to your website, and adjusting any supporting text to suit, also needs to be included – especially if someone else manages your site updates

No matter how the newsletter is produced and distributed, you also need to allow time to read the final version before it gets produced. Not only is this a safety measure against typos and layout errors, you can also check that everything is consistent with your brand and objectives. If you produce the newsletter yourself, ideally someone else should do a final review of it for you.

Have you priced your business newsletter? A full costing is important for an accurate analysis of costs versus returns, and many people forget about including their time as a cost.

Getting blog content ideas

Beyond my usual tips of how to find content in your blog, I thought I’d share some ideas on how to find content that may attract more readers from external sources.

  1. use a keyword tool to find the popular terms people use for your product/service – how can you use those specific words in a blog post? Maybe you could explain the subtle differences between the terms (eg haircut and hair style or shielded metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding) or list the varied parts of that term (eg lawyer could be broken into criminal lawyer, family law lawyer and estate planning lawyer)
  2. join a bookmark site (eg delicious, stumble upon, digg, reddit) and look for popular bookmarks for relevant terms. Once you have set up a search, you can add it as a RSS feed for easy future reference as well.
  3. still on a bookmark site, look at the most popular articles people have saved in your topic area – you are bound to get inspiration from reading a few related articles. Note I mean find ideas, not copy the articles or even write the same idea in your own words, as you want original content in your blog. Sometimes one small comment in an article is enough to give you a great idea to write about.
  4. keep an eye on trending topics in Twitter. I use Tweetdeck which automatically gives me a list of each days’ trending topics – many are not relevant to me but sometimes one of them can indirectly give me a blog post idea. Given I’m there checking tweets anyway, it takes practically no time to look at this list.

Meaningful posts that people love to read

happy readerI’m going out on a limb here but I assume you write blog posts and articles because you want people to read them for some reason (promote your business, share your point of view, etc). If I’m wrong, perhaps another post will be more meaningful for you!

I see two simple rules for getting people to love reading your posts/articles/newsletter:

  1. providing substance is more important (meaningful if you like) than just stringing together relevant keywords
  2. people who like what you write are more likely to come back to read more, and recommend it to others as well

I was prompted to write about meaningful posts by reading an article that sounded interesting. That is, the heading was about whether or not to build a website and it started by discussing the increased sense of needing a website in the small business sector in recent times. However, that’s as far as the article went – it gave a case study of someone struggling to get their web designer to finish a job and then learning building the website wasn’t the end point anyway.

From this example, I think we can learn

  • if you create a question or interest in a heading or introduction, you need to answer it within the article
  • each post/article should be on one topic – not reasons for website growth, optimisation and a case study rolled into one. One topic is simpler to read and understand, and splitting other topics out gives you more articles/posts to write anyway!
  • include something that makes it worth the time to read the article or post – generally this means give some information or insight, but it may mean entertain in some way. The article on building a website left me feeling I learnt nothing and therefore wasted my time – the result being I won’t be heading back for more of their articles

So next time you write for your blog, website or newsletter, ask yourself if you have made it meaningful and of value or if you have just put together some space filler. And then check if there is anything you can do to make it more meaningful.

Choosing a newsletter format to suit

As a communications person, I do more for clients than just write. Recently, I reviewed the newsletter process for a client.

Initially, they were sending out a paper based newsletter but introduced an email version a few years ago. About a year ago, I helped them make the html (email) version shorter and more suited to emailing. The purpose of the recent review was to consider how to present their newsletter moving forward.

Here are some of the key points I considered before making a recommendation that suited the client’s needs:

  1. their subscriber list was about one third postal addresses so stopping the paper mailing wasn’t an option in the short term. The break down of the mailing list is a critical factor in such decisions
  2. the people my client sends newsletters to are literate and technology friendly so emails are acceptable, although an older sub-set still prefer paper-based communications for important news
  3. my client wanted to maintain a copy of the newsletters on the site for 2 or 3 years so we couldn’t purely do html emails in an email program (ie we had to make a version available on the website)
  4. sending an email costs a lot less – for my client, it is about $0.15 per email and $2.00 per letter, and that’s a typical price range
  5. emails and pdfs can contain hyperlinks to make the newsletter more interactive, but they are easier to insert and adjust in an email
  6. an html page can be emailed easily but doesn’t print so well, especially if you want to print to the edges of the page for a professional finish
  7. for branding, a paper/pdf newsletter must match the email version so having them designed at the same time will give the best results
  8. creating multiple pages on a site (ie one article per page) for email links is time consuming but it is difficult to direct readers directly to an article within a pdf
  9. there is software (and free to use websites) that can convert pdfs into html so creating a pdf for print and having it converted into html for emailing is an option. However, the I found the final product is not polished or professional enough for me to recommend it to a client
  10. a pdf attachment on a website is ok but sending a pdf attachment as an email newsletter is not – many spam filters will stop it, it looks messy and is larger than necessary so a pdf that can be printed, put on the site and emailed is not a solution

There is no one size fits all answer to the question of paper or html newsletter, but the above points may help you decide. What other factors do you think are important?

Does it make sense?

I just read a blog post that jumped topics so I thought I’d give you a quick reminder to watch the flow of anything you write.

In the example I just read, one paragraph was an overview of a business change and the next paragraph commented on how a specific target seemed hard at the start. The target hadn’t been mentioned before so it didn’t make sense to me – a sentence or two in between these paragraphs would have explained the target and made the post flow nicely.

The reminder is to always check you haven’t skipped anything important for someone else’s understanding.

Have promotional articles seen their day?

On Sunday I wrote about the value of promotional articles, but I thing there is another important question – have they be over used? are they just a waste of time?

articles form Word ConstructionsMy answer – no!

There are certainly a lot of promotional articles available, and many are not worth the time to read (or write!), but for a well prepared article there is definitely a return on the investment of preparing promotional articles.

A couple of reasons promotional articles are still worth considering to promote a business:

  • people still want content for sites, ezines and blogs – promotional articles save them time and provide a variety of information for their readers
  • things change so there is a need for current articles to replace out dated ones – for example, articles about employing staff in 2010 would not cover paid parental leave responsibilities
  • each topic has many angles so even if there are 50 articles on running a business as a parent, you may be able to suggest a different perspective or a new method
  • search engines and people want fresh content so even if Joe Blogs wrote a fantastic article on email marketing it could be time someone else wrote one so we don’t read Joe’s article in five different newsletters
  • we all have different approaches to learning so the way you explain something in an article may be a better way for some people to understand it

In short, the internet has put us into an information age and there is power to those who provide quality information. Promotional articles are an excellent way to share information so we have not seen the end of their value.

If you’re still doubtful, think about the last time you searched for information online – what were the most useful sources?

Sending a Christmas message

Putting some Christmas cheer in an envelope

We’re heading for Christmas and most businesses are trying to be prepared for the December rush.

Many businesses send a Christmas email to their customers, supporters and suppliers so here are some tips for writing your email…

  • if possible, use the person’s name so your Christmas message is personal
  • even if your usual business communications are formal, make this message casual and clearly from you – you are sending the email in appreciation and to share goodwill, so don’t think of it as a business document. However, spelling, grammar and making sense are still basic elements of your email
  • if you and/or your customers are not Christian or simply don’t believe in Christmas, send a “season’s greetings” message instead. Even better, make it an “end of year” message
  • keep it short – this isn’t the time for a sales pitch or news, just give your best wishes and leave it at that
  • still include the basics of a good email – useful subject line, unsubscribe details (if you are using a list rather than truly personal emails) and contact details
  • put your message in the body of the email, not as an attachment or in a graphic

Adding some cheery graphics and/or colour is nice, but not essential; if you do add graphics, make sure the email doesn’t become too big.

Newsletter subject lines

The subject line of an email is an important factor in getting it read, and that is no less important for an enewsletter.

Personally, I think it is useful to start the subject the same way for every edition of your newsletter. I suggest using the name of your business or newsletter as the subject

You can add a date or specific subject as well, but a consistent start is helpful because:

  • it is easy to identify as your newsletter whereas varied subjects may get deleted by even your keenest readers
  • it is easy for people to collate different editions in their inbox if they have the same subject
  • it helps build your brand – just a glance at the subject reminds people of you without them reading it

Thinking of enewsletters you receive, do you prefer ones with a consistent subject line?