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Ads disguised as information is lose-lose

For myself and for clients, I have often had an editor question whether I will provide an editorial (or article) rather than an advertorial. It’s almost insulting.

brand resting on trust

Brand rests on trust.
Dressing ads as information is not building trust.

Editorials are often the expectation

I say almost because I understand why an editor wants that reassurance.

It’s insulting because I wouldn’t ever pass an advertorial off as an article. I just wouldn’t. It is unprofessional for one thing and I would hate it as a reader so don’t do it as a writer/publisher.

Silly, I know, but I also assume others would not offer an article or editorial when planning to provide an advertorial.

This week, I was shown my silliness in believing that.

I read a guest post on a blog to find it was part advertorial. And the first part was advertorial to make it worse.

It flavoured how I felt about the post as I read the rest of it – I was suspicious because I was just waiting for the next sell instead of the next piece of information.

How was it an advertorial?

Let’s use this guest post as an example of advertorial.

It was a bullet list of tips related to a service offered by the guest poster. The topic and introduction did their job, bullet point one was a very generic statement without explanation.

The second bullet point was a sales pitch. “[This] is paramount. If you haven’t done it, I would be happy to help you”

It did not teach me anything, nor entertain.

A subsequent point included her business. Using your own business in examples is fine, and can be an effective way to put your name into an article. However, she did it as an explanation, not an example. And included a boast about her success in that area.

It probably would have come off as a clumsy example if the earlier point hadn’t been blatantly promoting her services.

In short, an advertorial is an ad disguised as an informative article.

What makes an article an article?

A good article (or editorial or technical piece or whatever name a particular site or magazine calls it) is basically the sort of article you want to read.

It will

  1. provide real information or entertainment, maybe both
  2. not overtly promote any business, person or product. It may promote an industry, service or type of product. So I could write about the value of using a professional writer but not directly write about my writing services.
  3. be accurate and correct, although it may be biased in one direction
  4. be written to the writer’s best abilities – and possibly better if the business gets it written or edited for them
  5. build trust and loyalty

 

It’s what I aim at in every blog post and article I write – I want to help people write and communicate well.

Is it the sort of writing you prefer to read?

Do you ever read an entire advertorial?

 

 

Limiting information engages imgaination

 Today I heard a webinar based on the book The Laws of Subtraction (6 simple rules for winning in the age of excess everything). Matthew E May, author of the book was interviewed by Suzi Dafnis of ABN.

 His third law hits a similar theme to what I often write so I wanted to share it.

Beach at Ricketts Point, Victoria, in black and white

Limiting colour can engage and stimulate imagination and thought

Law #3: Limiting information engages the imagination

This law is commonly stated as the cliché ‘less is more’ and writers are often told to ‘show not tell’ for more powerful writing.

Giving all the facts leads to overload and disinterests people so I suggest writing as little as possible to suit the message.

But I like Matthew’s twist – I believe it is true that too much information stifles imagination. Giving enough information to set a foundation is enough.

What information can you limit to get people’s imagination working in your favour?

Matthew gave the example of Steve Jobs launching the first iPhone – he showed one, explained some of what it could do and then said no more until it launched a few months later. And something like 20 million people signed up to buy one before it was on sale. That’s a lot of people acting on limited information, isn’t it? 

* Image from Word Constructions

 

Tell others about you

There are two main reasons people visit a website – they want information on a topic or they want information about the business behind the site.

So why do some sites avoid sharing anything about themselves?

Add an about us page to your website and blog

About us page Word ConstructionsAs Chris Lake wrote, an about us page “is surely one of the only true rules of doing business online. I can think of no good reason why you wouldn’t have one.”

An about us page can be very simple but it can make a huge difference to people thinking of doing business with you.

For a stand alone blog, it lets readers know who is writing the posts – for instance, is it a business or an individual, is it by an expert or someone learning the topic, or is the blog focussed on a specific topic or just a collection of ideas.

For a business website, it can build enough credibility for me to do business with you – or not.

How ‘about us’ can build credibility

  1. you are being open and transparent compared to making me wonder why you are hiding things – no name on a website instantly makes me suspicious
  2. providing history shows the business is more than a fly-by-night – if you’ve been in business for a few years, you must have done something right!
  3. explaining how the business began or the passion behind the business will certainly give me a believe in the intent of the business and its owners
  4. introducing team members can give me an idea of what skills are available for me as a potential client
  5. listing values or just writing a personal story can show the company culture

I have an about us page on my website and as part of my blog, even though they are on the same domain, so it is easy for people to read about me and my business. I wonder if I’m brave enough to ask if you have read either of them!

How important is an about us page when you are assessing a potential supplier or service provider?

No to under construction sites

Red cross through a roadworks sign stating 'under construction'I honestly thought most people online know that an ‘under construction’ website is not a good move. Search engines don’t give any credibility to sites with nothing more than a ‘coming soon’ message and people don’t like wasting their time on such sites.

As I posted about in my ‘starting a website’ series, it is very easy to put a simple web page as a temporary site while a full site is being developed. This way you can get onto search engine lists, provide some interest and begin marketing efforts.

So I was very surprised this morning to visit a site I had received an email about.

The homepage has a nice background but twice stated ‘under construction’ as well as ‘temporarily unavailable’ and ‘coming soon’ – that’s a lot of repetition in eight short sentences (one of which was ‘please be patient!”) Other than the business name as a heading, there was no information about what the business does and no real content.

Given I was making a decision about the company, this wasn’t good marketing for them. They didn’t include contact details but at least there were links to their twitter account and email.

Oh, there was no twitter user name or email address attached to the links, so their credibility fell further.

However, the biggest shock was when I clicked on the link in the footer which I assumed was their designer but thought may give me some information. It wasn’t their designer but a site selling ‘under construction’ themes for blogs! People are spending money on pretty backgrounds to put up words that may hurt (and certainly won’t help) their online reputation.

If you’ve been online for a while, does this shock you as much as it does me?

If you are looking at getting your business online, please don’t waste your money on a template or designer offering under construction pages. A plain page with an introduction and contact details will work much, much better.

What did you do while your site was being developed?

Getting lots of questions

Have you ever experienced a LOT of questions from your suppliers?

I aways lots of questions about new writing projects – less so for existing and long-term clients – and some people are amazed by that.  Usually amazed and appreciative, but amazed none the less.

Could you imagine going to a doctor or lawyer and not have them ask questions to clarify the issue and find the best solution? Would you trust a doctor who said hello and handed you a script?

As far as I am concerned, I like my suppliers to ask questions to show interest in the project (rather than the dollars) and to be sure they understand what I actually need.

As a writer, I don’t feel I can’t write good content if I don’t know much about the topic of the piece. I know I can’t write effective content if I don’t know who the target audience is or the purpose of the piece. So I ask lots of questions before I write or edit any content.

Although it make take you more time than you expected to hand over a project if the supplier asks many questions, it is usually worth it for the quality of the final result.

Some reasons to appreciate these questions are that the supplier:

  1. is interested in doing the project as well as they possibly can
  2. will clarify any parts of your instructions they don’t understand
  3. learns the purpose of the work and can tailor it to suit
  4. is able to make appropriate suggestions and recommendations
  5. has the knowledge to give a different perspective
  6. gets an understanding of you and your business as well as the specific project
  7. knows who to target the result at (if relevant)
  8. may notice other things you can benefit from (for example, when I read a client’s website to learn about them, I sometimes find a typing or logic error that I will point out so they can correct it)
  9. is being professional and showing attention to details which presumably will carry through into the project itself
  10. is gathering information from the best source rather than making assumptions or using less reliable sources

So be warned – if you ask me to write for you or help with a communications project, you will be asked a number of questions!

How about you – how have you reacted to suppliers asking questions in the past?

Do you respond differently to ‘dumb’ questions compared to a supplier gathering useful information?

Is your website shallow?

What is the content like on your website?

A new term around at the moment refers to shallow website content, meaning content that meets any minimum expectation without any additional information or resources.
Consider the contact us page on most sites – there is very little content other than contact details. That is shallow content – although highly appropriate for a contact page!

Imagine that level of information on other pages of a site – for example, I followed a tweeted link today to a blog post that was purely a title and a link. It can be very frustrating for a person wanting to learn something if a page gives so little information, but shallow content has worked in the past for getting search engine results.

One of Google’s plans, apparently, is to make information-rich pages rank better than such shallow pages. I say bring it on!

So before Google makes that change, maybe now is the time to build up the content on your website. Even adding depth to a page a week or fortnight will improve the experience for your site visitors so what have you got to lose?

So, is your website shallow? Are there obvious questions people would have that you are not answering?

Sharing restricted links

Yesterday I wrote about only linking to public material, but what happens if you find a great resource and can’t easily share it?

Here are some ideas on how you may be able to access that information to share it with others:

  • simply ask the owner of the article/site if you can copy it then add it to your newsletter or as a guest blog post
  • pick out key points from the article and summarise them in a blog post or across multiple tweets – it is courteous if you mention the inspiring source rather than just copy their ideas
  • make the link public but include mention of the restrictions (eg ‘only paid members can view’)
  • ask if a public-access link is available somewhere, or if one could be created 

Depending on the structure and intent of the person restricting access to the article, these techniques may be approved and therefore you can share that great information. If not, maybe just tell people that it exists and how they could access it.

Have you ever tried finding a legitimate way of sharing restrictied information?

You are making an impression…

Sigh. That’s my immediate response to a blog post I just read – sigh.

Doesn’t give a good impression of that blog or writer does it? Every time you write something that goes public, it affects how people view you – yet some people just don’t seem to get that. What’s worse is that this was a guest post on another blog so I assume they didn’t review it before accepting it. Silly as I closed the site after this post, and the rest may be great for all I’ll ever know…

I started reading the post in good faith but the poor expression made me skim the second half rather than read it which is never a good sign. I honestly only kept reading because I hoped the content would improve and justify it’s existence on a site I was reviewing. It didn’t.

Although appearing to be an article giving information, it was a poorly disguised ad for why company X is a good choice for design work – namely because they are young designers. I commented back as I don’t believe all young designers are good, nor all experienced designers lack passion.

Had I been given that article to edit or at least comment on, my suggestions for this article would have been:

  • make sure it all flows and that each sentence make sense
  • give balanced information (eg “while an older designer has experience, remember that new designers are keen to impress and may be passionate about their work” or “new designers have a lot to offer and you may find they charge less to get experience”)
  • introduce any specifics in the article, not just the heading (in this case the heading mentions web design but the article starts with ‘designing is a creative field’ – designing is more than websites)
  • use good grammar and punctuation (“give you the brand image as promised because; they want to earn a good name” does not need any punctuation in the middle and certainly not a semi-colon)

Just as I was leaving the page, I noticed the writer’s bio and sighed again. Nearly every word started with a capital letter (which is so annoying and completely unnecessary) and he claimed to be a ‘professional content writer’. With that example of his writing skills, he is not making a good impression for himself or the web design company paying him to write this article.

How do you respond to such poor examples of work?

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.

Growing your blog readership

Starting a blog may have sounded like a great idea (and it often is!) but is maintaining it harder than you expected? What do you find particularly hard about it?

I think a key to having a useful business blog (personal blogs have different measures of success so it may be very different) is frequent posts. From personal experience, I know the number of people viewing my blog are higher when I post every few days than when I miss a week or so – even when the popular posts at any given time are not the most recent ones.

So here are a few tips from me on building a good business blog that people will keep reading:

  • post regularly – if it suits your style, choose particular days to post so it becomes habit which also helps your readers know when to look at your blog
  • remember that posts don’t all have to be long – the occasional short one can be effective for variety and to maintain the frequency
  • link to other information from your blog – previous posts of your own, your own website, blog posts by other people, relevant websites. This gives people further information, shows your commitment to sharing information (rather than just chasing a sale) and also has search engine advantages. Note this doesn’t mean having a big blog roll
  • encourage a community within your blog – ask questions, answer comments and share other input (for example comments from people you met in real life)
  • how much do you promote your blog? Just having a blog and writing in it won’t get you hundreds of readers – you need to let people know it exists which you can do in many ways, including joining blog carnivals, commenting in related blogs, using keywords effectively, getting listed in directories, adding your blog URL to signatures and business materials, and being a guest blogger.

If time is a big hurdle in your blog development, consider delegating some of the tasks so it builds momentum without relying on you as much.

If finding things to blog about is causing you worry, set aside an hour or so and brainstorm potential topics. That list can then be used any time you need inspiration.

If you have been blogging for a little while and are worrying about its popularity, think about these points:

  • a niche or tips blog will have fewer readers than a blog associated with a major newspaper or movie star so don’t judge your success against blogs that are totally different to yous
  • depending on your topic and style, people may read your blog but not comment – either your audience is not the type of people who want to comment or perhaps your topic just doesn’t inspire comments (for example, a controversial news story will generate discussion but if you are giving 5 tips on how to care for your lawn, not as many people will have anything to add)
  • in a business sense, a successful blog could have a number of purposes – building credibility, developing trust, sharing expertise, bringing in more website traffic – so look at more than the number of comments as a marker. Other factors such as number of new leads, visits to your main website and number of time-wasting emails may show you the effectiveness of your blog

Back to my original question though – what do you find hard about maintaining your blog? Let us know and you may just get some solutions to rocket your blog success!