OMG! How NOT to write business web content

In today’s text, Twitter, social media world, people are getting more and more lazy about their grammar and spelling, according to This Embarrasses You and I*, an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The article begins with:

When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, “There’s new people you should meet,” her boss Don Silver broke in. “I cringe every time I hear” people misuse “is” for “are,” Mr. Silver says. He also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with “like.” For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. “I am losing the battle,” he says.

And it’s not just Mr. Silver who is losing the battle. Companies across the country are fighting the same and it’s becoming an epidemic.

Schools have stopped teaching cursive handwriting. That makes sense, of course, as many of us no longer write longhand. But, along with it comes shorthand acronyms – LOL, WTH*$, 2nite, <3, AISI, IMO, OMG – and they’re all reaching corporate world communications.

Heck, they had to create an entire dictionary on the lingo so those of us who didn’t grow up in the text world know how to understand what’s being said.

But it’s not just affecting the business world. According to BBC News, students are turning in homework completely written in text.

My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.

It’s fairly easy to figure out this person went to NY to see her brother and his family during summer break, but it certainly takes more energy and thought to figure out what message is being delivered.

If this is how your customers and prospects are being communicated to/with, do you think they’re going to want to do business with you?

But it’s not just text speak that is bringing down the corporate world of writing and communications. Most don’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following are six tips for better business writing. And, if you’re so inclined, for better Facebook status updates, too.

  1. Always use spell check. Internet browsers, content management systems, Pages, Word, and most software have spell check built in. Use it!
  2. Cut down on text slang. We all use LOL or OMG or WTH with the best of them, but when writing, spell out your acronyms. You don’t say LOL when you speak. Don’t write it, either.
  3. Know the difference between your and you’re. Your is possessive, as in “your car” or “your business.” You’re is short for you are. Know which you’re trying to say.
  4. Same for its and it’s. It’s is short for it is. Read your sentence out loud. If you can say “it is” without it sounding goofy, it’s is the proper use. If it sounds ridiculous, you can use its.
  5. The word “that” is rarely necessary. If you can write the sentence without the word “that,” remove it. It’s very rare it’s a necessity.
  6. Stop using the word “like.” Just like Don Silver in the example like above, like too many people like use the word like.

If you want to get serious about your writing, check out the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

 

About the Author ~ Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of the PR and marketing blog Spin Sucks and co-author (with Geoff Livingston) of the book, Marketing in the Round. You can find her on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Facebook.

 

photo thanks to proudcanadianeh

 

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Is your brand burning bridges?

Be careful how you treat your customers….

Quick: Name a company that you will never, ever work with again.

When I asked my husband this question, he immediately responded with “24 Hour Fitness.” Once upon a time, they continued to charge his credit card after he cancelled his membership. It took him months to straighten it out.

Oh, and did I mention that this happened 20 years ago?

Having a bad brand experience is like eating bad seafood at a restaurant. Whenever you think of the brand, your brain immediately goes back to how horrible you felt the last time you were there (or the last time you worked with the company.) Sure, you know that your experience could be “unique.” You know that the company may have even cleaned up their act. That doesn’t make any difference – you still remember the pain you endured.

I thought about this when I was trying to cancel my Vonage service. I used Vonage for over seven years with (virtually) no complaints. Then, the service got so horrible that people couldn’t hear me, the call would drop – you name it, it happened. After 20 minutes with their customer service rep (with me repeating the phrase, “No, I want to cancel my service” at least 20 times,) I was assured that my service was, in fact, cancelled – effective immediately.

Then, I received an email with the subject line, “Confirmation to continue Vonage services.” The email read, in part:

“We’re delighted that you’ve chosen to stay with Vonage.

We’re writing to confirm the terms you discussed with our Account Management representative on 7/3/2012 to continue your service…”

W. T. F.?

At the very bottom of the email, I read this line:

If you have any questions or believe this information does not accurately reflect what you agreed to, please let us know that within seven (7) days. You may do so by accessing this link…

When I clicked the link, it took me to a page that gave me two radio button choices: Cancel my service, or continue it. So, even though I called to cancel my service – and was assured that it was cancelled – Vonage used this sneaky tactic. Had I not paid attention, my service would have continued.

The result? I will never, ever use Vonage again. And I will tell everyone I can about their sneaky bait-and-switch tactics.

In today’s social media world, burning customer bridges is just plain stupid. If you piss off the wrong person with a huge Twitter following, their opinion of your company will go viral in moments.  Case in point:

(This is a true story. A representative from PayPal’s “escalation department” disputed the anti-SEO stance the first rep mentioned, and said that they could help if I was classified as a “training company.” Having said that, the “escalation rep” is no longer returning my calls – and no-one else from PayPal has offered to help.)

So, what happened here? The post got retweeted, and people wrote blog posts about my experience. I’m sure PayPal’s profits aren’t in danger – but I will tell everyone I know about how I was treated.

What are the lessons that businesses can learn from this?

- Treat your customers fairly. I feel that the Vonage “Confirmation to continue Vonage services” email was completely unethical. Same with how 24 Hour Fitness back in the day kept charging some people’s credit cards long after they cancelled. If people want out of your program – and they are within their contractual rights to do so – let them out. Make it easy for them. The customer may come back if they were treated well. They won’t come back if you made their life a temporary hell.

- Follow through if there is a problem. Mistakes happen. People give out incorrect information. What’s not OK is to tell a cranky customer “I’m on it” and then drop the ball. Because you know what that customer is going to remember? How you said that you’d call them back – and then you didn’t. That’s what they will tell their friends and family (and social networks, too.)  Comcast has certainly won some points with their @comcastcares Twitter handle – prior to that, talking to Comcast was a painful experience. They may not be perfect, but they’re trying. It’s something.

- Reputation management won’t help you if you suck. If you continue to ignore customer issues, do sneaky things and don’t value your customers, it will come back and bite you in the butt. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But someday. And that can cost your company a significant amount of cash. Here’s more information about reputation management from guest author @seobelle.

That’s my rant…how about yours? What companies have left you feeling less than happy about how they treated you?

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How to protect your brand online

Your content strategy should be a great representation of your brand, and this is easy to control when you are writing and editing it for yourself. But what do you do when other people start to write about you?

SEO copywriting on your own site can help get you recognised, get traffic and get noticed, but with that level of exposure you do sometimes end up in the firing line.

  • Your Brand

Your brand could be your business, your website, or your personal brand, and as such you need to represent your brand effectively and protect it. By having a blog or any kind of social media presence you open yourself and your brand up to conversations and sometimes criticism.

It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are an international blue chip organisation or an individual with a blog, you have a reputation to protect – and if there is a chance that someone else is writing about you, then you need to know about it.

  • Monitoring Your Brand

You can easily use social network tools such as Sprout Social and even Google Alerts to keep an eye on your brand and website mentions. You can also use more advanced packages that include sentiment tracking, but for most people the free or cheaper options are enough.

Although you may be in a competitive vertical, particular keywords such as ‘brand name’ scam can be very easy to rank well for and ‘Google bomb’ your own site. Keeping an eye on your mentions is just as important as focusing on your own SEO and content writing.

No publicity is bad publicity….”

The old saying of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ no longer applies: it used to be that nobody cared what people were writing about them, as long as they were getting enough column inches.

Now we do care about what people are saying…why?

Traditional media was disposable. An article would be written, read and discarded, while your other brilliant work some would be archived in some library to collect dust. So it was no wonder people didn’t care as much about reputation management.

If you read a bad piece in a newspaper, you may remember the brand but the details are a bit fuzzy, therefore the brand became more recognisable:  the next time you come across them, be sure to note the operative writer that you remember them, and this time may be a more favourable situation.

Information turns into discussion

The other aspect of digital media compared to traditional media is the social element: we now read something, share it, tweet, discuss through comments, and even blog about it. Therefore one bad comment may turn into pages and pages of search engine results about the subject with various opinions.

If something is shared in a newspaper or another form of print, then you can guarantee it will be recorded with pictures, digital copies and social media.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

You can categorise blogs or articles about your brand in 3 different ways:

1.   The Good

These are the best types of blogs about your brand: some lovely person speaking favourably about your brand. These are just as important to keep an eye on as negative brand discussion, as these are a great opportunity to share.

You can also reach out to the writer and get a link back to your site from the blog, or even get valuable content from them to quote in your own copywriting strategy.

2.   The Bad

Bad reviews and blogs about your brand are very damaging to your brand, but they may also provide you with some legitimate feedback on your product or services. Don’t shy away from bad articles – instead, embrace them and see if you can resolve the issue and turn it around.

The quicker this is dealt with the better, so make sure you are monitoring your brand closely in the search engines and on social media.

3.   The Ugly

Ugly content is content that is often badly written – typically an emotional response, or defamatory in nature. These are more difficult to handle and can often be very hurtful to you. It is very important not to take this content to heart and remain detached when dealing with it.

Unfortunately this ugly kind of content style is often shared quickly. This is because it appeals to people on a more emotional level, is often sensationalist, and can cut very close to the bone.

This needs to be handled sensitively. If you can reason with the original author then do – and try to offer assistance to change their opinion. If they are the type of writer that does this for fun they may not be easy to reason with. In this case you may need to try other methods to protect your brand.

At SEO Creative, we have produced a simple flow chart to help you deal with content discussing your brand:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author ~ Sadie Sherran

Sadie Sherran is the owner of Media Pro UK Ltd, holding company of SEO Creative, a digital agency in the UK. Sadie is head of online marketing and specialises in SEO, SEM, CRO and Reputation Management.  Sadie is a big fan of pie and chips, spends a lot of time on Twitter(@seobelle) and is often found getting tips from the SEO Copywriting blog.

 

Hurry! There’s just a few days left to apply for the Copywriting Business Bootcamp that starts on July 16th. Sure, it’s an investment – but if you follow the program, you’ll be able to make your investment back in three months or less. Here’s how to get started…

 

photo thanks to Picture Taker 2

The dark side of Facebook fan pages

Picture this: I’m working away in a cramped London hotel room. I’m there for SES London, along with many other of my geeky SEO friends.

Suddenly, I get a Facebook fan page request from a person who shall remain nameless.

And then I got another. And another. All from the same person.

At the end of the deluge, this person had sent out about eight “become a fan” requests (it could have been more, actually,) all within five minutes.

A few minutes later, I head downstairs for dinner. One person checks his iPhone and groans about all the “become a fan” requests. Another person checks his email and makes the same comment. We compare notes and realize, yup, these requests were:

  1. All from the same person, who was…
  2. In our industry, so he was probably…
  3. Setting up Facebook fan pages for his clients (most of which were local to this man, and therefore, we had never even heard of the companies)  and…
  4. Sending out bulk “become a fan” email requests to everyone in his Facebook network on behalf of his clients. You know, the companies that none of his Facebook friends had ever heard of.

Within five minutes, this person was “unfriended” by five people. Probably more – I’m sure we weren’t the only folks in his network to feel this way.

Folks, I am all for Facebook fan pages.  I think they offer businesses a fantastic way to reach customers and engage in a two-way dialogue. Heck, even I have a SEO copywriting Facebook page.

But when it comes to promoting your fan page (or your client’s), please, please use some common sense. Sending out client fan requests to everyone on your friend network is just plain irritating. How could I have any kind of “connection” to a company that’s across the U.S. from me? How is that targeted? It reflects poorly upon the marketer and poorly upon the company.

If you’re cringing a bit because you’ve done the same thing, I know you meant well. You really did.  Heck, I’m sure the guy who sent out all the Facebook notifications meant well.  I’m sure he wanted to build up his client’s fan network and show some initial success.  The thought was nice. But there are other ways to reach that goal.

So, before you send out “bulk-fan” notifications, ask yourself:

1. Does my friend have any connection to the company that I’m promoting? If you’re promoting your own company, it may be appropriate to email more folks within your network (although Kenny Hyder says no in this funny and spot-on post.) But if you know that your friend lives in California, and you’re asking them to become a fan of a small, local Vermont-based business, you probably aren’t going to get much play.

2. Do I have a page that’s worthy of fandom? If it’s a brand-new fan page without much interaction, consider bulking up your content before trolling for fans. Otherwise, you’re asking folks to fan (otherwise known as “recommend”) a page that’s not even ready for prime-time.

3. How would I feel if I received this fan request? Just because people can easily ignore a request doesn’t mean that you should make them spend the time to do so. If you’re on the fence, don’t send it.

Friends don’t let friends send spammy Facebook spam requests, m-kay? Think about it.

Does your content piss people off?

A few days ago, my husband and I were watching an ad for Teleflora. It was your typical Valentine’s Day ad – a woman received flowers at work – but they were brown and wilted. She was obviously disappointed. The lesson: If you don’t purchase your flowers from Teleflora, the love of your life may question how much you really care.

The ad made my husband angry. First, he said, why are all Valentine’s Day ads targeted towards men? Why aren’t there any targeted towards women? After all, they buy Valentine’s Day gifts too (good point.)

But what made him the most angry was what he felt was the subtext of the ad. In his words, “OK, so I’m a tool if I don’t send flowers – and I’m even more of a tool if I send flowers and they aren’t the right kind. Men can’t win.”

(Fair disclosure: My wonderful husband celebrates Valentine’s Day 365 days a year. His ad resistance had everything to do with the messaging, and nothing to do with the concept of celebrating your beloved.)

When you’re writing copy, it’s so important to consider how the target audience will feel about your content. On the surface, the Teleflora ad was probably seen as witty and original. But since the target audience is men – and men are getting told yet again that their gifts had better measure up on Valentine’s Day – how effective was this ad, anyway?

This is especially important if you’re writing copy about “touchier” subjects. For instance, think of people who need high-risk car insurance and SR-22 forms. This population is already facing higher insurance fees, and are dealing with the stigma of needing a SR-22 in order to drive. If you are part of this target audience, would you rather read:

“Accidents, violations = OK!” (The General Car Insurance) or…

“This is auto insurance for people that many insurance companies do not desire to insure or for people that have had a policy cancelled” (High Risk Auto Insurance Ontario.)

You see the difference? The General makes a positive statement (OK!) while the other site reminds the visitor that yes, they did mess up royally.

As I stated in “Do You Know What Your Prospects Are Really Thinking”, your target audience is looking for excuses to NOT buy from you. When you write content that disempowers, embarrasses or freezes prospects with fear, they won’t react well. In fact, the only reaction you may see are huge bounce rates.

The important takeaway from these examples is to always – and I mean always – put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you read the copy. Would you feel empowered and positive (OK!) Or would you feel like, no matter what you did, it wouldn’t be good enough (Teleflora.)

Focus on writing copy that’s empowering, exciting and informative. You won’t piss people off – and your site conversions will show it.

(Private note to ProFlowers – your site is still focused around Valentine’s Day – and it’s the 16th of February. Oops!)