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The Shape of Copywriting in 2014


Copywriting in 2014 is shaping up very nicely. Last year saw the emergence of content marketing and, thanks to Google’s various releases, online copy became more important than ever.

Many websites were whacked by the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, and had to be completely rewritten as Google looked to punish poorly-written, spammy websites. Blogging became big business as regularly updated content became one of the best ways to keep your website’s ranking, and copywriters saw blogging become their bread and butter.

So far in 2014 then, it’s been business as usual for the profession. Businesses are grasping the concept of content marketing and starting to engage with it. And as the economic outlook begins to brighten, so too does the amount of money being spent on marketing. More and more smaller companies, as well as larger organisations, are starting to embrace blogging, social media and regular PR as a serious way to increase their profile. Some are employing writers directly or looking to outsource it to freelancers.

There are more jobs out there for copywriters too. Many of them are advertised as content writers but when you read the job description, it’s basically what copywriters have been doing for years. And in an interesting twist, several newspapers have posted vacancies for online writers without recognised journalistic qualifications. They’re beginning to recognise writing for the web can be a slightly different skill to writing for a newspaper and are recruiting people with relevant skills and experience to write lots of smaller articles reacting to breaking news stories.

Social media looks set to maintain its upward trajectory and play its part, along with copywriting, as a vital part of SEO. The major search engines are focussing on engagement and social value, both of which are simple to achieve with Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to distribute content on social media too, so the coming year will continue to see blogs, articles, photos, press releases and videos shared this way.

The emphasis on quality will remain in 2014. Google’s Penguin and Panda updates last year ranked websites with well-written and properly punctuated copy higher than those without. It also loved brand-focussed copy which addresses the reader directly and tells a story. Which brings me to my next point; story telling was big in 2013 and will be even bigger this year. Websites with stories and informative, friendly copy will see great results when compared to those that don’t.

Long-tail copy will be everywhere this year too, as Hummingbird exerts its influence. Instead of isolating keywords and short phrases, it will look to prioritise longer sentences and phrases so web pages written as How To guides or addressing specific problems will rank well.

Copywriting is in great shape for 2014. Business owners are seeing the benefits of it more than ever, and web designers, developers and SEO companies are working closer with copywriters to combat Google’s updates. No longer is copywriting seen as just putting any old words on a website to match the pretty pictures. It’s being taken seriously as a necessity now.

Hopefully the industry is in for a very profitable year as a result.


10 Points to Help Choose the Right Company to Write a Press Release


If you’re a business owner, the chances are you’ll need a press release writing at some point. So how do you choose the right company to write it for you? There are lots of PR companies, marketing businesses and freelancers who offer this service. With so much choice, what should you look for when engaging someone to do it for you?

These 10-points will hopefully help your choice become a bit easier.

  1. Ask For Recommendations. Someone you know will have had a press release written at some point or will know someone who can do it. Word of mouth recommendations are the best type there is. 
  2. Get Several Quotes. Just as you would with any service, don’t settle on one quote.  Ask for a full-breakdown of what the quotes include. Is it just to write the press release or is submission included? Is the company or individual charging for meetings? When you have like-for-like quotes you can start making your choice.
  3. Ask To See Previous Press Releases. Seeing a provider’s previous work is a must. Have they written about your industry before? Do you like their style? Where have they had work published? These are all pertinent questions to ask before signing the contract.
  4. What Links Do They Have With Editors And Journalists? There’s no point writing a press release if no-one will publish it. Your provider must have established relationships with editors and journalists. If they don’t, it’s much harder for your press release to get into the publications you want them to. Ask them who they know and what relationships they have with the press.
  5. Has Anything Happened As a Result Of Any Press Releases They Have Written? Well-written press releases often lead to other things happening. The paper or magazine it’s been sent to may decide to offer you an interview or write a feature on you after receiving your press release.  Occasionally, the national press may pick up on it, particularly if it’s posted online somewhere.
  6. Will You Get Regular Updates On Where And When Your Press Release Has Been Published? This is really important. There’s no point having press releases sent off to loads of press outlets and not knowing who’s printed them. You need to ask if your provider will follow up with the publications to see if they’ve printed your story, and get you copies if possible.
  7. Are Photos Included? Many press release providers include photos in their prices. Getting a good quality photo to accompany your release is vital. If photos aren’t included, ask them if they know someone who can take one for you or find a good commercial photographer yourself. Try to avoid taking shots on a smartphone if you can as they’re rarely of the quality needed.
  8. Do They Have An Online Press Room? Press releases play a big part in content marketing. Good press release providers should have an online press room with at least one of the major press release sites. Most are free and work well with social media and can be as effective as getting the release in print.
  9. Are They Easy To Contact? You need to engage a company or freelancer you can get in touch with whenever you need to. Sometimes, you might need to add another aspect to your story or make a last minute amendment. If you can’t phone or email them easily, this may lead to problems.
  10. Don’t Just Choose Based On Price! This is the most important thing to take away from this blog. Too often, price is seen as the most important factor when making a business decision. If the price seems too cheap, it probably is and the chances are it won’t include many of the points above. Your ideal provider is one who gives you a value-for-money service and your press release gets the results you want.

Getting good news stories into the local, national and industry press should be a major part of marketing strategy. Doing it right will mean great results for your business and give you a bank of articles and news cuttings you can show to prospective clients and suppliers. When you need to get a press release written, use these 10-points to make sure you choose the right provider for you.

If a football player can be worth £85m, how can you place a value on copywriting?

Even if you’re not interested in football and didn’t stay up watching the live news on the annual transfer window deadline, you’ll probably still have seen the Gareth Bale transfer story. The winger has moved from north London to the Spanish capital to play for Real Madrid. But the biggest talking point of this saga is the fee involved. The Spanish champions will be parting with a world-record £85m for the services of Mr Bale and will be paying him a staggering £300,000 a week.

Many papers and news reports have filled their pages and broadcasts with stories about how obscene these amounts are. How can someone that plays a sport for a living possibly be paid so much?

Of course, football has never lived in the real world like the rest of us, and shelling out huge amounts of cash on players has never been an issue. The clubs with the most money pay the most and players are simply viewed as assets. If a football was a normal business and that business paid so much for a new asset or acquisition, not many people would blink. It’s the fact that we’re talking about a person that makes it difficult to comprehend such vast sums. Placing a real value is difficult.

The same thing applies to copywriting and many of the other creative services. Knowing how to place a value on it is probably the hardest part of the job. Too expensive and people won’t be willing to pay. Too cheap and people will think you’re not much cop. The key lies in education and explaining why you charge what you do and, much like a footballer, what return on investment you can offer.

What Gareth Bale will bring to his new club is an increase in shirt sales, a bigger global audience and may just be the difference between them winning and losing the Champions’ League, thereby earning them more money. They’ll be paying for him in instalments too, so over three-years you could argue the revenue he will bring will pay for his transfer and wages.

That’s how copywriting works. It can help attract more customers, draw attention to your brand and get you found on Google. It will pay for itself. A press release printed in the local paper, for example, could get your business in front of thousands of readers for a relatively small fee. Running an advert in the same paper could cost you ten-times more than the press release but people will be less inclined to read it. And paying a copywriter to write the words on your website will ensure it’s engaging, compelling and search engine optimised. The amount spent will be more than worth it in the long run, and you’ll receive a healthy return on your investment.

As a copywriter, I can’t promise better shirt sales or that you’ll win the biggest prize in domestic football. But I can promise you’ll see real value in your investment and it won’t cost you £85m (unless you want to pay me that much).

Keep cheese and waffles confined to your plate, not your newsletters

I recently received a newsletter from a marketing company in my inbox. Not an unusual experience for most of you I’m sure, and it’s not for me either. I must get hundreds over the course of a year from businesses of all sizes and types whether I’ve subscribed to them or not. Sometimes I read them if I’m curious, need a break or because, as a copywriter, I write newsletters regularly for clients and have a natural interest in how others write them.

This occasion was one of the times I was curious about the newsletter, so I started to read. The first thing I noticed – for the wrong reasons – was the introduction. It had 5-lines of text and no-less than 4-exclamation marks in the opening paragraph. There was no need for any of them. The newsletter had begun by trying to make a witty comment and had emphasised it by inserting exclamation marks after every couple of words. The result came across as cheesy and unprofessional. It didn’t make me want to carry on as an interested reader but I did so simply to see how the rest of the document was written.

The newsletter continued in much the same manner. There was mixing of tenses, too many exclamation marks, bad grammar, homophone miss-use and lots and lots of waffle.  Most of the articles and items inside contained serious marketing tips that could probably work for most businesses but their message was lost because of the way they were written. The company concerned was trying to portray a less-corporate side through its newsletter and injecting a bit of humour and personality into it. There’s nothing wrong with that but filling the page with sentences and paragraphs that aren’t needed and writing in such a light-hearted way just turned me off. Ending nearly every statement with an exclamation mark made most of the content read like a kids’ comic or magazine, and not a respectable, serious business newsletter.

Newsletters, printed or online, remain a great way to engage with your clients. You can show a less corporate side and personality that’s often lacking on your website or brochure. But it has to stay professional and reflect your brand. If the newsletter’s tone is too informal and it contains spelling and grammatical errors, your customers won’t be impressed. Will they want to be featured in it or want to receive it in the future if they feel that’s what your company represents? A good newsletter should be relevant, interesting and have a mix of serious and fun items in it. Think about your favourite magazine or newspaper. Why do you like them? It’s probably because the articles are well-written, are of interest to you and give you information that’s useful. A business newsletter should do the same.

Cheese and waffle make a tasty meal on your plate. Keep them there, not in your newsletters.



Crown Office Typo Highlights Need for Proofreading Press Releases

A howler of a spelling mistake by the Scottish Crown Office has shown for the need for employing professional help when writing press releases, as it spelt the word “illegal” incorrectly twice on its website, and on the release issued to the media

The mistake appeared on the subject line of the press release and in its opening line, where it was written as “illgeal” in both cases. It has since been corrected on the organisation’s website. The story, concerning a trader prosecuted for the illegal storing of waste, has received very little media focus compared to the spelling mistake on the press release.

And that’s a shame because, despite the popularity of Twitter as a news gathering source, press releases are still a reliable way to get stories into the media, whether printed, broadcast or online . But, as this case shows, you have to do it properly. Starting with the basics of spelling and grammar.

There’s a few things you do to help eliminate spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in your press releases, and other forms of the written word. The first thing to do is simply spell check your work once you’ve finished. Make sure you set your spellchecker to the right region though, and select UK rather than American English. If you find any mistakes, don’t add them to the spellchecker’s dictionary or it won’t spot them next time!

Spell checking isn’t enough on its own though, as many words in the English Language sound the same but are spelt differently, like luck and look. It’s important you get these right in your press release as they’ll pass through a spellchecker without being flagged as wrong.

Read your words over and over again and edit where needed. Don’t just look out for typos. Think about paragraph construction and their order. Would one paragraph sound better at the beginning rather that the end or could you do away with it altogether? Read your press release aloud and print it out if this helps too, as mistakes are often easier to spot like this.  And don’t be afraid to ask someone else for their opinion or to proofread it for you. They will offer you an opinion you hadn’t thought of and find things you’ve missed.

There are loads of programmes available on the Internet too if you don’t want to use a friend or colleague or simply want another pair of virtual eyes to be cast over your words. Try or as these will point out where you’ve gone wrong. Be careful to use the right country again though as, like spellcheck, it gives you the choice of several different areas with differing ways of using language.

A final option is to use professional help.  Employing a freelance professional copywriter will guarantee your press release is written correctly, and is in the format the media likes. That way, your business story will be the news, not its poorly written press release.

It’s Not English, so it doesn’t Matter

This was the response I got from my fifteen-year old son when I glanced at his homework recently, and pointed out that he should be using capitals on proper nouns.  As we continued talking about it, he revealed that his teachers simply correct spelling and grammar mistakes in his work, unless it’s English, and marks aren’t deducted.

This made me think back to when I was at school, and I know it wasn’t the case then. I was born in the Seventies and attended high-school in the Eighties. Proper use of punctuation and spelling was seen as vitally important back then, and I can distinctly remember being pulled up on mistakes. I certainly dropped marks for making them, which helped give me a good grasp of language that I carried forward with me in to adulthood.

My son does well at school and is in the top set for English, so he does know how to do it correctly. But, being from the text generation, he’s used to not doing things properly as, in his own words, it doesn’t matter. I think he’s wrong though; it does matter. Not using proper nouns, commas and full-stops every time you write makes you like you don’t know how to write correctly, and is a terrible habit to develop after you leave school, and enter the world of work.

I used to be employed in the corporate world, and I’d receive hundreds of badly-written emails every day from people around the business. Most of them were full of incorrectly spelled words, mis-used apostrophes and the wrong homophone. They used to drive me mad. Most of them were from management, who I always assumed should have known better. The senders of these emails probably thought it didn’t matter to send grammatically incorrect emails as long as they got their point across. And perhaps they were right. Maybe the majority of people didn’t care about either.

They’d be wrong though. In the long term, it could be disastrous for business. Back in 2011, the BBC published an article about poor spelling on websites costing millions of pounds in lost revenue to the British economy. Misspellings put consumers off as they feel the company can’t be trusted, and have concerns about its credibility.  The Yorkshire Building Society also hired several Editors around the same time to correct customer letters written by newly-employed Graduates before they were posted out.

Using our own wonderful language correctly is something we should all do. Whatever we’re doing. English is a brilliant, diverse language full of thousands of different words and rules.  Grammar’s used for a reason. It helps clarify meaning, shows us where the natural breaks are in a sentence and helps things flow. Not using it properly has the opposite effect. Text becomes confusing and jumbled when we read it, and often we give up trying to.

So, to everyone who thinks it doesn’t matter; I say you’re wrong. A focus on the basics of literacy and reading and writing is vital in every aspect of life. To me, language is a joy and nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a great book bursting with wonderful prose. And nothing gets my goat more than poorly written literature of any sort. 

It’s simple, it does matter.


I Promise to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Influential marketing publication The Drum published a story on its website recently that shows the perils of not telling the truth on your website.

The story emerged after Manchester based am-webdesign posted pictures of its office on its site and Facebook page that weren’t all they seemed.  Another design agency, Raw from Salford, took to Twitter to launch a furious tirade against am, claiming the studio pictures are in fact theirs, and not am’s.  And it would seem that Raw is to be believed as you can see its logo on the offending photographs.

To make matters worse, the company also claimed to have designed make-up artist Heather Conlan’s new website, which the New Yorker quickly denied on Twitter. am-webdesign also implies on its site that it has worked with some of the world’s major brands, which also appears not to be the case as twitter users quickly cast further doubt over its claims. Other design companies soon joined the Twitter conversation, asking am to stop using their images.

That’s the thing about the internet and social media. Anyone who doesn’t tell the truth tends to get caught out. Very quickly. News spreads like wildfire as Twitter users tweet, retweet and add comments. Word travels extremely fast in the online world. If you’re the one caught out, your integrity and reputation will be damaged irreparably.

Your website’s purpose is to sell. To persuade readers to use you rather than your competitors, so it has to tell people what you do, how you do it and how to contact you.  But it has to tell the truth. Talk about your experience, put case studies on and put together a portfolio showing the work you’ve done for your clients. But don’t make claims you can’t back up or pretend you’ve worked for someone you haven’t. They’ll find out and, as you can see, you’ll look pretty stupid and probably lose business from it.

Make sure your website tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

am-webdesign has so far refused to comment on any of these claims.





Here’s the Truth

I’ve just been given a copy of a business book. I don’t really like business books but decided to read this one for two reasons. The first reason is because I wrote the foreword and secondly, because it says on the cover that it’s “THE business book for people who don’t read business books!”

That sounds like me I thought.

The book talks about marketing and growing your business by harnessing the power of the Internet, and a few other tips and tricks from one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. Most of the content was fairly standard stuff, and was all useful advice. But one section really caught my eye.

This chapter was entitled “Writing Great Copy and Sales Copy.” As a copywriter, that immediately pricked my attention. I’m always interested to read what other people think about the value of what I do, and their opinion of how to do it. So I started to read, and by the end of the chapter I was applauding with a big grin on my face.

Here was one of the country’s best-known and respected business people passionately writing about the importance of copywriting. They discussed the proliferation of people writing nowadays, thanks mainly to the rise of blogging and sending emails, and how lots of people think they’re writers but aren’t in reality.  The rest of the chapter went on to discuss how you should write the best copy you can on every medium you use to communicate; be that ads, websites, direct mail or even your Facebook page. Writing copy that sells means you’ll never go out of business was the message.

But there was one line in particular that made me gasp out loud. I’ve written it word for word:

Here’s the truth: Writing is the most important skill in business. Really.

That’s a message I couldn’t agree with more. I write copy for businesses almost every day of the week. I write different types of copy for different types of businesses but it all has to do the same thing – sell their business or product.

Finding the words to make a business sound better than anyone else’s is a real skill. You have to compel readers to buy, and hook them in without them realising it. You need to understand what makes people buy something and put that down on a web page or brochure. And writing bad copy can have a devastating effect. Would you trust a company whose website was full of spelling mistakes, poor grammar and was so badly worded you couldn’t understand it? Probably not.

So, I congratulate this business book and its message about the importance of great copy. And who knows, I might even start reading more of them.

How to make Content Marketing a key part of your marketing strategy

2012 has seen a huge increase in companies using Content Marketing to increase their exposure and ranking on Google. Its growth can be attributed to Google’s Panda and Penguin updates that place organic, original content as the key component in SEO.

But what is Content Marketing, and how do you go about it?

Let’s look at the Wikipedia description:

“(Content Marketing) is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to attract, acquire and engage clearly defined and understood current and potential consumer bases with the objective of driving profitable customer action. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty.

Or in other words, if you post regularly updated content on the Internet, you’ll have a better chance of attracting more customers. It sounds easy on paper, but doing it properly takes planning, time and a set of clearly defined objectives.

So, if you’re thinking of embarking on a Content Marketing campaign, here’s what you should consider first.

It’s All About You

Establishing your company voice, brand guidelines and USP is vital before you start thinking about any Content marketing. Document them and issue guidelines to staff and any external agencies you use. These guidelines should apply to every form of communication, including your website, social media, PR and blogs.

Consider Your Audience

Think about who you want to appeal to, and develop your content accordingly. Give them something of value that they can respond to. And if you can get them to share it or like it, that’s even better. Have a chat with your colleagues to discuss what you want to talk about, seek feedback on it and look at what’s worked well previously. 

If your competitors are using Content Marketing, consider what they’re talking about and commenting on. Research helps too, so use it to find forthcoming events in your industry. Or new technological updates or change in legislation.  Thinking about these in advance means you can plan months ahead about what to write about.

What Form Can My Content Take?

Whatever form you want it to. The easiest and most effective is a blog, either linked to your website or as a standalone platform. But you could also post audio podcasts, videos to YouTube, and pictures and infographics.  Publish a mixture of articles, whitepapers, reviews, guides and blogs of events to make things interesting and fun.  Don’t just regurgitate news items from the net – turn the issues discussed into relevant, entertaining stories your customers will relate to. Keep things original though, as Google and the other search engines will see any heavily copied items as SPAM.

Think About Which Platforms to Use

There are lots of platforms available in the digital world where you can post content.  And not all of them may be right for your business. A social media presence is vital as it’s where your customers and competitors are.  Set up a Twitter account, make a Facebook page, start your own blog and create a YouTube channel. Link them all to your website, and update them regularly. These all work in real time, so they’re all a fantastic way to talk to your customers. They can reply to you instantly, provide you with invaluable feedback and engage with you in ways they could never have done before.

Dedicate Resource to it

Can you manage your Content Marketing strategy and delivery in-house? Some companies have the expertise needed inside their organisation, and are able to dedicate time to it. If you don’t, consider outsourcing it to a freelancer you trust. A copywriter, journalist or PR Agency should be able to help you. But make sure you meet them regularly, give them a copy of your brand guidelines and keep them in the loop with what’s going in in your company.

Measuring Success

It’s no use doing all this work if you don’t know how successful it is. Agree beforehand how you’ll measure the results. Are you happy getting more hits on your website, higher engagement with your customers or do you want to base it on simple monetary returns? However, you do it, keep accurate records and always measure your results compared to your activity. Less activity will mean a reduction in results.

Content Marketing’s a great tool to build awareness of brands, engage with customers, build audiences, increase visitors and ultimately, raise revenues.  

Why not give these tips a try with your Content Marketing campaign.



Want to convert your website’s readers into Customers? Call them to action

Here’s a scenario you might be familiar with: your website looks great and conveys exactly the kind of image you want it to. Your shiny logo’s displayed prominently on every page, your portfolio page is filled with brilliant examples of what you’ve done, and there’s loads of glowing references from satisfied customers saying how fantastic you are. But still you’re not converting sales from it, so what’s the problem?

There’s no call to action – that’s the problem. This is something that an awful lot of businesses forget when thinking about their website. But they’re vitally important. They’re an instant way of getting your potential customers to become confirmed customers.  Just imagine you want to buy your mum a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day, so you start looking online at local flower deliveries. Two companies in particular catch your eye, you like the look of their sites and their flowers represent good value for money, so who do you choose?  What if Florist One loudly proclaimed “Mother’s Day Bouquets 25% off, call 012345678 today” on its home page but Florist Two had no such offer? You’d choose Company One because of its call to action.

But call to actions don’t have to promote special offers. They can  invite your reader to make contact with you. And simple ones often work best, like – “Click here now” or “Call me today” but take care to vary the message across your website. Repeating phrases like “buy now” don’t work as the reader will just feel like they’re being sold to, so mix the phrases up but avoid being vague or passive.  Saying “If you think we can help, then please call me” is nowhere near as effective as saying “Call me now, and see how we can help you.” Be bold but keep it customer focused and friendly.

Your customers need to be able to connect with you instantly. So try adding a few simple call to actions on your site, and see those enquiries turn into sales.

Nick Pagan