Blogs. White papers. LinkedIn articles. Over the years, I’ve written a ton of longer form marketing copy for businesses. I always try to wear my reporter hat when I’m writing these pieces — or anything, actually.
By thinking more like a reporter and less like a marketer or entrepreneur, you can avoid what I think are the biggest mistakes companies make in creating their content. Here they are and how to avoid them.
1. Your copy is too salesy.
Attention spans are short. Like, no-time-for-news-stories short. Don’t kid yourself that your audience is willing to read a blog post or an even longer article that’s actually a sales pitch.
The fix: Rather than write explicitly about your company, products and services, write about important topics in your industry or for your audience. Your expertise will be implied. For example, a sports medicine company might put out an article titled "Bouncing Back From a Sports Injury in 5 Easy Steps."
2. Your copy lacks research.
Another fix for copy that sounds too self promotional: research. Yet, too often companies don’t cite any. Research — primary, which you conduct yourself, or secondary, which you cite from neutral, reliable sources — adds credibility to your content.
Some of my favorite credible sources for secondary research are Gallup, Harvard Business Review and news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The fix: Get some research. And so what if you can’t fund your own; this is what Google is for. The University of Maryland Library has a helpful article about how to tell if a source is credible. (There’s some research for you!)
3. Your copy is poorly written.
Oh, I could go on and on here, but I won’t.
Some signs that your copy is poorly written: Run-on sentences that are trying to do so much that you can’t sum up the thought in a handful of words. Passive voice. Corporate jargon. Grammar mistakes.
Or it’s boring. Or too long. Maybe it reads like a book report, leaving the reader to wonder, "What am I supposed to do with this information?"
The fix: Ask yourself this question: Would I read this article?
Pay attention to articles you do read from beginning to end. What was it about those articles? Also, and not trying to be salesly, hire professional writers and let them work their magic.
4. Your copy is poorly organized.
Poor writing and poor organiation often go hand in hand. The headline doesn’t match the article. There’s no clear beginning, middle and end. You didn’t say what you were going to say.
The fix: Think of your headline first and let it guide you. Outline the rest of the story before you write. Remember that bullet points are your friends.
Finally, ask a neutral third party — a friend or a spouse, perhaps — to read the piece and ask them to sum it up in 25 words or so. Did they grasp the message you aimed to convey?
5. Your copy isn’t compelling.
When it comes to writing compelling copy, the reporter hat comes in handy. Compelling stories are urgent. Are you writing about something that your readers need to know — for their personal or professonal wellbeing — right now?
Compelling stories have conflict or tension and a resolution. Did you set up why this issue matters right now and what the answers or action items are to resolve it?
And finally, compelling stories feature real people, not what we in the news biz call talking heads.
The fix: Look for the urgency, tension and resolution in everything you read. It’s all there. Find the real people. Clients with success stories, for example. Being compelling is your call to action.
Bonus thought: In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Be sincere, be brief, be seated."
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