Category Archives: Business

Is your company’s “About Us” page suffering from TMI?

TMI – Too Much Information. It happens when a colleague tells you all about her gallbladder operation while you’re trying to enjoy your lunch, or when a friend recounts his most recent basketball game in such excruciating detail that the retelling takes as long as the original match did. No one likes being subject to tons of information that isn’t relevant to their life or interests. So why do so many companies fill their “About Us” page with paragraphs full of details that their customers couldn’t care less about?

The “About” page is one of the most-visited pages on any company’s website, and visitors often head there as soon as they hit the home page. Customers want to know more about the company they are considering doing business with. This is especially true for service providers and businesses operating in the financial or technology sectors. People want to know that they’re giving their money to someone with credentials and experience they can trust.

Unfortunately, too many business owners see the “About Us” page as a excuse to talk about themselves, and end up going on endlessly about their path to entrepreneurship, or every last aspect of the company’s history, or overly-detailed biographies of employees that most customers will never interact with.

Your customers don’t care about any of that. They care about themselves. How does your history or experience benefit them? Why are you positioned to offer them exceptional value? What does your company offer that your competitors don’? How do they know your employees are the best in the industry?

When you’re creating the copy for your “About Us” page, think about the goals you laid out for the rest of the site copy. Does the “About” page support those goals? Does it reassure prospective customers that they can be confident in doing business with you? Does it offer them a clear next step once they’ve finished reading the page? If not, it’s time to revamp the copywriting – this time with customer needs, and not company details, as the focus.

And if you’re not sure whether your “About Us” page needs a revamp, send me an email at shelby@sbscopywriting.com for a free About page analysis.

Rich Burlew’s million-dollar free comic: How giving away the milk can make the cow more valuable

On Jan. 22, 2012, Rich Burlew, creator of the popular webcomic Order of the Stick, opened a Kickstarter funding drive with the goal of raising $57,750 to reprint one of the comic’s compilation books that had been out of print for months. A month later, on Feb. 21, the drive closed, having raised $1,254,120 – well over 2000% of the original goal.

All of this for a comic which has its entire run available online, free of charge. How does this happen? Why do people pay good money for something that they can get for free? And what does it have to do with your business blog?

The rise of the “free information” mentality of the internet has been a mixed bag for creative works, giving people much broader access to small-scale independent artists while at the same time giving them more ways to get those artists’ work for free (legally or not). But what seems to be happening more and more is that when people find value in a work, they’re willing to vote with their wallets. This isn’t true of everyone – there will always be people who steal content – but it seems to be true for most people.

Business owners in knowledge-based fields – CPAs, attorneys, financial planners, and others – often end up with generic blogs that don’t tell prospective customers anything useful, for fear of giving away the house. Never be afraid that your business blog is offering too much free information. Your blog is the place where you prove your expertise to potential customers.

The benefit here is twofold: first, when customers visit your website, an extensive blog filled with valuable content is immediate proof that you’re a professional who knows what she’s talking about. Secondly, your backlog of blog posts serves as a cache of business information that can help prospects discover your website when they’re searching for answers. For example, let’s say that you have a CPA blog on your tax firm’s website. Every week, you offer advice on a typical question that your clients have, like the tax implications of switching from a traditional to a Roth IRA. All that advice will bring up your site when someone goes searching for relevant keywords.

Small business owners often worry that if they have a business blog where they’re giving away free advice, potential clients won’t need their services. And it’s certainly true that some people will find, say, a CPA blog that seems relevant to their situation, and attempt a DIY solution. Realistically, these people weren’t going to pay your fees anyway. The vast majority of people recognize that sure, they could learn to do their own taxes, or act as a pro se litigant, but it would take ages and they’d have no guarantee that they were doing everything right.

What it comes down to is this: people are happy to pay when they know they’re getting value in return. A business blog that shows you have the expertise to handle their issue correctly – along with benefits-driven copy throughout the rest of your site which drives home the value of your service in saving time and money for your client – will make it clear to prospective customers that your business is the right one for the job.

4 email subject lines that will drive customers to your site – and 5 that will drive them away

How many email accounts do you have? If you’re like most people, you’ve got several set up, with different kinds of mail coming to each account. I myself have three: a custom account through my domain host for business emails; a gmail account for important family emails and newsletters I actually want to read on a regular basis; and a hotmail account for spam, junk, and company newsletters I might check occasionally.

Even if you don’t have a separate email account for your electronic “junk mail”, I’m willing to bet you have a separate folder or filter set up to pull them out of the stream of your regular emails. It’s human nature – these emails are from companies who haven’t yet earned your trust, and unless or until they do, you can’t afford to spend your valuable time checking through each one.

As a business owner, you need to be aware of this apect of consumer behavior. We all like to believe that every communication and marketing piece we send out is eagerly anticipated by our customers and prospects, but the reality is that we’re adding more information to an already overloaded email inbox. If you want to improve your open rate, you have to show readers that you’re going to offer them something valuable in return for their time – and then follow through on that promise in the body of your email.

So to follow through on the promise I made you in the headline, here are 9 email subject lines culled from my personal email inbox that show you how to draw readers in – or drive them away.

First the bad:

  • Nook: “Enjoy the Long Weekend with New NOOK Books & Newsstand Titles”. What’s wrong? Why should I? There’s no urgency here. They’re not offering to save me any money – just telling me that, hey, some new books exist. And given that Barnes & Noble boasts over 2.5 million ebooks for sale, and my 1st-gen nook can hold over a thousand, the fact that new books exist is not exactly a compelling offer.
  • Chief Marketer Magazine: “Discover People’s United Bank’s Cross Channel Online Strategy”. What’s wrong? This is word salad. Someone or something has an online strategy. I can’t tell from this subject line whether it’s a particularly good strategy, or if it’s something I could apply to my business, or really anything at all other than the fact that it exists. Why would I waste my time reading when I have no reason to think I’ll learn anything of value or gain a benefit?
  • LinkedIn Ads: “Only a few days left to try LinkedIn Ads with a free credit”. What’s wrong? This wouldn’t be bad if I was already interested in/ convinced of the value of LinkedIn Ads, but it doesn’t work if your prospect doesn’t yet know the benefit of what you’re offering. If that explanation of value is inside, there’s no hint to the reader that it’s there. The email’s body heading, “Your customers are on LinkedIn. Find them today.” would have been somewhat better, combined with a free advertising message. Also, “only a few days” is pretty weak in the urgency department.
  • Multichannel Merchant: “Last chance to participate in this”. What’s wrong? What is “this”? And why would I want to participate in it? And while we’re at it, “participate” is a weak, uncompelling verb. I’d much rather “be a part of” something that “participate” in it. Again, without a clear benefit to your reader in the subject line, your email is going directly to the trash folder.
  • Think Traffic: “Think Traffic – One Blog Post Formula Proven to Get Traffic and Subscribers Time and Ti…” What’s wrong? This is far from terrible – it just needed some more thought and editing. First, if your email is already coming from “Think Traffic”, you don’t need to repeat that in the subject line. You’re just wasting valuable space. Which leads us to the second problem – the subject line here is clearly way too long. Most people are skimming in their email inbox, and this lengthy title just doesn’t cut to the chase quickly enough. Had they cut the “Think Traffic” from the beginning of the subject, and moved the benefit (“Get traffic and subscribers”) to the front, they would have had a much stronger offering.

And now the good:

  • Techlicious: “How to Save Money at the Pump”. Why it works: Here’s an email I definitely want to read. It offers a simple, direct benefit, one that’s obviously valuable to a lot of readers, and the email itself follows through on the promise the subject line offers.
  • Amazon: “Terry Pratchett’s new book”. Why it works: This one should be a no-brainer for Amazon. I own just about everything Terry Pratchett has written, and what I don’t own I have on my wishlist. The subject line is short and sweet and great for skimming, because all I needed to see was the author’s name to know I wanted to read that email. If you have a way to point customers toward content you know they’ll like, then your email is automatically much more valuable.
  • Panera Bread: “Shelby, Here’s a Flower You’ll Want to Pick…” Why it works: This subject line piqued my curiosity, plain and simple. I wanted to see how a bakery would incorporate flowers into their offerings. The newsletter inside the email was fun and brief, and offered a deal on a flower-decorated cookie for $0.99.
  • Fisher Price: “Are you ready to bring baby home?” Why it works: Asking a question is a great way to inspire curiosity in your reader. And Fisher Price is using a clearly defined target audience (expectant parents) to ask a question that their readers really want to know the answer to.
  • Jon Morrow: “How to Write a Report That Goes Viral and Gets You an Avalanche of Traffic”. Why it works: It’s not surprising that the author of “52 Headline Hacks” knows how to write a subject line that you can’t help but click on. This subject line offers a clear benefit with some great action words – who doesn’t want an “avalanche of traffic” coming to their site?

Always remember: your customer base is made up of real live human beings, just like you. Thinking about the email subject lines that get you to click is a great exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of your readers. And of course, the better you know your target market, the more specific and effective you can make your subject lines.

What Facebook can’t teach us about target marketing

If you’ve missed out on all the hoopla surrounding the recent Facebook IPO, then allow me to offer a brief and extremely general one-sentence overview (and I hope your under-rock vacation spot was lovely!): Can Facebook leverage their massive database of user information in order to improve the site’s currently dismal advertising ROI and more effectively monetize their platform? In other words, can Facebook get people to buy what their advertisers are selling?

Allow me to demonstrate the problem. Facebook is currently showing me four ads when I’m logged in to the site: one for Applebee’s new Sizzling Chicken Fundido, one for Verragio engagement rings, one exhorting me to “Grow Roses Like the Pros” with Drift roses, and one for the Nordstrom’s Half-Yearly Sale for Women & Kids. Unfortunately for those advertisers, I’m a married vegetarian who doesn’t garden and has never once bought from a Nordstrom’s.

That’s 0 for 4 on ad relevancy and usefulness. I’m a heavy Facebook user with lots of info on the site, so basically one of two things is happening: they haven’t yet figured out how to use the data they’ve gathered about me effectively, or they’re not using it at all and are just showing ads at random. Either one of these options turns their ad sidebar into essentially wasted space.

Facebook is, of course, a huge and powerful company, and despite some concerns about over-valuation, there are clearly a lot of people who are betting that they’ll figure out how to advertise more effectively. There are a lot of challenges to work out, but they’ve certainly got enough money to throw at the problem.

The real question is, do you? When Facebook shows random, untargeted ads to their users, they know that they’ll get terrible response rates. But with 150 million users in the US alone, even a response rate of half a percent could net the advertiser 750,000 clicks. But if your small business makes 1000 cold calls this year – five calls a day, every working day of the year – that same half a percent response rate will net you only 5 interested prospects. That kind of return on investment can kill your motivation – or your business – before you can even get it off the ground.

Before you begin any kind of advertising project or campaign – and that includes everything from setting up a website to attending a networking event – you absolutely have to understand your target market. Who are your ideal clients? What are their characteristics: age, gender, location, occupation, income, marital status, etc.? What keeps them up at night? How can you help them?

The better you understand the people you’re marketing to, the more effective your advertising will be. You’ll know where to go to be able to speak to your ideal clients. You’ll understand their fears and desires, and can show them how your company helps avoid the one and achieve the other.

The first thing I do with every new client – and do again every time we begin a new project – is sit down and walk through a target marketing questionnaire to make sure that the copy I create will deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time. If you’re handling all your own marketing, make sure that you’re not wasting time and money. Figure out who you’re trying to sell to before you start worrying about what and how you’re going to sell to them.

Warning: Is the Law of Averages making you look like a fool?

Imagine you’re at a carnival booth, throwing darts at a balloon to win a prize. According to the law of averages, if you toss enough darts – even blindfolded – you’ll eventually hit a balloon or two. And that’s absolutely true. But you’ll also have wasted a bunch of money, annoyed the proprietor, and possibly killed an innocent bystander.

Lots of marketing gurus, Internet and otherwise, tout the Law of Averages as a surefire marketing tool. It’s true that it works, and I would never advise someone to ignore it completely. But are you annoying 98 people for every two leads you generate?

Consumers today are overwhelmed with marketing messages. It’s gotten so bad that there are laws to prevent unsolicited advertising: the CAN-SPAM act. The Do Not Call list. Even Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm to weed out content farms, keyword stuffing, and other “black hat” SEO tactics.

Think about your target market. (That’s people who want what you’re selling, need what you’re selling, and can afford to buy what you’re selling. If you just thought to yourself, “That’s everyone!”, think again). If you went to the middle of the city, climbed the tallest building, and started flinging fistfuls of business cards into the crowd, here’s what would happen: the vast majority of your cards would end up in the bushes or dumped in a trash can. A small number would hit someone in the eye, making them hate you forever and tell all their friends not have anything to do with you, either. And an even smaller number – a tiny fraction – would float gently into the hands of your perfect prospects.

Hey, that’s a win, right? You got your number to some people who want what you need, so all you have to do is sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Except you didn’t have any kind of message tailored to their needs, so some of these perfect prospects won’t get why you’re the best one for the job. And some of them will think “Great! Just what I need!”, but they’ll be too busy to call. In short: you’re missing out.

An effective marketing campaign, one that uses your time and budget wisely, has three parts. If you’ve got enough spare cash that you can rent a blimp to drop your literature on the populace, then great – I’d love an invitation for a blimp ride. But if you’d like to get the most bang for your marketing buck, try this first:

1. Figure out who your ideal customers are, and how you can help them.
2. Get a message in front of them that shows why you’re the solution to their problems.
3. Follow up regularly, making it easy for them to act on your offer.

How a dish of Tikki Masala taught me to stop worrying and get to work

I love Indian food. Biryani, vegetable korma, saag paneer, garlic naan, roti, aloo ghobi, gulab jamun – I love the words, I love the flavors, and I really love having vegetarian options that go beyond a house salad and some mozzarella sticks. But up until a couple of years ago, I had never stepped foot in an Indian restaurant, and never so much as smelled a hint of garam masala.

I consider myself to be something of an adventurous eater. But I’m also research girl: before I try new restaurant, I pore over the menu online. I read reviews. I check it out on Yelp and Urban Spoon. I learn about the cuisine and ask for dish recommendations on Facebook. The problem, when it came to trying an Indian restaurant, was a case of too much to choose from. Should I look for a northern Indian style restaurant, or southern? Should I go spicy or mild? Until I had found the perfect dish to start with, I didn’t want to take the risk of trying a new restaurant and ending up with something I didn’t like.

And then one night my husband and I were out with another couple, and they suggested we try the Indian place down the road. And we agreed, and got an assortment of dishes for the table, and… It was heaven. Every dish I tried was more amazing than the last one. The food, the flavors, the possibilities – what had I been waiting for?

I almost fell into the same trap when I started my copywriting business. I knew this was something I wanted to do, something I could do. But there was so much to research! Books to buy, expert bloggers to read, seminars to attend.

It’s easy to put off a dream because you don’t think you’re ready yet. Often the bigger the goal, the more you want it, the easier it is to make excuses.

I could have sat on the sidelines learning about what it takes to be a copywriter forever. Instead, I asked myself whether I wanted to read about having a writing business, or to go out and actually meet some clients? I chose the latter, and my life has been infinitely richer and more enjoyable since.

So what are you waiting for?