Today, I spoke to Sue Keogh aka Sookio who is an expert at writing for the web based in Cambridge, England. She has some great insights to share and here goes:
Hi Sue, please tell us what your day job is?
I’m an editor and copywriter specialising in writing for the web. Current and recent clients include household names like Aol, Yahoo!, ITV.com, Heatworld, Magic FM and the BBC, but I also do lots of website copywriting for small businesses. Oh, and I write Google ads, silly slogans for t-shirts and my first graphic novel is being published next month too! My business cards just say ‘We do words.’
How important are copywriting skills in blogging?
Very important, and very often overlooked. A passion for the subject is what drives the blog and in the haste to get the content out there people often forget how important it is to write it clearly.
Not only do you have to engage with the reader but you also have to make it physically easy for them to read – this means using good English and breaking it up into small chunks with clear headings rather than waffly, long paragraphs that are difficult to read on the screen.
How important is the post title?
As I was saying in my talk at Social Media Marketing 2010 the other day, there’s no point spending all that time crafting this topical, witty or useful blog post if no one’s going to read it. And if your title doesn’t grab people’s attention in a sea of RSS feeds and tweets then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I think of it like a shop full of beautiful items but with a dusty, uncared for window display. People will walk past all day long but never look inside.It’s essential to tell people what the post is about (sounds obvious but people forget to do this all the time!).
So rather than use an abstract phrase like ‘This is really funny’ give people a few specifics. An example of this sort of missed opportunity I saw the other day was ‘Anyone interested in this?’, which would have been much more clickable if they had mentioned that the ‘this’ was exclusive screenshots of the new series of Futurama.
But while you should tell people what it’s about you don’t have give the game away. Tease them, offer a reward, hint at something being funny, useful or informative but don’t give away the punchline. That’s what gets the clicks and encourages people to share it after reading.
Can you give us a few tips on how to write a good blog post title?
Firstly, time spent on the title is never time wasted. For some people the title is an afterthought, but if you don’t care about writing a compelling title, why should I care about your content?
The folk at Copyblogger even have a 50/50 rule which suggests you spend an equal amount of time writing the title as you do the content. This may seem a bit much but it gives you an idea of how important a great title is!
Second tip is to work backwards; start with a working title, create the content then decide on the title at the end. That way you’ll be able to pick out the most tasty element of the piece and promote it hard in the title.
- If you’re scratching your head you can….
- Include a call to action – people respond to being told what to do! Like one I wrote the other day: Turn marketing theories into good copywriting practice.
- Ask a question – you will immediately be engaging the reader. Like this one from Brian Solis which was retweeted over a hundred times: How can I help you engage?
- Get the reader’s attention by including the word ‘you’. Chris Brogan did this effectively recently, asking ‘Can you work from an iPad?’ rather than ‘This is how I use my iPad’. It was retweeted 345 times at last count.
- If you’re stuck, go for a list title, a tried and tested way of teasing the content.
Why do people love lists?
Because they know what they’re getting. We’re all busy, aren’t we! So if you’re going to invest a few minutes in reading a blog post it’s useful to get an idea of what you’re getting in return. Different types of list could be: Insider knowledge, advice (that has to work), topical/seasonal, shared experience, pick a tribe, dos and don’ts.
What’s the ideal post length?
Depends on the context and how much information you’re passing on. Photoshop Disasters, for example, just post a picture and a laugh-out-loud caption. Bloggers sharing wisdom on the latest trends in, say, marketing, music or technology will write longer posts because there’s so much new information to share.
It’s interesting to look at the comments for guidance. If you’re not getting many comments on your blog posts it could be because they’re too long and people aren’t getting the gist of what you’re saying. Are you waffling? Saying the same thing three times? Using lots of long terminology to show off?
Try breaking long sentences up into shorter ones, using simpler English and making sure each paragraph focuses on one idea or concept rather than a jumble of thoughts and opinions. You’ll probably find you cut down on the word count along the way if you do this.
And if you’ve got loads to share on a particular subject why not break it down into several smaller blog posts?
Should it contain pictures or not?
I think pictures can give a post a real lift. Be imaginative with it – crop them in an unusual way, use something that complements the text in such a way that you make a visual joke. Be aware of accessibility issues though; not everyone will get the joke if they can’t see pictures.
Also, think about where you’re sourcing your image from. Always ask and give people a credit; pinching other people’s creative output without their permission is not on.
Do you pay much attention to keywords and SEO in general?
Yes – it’s all part of making sure your content is found. For me, it’s about working closely with the designer and developer to produce good quality content that people will want to link to because it’s lively, engaging and informative. I’ll find out what keywords the client wants to promote and make sure they’re woven into the body text and headings. It’s got to be done in a natural way though or it interrupts the flow too much.
You also have to think about what’s important to you. News outlets such as the Daily Mail and Sky news write headlines almost as long as the articles in an attempt to get every keyword in there! But they make sure a shorter version goes out on their Twitter feed or it wouldn’t fit within the 140 character limit.
Twitter – how should a tweet look to get retweeted?
Let’s start with length. If it’s too long it’ll need editing down before retweeting and this takes time and goodwill and effort and…nope, can’t be bothered! So get the basics covered like a) use a short username that won’t eat into the character count when retweeted over and over again and b) use a URl shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly.
You need to leave enough room for the retweeter’s username as well, plus some room for them to write a comment or say it’s being retweeted. So if you’re writing a tweet that you want retweeted the good folk at Twittercism suggest keeping it below 115 characters.
Use simple, clear English that people can understand. Use lots of punctuation. And ask nicely; the word ‘please’ occurs five times as often as it does in average tweets. I know this because social media scientist Dan Zarrella has spent a lot of time crunching data on the subject.
Any final words of wisdom?
I like to let things rest before publishing. It’s so easy to get excited about what you’re about to post and click Publish in a hurry. Then you go and make a coffee and suddenly remember the really important thing you should have included. Or you come back and notice a glaring typo in your headline. By which time dozens of commenters will have gleefully pointed it out.
It also never hurts to get another pair of eyes on it. Be thick-skinned and ask someone else to proofread it before you post. If something doesn’t quite make sense to them the chances are other people won’t get it either. I usually find it’s the very paragraph that I’m really pleased with that ends up being ditched because it sounds smug or crass or pretentious! Better to find that out before you publish.
Sue Keogh is an editor and copywriter specialising in writing for the web. She runs Sookio Ltd, which offers a host of editorial services to big names like Aol, Yahoo!, ITV.com, the BBC, Magic FM and Heatworld as well as small businesses all over the UK. Be sure to follow Sue on Twitter as well @sookio