Sales Copywriting Archives
So today I thought I’d share the link to this really handy post by Lynn Terry, on her “must-read” ClickNewz blog…
See you in about a week!
No time to write the next part of our copywriting research series today – finishing off a hefty client project. But speaking of research, here’s a great link for all of you who like to use free Public Domain graphics or content: Xpase, a list of free public domain directories, with descriptions.
Meanwhile, I’ll be back soon with more in our Research series!
Today, we take 7 juicy interviewing tips, and qualify them with a dose of reality to help you create interviews that sparkle. Follow a system, and by the time you’ve got a few interviews under your belt, the process will feel like child’s play…
1. Pick your interview subjects by their relevance to your topic: However, don’t hesitate to be creative and think outside the box. Go for the obvious industry choices… but look for the unique perspective, too.
For example, don’t just interview the top show jumper when writing an article on “What Makes a Champion Horse” – interview his groom too for a different perspective.
2. Do your research: Find out everything you can about your subject beforehand… but invest an amount of time proportionate to your project. (In other words, don’t spend 3 weeks reading every book written by an author if you’re writing a newspaper article and you only need her to answer the question: “What’s your favorite color?”
3. Keep your interview focused. Stick to the main angle you’re looking for insight on. Don’t ask your subject whether or not he approves of Formula One Racing or invite him to comment on what he thinks of the current president if you’re writing a technical report on his toxicology specialty, neonatal drug ingestion.
This doesn’t mean you should snap out questions like a sixties Scottish schoolteacher (I’ve been there; I can say that with impunity). It’s one thing if your expert decides to be conversational and comment on the current political situation (you can either include them in a way relevant to your article, or file them for a future subject) – but it’s just plain unprofessional for you to lose track of the topic and waste his time.
4. Think of your question list as an “outline”, much as you would write one for an article or report, to help you stay on track. Do have at least 1-3 specific, targeted questions for your subject to answer – but be prepared for tangents and don’t discourage them. If you’re truly objective and open, you can score the unexpected bonus with your subject’s unsolicited observations; a new idea for another article or report; or simply just a “coup” that others haven’t managed to land from that particular interview subject. However, being aware of your “outline” (and the questions you need to have him answer) will help you control the interview and get the most out of it – to both your satisfactions!
5. Don’t ask vague – or obvious – questions. Your subject is most likely an authority figure in his or her niche, so avoid obvious questions that have been asked by other interviewers ad nauseam. Ask the ones you need to ask – but do your best to come up with other relevant but unique questions that your subject will really enjoy answering.
6. Give your subject a chance to shine. Listen more than you speak. Speak only to help the conversation along. (One of the most common amateur interview mistakes is thinking that you and the subject are really bonding while you’re boring his ear off with your views on Tesla’s theories.)
7. Remember you’re having a conversation. The truth is, there’s a fine line between sticking to all these “rules” and breaking them to score interviews that really rock; ones that dig deeper than the other 99 that are all clones of each other. But keeping it focused and keeping it fun will bring freshness and engagement to every interview you do.
Next post, we’ll finally get around to what I promised at the start of this series… 7 meaty sources of offline research material.
And if there’s any other questions about copywriting research you’d like answered… just ask!
Here’s my most successful method of landing interviews and quotable expert responses, boiled down to 5 simple steps…
2. Ask more than one expert. Don’t pin your hopes on just one authority figure you’d like to quote – ask at least three. That way, if you only get one “yes”, you’ve still got great, quotable material.
3. Always include these 5 details in your request:
- Who you are: (“I am a freelance writer specializing in equestrian articles…”)
- What type of vehicle your request is for: (E.G.: “I’m writing an article entitled “Natural Horsemanship: Hoax or Holy Grail” that I hope to sell to Horse Sport magazine”) – Be honest and up front about this if you’re writing on spec.
- Why you think they’re the ideal choice to answer your question. (“I know you’ve long been a proponent of the Tellington-Jones method and your insights on the equine parasympathetic nervous system are well known…”)
- What sort of interview you have in mind: (“I’d like to arrange a 15-minute telephone interview focusing on your method of natural horsemanship…” or “I would love to quote your answer to one specific question about natural horsemanship…”)
- Your actual question or main focus for the interview: (“I would appreciate it if you could comment on why you stated you don’t endorse the Parelli method at your clinic in Newmarket, last Friday…”)
End it simply “Thanking you for considering my request”…
And one more obvious but crucial point…
4. Remember to include your contact details! The fuller, the better: Someone who doesn’t have time to respond in print might just pick up the phone and call you on the spot. (TIP: Highly proactive, wealthy or A-Type personalities are particularly prone to doing just that, so never leave out your telephone number, assuming they won’t!)
If a potential interview subject doesn’t respond, don’t assume they hate your guts. They may simply not have received your request, or an assistant may have not gotten around to the pile of email in your expert’s inbox, or they may be out of town or 110% engrossed in preparing for an important event. (Good research on your subject before asking can help prevent this latter scenario).
Finally – and this is what will get you repeat interviews, every time…
5. Make sure you follow up!
If a potential interview subject responds, send a prompt “thank you” letter. If their response is to make arrangements for an interview, send another thank you letter when the interview has concluded.
One extra that’s especially important if your expert is an online personality, such as an internet marketer: Do get to know your potential subjects well ahead of time. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, comment on their posts if you have something valuable to say, let them see your profile photo attached to your name.
On Saturday I’ll be back with 7 juicy tips on how to make sure your interviews produce golden nuggets. In the meantime, if you have any questions about interviewing that you’d like tackled in this series, be sure to leave me a comment.
How Does a Beginning Copywriter Land an Interview?
It’s true that, in online copywriting in particular, clients don’t seem to expect you to quote authority figures in your niche… However, you’ll increase your own authority status (and value) if you do include relevant quotes from industry experts.
Interview material is an important part of research. It can add depth and a truly original perspective to your written products. So don’t put it off any longer: Take a deep breath and remind yourself that even experts being interviewed are often a little nervous about the process too.
Over the next couple of posts, we’re going to tackle the subject of interviewing, starting with the tip of the iceberg: Engaging the expert you want to quote.
There’s only one way to get an interview with someone – and it’s the same whether they’re Joe Blow, the parking attendant, or the top star in your niche…
So What’s the Worst that can Happen?
Your subject could:
- Ignore your request
- Say “no”
- Say “yes”
If he ignores your requests or turns you down, will your article or report still get written? Yep. Most likely.
Has the world ended? Nope.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back with 5 proven steps to help you consistently land interviews, so stay tuned. And, in the meantime, if you have any questions about landing interviews with experts…
It’s not enough merely to understand the difference between primary and secondary research. You then need to decide what to do with it and how to present it. This is where a lot of newer copywriters feel overwhelmed or bogged down.
It helps to break this process down into four components:
- Hard fact
- Anecdotal information
- Your interpretation of your factual and anecdotal data
- Your final evaluation
Any good piece of copy is usually a mix of hard fact and anecdotal information.
- Facts add authority and invite the reader’s trust
- Anecdote adds color and human interest, piquing curiosity or empathy
- Interpretation has you examining probabilities and implications – seeking more proof of the most likely possibilities
- Final evaluation occurs when you decide on your strongest position and best angle
How It Works in the Real World
A fact is a piece of information that has its own objective life and can be proven. When you uncover a core fact, it can’t be changed by anything you think or feel.
Example: “A horse is a quadruped”. This can be proven.
Anecdotal information is what someone else tells you about a particular horse.
Example: “I just buried a horse that had a horn stub, right in the center of its forehead. Part unicorn, it was…”
Interpretation consists of weighing the facts you know about horses versus the anecdote to theorize possible explanations, directions to follow – and angles.
Example: “Was it a rare species of goat? Is my source pulling my leg? Did the animal even exist? Maybe it had some physical abnormality? Did anyone else see it?”
You’re close to making a final evaluation here: You decide on a couple of strong possibilities and go find supporting evidence – photographs of the horse, people who saw it. You decide you need more primary data. You locate and interview a vet who once examined the animal. He tells you in his expert opinion, the `horn’ was simply abnormally granulated, hardened scar tissue from an old injury.
Final evaluation allows you to come up with the position you are going to take:
- If you are writing for a tabloid, you won’t bother interviewing the vet, but instead will take a sensationalist, 100% anecdotal angle: “Last Unicorn Unearthed in Wisconsin!”
- If you are writing for a fact-based equine magazine, you will lean heavily on your interview with the vet and write an article entitled: “Wounds and Granulation – What Vets Say You Should Do”.
- If you are writing for a children’s pony magazine, you might present a sentimental piece: “Why Betsy Will Always be My Perfect Unicorn”.
When you keep this system of evaluating your data always in mind – fact, data, anecdote and interpretation – it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a sales letter or a short story: Strong, informed research will show you the way and gain the trust of clients and readers alike.
There’s no mystery about it: If you’ve never taken a writing course you can become a copywriter fairly quickly – especially with the plethora of basic copywriting guides out there cutting out the esoteric stuff and going straight for the jugular (i.e. what clients want).
How successful or reputable a copywriter you become, however, depends on whether or not you “own” the basics – and there’s no shortcut for that. So before I deliver those 7 meaty offline research tips I promised in the last post, let’s tackle the often glossed-over subject of basic research…
The first thing any journalist is trained in…
The Difference Between Primary Research and Secondary Research
If you sit down and Google subjects, you’re indulging in Secondary Research. That’s reading and working from material others have written about a subject.
“Primary research” means getting to the source:
- Talking to the subject, product creator or certified industry expert (“talking to” sounds so much less intimidating than “interviewing”)
- Reading the actual, original material that people on the net have never seen but are quoting (and misquoting)
- Testing or handling physical materials, products and methods yourself
For example, let’s say you wanted to write an article about popular horse “whisperer”, Pat Parelli. If you contact Parelli yourself and interview him, you’re doing primary research: If you look up articles online about him, you’re dealing with secondary research.
Which type do you think is more likely to help you to:
- Make more impact with authenticity and authority?
- Reveal facts others don’t know?
- Be truly unique?
Yup. Primary research. Every time.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about evaluating what your research uncovers. That sounds dead dry, I know; but learning how to sift and siphon your research data into four basic categories will help grow your confidence as a copywriter.
(If you have any questions or thoughts on the subject, be sure to leave a comment – I do answer.)
You’ve heard a lot of talk about content being “king” – but how do you make sure your content stands out from the rest?
You probably already know the standard tips for great online writing:
- Use active verbs
- Keep sentences short
- Eliminate every weak word
- Avoid adjectives and adverbs
- Use “power” words in sales copy
- Break up the text with bullet points and sub-heads
These are all highly relevant, but you need one more thing…
As someone with a magazine and newspaper background that spans 30 years, I’m constantly amazed at the amount of unoriginal material recycled into product after digital product. I suspect it has nothing to do with using PLR and everything to do with hastily lifting data from online articles and calling that “research”.
If you truly want your articles to be original, make use of the 3 cardinal rules of writer’s research taught in journalism courses at every university:
- Keep a note of all sources – Even if your client isn’t interested in citations, you need to be able to back up your facts. Besides, you may wish to contact that particular expert or consult that particular government department for a future project.
- Be meticulous in your quotes and attributions. Don’t change one word of a subject’s quote, be sure to cross-check spelling on names, and verify titles and dates. (Triple-check your spelling, while you’re at it…)
- Triple check your facts. Where you are giving factual data, make sure it’s accurate. Then make sure again. And again. (Assumption is the enemy of authoritative writing.)
To that I’d add my own # 4: Learn to question every fact you dig up online. Is this the originator’s post? Is this the source? Can this fact be cross-checked? Disproven? Is there any hidden twist to it no one else has uncovered yet?
I can’t stress this enough: If you come across a fact on the net, don’t just lift it from the site – go back to the source. Find the originator and get your facts from the horse’s mouth.
“But Online Copywriting is Different“
You’ll always find those in online copywriting who scoff at being thorough: They’ll tell you that online copywriting is “different”, and that grabbing a quick fact and pumping it out is okay – even necessary – in order to satisfy clients.
I won’t kid you: Some of this fraternity make a lot of money. Some are “successful”: But if you care about your reputation as a copywriter, you won’t go for the easy buck.
It may surprise you to know that lack of quality is not exclusive to the world of online copywriting. In offline journalism, those who are sloppy researchers are usually called “hacks”.
Making a Living vs. Ethics
There has always been a war between deadlines forcing people to “pump it out” and make a living, and the ethical duty of responsible, truthful writing.
After 30 years in publishing, both behind the scenes and on the scene, all I can tell you is this…
If your research is not original — if you don’t schedule time into your projects to go the extra mile — you won’t stand out. Your copy will be exactly the same as 90% of all other copy on the net and you’ll drown amid the sea of competition.
And sloppy research always comes back to bite you in the patoosh, in the end.
Next post, we’ll cover 7 meaty offline sources of research material.
And if there’s anything else on copywriting you’d like discussed, just leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to schedule a post.
Within the wonderful world of internet marketing, traditional Google keyword research is dying. And I’ve got good reason for saying that: I’ve discovered the Bing keywords secret.
I’d noticed lately that search results on Google were become sparse for certain topics. (I suspect it might have something to do with Google’s peculiar abhorrence for anyone who might make a dollar online except themselves.)
I decided to see what was happening on Bing, and was stunned by the meaty results I got.
I put these Bing keywords to use, and my article clients quickly reported back that they were getting noticeably higher results using articles written with my Bing keywords.
Facebook and Bing Integration
It shouldn’t be surprising. Facebook is conjoined with Bing — not Google. Just the other day, Mashable reported that Facebook and Bing were rumored to be planning integration of Facebook-like data into search. As you no doubt know, Facebook seems to have taken over the globe this year — they’ve even made a movie about it (which reportedly spiked Facebook’s popularity by a ridiculous degree, within days of its opening).
A look at data on analytics sites such as Quantcast and Alexa show a rapidly-ascending rise in Facebook’s use since August 2010. Alexa lists Facebook in the #2 spot, snapping at Google’s heels. Considering Google has traditionally controlled and ruled the net since its birth, that’s truly something to think about.
Bing is also clean and streamlined. And — unlike Google lately — doesn’t crash twice or more daily. But that’s a minor point, compared to the heady fact that, thanks to its Facebook connection, it’s setting itself up as a true “social search” engine.
Has Google Suggest Migrated to Bing?
Bing also provides you with a juicy list of searches that drop down the instant you enter your keyword (exactly like the old “Google Suggest” function I’ve been missing).
Will I abandon Google? Certainly not. True `Research’ means covering your subject thoroughly and squeezing out every last drop, looking for the diamonds among the dewdrops. And considering Google does still sit in #1 spot, it would be plain foolhardy to throw the baby out with Google’s murky bathwater.
But while my clients are reporting noticeably positive results, Bing is going to be a vital part of my online research protocol.