Content Marketing Files: What Cartman Gets Wrong About Authority

“You will respect my authority!” yells Eric Cartman in “South Park.”

Does it work? Not so much.

You can't demand authority. You must earn it.

You can’t demand authority. You must earn it.

What Cartman doesn’t get is that authority is earned, not demanded.

So how could Cartman do a better job of earning it? By considering these few points.

• Saying you’re an authority doesn’t make it so.
Cartman’s demand for authority? Pathetic. He has no evidence to back up his claim of being authoritative. In content writing, you have to demonstrate what you know. So if you’re knowlegeable about how to write blogs, you start writing blogs about how to write blogs. Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Sonia Simone became authoritative through writing and sharing what they knew.

• You have to know what you’re talking about. At least a little.
Cartman is, to put it politely, full of it. So be sure if you want to write about something you know a little about, learn more about it. The Web is bursting with fascinating information. So use it.

It's not all about me.

It’s all about me.

• Don’t make it all about you.
Cartman is all about his own needs. Effective content marketing isn’t about what you need or propping up your own ego. But in content marketing, to coin a phrase, there is no “U.” It’s all about “them,” your audience, and their needs.

• Be helpful.
Can you remember Cartman ever helping out Kyle or Kenny, his South Park friends? Maybe, but only to con them into helping him. Give without expecting to receive. Do you know how to boost shoe sales? The best times to get discounts on European travel? How to cook the perfect omelet? If you know anything that could help other people learn something or do something better, write about that.

Share and share alike.

Share and share alike.

• Share generously.
One major reason Cartman would be an abysmal content marketer is that he doesn’t share. But as a content writer, you know that new information or a unique take on an old idea have no value to the world just sitting inside your own head. So share what you know or have learned, so others can benefit.

• Accept what others share, too.
Cartman has half of this right. He’s willing to take, only he doesn’t give back. “Share and share alike” is the way to build relationships and networks of people who know about lots of things. Tap into their knowledge, learn, and grow.

Honesty counts. A lot.

Honesty means never having to say, “Oops, I lied.”

• Be honest.
Cartman schemes and lies to get what he wants. There’s a script that says the South Park kids have to hang out with him. But in the real world, if you abuse people’s trust, they’ll run from you, never to return. Worse still, they’ll tell all their friends about your misdeeds, and all of them will run from you, too. So treasure people’s trust and hold it sacred.

• Be respectful.
Cartman, respectful? Nope. If you want to earn authority, treat others as you would want them to treat you. With respect, kindness, good vibes, and support. Respect their intelligence and humanity, and they’ll respect yours.

So in summary, it’s clear that Cartman is a total loss as a content marketer, and that his authority is worth exactly zilch. But yours will be priceless if you think of everything Cartman does—and do the exact opposite.

And one final point, perhaps the one point that floats above all of the others:

Be yourself.

Rock on!


Value who you are. And be your authentic self. Your best self. That’s the surest way to begin to earn authority. And if you’re not really sure who your self is, start writing. Sooner or later, your authentic voice will emerge. And you’ll be stronger for it.

Freelance Writer Files: Can a Cheap Website be Worse than None?

Here’s the short answer: Yes, it can. How come?

Check this scenario: You’re a small business looking to attract more business. Your product or service is not unique, and your competitors have been around for awhile and built a customer base. So you need to take business away from the existing companies. You’re brand-new, breaking into what is already a mature market. Your competitors look big and professional on the Web. How do you compete with them, when people have never met you or heard of you? These days, largely through your website. If it looks cheap and shabby online, you do your business more damage than good. Especially if your competitors have very attractive, effective websites.

Your website is not the place to pinch pennies. A poor website could drive prospective customers into the arms of your competitors. You will need a well-designed, professional-looking website, and the investment you make in creating it will pay off handsomely over time.

The first question is, how are you going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace?
And the answer is, by creating a strong, competitive presence online. When people visit your website, they’ll form an impression of your business, for good or ill, based largely on these few factors:

• Look
Graphic design plays a huge part in making your business look successful and professional. Dynamic use of colors, high-quality photos, and a well-designed overall appearance all go toward creating your image, just as your personal appearance does when you visit prospective customers. You wouldn’t visit a prospect wearing shabby clothes or a thrown-together outfit, so you shouldn’t show prospects a poorly designed website if you want to earn their business.

• Feel
This is a kind of mystical concept to more meat-and-potatoes people, but it’s very real. Does this website make me feel that I could trust the company with my business? Or does it feel like a fly-by-night affair? The content has to be solid, to informative and to the point. The navigation has to be reliable, intuitive and quick. And most of all, the site has to feel professional.

• Functionality
An effective website should offer intuitive navigation that gets them where they need to go quickly. Graphics that don’t get in the way of straight communication. Content that informs briefly and effectively, with links further into the site for extra explanation, if necessary, not crowding the home page or primary pages.

• News value
Keywords and tags used to be important to search rankings. No more. These days, a relevant, well-written, frequently changing blog that provides valuable information is the best way to earn a high ranking. But before you sit down to write blog posts, realize that it takes time, which as a small business owner you probably don’t have. You probably will have to pay someone to write your blog posts a couple of times a week. I know you want to save money on this, since it’s an ongoing cost, but be careful.

Overseas companies, for instance, may seem like a good deal because they offer hundreds of blog posts at astoundingly low prices. A client of mine tried one, and what he got back was word salad, not usable content. So hire a decent writer with a solid grasp of English and your business to write your blog posts. It will pay off in a a good search ranking and repeat visits to your website, which translates to more business.

• Sales capability
If you intend to sell online, you’ll need to make your Web ordering mechanism pretty slick. Otherwise, potential customers will get frustrated and go to your competitor’s site with their orders. Hire a Web person who knows how to make these things work without a hitch.

This is just a bare overview of things to consider when building your website. Experienced professionals will charge you more initially, but you’ll more than recoup your cost in a smoother development process, fewer glitches, and better efficiency and effectiveness. And, what’s most important, you’ll draw more business by showing a professional online face to your prospects.

Finally, here’s an article from a Law Review website that you might enjoy reading, about how a cheap website could actually cost you business.

Freelance Writer Files: #WhyIHateYourWebsite

You’re killing me here. When I visited your site today, it was more painful than when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. At least the oral surgeon gave me IV Valium. Listen, no offense, but here are a few reasons why I hate your website:

• You really used white text on a black background?
Ow, my eyes! Do you realize it’s 30% harder to read text on the Web than it is in print? Especially reversed-out type.

• And you made the text 8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?


On some planet, everybody has magnifying vision. But not on this one.

• Are you thinking you can write?
Your text is so ungrammatical and poorly spelled and punctuated … wait, are you from a foreign country?

• Are the colors meant to “sizzle?”
In your graphics, the old blue and red side-by-side thing creates movement, but not in a good way.

• And those Flash graphics. Cool, but what do they MEAN?
Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

• Why can’t I change the size of the page?
Maybe because you didn’t think it was worth paying to have someone make it customizable to the user’s screen size? Trust me, it is.

• And how about those dead links?
Not that I was dying to see your mission statement, but it would have been nice if I could. Dead links give the impression you’re either out of business or inattentive to detail, neither of which speaks well of your business.

Fortunately, the above infractions are all easy to fix, if you work with a good Web writer and a website designer. I have cool graphic designer friends, and I can help you with the writing. We won’t charge you any arms or legs, either.

Your site is like your public face, so you’d better make it clean and easy to read and use. If it’s not, you may be torturing users who might otherwise be customers. Having a good-looking website that communicates that your business is up-to-date, accessible and easy to work with is not a luxury. Competition being what it is these days, it’s a downright necessity.

So call me. No charge for a chat.

KC Freelance Writer Files: Listen up, Mr. President!

Throughout the long campaign season, Mr. President, I heard you say “pundints” several times. Aargh. I thought you were a Harvard grad. This error is all too common and should be strangled in its sleep. But don’t feel bad. Kansas City’s own Steve Kraske, radio host and political commentator, and a “pundit” in his own right, has blown it, too.

Did you say what I thought you said??

Did you say what I thought you said??

• Pundit
Mr. President, and Mr. Kraske, will you please note that “pundits” has only one “n?” I don’t know what “pundints” are. Perhaps a dent someone puts in your head after you deliver one too many puns?

Another one I hear now and then:

• Restaurateur
OK, I know you are thinking of “restaurant,” and the person who owns one is logically called a “restauranteur.” But it ain’t so. Don’t be so literal. “Restaurateur” is derived from the French language, the same one that gave us “auteur” and “poseur” (Two words that sometimes apply to the same person). So get with the program, and ditch that “n.”

And here’s one I hear entirely too often:

• Mischievous
I keep harping on this because it jangles my nerves. Every time I hear “mis-CHEE-vee-ous,” I think how my dear departed mother, also a word freak, would have reacted. She would have corrected it kindly. I wish I had her gift for diplomacy. Anyhow, if you have erred on this one, just look carefully at the word. The root word is “mischief.” Think of “mischievous” as being pronounced like “mischiefous.” Practice it: “MIS-chuv-uss.” There you go.

Do you flinch when you hear words mangled? If so, please share. Misery loves company, you know.

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Live Fearlessly?

I may be late to the party in criticizing Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new theme line, “Live Fearless.” But I am now jumping in with both feet. Someone asked me a few weeks ago if it bothered me, and it didn’t, at the time. I replied, “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should” sounds better than if the writer had used the rather stilted, “Winston Tastes Good, As a Cigarette Should.”livefearless_banner_home

Now I’ve been exposed to the BCBS theme in print and on TV, and it’s starting to bother me, like an itchy sweater. There are two reasons it gets to me.

Reason 1: The obvious grammatical abuse

Reason 2: The thought behind that little sentence. Think about it. What do they mean when they encourage you to “Live Fearlessly?” Go bungee jumping? Go skiing in unmarked areas? Drive at 120 mph on the highway? Walk down dark alleys in shifty parts of town?

Are they encouraging their policy-holders to do dangerous things and get hurt, so they have to use their health insurance?

“Live Fearless(ly)” sounds okay, until you start thinking about it. Actually, it sounds as if it should be for a brand of outdoor wear, like The North Face. Maybe a home security system. Or maybe a brand of flaming-hot picante sauce.

As the theme of a health insurer, “Live Fearlessly” sounds all wrong to me. Better, perhaps, would be “Live Confident(ly),” since if you have health insurance, you’re confident you won’t go broke because of monstrous medical bills.

Or maybe I just think about these things too much. But what do you expect of a lifelong copywriter?

Freelance Writer Files: Thoughts on Memorial Day from Stoney Broke

I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke

Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.

This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.

Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.

My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.

Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.

Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”

Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.

He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.

Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”

Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.

Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Is Grammar Outdated?

Here I am, a proofreader and editor, as well as a writer, apparently misled by those nice lady English teachers all these years about what proper grammar is. It’s okay to boldly split infinitives? It’s okay to ask where this shipment is to go to? Good grief!

The ground beneath my feet isn’t exactly shifting, but some parts of my brain are; the parts that absorbed what apparently is false information about proper English grammar. Just take a look at this brief article. The Smithsonian is always right, so it must be so!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Most-of-What-You-Think-You-Know-About-Grammar-is-Wrong-187940351.html