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.

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: Does Color Matter?

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.



Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: 7 Quick Tips for Brochures that Work

Here are a few simple things you can do with your next brochure that will make it stand out and get results.

business woman_z1. The cover should feature a picture of a person.
People are attracted to pictures of faces. The person could be a company president, a customer, or an expert of some kind. Someone whose comments are featured inside the brochure.

2. Include “knock-outs” on the cover.
Those are one- or two-line highlights of the content inside. You know how those “People” magazine knock-outs grab you. Use them on business brochures. Make them interesting!

3. On the front inside cover, summarize the key points in the brochure. That way, it’s quick and easy for the reader to go directly to the specific content he or she is interested in.

4. Include a call to action on every page: Call this toll-free number, learn more at this Web address, whatever you need the reader to do.

5. Use a Q&A format to engage the reader. It breaks up the content into manageable chunks and makes it easy to read.

6. On the back cover, make sure to have a contact name and return address displayed prominently.

7. Keep in mind always that you need to make people stop, be drawn to your brochure (especially if you’re at a trade show), and be encouraged to read what’s inside. Study magazines at the grocery store and see what colors, designs, type fonts and other devices they use to stand out and draw you in. Some are kind of gaudy, but you can borrow a few of their tricks without looking unprofessional.

7.a. Okay, I said 7 points, but this one is important. Make sure every aspect of your brochure is relevant. Don’t stick in a picture of your plant as seen from a helicopter (a popular one, for some reason). It has nothing to do with the product that’s made in that plant. So you have a big building. What does that mean to ME, your potential customer? Likewise, unless your audience is made up of gearheads, don’t stick in photos of machines you use to make things. It’s the things you’re selling, not the machines.

Whew. Well, those are my 7 (+1) tips for making effective brochures. If you have others, please let me know.

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Know the Three Essential Ingredients?

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner trying to squeeze the best return out of a small marketing and advertising budget. You need to know how to communicate with your target audience efficiently and efffectively. And if you know the Three Essential Ingredients of a successful marketing campaign, you can do it. Here they are:

Essential Ingredient 1: Excitement
Don’t be a me-too advertiser/marketer. Find a way to get your target audience members to notice your campaign and climb aboard. Your marketing/advertising must cause them to RESPOND by buying, calling, signing up, or whatever it is you need them to do. And that requires an offer of value to your target audience, not just a piece where you “we” on them (e.g., we have 12,000 sq. ft. of storage space, we have 76 trucks covering 24 states, etc. What about the people you’re talking to? What do THEY NEED that you can provide?).

Essential Ingredient 2: News
Ask yourself whether your ad/marketing campaign creates news. Does it get talked about on social media? Does it make the TV news? Not all campaigns will. Let’s face it. There are a lot of parity products and services out there. But if there is some way you can present your product or service in a quirky, newsworthy way (for instance, having your company president move his desk to a billboard beside a well-traveled urban highway), then do it. That’s assuming you have the budget and the confidence of your CFO (you) to do such a thing. But in any case, you can at least spring for good-looking, attention-getting direct mail pieces, brochures, collateral pieces and Web pages focused on the “news” that you provide exactly what the recipients are looking for.

If you can promote via social media, stick to the newsworthy aspects of your offering and devote time and effort to keeping up your efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and other Web platforms.

Essential Ingredient 3: Call to action
A piece I wrote recently for a building maintenance company focused on building managers’ shrinking cleaning budgets, and how my client could get them more cleaning for less. The client has a unique estimating device that can do as many “what if” scenarios as a building manager needs to explore, and fit the cleaning plan to a set budget. So the call to action is “Call XYZ Company now. We’re the only one with an electronic estimating system to help you get the most cleaning for your budget. And you’ll get our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. That means you must be satisfied with the job we do, or you don’t pay.” And that’s good news!

Do you think there are more essential ingredients to a successful ad/marketing campaign? Add a comment.

Freelance Writer Files: Don’t Overstuff that Ad

Too-many-choicesOnce I worked at an agency that had a shoe manufacturer for a client. The advertising manager wanted to get his money’s worth (he thought) out of his :30 TV commercials by squeezing three shoe styles and prices in between the open and close.

Okay, we said. We made a couple of price-and-item-packed :30 animatics. We played them for the ad manager. Afterward, we said, “What do you think?” “I like them,” he said.

“That’s good. Now, can you tell me what items were featured in those spots?”


There were so many things stuffed into that :30 spot that even the ad manager couldn’t recall what they were.

So the moral is:

Thou shalt not overstuff your ad/brochure/whatever with more than one main idea.

Because your viewer/reader is not paying as close attention as the creators of that piece of advertising are, and therefore, they’re even less likely to recall a whole bunch of products or ideas from one ad or spot.

Rosser Reeves, the original Mad Man, wrote in his book, “Reality in Advertising”:

“The consumer tends to remember just one thing from an advertisement—one strong claim, or one strong concept.”

Amen, Mr. Reeves.

So if you’re a tire store, are you going to feature ten different tires and prices in your :30 TV spot? No. (Though you might in a newspaper insert, which potential customers have time to peruse.) You’d be more effective featuring one tire as an exemplar of the unique benefits your brand of tires offers. If you’ve discovered “safety” is the top-of-mind decider on which tire to buy, use it. These radial tires I sell are safe, because of the unique strength of their steel belts.

You might phrase it in a clever way, but still, stick to the one strong idea that will resonate with your target audience. If you’ve discovered “safety” is the keyword in tire buyers’ minds, then use that.

But if you’re a tire store, it’s likely you sell the same kinds of tires many other stores do. So how do you differentiate yourself with one clear concept? Service beyond the call of duty? Could you feature a testimonial or recreation of a time when you got a customer out of a jam after hours? Something you and only you could brag about? And isn’t that just an extension of the idea of “safety?”

If you have a flat tire, and you call the tire store, and the owner makes sure you get back on the road in time to make it to your business appointment, doesn’t that make you feel it’s safer to develop a relationship with this tire store owner? And that he cares about your safety? You bet!

So resist the temptation to say six things, because only one is going to stick and get you customers or clients.

Freelance Writer Files: What’s a USP? And do I need one?

Do you need a USP?

Do you need a USP?

If you’re selling a product or service, the answer is YES!

Below, link to a presentation I gave recently that walks you through developing your USP and getting it out there to the right people, in the right media, using the right voice.

What the heck is a USP? And do I need one?

The first step in the process is — what else? — First Questions. I have a sheet of questions I’ll be glad to send you. Just ask!

Freelance Writer Files: Penetration alone is not enough.

Let’s say you’re an advertiser who has learned you have 65% penetration of your advertising message among your target audience. Great! That means nearly two-thirds of your potential buyers/clients can remember your message. You’ve reached your advertising goal, so you’re done!

Well, not quite. Great penetration is… great. But there’s another vital factor that will mean the difference between the success and failure of your campaign, long-term. It is… ahem…Stick with it!

Sticking to your message!

Any advertising person with some experience can tell you that long before an advertiser’s message “wears out” among the target audience, the marketing manager of the client company will get all antsy and order the message changed. At that point, if the ad agency (or advertising person) is honest with the marketing manager, the only honorable thing to do is to tell him or her to get the ants out of his or her pants and stick with the successful message.

Q: If you have determined that 65% of your target audience can remember your message, why in the heck would you change it?
A: You wouldn’t.

If you don’t stick to it, you’re wasting well-spent advertising dollars, and you risk losing the 65% penetration you’ve so carefully built. How smart is that?

Check this out: Over a certain period of time, you’ll probably find that only half the original percent of your “penetrated” audience remembers your message (about 32%). But wait a minute. You’ll also discover that while you’ve lost 32% of the original group, another new group of about 32% now remembers your message. New audience members have restored your original 65% penetration level.

Of course, we assume you have a great message, targeted correctly to the audience you want, and that you spend enough to get the word out widely. But here’s the point:

If you have a message that works, DON’T CHANGE IT, even if you get so bored with it you have to cover your eyes and ears and say “LALALALA!” to block it out every time it comes around. Remember, although you’re sick of it, a new audience is just now discovering it. And responding to it.

Caveat: That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever change the execution of your message. That initial ad featuring a penguin on roller skates may eventually get stale. So, though you may find different ways of delivering the same message to the same audience, if you stick to the USP, you should be okay. But you don’t want to tinker too much with success.

So what can you do to relieve your own boredom with your winning campaign?

Try adding different media. If you’re in one women’s magazine, for example, try adding another one with a similar demographic.
Try adding e-mail marketing, if you have a relevant list.
Try adding direct mail to your target audience, if it’s appropriate. Unless you’re a national advertiser, this would be within a geographic area where you sell.
Try a newspaper insert, preferably in a special issue devoted to a subject your target audience is interested in (example: health care, elder care, gardening, winter meals, sports).
Try adding radio spots. As a radio producer, I recommend that you have them professionally written, voiced and produced. But if your budget is limited, generally, local stations will give you script, talent and production in exchange for your paid advertising time. Just be sure the station reaches the right target audience.
Use your message on your Web site and your Facebook page, preferably accompanied by coupons, special offers, contests, or other ways to engage users with your product or service. Provide a way for interested users to sign up for email newsletters or offers.

To sum up, once your message reaches maximum penetration, keep on sending it. And change the messenger, if you like, but don’t shoot the message!

Freelance Writer Files: Eight Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again

Here’s a good, brief article I came across today on Open Forum. I’m pasting in part of it AND giving you the link. Not trying to fool you into thinking I wrote it. Just wanted you to have the info. Here goes:

Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that “affect” means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will affect it. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.

Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead; see #1

Their, they’re and there. You’d think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indicate possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”

Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you’re saying you could care less about the topic, and you’ve lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, “I could not care less.”

Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. The word you should use is “regardless.”

Your and you’re. Another mistake you’ll often see in people’s social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect us of “your” and “you’re.” If you mean to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re.” Use “your” when referring to something that belongs to “you,” as in “your business.”

Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.

Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let’s set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it’s not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

People make so many grammar mistakes today that The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. If you keep a copy of it on your desk and practice your craft, you’ll never have to worry about the grammar police paying you a visit.