Monday, November 19, 2012

10 Tips, Tools and Resources for Online Copywriters

Web marketing is a constantly developing challenge and it can be useful to have staff who specialise in particular areas. That’s certainly true with online copywriting – there’s such a lot to consider that having a dedicated copywriter can make a real difference to your overall online performance.

But whether you’re a writer trying to perfect your online capabilities, or an SEO exec needing to brush up, there’s a wide range of issues to consider. Online copywriting poses its own challenges, from knowing the basics of HTML to understanding the ever-changing world of SEO.
So what help is available?

If you’re new to HTML, or you just need to double-check the correct bit of code for a particular HTML element, W3Schools is the go-to website for easy reference.
Its HTML Tutorials section covers all the basics and the more complicated stuff too, allowing you to pick up the most common bits of formatting you might need – such as the correct way to format headings, bold text and so on – and lets you try out the more advanced types of formatting and see how they look right there on the page.
Google Blogs
Google’s own blogs can help you to keep on top of developments in SEO, and Google keeps an up-to-date directory of all of its blogs. Here you can find everything from algorithm updates on Google’s search engine itself, to dedicated blogs for online marketing, advice on using Google Analytics, and other topics relevant to Google products.
Bing and Yahoo! also have blogs to help you to keep up to date with any major changes in their algorithms or the design of their search result pages, so you can be confident that the content you produce should perform well across all of the major search engines.
As your workload grows, you need to make sure you can keep on top of it all, and scheduling is an important part of keeping your business in order. Online calendars offer one way of doing this if you don’t always work from the same PC or laptop – Google Calendar and Windows Live Calendar are good options, especially if you have a smartphone that can sync with them.
Just be sure to get into the habit of checking your schedule at the start of each day or week – it’s no good putting things on to your to-do list if you never actually go back and check what you’ve got left to do. This might seem basic, but a blog that’s never updated is worse than useless. It’s like dead flowers in a vase; whatever the motivation behind it, a sparse blog will actively put people off.
Choosing what to write about on your blog or website pages is a huge topic – so much so that we’ve dedicated an entire post to the subject – but there are a couple of simple approaches that will never go out of style.
The first is to simply write about whatever’s making headlines in your industry, or your client’s industry if you’re ghost-writing for a corporate blog. Look out for mentions of the relevant industry in the news, or for new campaigns launched by unions and professional associations, and write a response or opinion piece.
Secondly, get involved in discussions on Twitter and other social networks, and blog about the issues other people are talking about. That’s a good way of making sure people out there will be searching for the subjects you write about. Just remember to keep your content original and interesting – it’s OK to court controversy in the opinions you express, as long as you don’t go too far.
Staying On Course
Building an effective blog isn’t just about one post, of course – if you’re going to attract regular readers, you’ll need to produce articles again and again that your readers will keep coming back for. There are plenty of ways to do this, drawing on the kinds of inspiration mentioned above, and some of them can help to cut down the individual effort you need to put in.
For instance, post a series of articles all touching on different aspects of the same general topic and you can easily build a sequence of posts with good SEO benefits, all based on a single set of background information that cuts down on the research time needed. The good thing about this is the consistency and repetition of key themes that you get within your set of posts. However, this could be a downside if you’re keen to provide plenty of variety on your blog if, for example, you’re a news website.
If you don’t think a series of posts would suit your blog, then don’t go for this approach – there are plenty of other things to try.
Guest Posts
Invite guest posts and you could publish content from authority figures within your industry area without having to write anything at all. The pros here include the very small amount of effort you’ll need to put into the writing, assuming your guest contributor is good at what they do.
However, the potential cons include rewriting any poorer efforts from contributors whose English isn’t quite up to scratch, as well as the time you might need to spend on finding people to write for you. Don’t be tempted to fill your blog with second-rate ramblings just to get a return link; you’ll devalue your online presence.
Style Guides
If you’re concerned about the variation in style that might come with publishing guest posts or blogs from several different employees, consider putting together a tone of voice or style guide for your contributors. This will not only let your guest contributors know what they can and can’t say on your blog, it can also give you a rule of thumb for your own future posts. This can help to keep your blog cohesive as time goes on.
When you take on more work than you can handle, something’s got to give – but it needn’t be your client relationships that take the strain. Instead, consider hiring a copywriter to work for you, and they can take some of the strain during your busier times.
Copify is just one place where you can hire freelance writers quickly and easily. Alternatively, you might want to do the same thing on a less formal basis, by sharing any excess work around copywriters you already know. You could even ask for recommendations via Twitter.
Either way, don’t compromise on your usual standards – give the completed copy the once-over when you get it back, and make sure it’s up to scratch before sending it out to your client or publishing it on your corporate blog.
Promoting Your Content
Once your content is written, optimised, formatted, and published, you need to make sure it reaches the largest possible audience. SEO can help to increase the number of people who find your new post through their search results, but social networks are also a good way to spread the word.
Take a look at FeedBurner for ways to have your new blog posts automatically tweeted out to your followers. FeedBurner also gives you more control over your blog’s RSS feed: a way for your regular readers to be alerted when a new post is published, and a great way of sustaining an audience for the long term.
The Virtuous Circle
Finally, a piece of advice that is often given to writers, but which is still as good as ever: read. Simply by reading fellow bloggers’ efforts you can stay aware of developing trends within your industry, and position your article topics so that they fill any gaps that your colleagues and competitors may have left unfilled.
As you read well-written articles you can also maintain an awareness of the prevailing style of blog posts or formal news articles online and adapt your own tone of voice accordingly. By including this positive feedback loop in your everyday activities, you’re designing-in self-improvement, a kind of continuing professional development for freelancers and independently minded copywriters everywhere.