How to write a killer blog headline

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Newspaper headline writing is an art, taught to sub-editors over many years. A great headline can make you smile, think, stop in your tracks.

Your headline is the thing which will be shared on social media. Get it right, and it could be the reason hundreds, or thousands, of people read on.

The reason news media do headlines so well is simple: they write it at the end of the process, not the beginning. They know the story.

In the same vein, your blog headline should never be written until you have typed the last full stop on your post. It should not be written until you have re-read that post at least three times.

Here are the basic rules:

Use short, active words – A punchy headline grabs the attention. Cut out unnecessary words, especially adverbs, in a headline.

It must contain a verb – Making the headline active means using a verb, even if that verb’s ‘is’, or ‘are’.

Use figures – Don’t write them out as words. Studies have also shown that using figures in a headline makes it more attractive to the reader. Round monetary figures up, or down, to the nearest hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, half million.

Make it accurate – Don’t write a sensational but inaccurate headline to suck readers into the post. They’ll feel cheated.

Reflect your content – Throwing in a celebrity name to the headline, for example, without backing that up in the post will backfire on you. Again, your readers will feel cheated.

Don’t use tortuous puns – No matter how tempted you feel, just don’t do it. This isn’t about showing how cleverly you can write, it’s about communicating with your target audience. That kind of pun can be a real turn-off to some readers.

Don’t over-use exclamation marks – In newspapers, we call them ‘screamers’ because they are often over-used to scream out content to the reader. Most of the time, the content really doesn’t deserve an exclamation mark.

Read it aloud – If it sounds convoluted, or ridiculous, delete and start again. If it can’t be said easily, it can’t be read easily.

Will it appeal to your target audience? – Ask yourself how, and why they would read on. Think about their problems, how they like to spend their time when you’re making this decision.

You’ve probably seen a thousand social media posts offering you the perfect formula for blog headline writing. Some of them offer useful tips.

However, beware.

If you’re seeing these social media posts, so are a million other bloggers. It’s all too easy to spot a formula headline.

While those tips are great, don’t follow them slavishly. The other thing to remember is that those formula headlines weren’t written with your target audience in mind. They’re written to appeal to the widest audience possible.

For you, that’s not the aim. Your aim is to speak directly to your ideal customers.

Think about this: your ideal customer is Yvonne, a married small business owner in her 50s whose time is precious, who has two grandchildren and cares about their future. She has an income of between £35,000 and £45,000 a year, likes to travel to Italy and eat out regularly.

Is this headline going to speak to her?: “Discover 50 awesome nightclubs within 50 miles of you”.

You already know the answer, don’t you?

Don’t forget SEO: Search engine optimisation is still very important when it comes to writing blog headlines. Your keyword research should help you – which words appeal to your ideal customers? How can you incorporate them in an organic way?

Some headline power words: There are some words which people find innately attractive. “Discover”, “Find”, and “Secrets” arouse our curiosity and make us want to find out more.

“Powerful”, “effective”, and “hacks” make us feel the content we’re about to read is hitting our usefulness sweet spot. So does the word “useful”.

If you have great images, don’t be afraid to use “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, and “stunning”.

If you’re writing in the first person, use “my” to make that clear in the headline – people like personal content.

Too busy to blog yourself? Drop me an email on maria@wordsyoucanuse.co.uk.

 

 

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Why businesses need to search for Mr and Ms Right

 

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Sometimes, we feel like there’s a deluge of information on the internet. It can be off-putting, confusing.

There’s so much content out there right now. The thing you have to remember is that most of it isn’t useful to your target audience.

You need to be different. You need to speak directly to them.

You need to find your Mr and Ms Right.

Building a profile of your ideal customer/s is the starting point.

It all starts with data.

Your data will show you who is buying your products or services, and who is interacting with your social media posts. That’s not to say all of them are your ideal customers, but it must be your starting point.

Here are your sources of data:

Google Analytics – if you haven’t got this activated on your website, activate it now. It’s still the gold standard when it comes to seeing website visitor numbers and the levels of engagement. Its demographics function also gives you a great deal of information about your website visitors. Please be aware, though, that a cookies warning may well be necessary for those activating the demographics part of the service.

Twitter Analytics – Twitter gives you a great deal of information about those who view and interact with your posts. It tells you what interests your followers (business, news, sport, comedy, etc), the age range and gender breakdown, what sort of devices they use, and even which mobile phone/broadband service they use. Twitter has shown me that a growing number of people are viewing my tweets via iPhones and iPads, and Android phones, continuing the trend towards mobile.

Facebook and other social media – Facebook can show you a great deal about those who engage with your posts including locality, age range, friendship networks, interests (via your followers’ likes), and other social media you use regularly can also give you good insights into who is interacting with you.

Your sales records – It’s amazing how many people overlook this. Your own records have great insights into who is buying your products or services, and how they are using them. It’s an excellent starting point. If you don’t know how old they are, what brought them to you, etc, why not consider a customer questionnaire to help you improve your service?

Take a few days to plough through all of this information. Pick out the age range, gender balance, locality, their interests, where they ‘hang out’ on social media, whether they are professionals.

Now, you have a basic profile. You should know whether you are targeting women in their 40s or professional 20-somethings.

Most people would stop there. Don’t. Your ideal customer profile has to be very detailed. Now, you have to take a look at marketing data about your specific age range and gender group.

A good place to start would be marketing studies carried out by academics, professional bodies, or marketing media.

It’s as simple as Googling “marketing to women in their 40s”, for example, and seeing what comes up. You’ll soon find information which is highly useful. Did you know that 96 per cent of women in their 40s make all or most of the major spending decisions for their households? Neither did I until I started profiling a customer’s ideal clients.

From all of this data and information you’ve gathered, you should now have a feel for where you’re going with your profile. At some point, the data has to be supplemented by your intuition about those who will buy from your business, and why.

How will your target audience find you on the web?

What kind of keywords could you use? There are a number of keyword finder tools – both paid for and free – which you could use in your research.

Google has shut down its free keyword search tool and now you have to access its keyword searcher via Adwords here: https://adwords.google.co.uk/KeywordPlanner.

There are plenty of other keyword research tools you could use, including these:

http://keywordtool.io/

http://www.wordstream.com/keyword-tools

http://www.internetmarketingninjas.com/search/

http://tools.seobook.com/keyword-tools/seobook/

http://www.keyworddiscovery.com/search.html

http://ubersuggest.org/

http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/

Need help with blogging for your business? Email maria@wordsyoucanuse.co.uk. Check out what my company does here

 

Lies, damned lies, statistics, and spin

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The latest opinion polls suggest that small business owners are evenly spilt on whether to vote for or against Brexit.

Deciding whether to trust either narrative has been extremely difficult, and there has been an interesting development during the EU referendum debate – the rise of fact checkers.

Many people say they are so tired of spin and skewed statistics that they no longer believe claims from either side. A number of media organisations and independent groups like 38 Degrees are now employing fact checkers to cut through the spin and give the public a clearer idea of the facts.

Spin over facts is a criticism which can be aimed at both sides right now. Boris Johnson continues to use the figure of £350m a week as the cost of EU membership to the UK. Yet, as the UK Statistics Authority has pointed out on a number of occasions, this is a GROSS figure before money which the UK receives back from the EU in rebate is deducted from it.

The chairman of the UKSA Sir Andrew Dilnot has spoken of his disappointment that the Brexit camaigners are continuing to use this figure – even on adverts on the side of their buses. He said its use misleads because its context is never presented, leading people to assume it’s a NET figure.

He said the £350m figure is “misleading and undermines trust in official statistics.”

On the Remain camaign side, Stuart Rose, chairman of Britain Stronger In Europe, refused to withdraw a claim that every UK household benefits from EU membership to the tune of £3.000 a year despite that figure’s debunking.

If you’re looking for an independent view, beware fact checking from media organisations which have decided to take a view on whether to leave or remain in the EU. Instead, look for independent sites.

Here are two authoritative fact-checking sites where you can go to avoid the spin:

Charity Full Fact gives you an unbiased view on a number of issues, and has checked many facts on the EU in the past few months. Read about them here.

The UK and EU was set up to give business people, journalists, politicians, and the public facts about out relationship with the EU. See its work here.

Maria Williams is a journalist, copywriter, and professional blogger. Visit www.wordsyoucanuse.co.uk

 

 

 

Small businesses welcome Budget help on rates and tax

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Chancellor George Osborne announced a raft of measures for small businesses in today’s Budget.

The announcements will mean 600,000 small companies will not have to pay business rates from April 2017, saving nearly £6,000, the Chancellor said, and a further 250,000 will pay lower rates.

After months of pressure from small businesses, many of whom have complained bitterly about planned changes to dividends and consultation on quarterly tax reporting and the potential impact on their companies, the tax burden will be shifted on to larger firms.

Mr Osborne capped larger companies’ debt interest payments to 30% of their earnings. Those payments had been used to cut their corporation tax bills. The Chancellor said he expected that cap, and other measures, to raise £8bn over the next five years.

Corporation tax will also be cut to 17% by 2020 in what the Chancellor called a “Budget for small business”.

The threshold for small business rate relief is raised permanently from £6,000 to a maximum of £15,000. Higher rate relief goes up from £18,000 to £51,000.

The Federation of Small Business welcomed the changes. Its policy director Mike Cherry said: “The Chancellor has listened to our calls for the tax system to be made simpler for small businesses and the self-employed and taken important action on business rates.”

The government is also taking measures to stop foreign retailers storing goods in Britain then selling them online without paying VAT, a bugbear for many UK small businesses who had felt there was not a level playing field for them.

There are also two new tax-free allowances worth £1,000 a year for “micro-entrepreneurs” who make money from occasional jobs or rent out property they own.

Companies making more than £5m a year in profit will have their past losses carried forward to offset corporation tax capped to 50% of current profits.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked cuts to disability benefits and criticised what he called “mates’ rates” corporate tax deals. He called the Chancellor’s statement “a Budget of failure” on the deficit, investment and inequality.

He attacked cuts to disability benefits and criticised “mate’s rates” corporate tax deals. However, Mr Corbyn welcomed a new tax on sugary drinks.

Mr Osborne has promised a £10.4bn surplus by 2019-20, but he has revised down growth forecasts and that could hit tax receipts in the future.

Severn tolls to be cut

Businesses in Wales have been campaigning for years for a cut in the cost of the Severn Crossings tolls, saying they are a serious dampener on growth in the Welsh economy. Mr Osborne announced they would be halved by 2018 when the bridges return to public ownership.

The current toll is £6.60 for a car, £13.20 for a van, and £19.80 for a lorry.

FSB police chairwoman in Wales Janet Jones said: “We welcome the 50% reduction in the Severn Bridge tolls announced by the Chancellor. A wide variety of our member businesses regularly use the Severn Crossings, and a study from the Welsh Government suggests that the tolls cost more than £100m each year in lost trade.

“This cut will have a positive impact for many small businesses, reducing the cost of trading across the Welsh border, and boosting confidence among small firms both sides of the border.”

Maria Williams is a copywriter, professional blogger, and PR for small business. Visit www.wordsyoucanuse.co.uk.

 

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Hey, small businesses! Let me tell you a story…

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Once upon a time, there was a small business with a great story to tell – but its owner didn’t realise what power she had within her grasp.

Brand storytelling. I suspect a hard-nosed businessman or woman like you is already rolling your eyes.

I suspect you think those words conjure up fairytale books, and the thought that woolly phrases won’t get you a good return on investment.

Here’s a secret – you might know brand storytelling by an older, more business-focused name: your USP.

Brand storytelling is all about differentiating your business from those of your competitors.

In a crowded marketplace, your unique selling point is unlikely to be that you offer products or services completely unlike those of your competitors.

It’s likely to be that your business has a unique story, and your story is the key to forging the best way of ensuring your good return on investment: a strong business relationship between you and your customers.

Your customers want to know about you, how your business began, what it stands for, what its aims are, and how they matter to your company.

There is so much choice. Technology means that choice is now available at the click of a smartphone key. You cannot rely on being the only provider of wedding stationery in Bury, for example, when your customer can Google dozens of other providers in the North West of England alone, order online and get items delivered to their door.

With choice comes confusion. Customers are faced with making far more decisions than ever before when it comes to choosing where to spend their money.

Your job is to make the choice easier for them, to let them know you understand their problems, and will solve them.

Faced with a list of anonymous businesses and a business which tells them its story, customers’ choice starts to become easier.

Businesses which have built empires on telling their customers all about themselves include Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Innocent Smoothies.

Both companies have introduced personality into their marketing as a result of telling their tales.

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Here’s an example from the Ben & Jerry’s website Our History section: “From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, to far-off places with names we sometimes mispronounce, the journey that began in 1978 with 2 guys and the ice cream business they built is as legendary as the ice cream is euphoric.”

The site says the business began with a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed).

Its history section clearly shows how far the company has come, and how it has developed its company values.

Ultimately, if the firm had produced ice creams people didn’t like, it would have failed. Spin won’t cover up a bad product or service.

The company had good products, and its storytelling process has helped it carve out a niche with a loyal customer base who feel part of that process. They keep coming back for more.

Here’s some of the storytelling on the Innocent Smoothies website: “We started Innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

That’s a powerful story: “We do this because we have a great product, because people said we should, because we have the get-up-and-go.”

Customers like that narrative.

Innocent’s website uses cartoons and a great visual timeline to show how the business has developed. See that here.

Don’t think your brand’s story ends with the tale of how you set up your business. Everything you do feeds your narrative, whether you like it or not.

Customers will talk about your business online and in the flesh, it’s up to you to have your input into that conversation and steer it in the way you want it to go.

What’s the best way of creating the next chapter in your brand’s story? A good service backed up by testimonials from your clients.

Sian Richardson set up her CV writing and careers mentoring business, Career Master CV Solutions, four years ago, after extensive experience working in banking, business mentoring, and human resources.

Her history, as a former military spouse, meant she knew the challenges being faced by veterans leaving the armed forces for Civvy Street. She also knew the skills former service personnel would bring to any company.

“I went through career transition with my husband who was lost after completing his military career and entering Civvy Street because of redundancy in the 1990s. Also, I started the business because I knew I could use my skills and experience to help people after helping friends and colleagues,” Sian says.

She decided to build a bridge between veterans and businesses in civilian business with a specialist arm of her company, http://www.careermaster4military.co.uk/.

“It was important to develop trust amongst my customers. They needed to know I understood their problems, and the best way of showing them that I did was to share my story with them,” she says.

The next step, of course, was sharing her customers’ testimonials with potential clients.

“It’s great when a client gains that interview from the CV I’ve written tailored for their application, and wonderful when they go on to clinch that job. Some have been looking for a new role in civilian life for some time, and getting that job is a huge weight off their shoulders,” says Sian, who is based in South Wales.

“Their testimonials can give hope to those who’ve lost their way.”

There is, of course, another good reason to tell your story – it could well get you coverage in the media, which is always looking for fresh stories and good angles.

A call to a newspaper telling reporters a shop is opening will never be as interesting to them as a call which says a shop is being opened by someone who is investing their redundancy settlement after the closure of a major employer in the area, for example.

Here’s to the next thrilling chapter in your brand’s story.

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