Friday, January 19, 2018

Words That Convert

I just told an art director buddy I was writing a blog post about verbs. I could see her rolling her eyes all the way from South Carolina...and we weren't using Skype. But then she knows I'm a word nerd.

I love words, especially verbs. If you're a marketer, you should love them, too, because a well-chosen verb has the power to increase opens and clicks that convert to traffic and sales. 

Spoiler Alert: For those who slept through grade school grammar, a verb is a word that describes an action, condition or experience. For example, the words run, click, keep, share and feel are all verbs.

With most marketing messages including at least one call-to-action (CTA), verbs are very valuable. That's why you should choose them carefully. Specificity really does count when it comes to choosing a verb that engages, motivates and persuades readers to convert.

For those of you on Twitter, here's an ah-ha. According to Hubspot Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrell, "Verbs beat all--adverbs, adjectives and nouns--in terms of attracting the highest number of shares. In fact, Twitter updates that include verbs have a 2% higher shareability than the average tweet."

So, whether you're writing a tweet, subject line, headline, envelope teaser or CTA button, the right verb can dramatically amp up the clicks, calls, opens, and visits by which your writing is measured. Here's a list of 55 verbs to get you started. Test for the best.

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If you want scientific proof of the power of verbs to encourage a physical motor response (aka a click or call), read this. Caution: Be prepared to dig through the science-speak. This is not marketing copy. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Writing for Skimmers and Other Non-Readers

Let's face it; every word you and I write doesn't get read. Even those people who are genuinely interested will skim, scan and then, maybe—just maybe—read what we write.

But take heart. Accept the challenge of learning how to attract more readership. Start by using these tools-of-the-trade for writing scanner-friendly web content, emails, direct mail, blog posts, even LinkedIn profiles.

Punctuation is your BFF. Use it to direct eye traffic, add emphasis to your words, build momentum, break up long sentences, snag attention and more. Scanners look for periods, commas, colons, ellipses, parentheses, em-dashes, etc. to help them skim, digest and decide whether to dig deeper. Use your punctuation pals to deepen engagement. (Can you tell I'm a patron of punctuation?

Be cautious with capitalization. Initial upper case letters (Pet Waste Bags vs. pet waste bags) imply importance or a proper name versus a generic term. The eye lands on them, then tries to figure out why the words are capitalized. Use caps ubiquitously and you'll cause confusion that disengages your scanner.

Related, but different: STRING TOGETHER TOO MANY WORDS IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS and your message is difficult to scan and read. In digital-speak, you're shouting and too much noise drowns out your message.

Make it easy to find essentials. This includes important little details such as date, time, location and cost. It's seriously annoying to be interested in attending an event and not be able to find when and where it's taking place. Likewise, product details matter. Yesterday I was interested in buying a bracelet online and all I saw was a stamp-sized photo and price. What was it made of? Did it have a clasp or was it elastic? I tried clicking on both photo and price to no avail. Ouch! Lost sale.

Copy and paste with care. I recently visited an event website that featured the same bio for two speakers. Oops!

Which brings me to this: Have someone else proofread what you write. As writers we often see what we want to see ... not what our readers see.

Make the same point from different directions. Sure, use your words. But consider adding a graph, comparison chart, photo, testimonial, statistic and/or video to support your message. You never know which will catch a non-reader's eye.

Capture interest with captions. Scanners are drawn to images, then they want to know the story behind what they see. Use photo captions as hot spots that encourage people to spend more time reading.

Speaking of hot spots...everything you write has them. But these valuable eye magnets are often ignored by writers.Think of hot spots as where the skimmer's eye goes first. Some hot spots are innate, some you create (as I've done in this post using bold face type.)

Numerals jump off the page; numbers as words get lost in the crowd. Twitter fans also know numerals use fewer characters. Example: 257 vs. two hundred fifty-seven.

Edit for engagement. Unlike a novelist, you've got just seconds to snag your reader's attention. Try these tweaking (aka editing) tips to make your copy/content more engaging and effective.

Button up. Test CTA copy to know which words work best on buttons. Then make sure your buttons are eye-catching using color, size and shape. You never know when a scanner will be ready to click, so test placement, too.

Long sentences and long paragraphs are...long. And difficult to scan, as well as read. Transform long ones into smaller, bite-size pieces. It's a simple edit.  

Interrupt eye flow. Use violators (aka snipes) to draw attention to important message points. While traditional bursts and banners still work, no one says you and your designer can't create your own.

Good luck reeling in more readers!

Friday, August 29, 2014

15 tweaking (not twerking) tips for response

Good writing depends on good editing (aka tweaking), whether it's self-editing or editing by someone else who understands the audience and objective. 

If you're interested in increasing clicks, calls or visits to your store or website, try these 15 tweaking tips. If you want more detail, check out my recent article for Direct Marketing IQ.  

1.   Move your call-to-action to front and center.

2.   Keep copy short and succinct, just long enough to tell your story.

3.   Hot spots are eye magnets. Fill them with benefits.

4.   Lead with the benefit, follow with the feature.

5.   Use bullets to draw the scanner's eye.

6.   Sentence fragments and one-word sentences often communicate more effectively than 
      longer sentences. Try 'em.

7.   Start sentences with verbs--active verbs--to create reader momentum.

8.   Use numerals versus numbers written as words. Find out why here.

9.   Avoid starting sentences with the word there.

10.  Read what you write out loud.Often you can hear edits easier than you can see them.

11.  Use FIND and REPLACE to avoid overusing individual words.

12.  Give what you've written a rest before editing.  Preferably overnight.

13.  Circle punctuation marks, then consider other options for improving scannability and 

14.  Contractions can be controversial, but also conversational. Check out this infographic
       from the writers at Divine Write, titled "Contractions: When Can I Use Them?"

Last thought. Editing and proofing are different tasks. Edit first, proof last.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Open Sesame: 11 Tips for Writing Subject Lines

Subject lines may look short and simple to write, but they're not.

Similar to outer envelope teasers, subject lines are gatekeepers that can keep readers out ... or invite them in. So, it's no surprise that there's more to creating successful ones than just stringing together words. Direct response writers know every detail counts.

We use details to snag reader involvement that leads to response. And to do this, we're always looking for new tricks to try. So, yes, we give careful consideration to every little detail including the use of personalization, punctuation, special characters, and even those eye-flow-stopping | vertical | bars | also | called | pipes.

While you need to be aware of how different web browsers display special characters and how spam filters will react to subject line punctuation, testing is the tool that helps you learn what works and what doesn't. That's especially important with email since best practices seem to constantly change.

Here are 10 tips for creating subject lines that get opened. As always, test to see what works best for your audience and offer.

1. Verbs. Start subject lines with active verbs to create momentum. Recent emails delivered to my inbox started with: Join, Indulge, Meet, View, Find and Lose.

2. Questions. Questions can be compelling ... and tricky. The trick is to ask a question that engages rather than loses your reader. "Concerned about your pet's bad breath?" arrived in my inbox (and got opened) because I buy dog and cat products online.

3. Length. On any given day, you'll find a new study and resulting best practices regarding subject line length. I've seen both longer and short subject lines work. The key is to test. When writing longer subject lines, make sure to put a grabber at the beginning because this is what a scanner see first.

4. Symbols. A year or two ago, the use of symbols ( ☼ ♫ ) became a hot trend and they're still being used today. Symbols are a quick way to draw the scanners' eye, but the rest of the subject line still needs to deliver value or intrigue to get opened. Example: "Flash sale: American Airlines US routes fr $114 R/T - One week only!"

5. Special Characters. I often use vertical bars (a.k.a., pipes) instead of commas to | visually | separate | elements | in subject lines. [Brackets], {braces}, and +s also link, separate, and/or save character space and draw the eye. Example: [Free 42-Page Ebook] The Smart Guide to Lead Generation

6. Punctuation. Punctuation in subject lines may add to your spam score, so test and screen before rolling out. While I'd never put a period at the end of a subject line, I do use punctuation to draw attention and create expectation. Examples:

  • Exclusive Offer: Back up another computer
  • 5...4...3...Time is running out
  • "Million Dollar Secrets" on Tour: Reserve your space today

7. Personalization. There's plenty of data indicating subject lines personalized with the recipient's name have higher open rates. Test it to see if it works for you. Example: "Pat, 50% off site-wide for just 48 hours."

8. Localization. People identify with their city's or neighborhood's name, as well as their own. When it's appropriate, localize subject lines. Example: "Pat, visit our new Country Club Plaza store near you."

9. Numbers. $50 vs. fifty dollars. You tell me which has instant impact. Numerals read faster and frequently take up less space. $s are magical for reinforcing value.

10. Countdown/Deadline. One of the beauties of email vs. direct mail is the ability to time delivery down to the hour to create genuine urgency. Examples:

  • 6 Hours Left ... Biggest Summer Sale Ever
  • Registration closes at 4:00 EST today, August 1st

One More Tip: The power of any subject line is coupled with the FROM line. Some companies use a variety of FROM lines depending on the messages being delivered. Again, test to see what works for you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What I learned from P.O. Box 1857

Opening envelopes and unzipping direct mail snap packs provides cross-channel marketers with the chance to lurk-and-learn from their direct mail marketing colleagues. I speak from experience.

Lurking, learning and confirming is what I've been doing for more than a year as I saved a stack of mail pieces I received from P.O. Box 1857 in Alpharetta, Ga. Sometimes I received two or three pieces a month from this address. You probably did, too, if you're an AT&T customer. P.O. Box 1857 is the home address for AT&T Customer Care. Here's what I learned:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I'm a word nerd.

Yep! I truly am a word nerd. As a cross-channel marketing writer, I know every word  counts. Word choices can make or break the response by which I'm measured.  

For example, direct response writers have long understood the power of the word free versus using no charge or complimentary for generating traffic, leads and sales. Direct mail expert Dick Benson  once proclaimed the word free as magical.

I was reminded of the power of a single word during a recent discussion with a new client and the company's legal department. The discussion focused on using get vs. win. In the context of my copy, get delivered a reward... while win implied a prize. I wanted my reader to feel like she was earning a reward, not playing the lottery. We compromised and used both, depending on context.

Examples of word power permeate our everyday lives. Case in point, I recently drove by a house with a real estate sign in the front yard. I assumed the sign was going to read, "House for Sale." Wrong. Instead it said, "Site for Sale." House versus Site. One word had me looking at the property completely differently. After reading the sign, I figured the house must have major problems and the owner had decided the only reason someone would buy the property was for the lot, not the current house. Which led me to assume the price would reflect this. I remembered the sign because of one word. 

Every word you choose — no matter what you're writing — impacts your readers' perceptions and, ultimately, their actions. Everyone who writes subject lines, Twitter posts, catalog copy and call-to-action buttons with space limitations understands this.  If you're interested, you can read more about choosing the right word for the right reason.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tips for Dealing with the Sticky Business of Direct Mail

Even if you don't write, design or send a lot of direct mail, you need to read this. It's a short article for writers and designers of direct mail.  Production people, too.  It's about why you should pay attention to stickiness when creating and mailing formats the USPS requires to be tabbed, wafer sealed spot or (ugh) continuously glued.