Published by Elizabeth Godfrey, October 31st, 2017
Good copy is many things. It is clear, concise, purposeful and well researched. Above all, however, good copy is original.
For many, the fear of plagiarism left their head soon after they left school. That is, of course, if it was something they had considered at all. As a sometimes-adjunct teacher of college composition courses I have often encountered students who believe they will never need to know basic writing skills, let alone research methodologies and note taking. While it is true the majority of people will not need to be experts in citation styles (after all, there are style guides for a reason), greater reliance on internet sources has only increased the importance of attribution.
Crediting source materials is important inside and outside the classroom.
Most often, I have found my students plagiarize when they are simply up against the due date for their paper. Anyone who has sat down in front of a blank page has experienced the beast at some point in their life. Trying to meet the deadline of a paper or content marketing piece, especially if a word count minimum is involved, makes it easy to accidently include unoriginal work.
Nearly every college course has a plagiarism clause, often under academic dishonesty, denoting it will not be tolerated. But proper attribution of sources is just as, if not more, important in the real world. While college plagiarism might result in a lower grade or even expulsion from the school, passing off someone else's work, which includes their thoughts as well as their words, as your own outside of an academic setting can have much larger consequences. Unoriginal work degrades your brand, whether personal or professional. It can also lead to copyright infringement.
Whether you use an existing citation style or create or adapt your own the goal is to make it easy for anyone reading your piece to find your source materials. This not only protects you against copyright infringement, it also helps build your brand’s credibility as a thought leader.
While the internet has expedited the research process in a number of ways it, somewhat unfortunately, can also lead to sloppy note taking through copying and pasting. When your outline or comprehensive source list does not clearly indicate the text is copied and provide the origin you can easily forget it is not something you wrote. This is especially true if you have the benefit of time between researching, writing and editing. If you are part of a company where the draft is then handed off to someone else there is often no way for your coworker to know citations are even needed.
Taking good notes during the research process is a vital skill for any writer.
Unintentional plagiarism can come from incomplete citations or poor note taking. If you find a perfect chunk of text in your outline you may feel relieved that you clearly wrote something else earlier and simply drop the text into your piece. Just as words should be carefully selected in your writing, your notes and outlines should be carefully crafted to distinguish between your own original ideas and the knowledge you have gained from outside sources.
Ebooks and white papers in particular are great content marketing pieces that should provide useful educational information to your audience. They help you acquire leads while establishing you as a subject matter expert. If you have written an ebook or white paper there’s a very good chance you need to include citations in the piece as they often require outside research or supporting facts and statistics.
Just as your reader should be able to locate your sources in a variety of ways, you should also be able to find your source. If you only include a title or an author in your note taking you might have difficulty relocating the source when the time comes to make your reference list. This makes attribution of your sources difficult and complicates fact checking that should be an essential component of your copyediting process.
Learn more about best practices for researching and source attribution in content marketing. Contact Bill White or Abby Spung at 800.606.1610.
Published by Elizabeth Godfrey, March 7th, 2017
Even if you regularly download and read white papers, chances are you have not considered what makes a document a ‘white paper’ and not an article, technical bulletin or something else. As content marketing pieces, white papers can represent very different styles with some that are much more effective than others.
A good white paper is essentially a hybrid technical (or academic) marketing piece that is intended to educate the target audience. As a marketing piece, it should contain captivating subheadings that make the information simple to skim and lead the audience through the paper to the conclusion. The subheadings should lend to the overall structure of the paper by providing clear signposting that makes the paper easy to navigate and helps establish it as a valuable educational resource.
An Argument for Better Papers
All white papers are persuasive pieces, whether they aim to convince readers of a particular solution to a common industry problem or convey that the newest technology or research innovation offers the answers to their problems. The resolution represents the paper’s conclusion, and ‘soft sell.’ An effective white paper must be written with this intended argument in mind.
The Marketing Component
Unlike brochures and other marketing pieces, white papers should not contain overt selling as the primary goal is to educate readers. The soft sell in the conclusion allows the business or company to provide readers with a chance to learn more about the specific solution. It also typically contains a call to action for next steps. Any marketing in an effective white paper is considered ‘soft’ because it should not alienate readers or detract from the educational aspects of the paper.
Determining Your Audience
Who do you want to reach with your white paper? With the broad goal of a white paper established, one of the first steps for success is to consider who you hope to inform. In selecting your target audience, it is helpful to identify problems or needs your ideal reader may face so you can better map your solution. Targeting a broader audience, such as a specific industry, means a larger reach for your paper. This gives you a bigger impact on brand recognition and helps position your company as an authority on the subject. However, if your solution or goal for the paper is to close sales, you may want a more focused audience. Writing to the executive suite or to those with buying power is more effective in this case as you can specifically address the technical aspects that are most important to the specific group.
Word count ideally stems from the topic itself. In general, the goal is to find something that is Goldilocks approved – not too long, not too short but just right. The most beneficial white papers for readers are those that examine something new and support findings and claims with evidence. While the white paper is more of a hybrid document when executed effectively, it is still a marketing piece. It is therefore essential to remember the overarching goal, whether that is lead generation, closing the sale or establishing thought leadership. Your white paper should move readers through the content toward the bigger picture. To ensure they make it to the paper’s conclusion, however, you need to keep your readers’ interest. Holding an audience is much more difficult when the paper is very long.
Setting the Tone
Unlike a blog, white papers need to maintain a tone that conveys thought leadership and credibility. This does not mean the writing needs to be stuffy. In general, white papers should avoid first and second person language (I, we and you respectively) in order to maintain an appropriate tone. As with all technical writing, the content should strive for accessibility. Even papers that explore more in-depth, technical topics should written clearly and concisely.
To Byline or Not to Byline
Should my white paper list an author? The simple answer to this question is, it depends. Including a byline for a well-known industry expert can absolutely strengthen both the creditability and desirability of a white paper. If your business publishes white papers frequently, this can also help establish your team’s subject matter experts and generate a regular audience, making your paper more likely to be disbursed organically.
On the other side of this, attribution to a person, rather than the company in general, may strengthen the brand of the specific author as much as, or more than, the brand of your company. While not inherently negative, the risk of losing established thought leadership due to turnover is something every company should consider before deciding on attribution.
White papers are not new, but they also aren’t going anywhere. An effective white paper can make all the difference in the continued push to gain new leads and set your brand apart from the competition. They also benefit your company as much as they benefit your audience. White papers are a long-term investment that helps persuade potential customers to choose your company. They also educate your sales reps and give them a valuable tool to close the sale.
Published by Elizabeth Godfrey, August 25th, 2016
Google continues to make updates and improvements to its cross-device conversions metric which was first introduced three years ago. Starting this September, Google will begin including cross-device conversions under the main conversions column automatically. This change moves the information from the “Cross-Device Conversion” column where it has previously existed and removes the option to manually include the metric under “Conversions.”
What it is
Cross-device conversions track the full search to purchase process of online customers, regardless of multiple devices. Online shoppers who are signed into their Google account across devices, like mobile phones, tablets and desktops, can be tracked to show device usage throughout the conversion process. This means clicks on a Google AdWords pay-per-click ad that originate on one internet enabled device are tracked throughout the search and purchase process on any other device.
Cross-device conversions is still relatively new to Google AdWords. Yet a growing reliance on a variety of internet enabled devices makes it more beneficial than ever to track these conversions. Google’s push to increase visibility of cross-device metrics demonstrates the increased need for companies to invest in responsive website design if they have not already done so. According to Google, “61% of internet users and over 80% of online millennials start shopping on one device but continue or finish on a different one.”
Why it matters
Marketers know the importance of mobile readiness and tracking. Moving cross-device conversion to the main tab makes it easier to find this information and continue, or start, tracking these conversions. Setting up attribution allows you to actually give credit to mobile users for conversions that previously defaulted as desktop users. This provides a more accurate picture of mobile conversions and, ultimately, the ROI for responsive website designs.
Published by Elizabeth Godfrey, May 26th, 2016
The best content comes from the meticulous selection of words. As word counts dwindle on web pages and promotional materials, it becomes increasingly important to deliver information that captivates. As William Zinsser said in On Writing Well, “words are the only tools you’ve got.” That’s not to say design is unimportant. Visual interest sparks your audience’s attention – words ignite action.
It seems almost impossible to write something new when every third product online claims similar ‘uniquely innovative world-class discoveries’ beyond every click. There’s nothing wrong with a sprinkling of industry buzz words as long as you communicate what differentiates you from everyone else. There are, however, words that clutter and weaken your writing.
Terms to Limit
Really. There’s almost always a better word to communicate when something is really great (superior, wonderful, extraordinary, etc.) and in doing so you eliminate unnecessary words.
I think / I feel / I believe. Many times phrases like these come from insecurity or trying to avoid definitive statements. When your reader identifies hesitation there’s almost no chance of actually persuading them your thought, feeling, or belief is accurate.
Just. If you can remove “just” and retain your intended meaning, do so.
Actually. Like the opinion based phrases above, “actually” is commonly used as a filler word that tries to establish some level of credibility, but usually has the opposite effect. Using “actually” seems more like a signal of ignorance than truth.
These words (or phrases) are probably no surprise. Most lists that identify weak words or terms to avoid in your writing will have these listed somewhere. Does that mean they should vanish entirely? Absolutely not. These terms can still be valuable tools when used sparingly and in the right situations. “Just,” for example, can be useful in informal communications like emails to show you are ‘just checking in’ and not trying to be pushy.
Additional Tips for Better Writing
Crisp words can add flavor to your writing, as long as you understand usage. Do not expect to find and replace all your buzz words or weak terms with the first synonym that presents itself and solve all problems. The goal is to curate your content through mindful selections.
- Clear, concise writing goes a long way. If you can eliminate words without losing meaning you absolutely should.
- Watch adjective placement – related words should stay together.
- Vary your sentence structure and your word choices. When in doubt, read your sentences out loud. Repeated words will sound off so you’ll know where a change is needed.
- Good writing comes from rewriting.
Published by Bill White , August 21st, 2015
The first time I sat at the controls of a helicopter the pilot said “This is like a bumblebee; it’s not supposed to fly but it does.” The first time I sat at the controls of an airplane my pilot friend pushed the throttle forward and said “Don’t be afraid of it; it wants to fly”. And it did.
The difference, I learned, was one of inherent stability. Properly designed, the airplane wants to fly. The helicopter does not. It has no inherent stability. You have to create it by managing collective and cyclic pitch, rotor speed and rudder controls.
This obtuse comparison is a perfect metaphor for managing the new algorithmic mysteries of search engine optimization to optimize page rankings and intelligent content enriched by metadata. A few years ago, if you wrote the copy and it was well done, readable and accurate, it would be understood. Inherent stability.
This is no longer good enough. Content marketing, according to industry expert Ann Rockley, “. . . is structurally rich, semantically aware and . . . automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable”.
As marketing people, we depend on the internet and digital marketing platforms to distribute our content as far and as high as it can go. Amid a crowded landscape, everyone has a message. The push to the top is brutal. Today, brute force and big bucks are no longer keys to success when it comes to showing up on search engines. We have to finesse our way into the equation using a combination of tools all related to content.
No matter what you call this new discipline – content optimization, intelligent content, whatever – there are good ways and useless ways to approach the balancing act. The good ways involve managing analytics, processing feedback, adjusting what we say on a website or in social media, and watching the impact of our changes as they propagate throughout cyberspace.
The days of writing good content and letting it fly are over. Good content doesn’t want to fly; it has to be flown, and the only inherent stability we can count on is the stability we create with hands-on control. Without expertise and a keen understanding of algorithms, traveling through the digital world can be a white knuckle experience.
Don’t try this at home. Find someone you can trust, work with them and enjoy the ride. Click here for more on Intelligent Content. To discuss how we can assist with the challenges you're facing with content optimization contact Jane Cirigliano or Bill White at 800-606-1610.
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