Melting Pot creations - clear, concise copywriting

One fête-ful summer…

It’s that season again. Not the one in which to be jolly; this one’s more ‘jelly’. And ice cream. In fact, anything quintessential: craft, balloons, flower and veg shows, stalls, guess the leopard’s number of spots, splat the rat, you know the drill.

The good old fête is with us again. We have a school one, a village one and a church one, which makes us a very fête-ful place to live I guess. And, thinking as I often do, of words and how they sound, I wondered on the meanings of fête and fate and whether they have any common etymology.

The word fête is, unsurprisingly, of French origin and means ‘an elaborate festival, party or celebration’. More modern interpretations call it a ‘public function, typically held outdoors to raise funds for a charity’. That’s more like it.

Fate, on the other hand, is of Latin origin, and means ‘the development of events outside of a person’s control’.

A-ha! So there is a link. It was fate that I should visit the fête with at least twenty quid in my pocket and leave with precisely none. The joys of the fête, when combined with children, at any rate.

copywriting blogging aylesbury bucks buckinghamshire freelance copywriter

My ramblings took me – via amusement that we now include fete in our dictionary, sans little hat, as an acceptable alternative spelling – to see how a letter change can dramatically alter our topic. By simply mixing up the letters, we suddenly have feat. Presumably also linked to our topic in terms of the disproportional efforts required to lay on a successful fête, but, perhaps also, the ability of any visitors not to bankrupt themselves on the way round.

Feet is another permutation. Again, inextricably linked to our summer fun activities, with many pairs flip-flop clad and potentially also covered in mud when the inevitable (and fateful) British weather puts in an appearance. Not forgetting, of course, the relevance of feet to fate, the latter often being described as the ‘path chosen for us’.

Next on my little journey came feta. Hmmm, not really a link unless you wanted to compare and contrast the experience of sitting in a peaceful sun-drenched garden eating a deliciously refreshing feta and beetroot salad and drinking a gooseberry-scented glass of Sauvignon, with the other summer activity of having a first-hand experience of legal daylight robbery while visiting the fête. One is infinitely comparable to the other, of course, but I’ll leave you to decipher which.

Going back to the French influence, there is of course, another homophone: fait (of the accompli kind). Again, it brings uncanny reminders of the outdoor public function we know and love, as the definition is ‘something that can’t be changed’ – we’re back to that £20 note. Might as well spend it all.

Imagine then, my delight, when Google informs me that there is an English version of the word ‘fait’. Apparently words uttered while being fait are pointless and random. The condition, apparently, is one of a state of absolute aimlessness.

Now, where was I the other day when I felt that sensation coming on….?


Melting Pot creations - clear, concise copywriting

Why the world needs more… microcopy (and 5 top tips to make it work for you)

Before technology, it was the romantic quote on a bench or a gravestone; an engraving on a piece of jewellery or a sculpture. Now, it’s the little touch that makes us pause; shows us that, behind the screen, the tablet, the website template, there are still people.

It’s the attention to detail that punches well above its weight, makes us slow down for a minute and appreciate the finer things.

It can be pithy, romantic or downright cheeky. Ultimately, it’s all about making you feel good, making you smile or think a little. It’s all about user experience.

What is it? Microcopy. Those few small words, the little pointer, thought, quote or meme that appears as you navigate through a website.

I’m focusing on the lighter end of the spectrum: the comments, quotes and memes that cheer up the Internet. But microcopy has a serious role to play too. It can be the instructional text used within a form, the system error message or e-commerce hints, which help to direct you to the end of a process.

For me, good microcopy is interesting, clear – sometimes quirky or irreverent – but always serves a purpose. It’s effortlessly cool. It has perfect timing. It’s understated. And I love it.

My love affair with microcopy began long before the internet became such a staple in our lives. It makes for a great combination with my other hobby – photography – and I have many pictures of quirky quotes, or unexpected words appearing in our day to day life.

Some of my favourites include the memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, situated under a tree in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. It’s a small, unassuming headstone with the simple inscription: “R L S A Man of Letters”. Clever, a little quirky but, above all, unexpected.

Microcopy is a break from the norm. Many websites, such as Moo, Mailchimp and Canva use it especially well at the end of your design or order process. It’s a nice touch, and means users are more likely to leave the process with a positive view of the website and their experience. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s a theory that microcopy increases conversions.

As I said at the start of this blog about microcopy, for a small amount of text, it definitely punches above its weight. Take basecamp.com, a collaboration platform for businesses. Founded by David Heinemeier Hansson, or DHH, about 12 years ago, Basecamp aims to help people manage projects more efficiently together, but remotely. (His blog about how is all started, is here. It’s a great read and shows his attitude to doing things a bit differently, which is refreshing in itself, but that’s another story.)

Basecamp has a friendly, informal tone of voice which lends itself well to more irreverent microcopy. And this shows from the website. There are callouts and comments everywhere. But, far from being confusing, the microcopy adds to the user experience. You immediately feel as though Basecamp wants to help, rather than simply to sell. Menu headings say things like ‘how it works’ or ‘learn’ rather than using more conventional titles. If you click through to ‘how it works’, you immediately see microcopy doing its job again, with a call out over the top of the video, saying ‘See how it works, in 2 minutes.’

If you’re considering using microcopy on your website, it’s important to start by thinking about context. You may have the sort of website – say, that of a financial advisor, insurance broker or similar – that is quite process driven and requires users to work through a series of steps for them to gain value from your services. If so, then you need explanatory microcopy. This holds the user’s hand during that process and minimises confusion, which, in turn, should reduce the chance of losing potential customers before they complete their order or enquiry.

If you’re lucky enough to be in an industry that’s slightly less regulated, you might decide on a more informal tone of voice throughout your website, which would open the door to some of the more irreverent microcopy that we see with the likes of Mailchimp.

My word microcopy pic

Once I’ve logged in, I’m greeted with a bright and breezy, personalised ‘good morning’ message. If I click through to create a campaign, the blue button is there with some comforting microcopy – ‘let us guide you’ – I feel as though I’m working with a person, not just fumbling my way through a website.

It’s obvious that this teeny tiny contribution to a website carried more impact that you would imagine. So, how do you get it right? There’s a wealth of information on the internet about microcopy, including some excellent blogs – goodmicrocopy.com being the best – and here are my top 5 tips for getting website microcopy right:

  1. Make sure your website tone is consistent across micro and maxi (normal) copy. There’s no point having serious, corporate web copy and then turning into a clown with all your microcopy, your users will think you’ve been hacked;
  2. Get someone to do a user test before you go live. You want your microcopy to enhance the experience, not confuse people;
  3. Less is more. Don’t forget, this is all about being small and effective, not big, brash and overbearing;
  4. Be irreverent and play around (if it suits your style) but not too much. You need to pitch your microcopy at allof your users. Some may be more traditional than others so bear this in mind;
  5. Make sure all your website microcopy is relevant and serves a purpose. Your users won’t thank you for constantly bombarding them with quotes and comments. However, a sign-off which makes them smile as they leave your website hints at some humanity in your business (see Slack’s example at the bottom of the pic above)

 


Melting Pot creations - clear, concise copywriting

Share the love: how testimonials can breathe new life into your business narrative

As a freelancer, my business relies upon referrals, word of mouth and testimonials from my existing clients. I network extensively to make contacts but, even then, any case I build to win business is infinitely more credible if I can throw in some genuine second opinions.

This age of internet reviews hasn’t been without criticism and controversy though, as the inevitable greedy side of human nature took over and reviews were found to be for sale on a black market of fake customers. So, how do the sole traders and SMEs among us make the best use of the precious commodity that is a testimonial from a happy customer?

Request a Referral

Initially, it’s a case of having the courage of your convictions, valuing the work that you do, and fronting up to ask your customers to write some words. I always request recommendations through LinkedIn as it is virtually impossible for them to be faked, due to the system being set up to formally request, edit and display them. It’s worth noting, though, that recommendations on LinkedIn are only available for individuals, you can’t get them on company pages.

The facebook business page template now also has a review tab so make full use of this to ensure it’s as easy as it can be for your customers to comment.

Share the love. If you receive a good service from someone, write a recommendation straight away. It’s a good habit to get into. After all, if everyone took this approach, purchasing goods and services would be that much easier in the future.

Makes those words work

Once you’ve got a great endorsement, use it as much as you can. Think about your various channels; blogs, social media, marketing campaigns and so on, and try to work the testimonial words in as much as possible.

swag circus crowd

Try using different elements of your review for different channels. For example, I received a testimonial that used the word ‘exceptional’. I wanted to make maximum use of such a great word so, as well as using the recommendation as a whole on my testimonials webpage, I worked the word ‘exceptional’ into my strapline, used an app to create a ‘meme’ with a short pull quote from the review, and tweeted links to my website using the text “officially an exceptional copywriter”.

You don’t need to repeat the review verbatim; you can pull out phrases, quotes and even single words and have some fun getting your message across.

Tasty Testimonials

As webpages go, your testimonials page is probably one of the most important. You should always have a direct link to this from your home page and even feature live links to your customers’ words. But testimonial pages are often very text-heavy and a little predictable.

Give some thought to livening this page up, making it easy to read for those checking out your credentials and perhaps even using it as a way to draw people in to your website further. You could feature your testimonials as a gateway to a full case study of your work. If your audience can find a story behind the accolade, they are more likely to ‘imagine’ themselves as your customer. They may find similarities between their requirement and that of the happy customer; something that is very likely to have a persuasive outcome.

Case studies also open up the opportunity to use imagery, especially if you are delivering a service that is particularly visual, or if you have brightly coloured products to showcase. At the very least, you should try to include a headshot or corporate logo to each review to break up the text and also to add further credibility to the words.

A great way to liven up your testimonials page is to encourage customers to provide you with video reviews. Whether you get them professionally recorded or ask them, on the spot, to speak to your camera phone, capturing their pleasure in your product or service on the spot is powerful stuff.

However, it’s not easy to convince a person to speak to the camera, so you might want to offer an incentive or freebie to anyone who is willing to do so. Provided you offer a reward in return for someone’s honest feedback – as opposed to offering it in return for a ‘good review’, this approach is perfectly ethical.

The ‘Halo’ effect

It’s always fantastic if you can get a review or endorsement from a household name or a FTSE100 company but, for those of us who predominantly work with smaller businesses, we may find the brands don’t necessarily convey what they do. To give a review more context for those reading it, consider putting a little more information in addition to the name of the customer and company.

Instead of “Adrian Smith, Owner, Cogs”, you might sign off by saying “thanks for Adrian Smith, Owner of Cogs, our local bike shop, for the great review”.

Or, if your review is from Emma the freelance copywriter, you could sign off by saying “Emma Rundle, freelance copywriter, Melting Pot Creations” rather than giving my title as ‘Owner’.

By doing this, you might find people looking at doing business with you can better identify with some of your existing customers and gain peace of mind from their reviews.

Bad review, good response

In some cases, setting up the opportunity for reviews invites negative feedback as well as positive. Unfortunately, you can’t control this although, obviously, you would hope that any review would be truthful and constructive. That’s why it’s imperative that you always respond immediately to any negative feedback. Seeing that you care enough to try to resolve a customer’s issue may be enough to leave a potential customer with a positive impression of your business.

Ultimately, adding testimonials to your website and incorporating your customers’ opinions into your marketing campaigns is a great way to showcase live, up-to-date information related to your products or services. In addition to adding new content to your website on a regular basis, people are increasingly drawn by reviews and recommendations in a world where competition is rife and much business is done online. Set out to prove the value of what you have to offer, and let your customers do the talking.


Melting Pot creations - clear, concise copywriting

Headline Headache? Try these 8 top tips for business headline success

The epitome of first impressions, headlines are perhaps the hardest part of an article to write. We’re very driven by the glitterati of headlines: those that appear in the national media. Pithy, clever and hugely impactful, these headlines are as attention grabbing as it gets. But they belong in a world where almost anything goes, where sensationalism is rife and worldwide events hand the opportunity for wordplay to the writers on a plate.

When it comes to business writing, things aren’t always quite so vibrant. The opportunity for informal, fun or sensational copy comes around less often and, for the web-based copy, there’s SEO (also called the fun police) to think about.

All these factors combine to make the writing of corporate headlines slightly harder. If this is all ringing bells, read my eight top tips for creating headlines that will stick in the minds of your readers.

Thankfully the, now-infamous, Google algorithm is placing less importance on keywords being framed in titles, headings and subheadings and more importance on a natural, flowing writing style.

(I’ll just pause to let every copywriter in the land cheer loudly.)

However, the headline and its family of sub-headers still need to perform an importance job of leading your readers through an article or blog post, hopefully without losing too many on the way. Keywords remain a part of this and headlines should always be relevant to assist people who might be searching on your topic.

Despite the introductory nature of a headline, my advice as a writer would be NEVER to attempt to write your headline first. Either you will spend the next five days trying to emulate our top national journalists with a catchy play-on-words containing just the right about of pith and guaranteed to capture the hearts and minds of every passing reader… or you’ll write something that relates to the first draft of your article but comes up short in terms of relevance to your piece of writing as a whole.

headline-swag

You need to let your passion for the topic flow and get to know the end result of your work before you put a title on it. That way, you’ll end up with a headline that does the content justice and tells the reader what they really need to know.

Sometimes, though, we put far too much pressure on headlines. We want them to carry the weight of the whole article, to convey a mass of ideas, theories, passions and messaging in just three, four, or five words. This approach is bound to fail. And anyway, that’s the job of the headline’s best friend: the standfirst.

A standfirst does exactly that: stands firmly at the start of your article and allows you to capture an overview of the story in a few short sentences. It’s a paragraph so you have a higher wordcount to play with and, even though you might not give everything away here, you can certainly provide enough of a taster of what’s to come to convince your readers into carrying on with the article.

On the subject of wordcount, you will always need to strike a balance between the informative/creative and the SEO. By their nature, headlines need to be short and snappy (and some websites will insist on certain maximum wordcounts as part of their templates) but you also need them to work for you as regards SEO. My advice would be to pick a main keyword relevant to the piece you are writing and build around that. Don’t try too hard as it’s likely your headline will end up abstract.

It’s important to keep your headlines simple. Numbers and lists work well with surfers looking for something to read. “My top ten tips on…” or “5 reasons you shouldn’t ever…” (And, for the purists out there, it’s perfectly acceptable to use figures under ten in a headline.) Another popular approach is to pose a question, or even answer one. “Ever wanted to fly and wondered how?” Or “The Secrets of Astronomy: Your questions answered.”

The other important rule of headline writing, especially in the online age, is honesty. Play with your words too much or try to be too clever and, before you know it, you will distort the reality of your writing. There’s no law against it, but your audience will get very fed up, very quickly, and are unlikely to return to read more of your work. In terms of internet articles and blog posts, this practice is known as ‘click baiting’.

Think about your tone of voice. While many of us can’t resist a bit of scandal and excitement in the celebrity world, we don’t all enjoy being scared witless every time we want to read an informative article about our favourite pastime so try to resist sensationalism or shock tactics. This is perhaps an easier rule to follow when writing for business, unless you are lucky enough to be writing for a particularly energetic market sector.

You also need to ensure your headlines are written in an ‘active’ tone of voice, rather than a ‘passive’ one. For example, “Business headline writing explained” sounds a little dull, whereas “Headline Headache? Ten top tips for sticky headlines.”

Finally, you need to consider your reason for writing. For example, many bloggers these days write to build an audience of followers. The days of the hard sell have given way (thankfully) to the age where sharing is caring. Blogs contain ‘how to’ information, share advice and guidance or compare the benefits of different consumer brands.

If you visit a blog page and see a series of shouty, capitalised headlines screaming at you to “click here now for a great deal” or “get this product before stocks run out” are you likely to read on? However, if you visit a website or blog page with a selection of hints and tips, maybe an offer here and there or some useful further reading links you might add it to your list of frequent reads. Often, articles or blogs are part of the long game. They are the perfect platform upon which to build relationships and credibility and your headline, as your first impression, is an important factor in both.

Eight Top Tips for Sticky Headlines (in business):

  1. Remember the purpose of your headline: in print/press, it’s purely there to get readers’ attention and sell copies; in business blogging or article writing, it needs to contain keywords and be relevant and searchable.
  2. Don’t write your headline first. Get to know your article, feel the vibe and choose something completely relevant.
  3. Use standfirsts and further sub-headings to signpost your work, highlight keywords and improve search results.
  4. Find the balance in a headline between informative, creative and SEO-friendly. For online articles, SEO must be a priority otherwise you won’t have any readers to appreciate the other elements.
  5. Keep it simple. Consider using lists or questions to liven your headline up but don’t be too clever or it will quickly become confusing.
  6. Honesty is the only policy! Misleading headlines (and it’s not unusual to find click baiting articles online that consist of completely unrelated headlines) mean disenfranchised readers and a bad reputation for you.
  7. Keep your tone of voice active but also realistic – encourage, don’t scare!
  8. The Long Game – who do you want to be? Why are you writing? Consider each headline as the next step in building a relationship with your reader and you’ll always make a good first impression.

Melting Pot creations - clear, concise copywriting

10 totally contradictory facts about being left-handed

At a recent festive drinks party, a friend commented on my left-handedness as I struggled to cut a slice of bread with a right-handed knife. He went on to ask whether I was aware that the origins of the term ‘left-handed’ were synonymous with ‘sinister’…

Intrigued, as ever, about how on earth the two things could be linked, I started researching. However, the outcome of my investigation wasn’t really conclusive. Our language is a fickle fish so here are ten, totally contradictory, facts about being left-handed:

  1. The Latin ‘sinistra’ did, in fact, originally mean ‘left’ but took on its current meaning of ‘evil’ during Roman times
  2. The Inca tribe believe that left-handers have magic, healing powers
  3. The Anglo-Saxon word for left was ‘lyft’, meaning weak or broken
  4. Einstein, Newton and Darwin were all lefties. Nothing weak about them (at least, not in their minds anyway!)
  5. In Morocco, left-handers are thought to be cursed
  6. Stats show that there are more left-handers than right-handers with an IQ over 140. Not cursed in the brains department then…
  7. There is some evidence to suggest left-handedness is brought on by birth trauma
  8. It is also thought to run in the family, through a gene called LRRTM1, passed down by the father
  9. Julius Caesar was left-handed…
  10. And the Romans were responsible for many anti-left customs

So, perhaps the saying ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ applies here. Our wonderful, varied language strikes again. One-tenth of the world’s population is left-handed, a proportion that, incredibly, has remained constant for over 30,000 years. Women are four per-cent more likely to be left-handed than men and being a leftie is twice as common that being an identical twin in the general population.

There always seems to have been a bias towards ‘right’ rather than ‘left’ with the former getting over 100 positive mentions in the Bible and the latter getting around 25 negative mentions.

lefthand-swag

I think the secret here is to be selective in the face of such fickle statistics. I like my left-handedness. Despite meaning I have no hope of ever assembling a piece of Ikea furniture the right way round, I revel in being a little different and I’ve made my peace with my fingers being squashed by pairs of scissors. You can call me cack-handed, a southpaw, a devil or a sorcerer. But really, I’m just me.