Content Writing Advice for Marketing Managers - Grow Live Episode 4

 

Is your writing remarkable or just noise? Check out these tips to create engaging content!

 

Do you know how to cut through all the noise and get your story heard?

This week on Grow Live, Matt and Renia are joined by Content Specialist Shannon Gayton to discuss the best ways to create remarkable content.

What do they mean by remarkable content?

Well, it’s not enough to put words together and hope something sticks. It needs to be amazing content that is impactful to the reader.

Would you like a few tips to create content that get results?

“Start off with something you can handle. Focus on quality over quantity”

— Matt Johnson, CMO & Managing Partner

Watch, listen or read now and learn more about:

 

 “Talk to your sales people. What questions are your customers asking? Start there.”

—Shannon Gayton, Content Specialist

 

Words matter.

How you use them can make or break your marketing strategy. But, don’t panic. They provided some helpful tips to get you on your way. There’s no better time than now to start producing content for your organization. Are you ready to get started?

 

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Read the Grow Live transcript...

Renia:

Okay. Well, welcome back everybody to episode four, yeah episode four now of GROW LIVE. I am Renia with Safety Marketing Services. We are back today with Matt Johnson, our CMO and Managing Partner. We've invited our friend and Content Specialist, Shannon Gayton, to come join us and talk about writing. So, say hello, Shannon.

 

Shannon:

Hi everybody. I'm so excited to be here. A little nervous, but we're going to have a good time today.

 

Renia:

Yeah, we normally let Shannon hide in a corner with her laptop.

 

Shannon:

Just the way I like it.

 

Matt:

Thank you for coming, Shannon.

 

Shannon:

Absolutely.

 

Matt:

I'm really excited about this. We think about writing and writing in our space, I mean your name comes to mind, so you've been the voice behind many brands and so much content out there. I can't wait to have you share a little bit of knowledge with the team.

 

Shannon:

Absolutely. What a compliment that is, thank you so much.

 

Renia:

Absolutely. If you are an SMS client and you're watching this, there's a pretty good chance that this is the face behind your content.

 

Shannon:

It's me here.

 

Renia:

Yeah, we just gave something away. If you are new to us today, just want to let you know that you can leave your comments below, ask your questions, and our team behind the scenes, Lief and Brandon, will make sure that those get to us. Or if you're watching this back later on YouTube or listening to the podcast, feel free to leave us a comment or a review. Those are really helpful, or pass this on to your friends.

 

 

We're really excited to be here. We're learning a lot, and in a couple of weeks we're even going to tell you about all the things we're learning. We're going to invite the people behind the camera to come out in front of it. Before we do that, today we're going to talk about writing. What I want to ask you guys to start out with is everybody is talking about video right now. Why are we on a live show talking about writing.

 

Shannon:

I'll take that. I think video is so huge right now, and it makes sense to me. I do a lot of work on my house and we're working on this 78 C10 Chevy pickup, so every time I have questions I'm going into YouTube and putting in like how do I do this? So how-tos and tutorials are really amazing right now. So I see the value in that.

 

Renia:

Where do you think writing fits in in this video world?

 

Shannon:

I think that there's a lot of videos out there that are very, very successful, kind of impromptu and without a script, and just kind of a selfie or something, and they capture their audience. But I think for the most part, you need an outline. You need some kind of a script, even if you don't follow it, just to keep you on track. I think that's where writing really comes into that.

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the backbone of most of our sites are still written content, right? What do you think, Matt?

 

Matt:

I totally agree. First of all, a well produced video can't happen without a writer and well thought out content. But in the world that we live in, the written word is really driving online engagement.

 

Renia:

Absolutely.

 

Matt:

It's an issue of making sure that we're writing toward capturing our personas and writing for the questions that they're asking, and then answering those questions with written content is really ... It comes down to SEO, but in addition to SEO, there is the fact that people like to consume content in different ways. Maybe I don't have the ability to watch a video right now or maybe I need to send this to somebody and print it out. There's lots of different ways of using written content and that's why I think it's still extremely valuable today.

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely. Actually I feel like reading is almost having a renaissance now, you know. It used to be hard. When I was a kid, I can remember going to the library and coming out with like a hundred books in a stack, especially over the summer, right?

 

Shannon:

Yes, best days of my life. Yes.

 

Renia:

Now it's all in my phone.

 

Shannon:

I'm digital, but I definitely still go to the library and come home with stacks of books, just the smell of a book.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

Of course, the way that we write online is different and the way that we read online is different. What we're seeing is people reading in a little bit different way. They scan a lot, right?

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

So they're looking for headlines. They're looking for key nuggets of information. Then when they find what they're looking for, then they kind of dive in, but people online do a lot of scanning. What do you say, Renia?

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely. I think last week we talked about the buyer's journey when we were talking about personas and I think there's kind of like a buyer's journey for writing, where they'll read the headline. That's kind of your attract phase. If they like your headline, the most important piece, then they'll start scanning. That's kind of your consideration stage.

 

Shannon:

Sure.

 

Renia:

Then if they like what they're seeing when they're scanning and it provides some value to them, they'll start reading everything else. That's your decision like when you've got them. So there are some layers there. Let's talk a little bit about that, because those layers are really important. Shannon, I know if you're a marketing manager or a new content writer, you're probably going to spend a lot of time putting a piece together, right?

 

Shannon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Renia:

What do you think are the most important parts of a piece of writing?

 

Shannon:

For our clients, I think just jotting down your ideas, getting your ideas out onto paper. Once you kind of can visualize them, then start putting an outline together, before you even begin starting your research.

 

Renia:

So it doesn't just magically appear out of thin air?

 

Shannon:

It definitely does not magically appear out of thin air. I tell everybody that the prep work, whatever industry and whatever career you are in, I think people can get that prep work is sometimes usually always the most important thing. You're not going to get a good finished product without putting in the time and effort at the beginning stages. That's your outline. That's your research. That's your brainstorming.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

It reminds me of a meeting that we're supposed to be having soon. You're supposed to be interviewing me about content that we're going to write for our blog.

 

Shannon:

Yes.

 

Matt:

That's kind of where it starts, right? Is that you have people out there that are like me, I would assume, they're either the VP of sales or they're maybe even the owner or the manager of the business. They don't have time to sit down and write something. They don't have time to write 1,500 word article, but they have a wealth of knowledge here and of course for those not watching, I'm pointing to my head. They have a wealth of knowledge in their heads. What your job as a writer is to extract that information and put it into some sort of logical format, right? What does that typically look like for you?

 

Shannon:

I mean, obviously I have to go in with some background on the company and what their goal is and what their mission is before I can even craft the questions that I'm going to ask. Then I think it's just like speaking with that person, just relax and take your time and just I want to dig into that tribal knowledge. So just give me whatever you've got and I'll be the one to worry about formulating and putting into something that we can use down the road.

 

Matt:

So you start with a little bit of background research and based on that research, you kind of come to that meeting with some questions?

 

Shannon:

Sure, absolutely. I mean, you can't go into it blind, right?

 

Matt:

Right.

 

Shannon:

You have to be prepared. It would be insulting I think.

 

Matt:

Right.

 

Shannon:

I agree, I think.

 

Renia:

Yeah. I think some of the best content that I've seen Shannon and other great writers produce, like the real work of it, the real craft of it, comes in the interview, not in the actual writing itself because it's all in what questions you ask to get the interesting answers, right?

 

Shannon:

Absolutely, because you can make anything go in whatever direction you want it to. That's a dangerous kind of line there, so you want to make sure that you're posing the right questions. You've got to remember your client's goal and what are they trying to achieve with this? Just making them comfortable is my biggest thing. Laugh, tell jokes.

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely. We all do a lot of writing. Even if you're not a writer like Shannon is, any of us in this whether you're a marketing manager or you're a managing partner or a strategy person or even a video production person, you're doing a lot of writing every day, right? How is it different to produce a formal piece of content like a webpage or downloadable eBook or something like that compared to the off the cuff writing we do every day in emails or in Slack messages or in text messages?

 

Shannon:

There's definitely formulas for everything. There's a science behind writing. I really do believe that. There's a way that you can go about it, and there are so many ways that you can do it wrong. So I think going into it and knowing what it is that you're trying to create and having a game plan and effect for that. That's where the outline comes in. Rather than just what we do in our own spare time jotting down ideas, you want them to flow and be concise and clear and to the point, and entertaining at the same time.

 

Renia:

And entertaining at the same time, absolutely. It's no small thing. Let me ask you, Matt. I can't ask Shannon this. I know she would just die right now.

 

Shannon:

Yay!

 

Matt:

Wow, I can't wait. What is this?

 

Shannon:

I can't wait.

 

Renia:

Tell us a horror story, because Shannon said, no names, but Shannon said that you can definitely do it wrong, and this is an area where just jumping in with both feet is probably not going to help you out. What are some of the stuff you see out there every day when you're talking to different industrial distributors and stuff like that that just makes you go uh.

 

Matt:

Yeah, we'll be careful not to name any names.

 

Renia:

Yes.

 

Matt:

Some of the things that I see, so we talk a lot about the idea that in the content marketing world, there's a lot of noise. It's a very crowded place, no matter what industry you're in. If you're in industrial supply, if you're checking your LinkedIn feed or you're checking your Facebook feed, since you follow a lot of the companies that are in your industry, you're probably seeing a ton of content coming through. A lot of it is because of us, but there's other people out there producing content.

 

 

Some companies use other agencies, some people use different sources, and some people do it themselves. Regardless of where that content is coming from, there's a couple of things that are driving me nuts right now. One of the things that drives me nuts is seeing content that is too sales oriented. I think a lot of marketers out there in the industrial supply world, they get the concept of what they're trying to do. They know enough just to be dangerous and almost enough to put the whole thing at risk in a way.

 

 

Because they get the idea that I need to produce content that my buyers will read, and the end goal of that is obviously revenue growth. So they put those two concepts together and they think, well then I have to write sales copy. If you're writing educational content, you're writing content on your blog, it cannot be sales copy because that's going to have a really high bounce rate. People are going to come there, they're going to start reading and they're like, "Oh, this is a pitch. I'm out of here." Nobody wants to be pitched to. That would be one thing.

 

 

Another thing that I see is hammering a topic that's already been hammered and doing it over and over and over again, hoping that you're going to somehow magically uncover some sort of a secret that the other writers in the industry haven't already talked about. For example, it's hot. It's August, it's seriously toasty down here in Florida.

 

Renia:

Crazy.

 

Matt:

But the whole safety world seems to be talking about heat stress. What I see out there is a ton of regurgitated content that people are saying the same thing over and over again. If your end users out there collectively are being saturated with this heat stress content, and it's all about the same stuff, that just is white noise and you're getting it tuned out. Those are two things right off the top of my head that I just think bang my head on the table when I see these kind of articles.

 

Renia:

Oh man, I feel your pain. I want everybody out there to think about this content as like, if it's the same, Google has gotten really, really good at filtering out noise. They're not interested in showing an end user 30,000 pages that look exactly the same because that will make someone stop using Google and start using Bing, right?

 

Matt:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Renia:

They are really interested in remarkable content that goes a little further, that does something more. If you're writing a blog about heat stress, and you do want to talk about heat stress because it's 1,000 degrees outside and you believe it's important, Shannon, what do you have to do to set yourself apart from the thousand other things that are out there?

 

Shannon:

You have to be creative. You have to start looking at different ways that this is impacting your clients and different pain points, whether it's regional, or local. Cut beyond just the descriptions and the definitions of these words, which you see a lot of, and then they act as though it's a novel type of information that they discovered for the first time. I think it's just being very creative in your search.

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Matt:

A real concrete example of that, because we're just picking on heat stress as an example, but a real concrete example of that was as I'm flipping through all of these articles on heat stress in my LinkedIn feed, I come across one article that caught my eye. It was about heat stress, but it was an interview with a man who has suffered brain damage because he had suffered from heat stroke on the job. So it was a safety manager interviewing this employee who had suffered permanent brain damage.

 

 

That content cut across all of the noise that was out there, because it was real. It was tangible. You felt empathy for this guy. So there's an example of how you can do it. Then of course they talked about the same stuff that all the other articles are talking about, the regulations, the products that you can use to help. But they came at it from a different angle, and that's what cut across or cut through the noise.

 

Shannon:

I think what's most important right now is the relationships. Reaching out and touching your audience and your viewers, and to do that you have to be ... You've got to draw on that emotion and be real and I think we're seeing a renaissance of that where back in the '90s and 2000s, owners and managers were hiding behind brick and mortar or the website, and now they're coming front and center and interacting with their customer base. I think that's so important and that's how you do that is by finding those emotional stories that can really relate and make you think like think of your brother or think of your aunt or think of your cousin.

 

Matt:

I'll just say one thing to that as well. As somebody who's, like I said before, one foot in sales, one foot in marketing, I'm always thinking about connecting the dots. Again, here's another great example of the stories that your sales team knows, the stories that your sales team tells to their customers or their customers tell to them, those stories are absolute gold.

 

 

Unfortunately, a lot of legacy sales folks out there, they keep those stories to themselves and they use it as kind of their private sales ammunition. What I would say is let's get those story sales guys and gals and let's get that content to your marketers so they can turn that into something that they can hit hundreds of prospects, instead of you just being able to hit one or two. That's the kind of content that is engaging that people want to read.

 

Shannon:

Sure. I mean, your sales team, not only do they have those stories to tell, and they're often the best storytellers, is they know the pain points as well.

 

Renia:

Yeah, absolutely. I want to loop back around to that original question that we talked about video, and talk about like in the state of things right now, so video is really, really hot. We're here doing a live show with you, hi, just because video is really, really hot right now, right? This is the place that people want to be. But how do people find a video?

 

Matt:

Words.

 

Renia:

Yeah, it's still words. At this point, we're not indexing the content that's in the video. I'm sure that's coming, but we're not there yet really.

 

Shannon:

Not yet.

 

Renia:

Yeah, the headline on a video, the description on a video, if it's on YouTube, what we write on this video here in Facebook, the description on a podcast, those things still matter a lot. That's all words, right?

 

Shannon:

Sure.

 

Matt:

That's true. Even in our team, in our production team, we talk a lot about who's responsible for this. There's a lot of back and forth. Of course, I'm looking at my digital producer right now, but there's back and forth about who handles that job. Is it the job of the videographers to do that? The people that produce the video and load it to YouTube, is it their job to write the description?

 

 

I think ultimately, we decided that we needed the writers to write the description and the titles because you think of your description and your titles of your videos like a blog post, like a mini blog post. People are going to click it based on the title. People are going to watch the video based on the description. They're going to find it based on the description and the SEO that comes along with it, right?

 

Shannon:

Absolutely.

 

Renia:

It's one of the saddest things, at least for me as a strategist, that I come across, is really remarkable content, whether it's a video or an infographic or something like that that nobody has ever seen, because the written piece of it was not optimized correctly. That comes from, if it's infographic, it may be having text with it. It may be using proper all tags and title tags in the infographic.

 

 

In a video, it's using YouTube formulas for writing your titles. It's really very important, and it's not easy to do. It's one of the things that causes me the most pain. If you're out there spending lots of money, because video production it ain't cheap, if you're out there spending lots of money on video and you're not taking the time to make sure the written content around it is built out properly, you're really wasting a lot, right?

 

Shannon:

Absolutely. It's essentially sitting on a dusty bookshelf somewhere just hoping to be opened up and read.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

A really good point.

 

Renia:

In my mind, there's actually two main types of content writing on the internet. There's what I would call copywriting, which is like sales pages and titles for YouTube videos, and things like that, product descriptions. Then there's content writing, which I would consider more like journalism, which is like blogging and eBooks and stuff like that. Can you guys talk to me about what the difference is and why you maybe want to treat those things a little differently?

 

Shannon:

I'll start off, and then I'm sure you can definitely fill in the blanks for me, but to me copywriting definitely has ... It's very scientific when you're talking about it, because you're going into search engine optimization and you're going into the rules of how it's going to get seen, right? You do that as well with content, but I think content for me and I have kind of a journalistic background, so I appreciate that is you can take it in so many different directions with a content based off of your research.

 

Matt:

Right. It's also a different kind of writing, right?

 

Shannon:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

With the copywriting, it's descriptive, right? It's describing either a product or a service or what the video is that we just talked about. Then on the other hand, with the more journalistic style, you are more of a storyteller I would think at that point. You're telling a story as if you're reporting on it.

 

 

You're trying to be as unbiased as possible, because the importance of making sure that your copy, not copy but your educational content is not so sales oriented that it turns people off. It's a totally ... On the other hand, your copywriting you want it to be sales oriented. You want to talk about the features and benefits and make sure that you're describing the product well. But completely different objective when you're writing educational content, right?

 

Shannon:

Yeah. I think in copywriting it's so much more direct. Direct in that this is what we're doing. We're talking to you about a product, about your interest in it and the benefits and perks of it. With content, it is so much more educational. I think it's so important to make sure you're using the right sources and sources that you can fact check.

 

Renia:

Yeah. I want to wrap that up in a little bow and you guys tell me, but I think I've got that down to copywriting is about an action. Your goal in copywriting is to get someone to do something. Your content writing, your journalistic style writing is more about a feeling. You're trying to get someone to feel or learn something.

 

Shannon:

Sure.

 

Renia:

Does that sound?

 

Matt:

Yeah. I think I would agree with that. I'm glad you added learning or education to that, because sometimes you are trying to convey emotion, but other times it's just sharing information. A classic example is the WebMD articles that just inform you about what kind of disease you have.

 

Shannon:

Those are always fun.

 

Matt:

I know. Those are a blast. I love going there and finding out I got cancer every few months.

 

Renia:

Everything you searched [crosstalk 00:23:59].

 

Matt:

But yeah, that's the ideas that it's content that is informing or educating or inspiring. It can be inspirational as well.

 

Renia:

I like that formula edutainment, so it's part education, part entertainment. I think that's the content that really wins.

 

Shannon:

Sure.

 

Renia:

What I want to ask you is if you're a marketing manager, you're trying to produce content for your company and maybe you don't have a writer and you're trying to do something right now, what are the most impactful things you can do with the content you already have to make it better or more engaging?

 

Shannon:

I would say, pull it all out, take a look at it, and see what you can kind of lump together and what works best together. Then what I would do is I would read them over, scan them over. If the first thing that pops out to you is a big wall of text, then you have a problem right there. How do we need to fix that? Because you want to make your existing copy entertaining, easy to read, easy to digest. So start within that, I believe.

 

Renia:

When you say easy to read, can you break that down a little bit for us. Is it just about the words you use or is it about the way you structure it too?

 

Shannon:

I think it's about everything. All of that and more. It sounds more complicated than I think it really is. People want to read short sentences. They don't want long run-on sentences, so simplify it. Make it clear and concise. Headers are great and sub-headers to kind of break it up. So like we talked about earlier about scanability.

 

 

Like you said, if people are googling an answer, they enter a search query, they want the answer to their question and they don't want to have to sift through all of the stuff. Then once they find like wow, you answered my question in such an amazing way, then they go back and start reading everything else. But it's like bite-sized nuggets that people can read.

 

Renia:

Yeah. Can I take a technical moment? It's like Renia's technical sidebar.

 

Matt:

Renia's technical moment.

 

Renia:

I don't do technical.

 

Matt:

We should have like an intro music for that.

 

Renia:

Can we pop out video on the side. Remember how Shannon told you to start with that outline, that outline becomes really useful when you're trying to make your content more readable because that outline probably has those key points, which also probably include keywords and phrases that someone is going to search for. When you make those headers inside of whatever tool you're using, those are usually called like an H1 or an H2 or an H3. That gives indicators to the search engines about what's the most important.

 

 

It's not just a formatting tool. It makes things look better, but it also makes things easier to find. One of the reasons we start with the outline is the outline also becomes the structure for our headers, which is literally like giving Google an outline. So it's really important and if you don't have that structure upfront, it can be hard to get later.

 

 

To Shannon's point, if you see a big wall of text, the number one thing that's probably wrong is not enough headers and that's immediately going to help with your ability to get found if you go through and break that up and take those key points and turn them into headers, because it will tell a search engine what's most important about that piece.

 

Matt:

I'm glad that you explained the technical side of that. That's extremely important. Then on the other side of that is just the experience that you have as a visitor to your website. If I could go back and add a point to the things that drive me nuts out there, it would be these articles, and you know what I'm talking about. Maybe your website even has these. Go check after. Go check your blog and see if you have these.

 

 

But you have a title for your blog article and then it's a wall of text, okay you broke it up into paragraphs. That's a great start, but it's just a lot of text. I guarantee you if you did like PIP mapping on that page, you'll find people are bouncing off like crazy because they don't want to sit and read 800, 1,000 words at a time just to figure out what the article is about. That is where I think the sub-headers play a huge role is that I can quickly scan through the article and figure out, okay these are her points.

 

 

Then when I find something, like you just said, that resonates with me, then I'm going to dive in and read every word. But people are not reading every word. Please don't think that. I'm sure you're a great writer and I'm sure that's a beautiful article you wrote, but people need to figure out what the article is about before they commit to reading it.

 

Shannon:

People read everything I write. I don't know what you're talking about.

 

Matt:

I actually wasn't talking to you. I was talking about their articles that I know are not formatted right.

 

Shannon:

Just saying.

 

Renia:

I think that's one of the most painful things for us. I started in this business as a copywriter too, and it's really hard, right?

 

Shannon:

Oh, it is.

 

Renia:

You're putting your soul into it.

 

Shannon:

Yeah, you do. It's like you're barf, but you gain a thick skin I think very quickly without a doubt.

 

Renia:

Can you tell me, is every client the same? Is the way that you're going to write for everybody the same?

 

Shannon:

No way, no way. If you go into it thinking that, then you're going to fail before you even get started.

 

Renia:

Yeah. How do you figure out some of those differences about like how you should write something? What should the tone be? How do you figure that out? Can someone just tell you like could Mindy go to the VP of sales and ask him what his tone is when he writes a blog?

 

Shannon:

Oh yeah, and I'm sure that would come out perfect I'm sure. I mean, always start with the interview. But going back to last week, it was just last week with Misti when Misti was on, hi, with the persona story I think that's a really good place to start with that. That's one aspect to start of deciding the tone, who are they trying to reach? What are they trying to say? How are they trying to say it?

 

Renia:

Yeah. Going back to what we talked about last week, if you're talking to a contractor, small contractor, out in the field with his guys, maybe 50, 100 guys, you're going to write for him really differently than the purchasing manager at a Fortune 1,000 contracting company?

 

Shannon:

Absolutely. You're going to write for their life experiences and where they're at in the company and what kind of information that they're trying to look for. You really have to take that into consideration. It's not just what they do for work. It's their hobbies, their interests. Those things all kind of give you a real good overview of the person that you're trying to connect with, because going back to it's a relationship, it's earning trust, it's being relatable, being real.

 

Renia:

Awesome. Can I tell a little story about our working together? Shannon and I have been working together for a few months, and there's a tool that I asked you to use to help with this.

 

Shannon:

Yes.

 

Renia:

Can you tell them a little bit about that tool?

 

Shannon:

Oh come on, really? I was very resistant with it.

 

Renia:

That's why I had to pick on you.

 

Shannon:

Yay me. You want me to name the app?

 

Renia:

Yeah, so they can go use it.

 

Shannon:

Hemingway App is very, very cool. It's free. You don't have to pay for it. You just kind of pull it up on your computer. You take your content and what you're writing and you just copy and paste it right into that app and it will tell you that your writing is horrible.

 

Renia:

Not that it's horrible, but it's too sophisticated.

 

Shannon:

Too sophisticated and what you really need to do is break it down into language that's easy to read, scannable and easy to read. It has grade levels that it will help you get to. It just helps you write shorter sentences and make your ideas more clear.

 

Matt:

So you just paste the copy into this app and you can tell it what kind of grade level you're trying to hit?

 

Renia:

It tells you.

 

Shannon:

Well, no. It'll tell you where it's at based on your writing, and then you addressed it.

 

Matt:

Okay, so if your persona wants content at a fifth grade reading level and you copy and paste your content in there, and it's like a ninth grade reading level, does it also give you suggestions about how to switch out different words?

 

Shannon:

Sure, yeah. It gives you suggestions on how to just make the sentence less complex, to use different words to simplify. One of the greatest things that if you use it enough, you learn that now I don't really have to make those adjustments.

 

Renia:

Because it trains you.

 

Shannon:

It trains you to spot it, and then I still put it in there to double check but then I'm walking away like all right, I'm good.

 

Renia:

It's called Hemingway App. You can get it at Hemingway like Ernest Hemingway, hemingwayapp.org, I believe it is. It's dot org. It is completely free. You copy and paste into it and a couple of words on that, it will make your complex sentences purple, which is the number one problem that most of us have. We need to simplify those sentences.

 

 

Like Shannon said, it trains you over time and it makes you an even better writer when you're writing for this kind of stuff. The reason it's named after Ernest Hemingway, for all my artist writers out there, is because Ernest Hemingway was famous for writing very simple sentences and using very simple words. He won a Pulitzer Prize for that. So if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.

 

Shannon:

It's good enough for us. It's harder to write in such a simple way and still touch and create that emotional response that you're looking for. It's much more difficult to do that with shorter sentences.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

Love it.

 

Renia:

One last thing about that. The reason why we use that app is the average American reads at a fifth grade level. Even a college graduate in the U.S. will never read another book after they graduate from college, and so their reading level actually decreases as they age, not increases. It's sad. It hurts me in my soul, but it's true.

 

Matt:

Read your books, people.

 

Renia:

If you're out there thinking not me, not my audience, you might want to take a really hard look because it's pretty rare actually for a persona, especially in our market, to have a really high reading level on average. So you're looking for the light stays green in Hemingway between four and seven, I think.

 

Shannon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Renia:

If you stay in the green, you're probably safe. If you go above the green, you might want to think twice about whether or not that's going to be readable.

 

Matt:

That's interesting. I don't know if this is on your agenda, but it makes me wonder if there's any other tools or apps you guys use to help you or maybe even just processes that help you write on regular basis.

 

Shannon:

I'm getting into the technology world, but I still have books and books that I have that I open up that help me with techniques, and I have them on my desk in my office. I mean, this is a great app right there. It's all in there. It's all in there. But Renia is much more knowledgeable about a lot of those.

 

Renia:

I'm going to go old school with you, because the number one most important thing that they need is The Elements of Style. I mean little book, been around for 75 years or something, but that is the number one thing you need. If you're writing, I don't care what you're writing for, you should have a copy of that on your desk. That will save you from many grammar errors. You can coordinate with that a tool called Grammarly, also free unless you want the advanced features.

 

 

Grammarly is what saves me from misspelling everything on Facebook when I'm really fast. Grammarly will check everything you write. You can plug it into the Chrome web browser and it will check everything you write for grammar, the same way as a spellcheck checks you for spelling. It isn't perfect, but it's really, really good. It also will send you a quote report every week that tells you how much smarter than everybody else you are.

 

Shannon:

That's always helpful.

 

Renia:

It ranks you for how good you are at grammar compared to the rest of the population using it, so that's kind of fun.

 

Matt:

You want to be like a total grammar nerd, but at the same time, you want to write at a low reading level. This is hard. Being a writer is hard.

 

Renia:

Grammar is about clarity, so we don't use grammar ... Here we go with it. I don't like the term Grammar Nazi. I'm not one of those. Grammar is about clarity. I don't actually care if the grammar is right if it's clear, but usually it's not clear because your grammar is wrong. Think about what it's there for.

 

 

A comma is there to give you a pause in the sentence. If it's missing, the sentence is going to lack the pause that it needs. A period is there to give you a greater pause, right? Think about what the purpose is for your grammar, and even if you don't remember all those rules for elementary school, you'd probably still be fairly safe.

 

Shannon:

I'm just giggling in my head as something's come into my head. You guys see the meme Stop Clubbing Baby Seals? And if the comma wasn't there where it's Stop Clubbing, Baby Seals. It definitely changes the whole, right?

 

Renia:

Yeah. It really does. There's one other tool that you can get online or offline, which is really helpful, particularly if you are in the space of a lot of technical information. You probably should be writing following AP Style Guidelines for your blog and for your website. That will make sure first of all, that you are keeping almost any reader happy, because if someone reads a newspaper or a magazine, those are the guidelines they're going to be written by.

 

 

It will also make sure that you cite things correctly and you use what is the popular nomenclature. I can't even say it right, right now. Something that's grammatically correct from a decade ago may have changed in the culture and AP Style Guide will help you with that. You can buy a subscription online and it'll keep you updated every time it changes, or you can get one from the library or you can purchase one. They're expensive though. They're like $75 for a book.

 

Shannon:

Library.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

It brings up a thought that I had, and that is, in our industry in the safety industrial space, it's particularly important to cite authoritative sources. So citing OSHA standards, ANSI standards, this is important because I think one of the mistakes I do see, kind of going back to my rant about things that drive me nuts, maybe I need to have my own section of things that drive me nuts.

 

Renia:

Matt rants.

 

Matt:

Matt rants. But one of the things I see out there is articles that are written with no links back to authoritative sources. If it's just okay, I am going to educate you about fall protection, but I don't link to the OSHA standard or I don't link to the ANSI standard in that situation, I am essentially saying just trust me that I know what I'm talking about. I'm always linking internally and never linking to any other websites out there. That's actually a technical, so I think I'm hitting that correctly, right? That's a technical SEO problem with that as well, right?

 

Renia:

Yes. Let's take a trip in the Wayback Machine, and by the way, if you've never used the Wayback Machine I highly recommend googling it and putting in your favorite websites. It's lots of fun.

 

Matt:

I'm going to go do that later.

 

Renia:

Back in the Wayback Machine, we did not link to external sites because the thought was, and it was true for a little while, that you were passing the equity of your site or the strength of your site out to those external sites, which of course is a problem for a user, right? Because they want to know where stuff comes from and if you don't cite your sources, like you said, you're basically just saying trust me.

 

 

Not even close to a little while ago, like seven, eight years ago, that changed. Now you actually get just the opposite. If you don't link, when you should be, to external authoritative sources, you are actively penalized for that. If you're grabbing content from somewhere else, like in OSHA standard, you have to link to where that content came from.

 

 

The best place to link to is a highly authoritative site like OSHA site itself or something like that. Very important. It's important because it makes you look like an authority, not just because it's a technical thing. Think back to your college or high school days, if you write a paper and you don't cite your sources, it's considered plagiarism.

 

Shannon:

Plagiarism, absolutely. Especially in our industry, it's dangerous to do that. I think it's important to link back to those sites because search engines have these crazy algorithms that actually they're very smart, and I like them as a writer because they made them better for the user, for the end user. They're going to show those relevant and thought leaders, they're going to show them first based on your authority.

 

Renia:

That's one of the things, Shannon, I want to ask you about. We've talked about some of the ins and outs of actually formatting your writing and citing and stuff like that, but like when you think about the research that goes into it, how much time goes into the research for like a 2,000 word article?

 

Shannon:

There's probably a couple of hours for the research, just to make sure that you're telling the right story. Then you have to fact check, and then you have to cross reference, because the moment you put out bad information, you might as well just put down the pen or turn off the computer. Because not to scare anybody, it's just too ... Just be informative and be helpful and be honest.

 

Matt:

Yeah, it's an integrity thing.

 

Shannon:

Absolutely, absolutely.

 

Renia:

An editor I know calls this lazy research. We see this a lot when you talk about OSHA standards where maybe there was an older standard in the '90s or early 2000s or whatever and it's been updated a few years later, and so you'll see people referring back to the older standard instead of the updated one. What does that tell you as a writer?

 

Shannon:

That they didn't dig deep enough. I mean, there are so many changes that happen and big changes, especially when it comes to regulations. That just shows me that you didn't dig deeper, deep enough. Check the-

 

Matt:

They did one search and they grabbed the first link that they found.

 

Shannon:

Yeah, and just kind of dropped it in there. Yeah, absolutely.

 

Renia:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

The culture at large, there's actually a big problem going on with fake news and bad content. I'll just kind of circle back around to what I said about integrity. That really is a sense of responsibility that you all should have, like we have in terms of the content that we're producing. It's critically important.

 

 

In our industry, I don't think I have to stretch to make this point come across, but there are safety managers who are going to read your article and they're probably going to print that thing out or pull it up on their smartphone and sit around their work site with 50 employees and tell them information that you wrote. They're trusting you to make sure that your content is accurate.

 

 

It's critically important that you're going through the fact checking process and you're making sure that you're giving them good information, because ultimately people's lives could be on the line. I don't want to be sensational but I think that that's ... If you're giving bad advice about best practices and safety and your safety manager is passing that information on, it's important for them to do their fact checking, but it's also important as marketers and publishers to do your own as well.

 

Shannon:

I fully agree with that. Fully agree with that.

 

Renia:

It's not even just like you not having the right information that's super, super important, but going back to Shannon's point about clarity, if your content is confusing because it's too technical, the same thing can happen, right? So someone doesn't understand it, and so it's not even that you were wrong, but you didn't explain it in a way that was clear for that guy to take back to his crew and read around. That's why this is really delicate and really important in this work that we do. We are not writing about pizzas.

 

Shannon:

Yeah.

 

Renia:

Shannon, if you're spending a couple of hours on research, a few hours on writing, some time on editing, some time on outlining, if I came to you and I offered you $35 to write me a 2,000 word article, what would you say?

 

Shannon:

I wouldn't say anything. You would just see my ponytail flying away and like ...

 

Matt:

That's awesome.

 

Renia:

Could you put the hand out with it?

 

Shannon:

I don't know if we're there. That was like late '90s, right?

 

Matt:

Talk to the hands.

 

Shannon:

Talk to the hands.

 

Renia:

Apparently I am not cool.

 

Shannon:

Neither am I.

 

Matt:

What you're saying is no.

 

Shannon:

That was a definitive clear no.

 

Matt:

Okay.

 

Shannon:

Yeah.

 

Matt:

Because I mean, to produce a good article, we're talking about half a day's worth of work at least.

 

Shannon:

Oh yeah.

 

Matt:

Is that what you're thinking?

 

Shannon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), without a doubt.

 

Matt:

I think that's part of something I wanted to convey is just kind of going back to the idea of all those noise out there, I think people are getting okay, I get this inbound marketing thing. I get this I need content for my SEO and my blog and I need to drive traffic to my website. So the temptation I think is to go through and check boxes and just say, "Okay, 1,200 word article, check." But I think what we're saying is definitively it has to be really good content if it's going to make a difference.

 

 

I guess maybe this would be a question that I would throw back to Renia, like in terms of results. Let's just forget about so everybody is out there they get the idea. I know my content has to be good, because safety is on the line. I can't give out false information. I've got to be credible. I've got to check my sources. But from a result standpoint if we're going back to the marketing world, we're talking about driving a revenue and conversions. Why is remarkable content that important?

 

Renia:

Because it's the only thing that's going to get found, it's the only thing that's going to get read, which means it's the only thing that's going to convert. Simply put, search engines do not want to rank crap, so they are constantly trying to get better and better about not doing that. I would rather someone spent a whole month on one piece of content that is remarkable, than spend two or three hours on a piece of crap, excuse my, every three days.

 

Shannon:

Yeah.

 

Renia:

There's the other side of this too. If you produce a remarkable piece of content, you're going to be really jazzed about sharing it and promoting it and asking for back links, and all these things that are just as important if you want anyone to see it. But if you have something that you know isn't great, you're not going to be excited to send it to people. You don't want to ask anyone to, you know.

 

Matt:

I'll say it this way too, and I know some of you guys, you're salespeople out there or maybe your sales team is on edge about whether we should be producing this kind of content online. I'll just say, think about it this way or you can maybe explain it this way. Remember when you're a sales rep and your marketing team gives you this crappy Word document, literature sheet about your product, you're embarrassed to take that in to your customer. You don't even want to hand that thing out.

 

 

I know this is a fact because I've been out on the road with salespeople. If the marketing content is not good, if it's like crappy looking or if it looks like it was made by the wife of the owner or something in a Word processor, they don't want to share that information. What ends up happening is they just don't use it.

 

 

This is the same thing with your digital content. If it's not high quality and if your sales team is not even reading it, then they're not going to be engaged and they're not going to share it with their customers. That's really the ... In our business, it's still a very sales oriented world, and your sales team has to be on board with your content, 100%. If they're not on board, then your end users aren't getting on board.

 

Renia:

It's actually one of the most painful things that I ever have to do with a company as a strategist, is to take their site map that they may have spent years of building content and writing blogs and go, cut, cut, cut, because it's just like not good enough. But a lot of times, if you're a bigger company and you've been kind of treading water in content marketing for a number of years and you were writing the 300 word post, and maybe now you're kind of checking the box on the 1,200 word posts, when we come in and we do an audit, a lot of times 80% of that content has to just be thrown out.

 

 

That's really, really painful to go through, but it actually makes your site better and makes you more engaging. I've seen sites where you cut away all that noise and they just instantly jump in search, because you've cut away all of this mess that nobody wants to see, and so Google doesn't want to show it to anybody. The stuff that is good instantly comes to the top. That's another thing I want to ask Shannon like, what happens when someone asks you to rewrite their content?

 

Shannon:

I huff and puff, and stomp around a little bit. To rewrite their content, it's actually more challenging than starting from scratch. It really is, because you're not only trying to formulate a better, more understandable content. You're having to dive through and weave in and out of what they've already created, and some of it is good and some of it is not so good. It really is a struggle to rewrite sometimes.

 

Renia:

If you're looking at your site and you're feeling like well, maybe we haven't quite been, I want you to not feel too bad right now. Start with maybe one thing. Like let's create one piece of remarkable content, right?

 

Shannon:

Start small.

 

Renia:

What would you suggest they do to get started?

 

Shannon:

Well, definitely start small. Don't try to take on something so huge as like a full on I'm going to put a blog post out every single week. I would definitely find out, talk to your salespeople, find out what their customers are saying. What questions are they asking? Then you can narrow it down from there. Like we said, over and over and over again, there's a science to writing. Outline your ideas, brainstorm them, and then take your time and produce it. Then once you produce it, spend as much time sharing it and cultivating it out there as you did producing it.

 

Renia:

I want to emphasize what Shannon just said. Spend how much time putting it out there?

 

Shannon:

Whatever you spend, I mean, you better at least spend that time, if not way more than that.

 

Renia:

So if you spent six hours producing a blog post, how much time did you spend promoting it?

 

Shannon:

Six hours, yeah.

 

Renia:

At least as much as you spent writing it should be on promotion, absolutely. Yeah.

 

Matt:

I would just jump on, on the end of what Shannon said there I thought was a really good point in starting small and scaling up. I'll make an analogy here. I love analogies. You guys are going to hear a lot of analogies if you listen to this show. One of the analogies I like to use in this regard is like a diet program or a weight loss program. I'm very familiar with it.

 

 

Here's the thing that I realized is if you say that I'm going to go every morning, at 5:30 a.m. I'm going to go work out and I'm going to eat these certain foods or I'm not going to eat these certain foods, and you make it really strict and hard and fast in the beginning, you set yourself up for failure. So what happens inevitably you're going to miss that day and then you might miss and then you get back on the wagon, but then you might miss another time and you're like, "Ah, I might as well not even do it anymore."

 

 

With content marketing, it's very similar to that in regards to scaling. Start off with something you can handle. Don't go in the gym five days a week. Let's just start by going a couple of days a week. Once you nail that down, then you can start going faster. I think, like you said, focus on quality over quantity in the beginning. Start off doing really good content and posting it consistently, but maybe not as frequently as you would have ultimately liked to be.

 

 

You may know in your mind, I want to get to the point where I'm posting something every week, but that might take a year or two to get there, especially if you're starting and doing this on your own. Start small and to Shannon's point, just focus on consistency and delivering, like this show. Like the show that we're doing now, we're not ... This isn't the most amazingly planned out show. A lot of this is just we're us talking, so it wasn't a ton of time that went into it, but it's consistent and it's something that's manageable for us. I didn't have to do any homework. I just showed up.

 

Renia:

I think that's an important point. At our team huddle this week, Lief our Digital Producer that's actually behind the camera, he shared with us one of my favorite little speeches from Ira Glass who is the genius behind This American Life, one of the best storytellers of my generation. One of the things that he says is, "Right now, your skill probably doesn't match your taste."

 

 

You probably can't write if you're producing this on your own, as well as you'd like to yet, but the only way to get to the point where your writing matches your taste is to write. What is remarkable content for you today will probably look like amateur hour in five years, right?

 

Shannon:

Sure. That's why it's important to start small is to build up your confidence, because it can seem overwhelming. So just take it in one step at a time, and go easy on yourself. You're going to make mistakes, but each time you'll get better and then your work will get better.

 

Renia:

If I am looking at this and thinking there is no way that I am going to write all this content for my site. As the marketing manager, I've got lots of other things to do. How would you look for someone to hire to help you? What are you looking for?

 

Matt:

I'll answer that question. I think that what I'm looking for specifically is, so in my world, which is your world if you're listening out there, I'm looking for one of two things. I'm looking for either a subject matter expert who I can train in the way of communicating and writing marketing content and writing educational content, or I'm looking for a good communicator writer who I can train in the ways of the industry.

 

 

In Shannon's case here, we hired Shannon. She's a great communicator and a great writer. She was able to take on the challenge of learning and researching a lot about our industry. So she came in not knowing very much about safety and industrial world, but she's been learning. She's gone on and really at this point, she knows quite a bit. I'm looking for either one of those two. There may be a few unicorns out there who may have both.

 

Renia:

They're expensive.

 

Matt:

They're expensive and they're going to be very rare and they're going to be in high demand. That's kind of where I would start is look for those unicorns. We are, I think, that unicorn. You know, unbelievably selfish plug, but SMS I think does that. That's where we've kind of stake our value proposition in the ground. We say, "Listen, we're marketers. We're communicators, but we're also subject matter experts to some degree." Maybe not as much as our clients are, but we certainly can speak the same language, and that gives us an advantage.

 

Renia:

I just want to add to that real quick, guys. When you're looking to hire a writer, whether it's freelance or someone that you're going to bring in-house, you can totally ask them for a portfolio. In fact, you should. Please ask to see samples, ask for a portfolio. They should have one. If they don't, it is alarming. Shannon, as we wrap up here, do you have any last thoughts or comments that you'd like to share?

 

Shannon:

Just don't be intimidated by the process. Take the time to try it out and make your mistakes and learn. If you're totally too busy, call us.

 

Renia:

Thank you so much for coming in today, Shannon.

 

Shannon:

It was fun.

 

Matt:

Thank you.

 

Shannon:

It was a lot of fun.

 

Renia:

Matt, I want to ask you before we wrap up, because we've been here for a few weeks. This is week four, I can't believe it. We've been here a whole month. If I've been listening to this every week or maybe I've caught a couple of weeks and I'm really thinking like I need to dive deeper into this, I don't feel like we've really talked about the resources that they can go to. Where would you suggest somebody start to figure out what are maybe my next steps or how do I learn more about this inbound marketing thing?

 

Matt:

Right. We practice what we're preaching here, so we've produced a lot of good content, I think, for you guys out there as industrial marketing managers. So a couple of places you can go to get some information to dive a little deeper on the subjects that we've been talking about would be our blog.

 

 

So you can go to growwithsms.com and look under the Resource section on the top of the header there, and you'll find the resource page, which is essentially our collection of articles that we've written over the last few years. Lots and lots of content there. Look at my stuff, and I'd love for you to comment on those articles as well. I'm always fascinated by comments and then feedback.

 

 

But then in addition to that, we have put together a really nice video course called Industrial Marketing 101. If you go to our website, you'll see a video at the top of the page. Click that video or just go right to industrialmarketing101.com, and you'll just enter in your email and name and you can get access to several hours worth of video content that discusses the basics of inbound marketing, developing buyer personas, writing remarkable content, like we're talking about today. So lots of good content there. I'll let you guys to go check that out, industrialmarketing101.com.

 

Renia:

Awesome. That sounds really great. I'm super excited to see some of you go through that and see what you have about it. I am also crazy excited about next week. Next week we have a very special episode for you. For episode five, we're actually having the Battle of Sales and Marketing.

 

Matt:

Yes!

 

Renia:

It's going to be a debate between Matt and Brady, who are our sales team. You've seen Brady before, and myself and Will, who is our Senior Marketing Manager that you haven't seen yet. We're going to see who wins, sales or marketing.

 

Matt:

Sales.

 

Renia:

Marketing. Please watch us back on YouTube if you missed anything or subscribe to the podcast. Otherwise, we will see you guys next week. Bye-bye.

 

Shannon:

Bye.

 

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Topics: Grow Live, industrial marketing, content writing, writing for the web

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