There are only three types of headlines

Just reading a piece by David Sloly where he talks about there being only three types of headlines:

  1. The promise headline
  2. The intrigue headline
  3. The news headline

The promise headline gives you a clear indication of what you will get.

The intrigue headline draws you in with a suggestion you can’t resist.

The news headline will be about something new and interesting.

Is this true?

Looking at the BBC website, here are a selection of headlines with a stab at categorising them.

  • Model guilty of killing millionaire ex-boyfriend [Intrigue]/[News]
  • England v Sri Lanka: Second Test, day one [News]
  • Is this the most racist advert ever made? [Intrigue]
  • Obama: Hiroshima memory must not fade [News]
  • EU campaign’s ‘misleading voters’ [Intrigue]
  • Tarot reader tells of murder confession [Intrigue]
  • Injured Nadal pulls out of French Open [News]
  • How good is this? China’s solution for traffic jams [Intrigue]
  • Seven awkward music falls at major sporting events [Promise]
  • 14 amazing gifts Guyana has given the world [Promise]

The last two are a little harder to push into a category. The promise is of a list – falls at sporting events, amazing gifts. These two are not news, and they are not intriguing – or in any case less intriguing than some other examples.

You could use the mnemonic PIN to remember these three ways of writing headlines: Promise, Intrigue and News.

How to write content quickly

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s F8 conference

The purpose of this post is to set out a few thoughts that help us create content quickly for ourselves and our clients and that may help you do the same.

A blank page is hard to overcome

Writers have a difficult job. They have to start with an empty page and fill it with content that someone else will enjoy. Is there a way to make this easier?

In the classic book On Writing Well, Willian Zinsser says that there is no “right” way to write. Some people write and re-write, polishing their work until every sentence looks perfect. Others simply spill out what is in their hearts and minds. Some plan a structure, outline and then write. Others write and find a structure emerges from the words they put down on screen.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

The terms plotter and pantser are used by writers to describe the two main approaches they take.

A plotter works out what they are going to do, and then does it. A plotter plans and outlines a story and uses techniques that help them fill in the details.

A good example is Monica Leonelle’s approach to getting out large amounts of content quickly. She first outlines the story. Then she creates beats, which expand on the ideas in the outline. She then chooses words to “show” rather than “tell”, creating the skeleton of the actual story. Then she creates the draft which is a first version of the entire story.

Pantsers work it out as they go along. They may have an idea, or many ideas – but it is the action of writing itself that starts to bring those ideas. Rather than imposing a structure on their thoughts, pantsers let their thoughts out and a structure emerges from the words they write.

Annie Lamott in Bird by Bird says that very few writers know what they are doing until they have done it. Quite often you really understand what you want to say after you have tried to express it once. And then, you can go back and try again. After you have done this a few times, you might end up with something quite readable. She says you should give yourself permission to write “shitty first drafts”.

Writing faster is not the same as typing faster

Both plotters and pantsers write and then revise. The process of revising a draft can take more time than you realize.

For example, if you write in longhand, it is almost impossible to revise much as you go along. The most you can do is strikethrough and write again.

On screen, the delete key lets you go back again and again, changing sentences and fixing typos all the time.

I still have two typewriters in the garage. When you write with a typewriter, the words you create are permanent. You have to keep writing, and leave the editing and polishing for later.

But, I wouldn’t use a typewriter for serious amounts of work because it’s less efficient in other ways. And they are pretty noisy as well.

Oddly, a good way to get create content is to write under constraints. If you have all day to write 500 words, then you will quite possibly take all day. If you have twenty minutes between getting up and being interrupted by kids, the chances are good that you will bang out 400 words in 20 minutes and be 80% there.

Read the Pomodoro Technique to see how you can work with time rather than against it.

An obsession with quality is a curse

Every writer has a fear that what they write is not good enough. Businesses can struggle with the problem of getting material approved by the right people.

You could argue that not publishing at all is more limiting than publishing something that is not perfect. Content is being created by more people in greater quantities. At the same time readers are getting better at telling the difference between good and bad content.

Of course you wouldn’t send a book or a blog post into the world riddled with errors. The kind of quality I am talking about is whether the work itself has been polished so that it is a finished article rather than work in progress.

In the past only finished articles were released because it was expensive to print and distribute content. Today blogs and podcasts allow us to create and distribute work in progress – thoughts that are still being formed and ideas that are still being crystallized.

Move fast and break things

Facebook is now all grown up. But in the past its motto was move fast and break things. Now it’s more careful about getting its infrastructure working and making sure everything doesn’t crash but its first priority was getting things working.

The same idea works for fast content creation. Your first task as a creator or a publisher is to get content created. Platforms like blogs and podcasts help you get material created and published quickly. This content is persistent – it stays on your website but not all of it is of equal value. Some posts will be read by many people while others may not get a single view.

Some authors create books that are the distilled essence of their blogs. They do this because they have built up an audience with their blog or have content that could benefit from being packaged into a compact reading experience.

A business that has created a number of posts can create a book authored by its CEO. Can you imagine meeting with a new prospect and talking about your business, and leaving a book as your calling card? That should help them remember you when they need services like yours.

Get the right balance between quality and output

So, the first step in creating content fast is to realize that there is a trade-off between quality and output. If you are too restrictive in what you consider good quality, you or your business will stop content being created in the first place.

This may seem simple but it is too easy to impose roadblocks on your own process. There will always be people out there who say it is too risky, what you are doing has not been sufficiently checked and you need a committee to get started.

For businesses in particular, committees are places where good ideas go to die.

In general, create an iterative process. Create, edit, publish. Revise.

Publish to an appropriate platform. Publish early drafts to a blog, where you can explore ideas and change posts if you find something is wrong. When you get to publishing a book, you need to take a lot more care in making sure the content is tight, the concepts flow and the words are well chosen.

Get your support systems working well

As a professional content creator and manager you need content creation systems. A basic content creation system has a number of moving parts. The better you can get all the parts to work together, the more time you can spend on writing rather than on your systems.

Time

It takes time to create content. Someone, somewhere has to sit down and create the words. You may write, type or dictate. But you have to spend the time to get the words out of your brain and into your system.

People

You need a number of roles to create content.

  • A researcher will get facts, commentary and supporting information.
  • A writer will create the draft
  • Editors will check the drafts, polishing it for clarity and accuracy.

Software

You can use a variety of tools to create content.

  • Microsoft Word – perhaps the tool that most people are familiar with. Best on windows.
  • Scrivener – a favourite of authors and bloggers on mac.
  • Emacs
    An all-purpose super tool on linux.

Servers

There are a number of choices for server technology. You can set up your own server, rent a small virtual private server or go for a dedicated server. The important question about technology is whether you have the capability to manage it in-house, or whether you need to get in some support.

Your server and control of what you do on it can be critical for your business. Make sure you have enough control and a backup option if things go wrong with one of your providers, especially in the early days of your website or blog.

Distribution

How do you get your material out into the world? Is it a blog post? Do you promote it through influencers or social media? Does what you write need to have general appeal or target a specific subset of people?

Select a genre to write in

It may be easier to create content quickly if you have a clear idea of the types of content that will help your readers. The fiction writer’s idea of genre can be very helpful here. As Shawn Coyne explains, genre tells the reader what to expect – you manage audience expectations.

Adapting the ideas that Shawn Coyne dissects to non-fiction / business / blog writing, your audience has a number of expectations:

  1. We expect the headline of each blog article or chapter to give us an idea of the content.
  2. We expect to be able to scan the content and get the main points quickly.
  3. We expect to know whether the content can be relied upon – is it factual or is it made up?
  4. We expect a style or a particular experience from the content.
  5. We expect to know how long the content is going to be.

Select a headline with a promise

David Sloly says that he was once told there were only three types of headline that all newspapers magazines and bloggers follow and gives the following examples.

  • The Promise Headline: Cure for baldness found
  • The Intrigue Headline: Man bites dog
  • The News headline: First humans land on mars

Create a structure that can be scanned quickly

If your content is longer than a few hundred words, then break it up to make it easy to read. Use subheadings that can be scanned and give the reader your main points. Use lists to create whitespace and make it easier to understand your points.

Talking about lists – use bulleted lists when you are simply listing a number of thoughts but when you use numbered lists, order the points from most important to least important.

Make it clear whether your content can be relied on

If you are simply making things up, then it’s probably important to make that clear so no one actually follows your advice. In most cases, it’s probably less clear – and you have to rely on a mix of facts, informed opinion and speculation to construct your point.

The reader also has a responsibility to look critically at what you have written and make up their own mind about whether it is something that that they should rely on or not. But you can make this easier by choosing to write in a way that make this clear.

For example:

  • If you are explaining a concept, make your point and support it with facts and references.
  • If you are reporting news, make your words objective and put across all relevant points of view.
  • If you are writing a history or biography, write connected ideas that follow a timeline.
  • If you are discussing an idea, make it clear that you are having a debate or thinking out loud.
  • If you are showing how to do something set out your instructions step by step for someone to follow.
  • If you are trying to persuade someone choose points that support your case and handle objections.

Select a style that works for you

Are you writing to build a personal or business brand? A personal brand is all about you – your thoughts, feelings and interests. A business brand is more about what you are selling and why someone should be interested.

Many people now have businesses based on personal brands. They create products and services that sell because they have an audience that will buy what they create. Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss are good examples of people with personal brands.

A CEO of a small business may be so intimately associated with the business that it makes sense to build the business brand around the person.

Product brands like Apple uncompromisingly build their content around their products – and you buy the product because it is good and the marketing is great.

The choice of style matters most when you want to do something with your content. For example, if you want to make money from your blog, get more sales through it or sell your business then you will need to be very clear how the content supports your objectives. A little thinking early in the creation process may help you avoid creating a personal brand that can’t be separated from you when what you really want to do is build up a business and sell it in five years.

Decide how long your content is going to be

The length of your content depends on what you think your readers are interested in. But, to get in front of your readers, you also need to think about what the search engines are interested in.

In a previous post, we looked at how long a post should be and posts that rank higher have 2,000 to 2,500 words.

If you are writing news, then a large number of 500 words posts may be fine. But if your content is going to be evergreen, in that it doesn’t change too much and could be useful for a long time, then long form posts are the way to go.

Summary and conclusion

In summary, you will need to develop your own way of writing fast. But it will make things a lot easier if you think about yourself and your team and what you are trying to achieve, and remove the blockers that will make it hard to create and publish content.

Think about the following:

  1. Decide if you are a plotter or a pantser: do you like planning and then writing, or do you want to write and let a structure emerge?
  2. Don’t get worried or blocked by thoughts of quality. Create content quickly, preferably under time pressure in short bursts. First create it and then worry about revising or polishing it.
  3. Get your systems working well. Select your tools and then use them, reducing the amount of time you spend with tools and instead focusing on creating content.
  4. Make it easier for you and your readers by making it clear what they should expect from your content.

How to write a sales script

What is a sales script?

A sales script is a collection of words that helps you in your selling process. A script is not a collection of ideas, or loosely related concepts. Instead, it is the words you want to say using the tone and cadence with which you normally speak, set down in paper.

Many sales people have a negative reaction to working with scripts, thinking that it will make them sound robotic or unauthentic. But it is far worse to go into a meeting and fail to get your point across. A script will simply help structure your thoughts and help you bring them out clearly.

When do you need sales scripts?

Sales scripts are incredibly useful when you need to put on a performance, for example during:

  • Cold calls
  • Presentations
  • Meetings
  • Negotiations
  • Difficult conversations
  • Sensitive issues where it is important to use the right words

There are a number of benefits from working with sales scripts:

  • It helps you discover what works during a sales presentation
  • It’s a great way to train new staff
  • Creating a sales system helps you step away from the coal face

Is there a structure you should follow to write a sales script?

A script is a conversation, and should be written in a conversational style. You need to convey your personality, but more importantly, you need to be honest and helpful. Customers today are bombarded with calls and have their guard up during initial meetings. Your reassuringly honest and helpful approach will help them warm to you.

The chances are that your conversation will follow 4 steps:

  1. Start the conversation
  2. See if you are talking to the right person
  3. Have a discussion about needs
  4. Agree a next action

Start the conversation

Everyone gets cold calls. No one is usually pleased about this. Why is that?

The first reason is that the call is an interruption. They didn’t ask you to call, they don’t know you, they were doing something else at the time and, quite frankly, they are tired of sales calls from call factories.

But you are different – aren’t you?

Not if you do the same thing everyone else does. After asking to speak to me and getting me on the phone, if you say “How are you today?”, I answer, “Fine, thank you”. But immediately I have my guard up. The question marks you out as a salesperson immediately. I don’t know you, you don’t know me. If we worked together, then we might ask the question and answer as we passed in the hallway as a pleasantry – but we don’t work together. So why are you acting like you know me?

Perhaps you could be surprising and just be honest. Say something like “Hi, I’m a salesperson at BIG Inc, and I wanted to see if you were the right person to talk to about computers?”.

You need to try different approaches and see which work. The test is not that a customer grudgingly lets you proceed, but that they willingly give you permission to continue. The right words will help you with this. If your customer does not respond, then try a different approach. But remember that being honest and helpful is better than being pushy and obnoxious.

See if you are talking to the right person

The best pitch in the world will fail if you are talking to the wrong person. You need to qualify your conversation as early as you can. It might be as simple as asking if the person you are speaking to is the right one for your product. If it’s not, ask who you should speak to, thank them and hang up.

Have a discussion about needs

Your salespeople are often already personable and approachable. They don’t need to manipulate the customer – they need to understand them first.

The best way to understand someone is to see what they have done before. For example, instead of saying “Are you interested in working with an insurance broker”, you could ask “When was the last time you used an insurance broker”.

If they have never used one, then you could focus on the benefits a broker can bring. If they have used one, but don’t use them now, you first need to explore the reasons why they stopped as it gives you clues about the service they expect. For example, the broker might not have explained the provisions correctly and the company might have suffered a loss. A small change in the words you ask can result in very different results.

A key part of making sure you understand your prospects needs is by not asking ice cream questions. An ice cream question is like asking, “Do you like ice cream?”. No one says they don’t like ice cream. A salesperson could take this as validation that they should try and sell ice cream to the prospect. But perhaps what they really want is a carrot cake with custard – and you haven’t discovered this need in your discussions, and the person that does wins the business.

Agree a next action

The goal of any sales interaction is to nudge the process forward. This means agreeing the next action step. Agree to call back. Ask for a meeting. Ask if the person would like a call back. The next action depends on your business process, but you need to make sure you ask for just one action out of the call – many options cause conflict as people struggle to make a decision.

Common questions about sales scripts

Are you in a business where your prospect gets a number of calls like yours?

If you are in a business where cold calling customers with pressure sales techniques is common, then you are going to start by talking to customers who already dislike you.

You might need to start by changing your business. Try and choose a product that isn’t pushed by everyone else and see if you can have a conversation about that instead. If you can get a meeting, then the prospect might be willing to talk about your other services as well.

Should you start with your elevator pitch straight away or ask a question?

Too many sales calls start with a canned elevator pitch – this is my company, this is what we do, this is how we can help you, can we set up a meeting?

This is like throwing a handful of sand in the prospect’s face and hoping they will fall in love with you.

Try breaking up the conversation, and getting permission to speak with them and explain what you do. That way you might get them interested and engaged, rather than overwhelmed and wanting to end the call.

Should you describe what you do or ask questions?

A number of research studies have shown that there is a clear statistical link between asking questions and the success of your conversation.

Many people suggest that you should ask open questions and get the prospect to do most of the talking. Research by Neil Rackham showed early on that there was no relationship between the type of question and the success of the sales call.

Instead, successful conversations followed a pattern that he labelled SPIN. Successful salespeople used questions to first understand the Situation, then the Problems the prospect had, followed by the Implications of the problems. Once they understood this, then they asked about Needs and the payoff or benefit from taking a particular course of action.

How does your prospect react to words?

It is very easy to offend someone without realising it. For example, if you use the word “you” when being critical, your prospect will stiffen up as they feel you are criticizing them. But if we use the word “we” when being critical, your prospect may be more willing to acknowledge that there is an issue to deal with.

Now read the last two sentences again. Do you feel any differently when reading the first sentence with the word “you” compared to the second sentence with “we”?

How do you deal with objections?

The best salespeople don’t handle objections. They prevent objections by bringing them up themselves and defusing them before they turn into an issue. Some of the best presentations follow a format where they introduce a big idea, and then go through the objections and responses that the audience might have.

Do closing techniques work?

You need to ask for the business at some point. Some people suggest that you ask early and ask often. Some subscribe to NLP and methods that come close to manipulation. Should you use these techniques?

The thing to remember is that a buyer can always pull out of the deal. When you are finished and walk away, the buyer might think about what has just happened, and decide that actually this deal is not for them. This is buyer remorse.

Instead, perhaps ask them what they think the next step should be. If you have answered all their questions, then they should be willing to move the process on. If they are not, then there is still work to do.

What kinds of scripts can you have?

You can create scripts for every interaction you have with a prospect – and for the other interactions you have in your business. Some examples:

  • Getting past gatekeepers
  • How to start a conversation
  • How to deal with different kinds of initial responses (can you play games?)
  • How to play the game – what can people do with your emails
  • How to ask for the business
  • How to respond to objections

What kinds of questions can you ask?

  • Budget
  • Reasons to buy
  • Reasons not to buy
  • Who is involved in the decision making process
  • How you make decisions

How do you know when your script is working?

Before you test your script out on a prospect, have your computer read it back to you. In Microsoft Word, you can enable playback, and the computer reads out your words. It’s a great way to listen to your words and experience them the way a prospect might.

Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.

A sales script is a tool that will help you and your team sell more. It is worth taking the time to work on your scripts, cutting out words and jargon that aren’t clear. Make it easy for your prospect to listen to you and understand what you say. Use stories that show why they need you.

The idea of creating sales scripts to help you sell more is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Perhaps that is why so few salespeople and sales managers do it. By using this powerful tool, you and your team can grow your business and persuade more prospects to turn into customers.

How much content should be on your website?

Sketch showing increase in the amount of content on the internetYou need to get your point across in less than 10 seconds

The amount of material on the internet is growing every second.

It’s impossible to read and remember everything. In 2008, a study of web use showed that:

  • 17% of page views lasted less than 17 seconds
  • 4% of page views lasted more than 10 minutes
  • 28% of words were read on an average web page (593 words)

Readers ruthlessly discard pages that do not interest them.

But, if they find something that interests them, they hang around.

The magic number is 10 seconds.

If they stay this long, then they will look around some more.

And if you can interest them for 30 seconds, then they could look around for ages, or at least 2 minutes, which is the same thing on the web.

But, you need to have good content to get readers in the first place

Sketched histogram showing the number of words on webpages

Search engines appear to think that if you have less than 200 words on your web page, it’s not worth reading.

An image heavy site is going to suffer if there isn’t enough text in the page for the search engine to read.

Each image should have a description of its content. This also increases the accessibility of the page.

So what is a good length for content on a page?

Data from serpIQ shows that top ranking pages have 2,000 to 2,500 words and they suggest that 1,500 words could be a good target.

So its crucial that you can create good long form content that helps search engines rank your pages and put them in front of prospects.

Break up your content so it can be scanned quickly

Many readers decide if a page is worth reading by looking at the headline, scanning the sub heads and getting a feel for the docment.

According to Neilsen, pages should be:

  • Concise
  • Scannable
  • Objective

Your sentences should be short and to the point.

Use headlines and bullet points to break up the flow.

And let the facts speak for themselves.

 

 

 

6 psychological buttons your content should press

Dr Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a must read for any content marketer.

Written in 1984, the 6 principles he describes are still relevant today: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.

How can we use these principles in our content creation process?

Reciprocity

Create good free content that you can give away as part of your sales process.

This is why marketers create free guides, tutorials and books that visitors can download and read. By getting something from you, your visitors are more likely to reciprocate when you want something from them.

For example, they may be more engaged when you ask them to participate in a survey, or think of you first when they are ready to make a purchase.

Social Proof

No one wants to be on the outside of a group, looking in. At the same time, no one wants to be the first to do something that hasn’t been tested or proven.

Marketers in large organisations need to be especially careful, balancing the need to show off their company with not doing anything that could cause organisational problems later.

Use the principle of social proof in your content to show that what you doing is best practice in your industry, how the best companies do similar work and point to industry leaders that back up your point of view.

Commitment and consistency

Your content needs to get to the point. People will pay attention to content that interests them, and take the time to go through it.

But, if your writing meanders and waffles and doesn’t seem to have a clear line of argument, your audience will give up and go somewhere else. A clear message, consistently delivered will help you keep them engaged.

Liking

Cialdini points out that we tend to think more highly of people we like. Liking can take several forms, from liking how attractive someone is, to how they are or what they do.

You can make it easier for people to like your content by making it easy to read, using headlines to break up the text and pictures that help make your point.

Authority

How can you show that your content has authority?

Try and work on material that shows how your approach is unique. Show your expertise and credibility by publishing useful and well researched content.

Scarcity

Don’t make your content like everyone else’s.

  • Make it valuable, better than someone else’s paid for content.
  • Make it rare, have it be so good that it stands out.
  • Make it hard to copy
  • Make it something that you can do better than anyone else

Use these principles as a checklist when planning and creating content.

The anatomy of a great About You page

McGraw Hill used a great ad – the Man in the Chair ad – in the 1950s that showed a grumpy looking man sitting in a chair. Next to the image are a number of sentences, the gist of which is that he doesn’t know what you do, who you are, who you have worked for. The final sentence asks what it is you want to sell him.

The essence of this story is that you need to build up to the sale by educating the prospect about you, your business and your credentials.

Your About You page will help with this if it answers the main questions someone asks:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Where are you based?
  4. Why do they need you?
  5. When can they get in touch?
  6. How can you help them?