Monday, January 30, 2012

5 tips for writing scannable content

The other day I found a piece of paper stuck in my front door. It was a brochure from a local carpet cleaning company. Since our carpets really, really need cleaned, I immediately took a look, scanning to see what type of services the company provided (chemical or natural cleaners? Water extraction or steam cleaning?) and what the rates were.

I should have been able to find this information instantly. But I couldn't, because the inside of the brochure was a solid block of text--a wall of words, words, words. And looking at it made my head hurt.

It's become fairly common knowledge that when writing for the web, it's a good idea to break up text. But did you know that this is a good rule of thumb when writing for print, too?

Most folks reading your brochure, flyer, newsletter, etc. will first scan your text. Some will ONLY scan, picking out the important stuff (to them) and reading nothing else.

So how do you help readers find those gold nuggets of information?

1. Use headings.
Headings and subheads help separate sections of information so readers can find what they're looking for quickly. If they have to look too hard, they may simply quit reading--and or worse, toss your marketing piece in the trash.

2. Include lists.
Separate a group of main points with bullet points or numbers. Readers will be able to glance at your list and take away main ideas, like the services you offer or the areas you serve.

3. Start lists with action words.
Strong verbs attract attention, so it's a good idea to use them at the beginning of each sentence. Look at this article. Use, include, start, break, vary--these are all action verbs that provide a definite direction. You don't even need to read the descriptive text beneath each main point to get the gist of these 5 tips.

4. Break up paragraphs.
Bust up that wall of words with paragraphs. In today's fast-paced world, few folks have time to sift through endless text. Tell who you are (one paragraph), add descriptions accordingly (another paragraph), highlight benefits of using your product/service (a separate paragraph), etc.

5. Vary sentence length.
There are sales and marketing materials that make you want to learn more--i.e., keep reading-- and there are informational pieces that make you wonder why a second grader wrote the product description. Instead of this:

ABC widgets are high-quality widgets. They carry a lifetime guarantee. You'll be happy with this product.

Try varying the length of your sentences to allow for better flow:

ABC widgets are high-quality widgets. All of our products feature a lifetime guarantee, but if you need to replace one, just stop by one of our three locations--we'll take care of the issue. Our customers tell us they're happy with our products. We look forward to adding you to this list!

Now, pick up one of your marketing pieces. Can you find information quickly? Are your eyes drawn to headings and lists? If not, use these tips when revising your content to help make it scannable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the power of the press (release)

I've blogged about the importance of press releases before, and today I came across this article: 4 Reasons Press Releases Are A Powerful Tool on Momeo.

It's always good to spread the good word about news/events associated with your business or organization!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

read me! subject line do's and don'ts

Photo credit: dave from

How many email messages do you receive in any given day? Now, how many emails do you actually open? Which ones end up in the trash? Which ones to you open and actually read in full?

Having an email marketing strategy is a must. And part of that strategy—besides deciding who will receive your messages and how often you want to communicate with them—is writing a solid subject line.

I could write a lengthy post on this subject, but you’ve probably got a lot of email to read, so I’ll keep it brief. :) In a nutshell:


- Think of your subject line as a headline. It’s really the same kind of thing, so check out a newspaper for good ideas on how to present a subject line that grabs your readers’ attention.

- Tell recipients what they’re going to read when they open your message. If you're promoting an upcoming clinic in your store, say so. Don’t advertise the clinic in the subject line but write your message about a clearance sale. This will only confuse your readers.

- Be concise. You’ve (only) got about 50 characters at your disposal, so use them wisely.

- Personalize. Some subject lines include the recipient’s name. Others note the sender’s name. Either way, be clear about whom the message is for, and whom it’s coming from.


- Use exclamation points in your subject line. Or if you feel the need to do so, stop at one. Messages that use multiple exclamation points scream spam.


- Include words in your subject line that are spam-like. Free, call today, and act now will most likely cause your message to end up in junk mail folders.

Hope these tips helped, and good luck with your upcoming e-mail marketing campaigns!

Oh, and slightly off-topic: if any grammar purists (like myself) are wondering about the title of this post and my use of apostrophes, I looked this up. Read about the "correct" way to write dos/do's & don'ts/dont's if you wish!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

work smarter, not harder

That's my mantra for 2o12. When I reviewed my workload for 2011, I was at first thrilled to see the number of projects I had completed. Then I compared this list to my earnings. Hmmm, I thought. Not bad. But how can I be even MORE productive?

There are tons of opportunities to increase your productivity. Quit hitting the snooze button and get out of bed. Turn off Facebook (tough one, I know) while working on your computer. And if you blog, find a way to keep the time you spend on your posts to a minimum--preferably without reducing quality.

This is something I decided to work on for this year, so I was happy to see one of the folks I'm following on Twitter, Michelle Shaeffer (@MichelleShaeffr) blog about this very thing. She's got some great tips on her article Six Secret Strategies for 15 Minute Blog Posts. Check it out.

Here's to a productive, successful 2012!

Monday, January 16, 2012

apostrophes, again

I'm not just a word nerd--I'm also a bit of a grammar cop. Which explains why, after several years, I physically altered a decoration that makes our front door its home during the winter months--I just couldn't stand it anymore. The piece is a cheerful snowman, and it was a gift from, I believe, a family member. On the body, in personalized in bright red letters, it reads: "The Hart's."

Woah. That's just wrong. Unless the snowman is implying that it belongs to us, as in "The Hart's snowman"--and I don't think it is--this little apostrophe just made a big boo boo. Which is why I recently took a piece of white electrical tape (same color as the snowman's body), cut it to size, and placed it over that intrusive mark.

There. Much better. Now the greeting correctly reads: "The Harts."

And I've just admitted to the world how silly I am. Or not. What do you think?

(For more info on apostrophe/possessive use, check out Grammar Girl's article here.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

newsletters are not dead

It’s true that social media takes the (communication) cake these days. Businesses and organizations are embracing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn by the thousands. And that’s great, because these are all excellent ways to stay connected.

But social media isn’t everything—it’s only part of the publicity game. Newsletters are still powerful marketing tools, and you can distribute them online (e-newsletters or ezines) or go the traditional route by printing copies.

No matter which format you choose, newsletters are a good way to reach out to your target audience. They’ll see your name on a regular basis and thus remember you. Just be sure to keep a few things to keep in mind when planning your publication:

Know why you’re publishing a newsletter.
Are you trying to motivate employees with internal information? Do you want to keep clients and donors updated about your organization’s services? Knowing why your newsletter exists will help you maintain focus by providing information your readers will find valuable.

Provide quality content.

You’ve probably heard the statement “content is king.” It’s true, so be sure to think about the type of information you will to include. Some ideas:

  • Note how to find your organization online. Links to your website, blog, Facebook and Twitter pages are good ways to show readers that you exist in a variety of platforms.

  • Offer valuable information. Articles providing problems/solutions and special offers give readers something to take with them after they’ve finished reading (think useful knowledge via articles or savings through discounts).

  • Feature case studies staff profiles. Let your readers get to know your company on a personal level, either through “meeting” employees or providing testimonies about how you’ve helped others.

How will readers find you? Tell them! Have a sign-up space on your home page for ezines, keep a copy of print newsletters in your office or waiting area, and mention your publication on invoices and billing statements.

Other tips for newsletters:

  • Set a publication schedule and stick to it.

  • Keep your newsletter relatively short. Three to five articles is plenty per newsletter.

  • Make it easy to read. Write for the format in which it will appear and make it visually interesting with logos, graphics, pictures, etc.

  • Keep it scannable: use headings, bulleted lists, bold text, etc.

Do you publish a great newsletter already? We'd love to share it with our readers. Or send us a link to your publication if you'd like some feedback on how to improve, and we'll provide it for FREE!

Monday, January 09, 2012

work from home? with kids? read now!

Do you work from home while caring for your children? I'm proud to be a WAHM (work-at-home-mom) but I will admit it's tough sometimes. Ok, who am I's tough MOST of the time. That's why this article really hit home: Blogging with Kids: 9 Tips and Tricks to Keep You Sane.

Although the title of this piece is what got my attention, you can substitute "blogging" with whatever it is that you do, actually...the basic principle is the same. If you work at home and have little ones around, you know that it can be difficult to focus and be productive when the demands for juice, a game of hop-on-pop/mama, and snacks are relentless.

How do you deal with balancing your work with caring for your children?