Sunday, December 23, 2012

SEO Client Retention:
The Key to Long-Term SEO/M Business Success

Building a successful SEO/M consultancy is hard. There’s a lot of competition and a lot of snake oil, SEO voodoo floating around the web, so building a solid reputation – one that leads to referrals and repeat business is essential to long-term business growth.

Keep 'em coming back
Once you have a client, you have to keep that client coming back because of the quality services and opinions you offer. You have to build a client base of happy clients. They come back for more. They’re also your best salespeople.

Here are some suggestions for keeping the customer satisfied.

1. Go through an extensive discovery phase. Determine such things as the target demographic, market competition, unique selling position, client objectives, challenges – a top-down analysis of what needs doing. A few hours more at this stage will save days of re-dos in the weeks ahead.

2. Prepare a written SOW. A statement of work describes the work to be undertaken (usually in chronological order), approval milestones, payment schedule, who’s going to do what. The more complete the SOW the more accurate the client’s expectations. Clients hate surprises so get on the same page early.

3. Give a stake to the client. No client is going to quibble with a strategy or design that s/he proposed. Instead of presenting finished pages and data analysis, engage the client and incorporate his or her suggestions into the final product. As best you can, let the client “own” the project.

4. Go proactive. In everything. Offer suggestions and counsel beyond the expectations of the client. If you discover an error you’ve made, call the client to let her know you’re on top of it.

5. Communicate. A lot. Not just approvals, though they’re essential to increased productivity, but also discuss implementation strategies, guerilla marketing tactics and opportunities for future growth of the client’s business.

6. Fix it. If the client ain’t happy, fix it. Period. A happy client will talk you up through his network. An unhappy client will bad mouth you to anyone who will listen. Rely on your SOW only as a last resort. Keep the client happy – even if it’s a loss leader for you.

Growing a stable of regular clients takes time and trust building. It’s an on-going process. But once your regulars are making up 75% of your work time, you don’t have to constantly worry about where the next job is coming from.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just What IS Good Copy Writing? Savvy Clients Want To Know

                            TREAT READERS RIGHT

Writing good site text is a complex mixture of defining benefits and keeping visitors interested, i.e. enhancing the on-site experience with good information that’s short on sales hype, long on useful tips and suggestions.

Here are some tactics that have worked for my clients:

1. There are three topics about which most readers are interested: health (nutrition, fitness, diseases, etc.), family (how-to’s, relations, child-rearing) and finances (aka money. How to make, save, spend or stretch it.) Choose a topic in one of these areas. Combine two interests, as in “10 Ways to Improve Family Nutrition.”

2. Engage the reader. Befriend the reader. Encourage the reader with good, useful information. Don’t make the reader angry.

3. Write like you talk. Don’t write words to be read, write words that are heard in the reader’s brain. You don’t say, “I am going to the kitchen.” You say, “I’m going to the kitchen.” Pretend there’s someone sitting next to you. Talk to that figment and type what you say. Then, clean it up for grammar, spelling and punctuation.

4. Readers don’t want to learn, they want to discover. Learning connotes homework. Discovery connotes excitement. Don’t teach, create a map with words that leads to a helpful, interesting or funny discovery.

5. Use short blocks of text, like this post. Layout is important to eye scan and web readers rarely read, they scan and small blocks of text are more easily scanned. That’s why it’s a good idea to use titles, headers and sub-heads to raise the curiosity of the reader. To intrigue. It’s a pleasant discovery. (See point 4.)

6. Practice writing in a number of voices so you can take on any writing job. A corporate white paper uses different wording than a quick how-to written for parents. A business plan has a different tone than a piece on oddities in Nebraska. The more voices you develop, the more readable and engaging your writing.

7. Respect the reader. S/he takes the time to read what you write so keep it interesting, on point and short. No extra words.

8. Eliminate qualifiers. Not: We strive to achieve client satisfaction. Strive and you might fail. Eliminate the qualifier: We achieve client satisfaction. Not “Our widget CAN increase production by 300%.” Eliminate all qualifiers: “Our widget increases production by 300%” This gives writing authority and confidence.

There’s more, but that’s a start. The one thing you don’t want to do is anger readers. Or annoy them. Or push their buttons. Be straight with them and they’ll read what you write. 

Paul Lalley

Friday, June 8, 2012

7 Tips To Cut Research Time

7 Tips To Cut Research Time

As copy writers we have to learn a lot of stuff, from quonset hut fabrication to urology to the biases of the Japanese university system, and that means a lot of research. Innate curiosity goes with the job’s territory, but research time costs money and we’re in the business of learning stuff fast, writing about it and cashing the check.

Here’s how to cut research time down to size.

1. Google the heck out of it. Don’t just use primary keywords, conduct searches using secondary key words and key words SE users enter into query boxes.

2. Use industry specific search engines. We all know Google, Yahoo and Bing but there are more than 4,000 search engines crawling the web. To find the latest on “smart doors” use a construction industry search engine. A good place to start is

3. Use local search for local businesses. If your client has a service area of 25 square kilometers, enter your search term and the zip (postal) code where the client is located. You’ll see the competition, local news, local attractions and features of Westport 06880. 

4. Skip the academic treatises, white papers and in-depth analyses. Someone has already read them and synthesized key content into a 1,000-word piece. Find the breakdown piece and save time.

5. Use forums. There’s a forum for everything. Need to know the latest on Caribbean vacations? Here’s the link to a forum: Forums are sources for quick information and highly-specific info. Post a question and get a few dozen answers in a few hours. And the FAQ sections are up-to-date with the most current topics.

6. Read. Learn the language of the trade or industry so you use it in your writing. Every industry has insider jargon. Reading a lot of short articles also provides a list of what insiders are talking about. Join a LinkedIn group associated with your research topic and get up-to-the-minute information on what’s happening.

7. Spin it. Spinning has a bad reputation but, let’s face it, we all spin content. We have to. How much can you say about pre-fab concrete? And the news isn’t all that exciting in the cement sector, either.

Learn the basics, learn the concerns, learn the jargon, and you not only become a better copy writer, you know stuff that you can sell again without a lot of research time.

Anyone want to know the eight advantages of pre-fabricated metal buildings? Drop me a line at


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Web Writing:
Know Your Demographic

If you’ve been writing professionally for more than two weeks you know what the demographic is. For the rest of you, the demographic is the sweet spot of your client’s market. It’s your target audience.

And the better you understand that target the more effective your writing. It’s all about pushing the right buttons to compel the site visitor to perform the MDA – the most desired action.

Who Are You Selling To?
The Target Demographic
Believe it or not, many of your clients won’t be able to describe their target audience. Let’s say you’re hired to write website content for a brick-and-mortar hearing aid retail outlet somewhere in Montana. (It could happen.)

The owner of the store may have had a lock on a 25 square mile service area – the only hearing aid dispenser in the region. So, dropping a quarter page advert in the local newspaper was all it took to create a profitable business. And the store owner never gave more than a thought to who she was trying to reach.

So, during the discovery phase you ask, “What’s the target demographic?” Your likely to get an incomplete answer: “People who need hearing aids.” However, that’s a broad demographic so a little research might produce a better return for your client.

Research the Demographic
Hearing aids. So you’re likely to immediately think of the over-50 crowd. Probably right. Nerve deafness goes hand-in-hand with aging so trying to hit that over-50, Baby Boomer demographic bubble may be just the way to go.

But, what do you know about this particular group, other than what you know about your grandparents and the 60-year-old neighbor next door? These people don’t make up a large enough group to actually define the needs and preferences of people over 50.

For example, a little research reveals that the over-50 crowd:

  • Are less likely to use computers at home
  • Are less likely to comparison shop for products on line
  • Don’t make as many on-line purchases
  • Are less familiar with local search engine options
  • Scroll less than their younger counterparts
  • Spend less time on line altogether
  • Are not as tech savvy as younger computer users

All of these factors create a clearer picture of who you’re targeting with your writing. For example, if you know that seniors don’t scroll as much as younger people, all of the important stuff must be at the top of the page.

Use the Language of the Target Demographic. Jargon Sells!
What do these people want and need? What information do they require to make an intelligent buying choice? How do they talk to each other? Your writing should use the language of the target demographic.

Let’s say you’re writing a user manual for a mainframe computer company. (It could happen.) You better know what a trouble ticket is and what downstream consequences are. You can quickly learn the insider jargon by visiting websites that sell mainframes or service them.

There’s jargon in every profession. It’s a form of shorthand. But it’s also exclusionary, keeping out those who are NOT members of the gang. So, the use of the demographic jargon (1) enables you to present information in shorthand form and (2) makes you a member of the exclusive group of mainframe computer administrators.

The best place to look for industry-specific jargon is on websites and blogs designed to provide solutions to the specific demographic. These sites detail what the demographic wants so to cut down on research time, cut to the chase and go hang out with the people you’re trying to reach.

That’s the best way to learn the lingo. And deomographic wants and needs, as well.

What Does Your Target Demographic Want or Need?
Increased productivity? Faster shipping? A baby-soft maternity gift? If you don’t know what the target market wants or needs you can’t push the right buttons to induce the site visitor into taking the MDA. In other words, your text missed the mark.

Before you write a single word, know to whom you’re writing. Know how they talk then talk right to them.

Know what they need or want. Then meet those needs and wants.

Don’t rely on your client to give you the goods on the target demographic. Most of these people are focused on business matters. It’s up to you to hit that bull’s-eye sweet spot with your writing.

And if you do, guess what? You just added a regular to your client base – a buyer who will come back for more without any effort on your part.

And repeat buyers are the basis of success for any freelance web writer. So know to whom you’re speaking when you write. Take aim at that bull’s-eye and fire away.

The more times you hit the mark, the more of the client’s problems are solved. And the bigger your client base grows.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

7 Ways To Lose a Client: Mistakes I’ve Made

I’ve been a freelance copy writer for more than 38 years and, oh boy, have I made mistakes. In fact, I think I’ve made every mistake a freelance service provider CAN make.

She'll Be Back
Fortunately, I learned from these mistakes and applied them to my business (and personal) life. There are lots of ways to lose a client. There are even more ways to keep a client happy and a part of an expanding, stable client base.

1. Oversell.
I’m proud of what I do. And, frankly, I’m a show-off. So, even after the deal is closed, I’m still selling my services. I once had a client tell me that I made him nervous with all of the sales hype I threw at him whenever we spoke.

Now, I provide just enough information to let the client know that I have some authority as a copy writer. Then, I shut up.

2. Take it personally.
This is a tough one. When I write something – anything – it’s my baby. I think it’s perfect, so when a client comes back asking for revisions I used to take it as a personal affront.

Over the years, I’ve been able to separate my self-esteem from my work. I know it’s good. But if the client wants to make it worse, s/he gets what s/he wants. I don’t debate clients any more. I tell them that I think they’re making a mistake, I tell them why I think they’re making a mistake, then I write that “Black is white” because that’s what the client wants. I get paid to deliver what the client wants, good, bad, or indifferent.

3. Put your interests before those of the client.
Another sure fire means of driving clients to distraction.

There are days that, as writers, we’re more productive than others. Days when we feel like writing and days when every word is a struggle. Clients don’t care. They want their copy. NOW. So, even when the muse isn’t perched on my shoulder, I write. And I put the interests of my clients before my own. I deliver what was promised and I deliver it before the deadline.

4. Lose steam.
This happens a lot.

There’s always excitement and renewed interest when a new client comes along. But after a few weeks of writing about beekeeping, it gets kinda boring. And after a few more weeks, it gets to be work.

It may be difficult to stay enthusiastic after writing about beekeeping for two or three years, and as a result the quality of your writing slips. Can’t let that happen.

You’re the creative one so find new ways of approaching the beekeeping issues of the day. If you stay interested, your writing will be interesting. Oh, and your clients will stay in place and ask for more.

5. Ignore the client.
You may have eight projects all moving forward simultaneously, though at different stages. It’s common to work on the latest project to come through and let some of those older assignments collect dust.

Clients want to think that they’re the most important client you have. Pick up the telephone, drop an email, meet for lunch, connect on social media sites. In other words, pay attention to all clients and they’ll pay attention to you – with a check. That’s always nice.

6. Miss a deadline.
It’s happened, but only a couple of times. One time I came down with the flu from hell and was unable to work for a week. I dropped the ball, missed a deadline and lost the client.

I never blamed her for dropping me, even though I was on death’s door for a few days. I never even brought up the flu. Clients don’t care about your problems. They care about results, even when the flu has you bed-ridden.

7. Accept project creep.
It starts with a simple request. “Would you mind adding a short auto-responder to the list?” Of course, no problem.

Then, it’s another request and another and finally, you’re doing keyword research and making $3.00 an hour. At this point, it’s tough to put on the brakes since you’ve been so accommodating thus far.

Say “no” as soon as that first request comes in. Let the client know that your time is valuable, your experience and knowledge have value. Simply explain that this is your livelihood and you have to put your time to the most productive use.

Reasonable clients (there are some) will accept this and respect you for your courteous professionalism. And the cranks who think you’re holding back are clients you can afford to lose. They’re time wasters.

Today, I’m older, wiser and have a nice group of clients with whom I’ve built friendships. Most importantly, I’ve learned when to shut up and when to speak, when to accept and when to push back.

It’s a lot more fun and profitable working this way.