In copywriting, it’s the KISS approach on steroids today.

… and it means “Keep It Short, Stupid” as much as it does “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Regardless of the era, most successful copywriters and ad specialists have always known that short copy is generally better-read than long.

And now, as smaller screens essentially take over the digital world, the days of copious copy flowing across a generous preview pane area are gone.

More fundamentally, people don’t have the screen size – let along the patience – to wade through long copy. These days, the “sweet spot” in copy runs between 50 and 150 words.

Speaking of which … when it comes to e-mail subject lines, the ideal length keeps getting shorter and shorter. Research performed by SendGrid suggests that it’s now down to an average length of about seven words for the subject line.

And the subject lines that get the best engagement levels are a mere three or four words.

So it’s KISS on steroids: keeping it short as well as simple.

Note: The article copy above comes in at under 150 words …!

The world of blogging: Just how does it operate?

wbMost people in business know at least one or two people who publish a blog. Chances are, they know people who blog on non-business topics as well.

Have you ever wondered what are the common practices followed by these bloggers? Speaking as someone who has published blog posts since 2009, I certainly have.

Now the “wondering” is over, because Chicago-based web design firm Orbit Media Studies has just published its 2016 Blogger Research Study, which presents the results of surveying ~1,050 bloggers about how they go about their blogging business.

Here are some of the most interesting highlights from the study:

Where do bloggers write their articles?

According to Orbit’s findings, the vast majority of bloggers are creating their content at home or at their home office:

  • At home/home office: ~81% of respondents cited
  • At the office: ~32%
  • Coffee shops or other foodservice establishments: ~19%
  • Co-working spaces: ~4%
  • Other locations: ~7% (primarily on trains or planes, or at a library)

What is the length of a typical blog post?

From the Orbit research findings, it’s pretty clear that the most popular blog post length is 500 to 1,000 words. (This one is, for instance.)  Anything longer than that quickly migrates into the “feature story” mode:

  • Less than 500 words: ~21% of respondents cited
  • 500 – 1,000 words: ~61%
  • 1,000 – 1,500 words: ~13%
  • 1,500 – 2,000 words: ~4%
  • More than 2,000 words: ~1%

Do bloggers use editors, or act as their own editor?

There’s little differentiation in behaviors here; the vast majority of bloggers report that they edit their own work. An even greater ~91% of the survey respondents either edit their own work or use an ad hoc review process.  Bottom line, most blog posts have never been seen by anyone other than the author before going live:

  • Edit own work: ~73% of respondents
  • Show it to one or two people: ~30%
  • Use a formal editor: ~12%
  • Use more than one editor: ~3%

How long does it take to write the typical blog post?

The responses ranged widely, but the most common length of time is between one and two hours:

  • Less than 1 hour: ~17% of respondents cited
  • 1-2 hours: ~37%
  • 2-3 hours: ~20%
  • 3-4 hours: 13%
  • More than 4 hours: ~13%

Are bloggers writing for other people besides themselves?

Generally speaking, bloggers are writing for their own publication, but there are many instances where bloggers are writing for clients as well.

  • 75% – 100% of blogger’s posts written for clients: ~9% of respondents cited
  • 50% – 75%: ~6%
  • 25% – 50%: ~9%
  • 5% – 25%: ~13%
  • 1% – 5%: ~18%
  • 0%: ~47%

How are bloggers driving traffic to their posts?

Two words: social media.  Direct e-mail marketing is also a common technique, as is search engine optimization:

  • Social media marketing:  ~94% of respondents cited
  • Search engine optimization: ~51%
  • E-mail marketing: ~35%
  • Influencer outreach: ~15%
  • Paid services (SEM/social media advertising): ~5%

The high SEO figure is hardly surprising, considering that bloggers are, by definition, focused on writing inherently interesting, newsworthy content.

More details from the Orbit survey can be accessed here.

Copywriting by computer: Wave of the future? … or wild-ass pipe dream?

persado logoIn recent years, computers have upended many a job category.  And they include quite a few positions involving “language” – from foreign language translators to medical transcriptionists.

And now, it looks like copywriting itself may be the next domino to fall.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal published a story about Persado, a company which has developed a software algorithm that enables it to write copy without the human element.

David Atlas, the company’s chief marketing officer, refers to it as “algorithmic copywriting.”  The process creates sentences with a maximum length of 600 characters that are used for e-mail subject lines and other short persuasive copy.

Persado builds the copy by sending thousands of different e-mail subject lines to the e-databases of its clients, which include large retailers and financial services firms such as Overstock.com, AMEX and Neiman Marcus.  Response rates are measured and used to refine the subject lines to narrow them down to just the most effective.

Company PR spokesperson Kirsten McKenna explains the Persado edge further:

“Typical A/B testing will send out only a few messages – then go with the one that gives the best response.  Persado can send out thousands of permutations of the same message to determine which would be the most successful.”

Alex Vratskides
“We have never lost to a human.” — Alex Vratskides of Persado

Comparing Persado’s machine-generated results with traditional copywriting, “We have never lost to a human,” Alex Vratskides, the company’s president, claimed to The Wall Street Journal.

Those results would suggest that Persado is doing things right.  And here’s another positive indicator of success:  The company raised over $20 million in venture capital earlier this year.

The bigger question is whether Persado will be able to scale its simple and short-sentence copywriting into persuasive copy for longer-form marketing materials such as sales letters and brochures – which would make it an even bigger threat and seriously threaten to upend the traditional copywriting field.

For the answer to that question, I’d never want to take issue with the views of veteran copywriter Bob Bly, whose perspectives I respect a great deal.  In writing on this topic, he states:

Bob Bly
Bob Bly

“I do think that either already or very soon, software will equal or surpass the performance of human writers in both simple content and short copy.  We have to prepare for the eventuality that computers may someday beat human direct response copywriters in long-form copy, just as Deep Blue beat Kasparov in chess and Watson clobbered Ken Jennings in Jeopardy.  Ouch.”

What do you think?  Is computer copywriting the wave of the future?  Let’s hear your own perspectives.

What types of word terms perform best in social media?

Words that sell in social mediaEver since the rise of social media platforms, marketers have wondered if the terms and phrases that generate the best response in direct marketing also perform as well in the social arena.

One reason why:  There have been plenty of experts emphasizing how consumers don’t wish to be “sold” in their social interactions, but instead prefer to develop a relationship of give-and-take with brands.

Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot
Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot

Now we have some empirical analysis to guide us, conducted by Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist at SaaS inbound marketing firm HubSpot based on reviewing ~200,000 links containing tweets.

Mr. Zarrella found that the tweets that contain more verbs and adverbs experience higher clickthrough rates than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets.

Zarrella’s research also found that when social media posts ask for an explicit action on the part of the recipient, that tends to increase clicks and engagement.

For instance, retweets are three times more likely to happen when people are specifically requested to do so.

Interestingly, the most “retweetable” words in the HubSpot analysis turn out to be the same terms that do well in e-mail marketing and other forms of direct marketing:

  • You
  • Please
  • Post
  • Blog / Blog Post
  • Free
  • Media
  • Help
  • Great
  • How To
  • Top
  • Check Out

In a parallel research endeavor, a recent evaluation of blog posts by writer and software analytics specialist Iris Shoor reveals how much a post’s title impacts on the volume of “opens.”

In her analysis, Ms. Shoor studied posts on 100 separate blogs, using an evaluation technique that rank-sorted blog posts from the most read to the least shared.

What were the words that resulted in the most opens?  Shoor calls them the “blood in the water” terms:

  • bleeds leadsKill
  • Fear
  • Dark
  • Bleeding
  • War
  • Dead
  • Fantasy

Translation?  Negative terms are more powerful for shares than more ordinary terms (e.g., positive ones).

It’s very much like the old adage in the newspaper world:  “If it bleeds, it leads.”

That’s another takeaway from the most recent research:  What’s worked in the offline world over the years appears to be working very much the same way in the online space today.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …

Marketing clichés are all around us.

no buzzwordsMarketing can be many things.  But marketing without originality isn’t much of anything.

That’s why there’s a desire among marketers to avoid clichés and buzz terminology in sales and marketing content whenever possible.

Still, it’s easy to fall into the cliché trap – and it happens to the best of us.

This is particularly true when the “next new thing” in business comes along every few months and people grasp for shorthand ways to communicate those concepts.

[There:  Perhaps “next new thing” qualifies as a marketing cliché itself!]

Brian Morrissey
Brian Morrissey

Recently, communications specialist and editor-in-chief of vertical media company Digiday, Brian Morrissey, came up with a list of 25 marketing clichés which he feels should be avoided if at all possible.

I’ve gone through Morrissey’s list and have selected ten that I think are particularly baneful – especially in the world of B-to-B marketing.  See if you agree:

Putting the customer at the center.  Isn’t it obvious that companies and brands would be committed to this?  And if not … where was the customer located before?

Having an “authentic” conversation with customers.  Inauthenticity isn’t cool.  Inauthenticity is also what we’ve been trying to avoid for years – or should have been.  There’s really no news in this statement, is there?

We fail fast.  Perhaps it comes from reading too many issues of Fast Company … but what companies do you know that want to slowly jettison a failed strategy?

Blue-sky thinking.  The “sky’s the limit” when it comes to “out-of-the-box thinking.”  Ugh.

Nab the low-hanging fruit.  This cliché has been around so long, there can’t be any low-hanging fruit left!

Dipping our toe in the water.  Trying to put a positive spin on a lack of depth or heft isn’t fooling anyone.

Open the kimono.  Any buzz phrase that conjures mental imageries of a flasher can’t be what we want to communicate.

Curated experiences.  A fancy way of admitting that content isn’t ours.  Besides, the term “curator” hardly sounds contemporary.  Instead, it connotes images of museums, galleries and other places that deal with the dusty past.

Surprising and delighting our customers.  Morrissey contends that this whopper makes brands come off like clowns … and that clowns are silly, scary or creepy – take your pick.

Tentpole idea.  Continuing with the clown analogy, no doubt … but whether it’s a circus or a tent revival, the mental imagery this elicits isn’t particularly apropos.

… And these are just ten terms on Morrissey’s list of 25 marketing clichés.

What about you?  Do you have any buzz phrases that you find particularly annoying – perhaps “thought leadership” or maybe “exceeding our customers’ expectations”?

Please share your nominations with other readers here.

Persistent Myth: The Ten Most Persuasive Words in the English Language

Advertising word cloud - persuadable wordsIt’s something many of us in MarComm have heard about and read about for years now: Which words are the most persuasive ones in the English language?

In fact, it’s been the topic of entire news articles since the 1960s.

The words in question sound just about as relevant today as they must have back when the first “definitive” list was published:

  • Discover
  • Easy
  • Guarantee
  • Health
  • Love
  • Money
  • New
  • Proven
  • Results
  • You

It’s a solid list … and it certainly seems like these words would be among the most persuasive ones in our language.

It’s also plausible that some sort of formal “research” would have been conducted to come up with the list in the first place.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.  In fact, it seems more likely that the list was dreamed up on the back of a napkin by an advertising copywriter looking for an interesting new copy “angle.”

Allegedly, the first appearance of the English language’s  most persuasive words was in a trade publication called “Marketing Magazine.” But no evidence exists that such a publication ever really existed.

Instead, it appears that several businesses decided to publish a list of persuasive words as a way of promoting their own products and services.  Attributing the list of words to a third-party (fictitious) publication with an authentic-sounding name gave their promotional messages an added flavor of credibility.

The list appeared first in a New York Times advertisement in 1961, and it was picked up several months later for an ad run in the Washington Post by Levitt & Sons, a real estate developer (of Levittown fame) that was promoting its new Maryland-based Belair at Bowie development at the time.

Both ads touted the elusive “Marketing Magazine” as the source for the list of most persuadable words.

And then the group of words began to morph, as “lists” of this kind are wont to do. More “experts” got into the game … more words were switched out or added … and more sources were cited as being the wellspring of the research: Duke University; the University of California; Yale University’s Psychology Department (!).

But who really cares about the provenance of the list? As it turns out, these “persuade” terms are among the most popular ones that advertising copywriters have used for years.  And for the most part, the terms retain their power to persuade, 50 years on.

For the record, other words that have made it onto the list at various times include:

  • Amazing
  • Announcing
  • Bargain
  • Compare
  • Easy
  • Free
  • Happiness
  • Hurry
  • Improvement
  • Introducing
  • Miraculous
  • Now
  • Offer
  • Quick
  • Remarkable
  • Revolutionary
  • Safety
  • Sensational
  • Suddenly

Regardless of which words actually belong on a “Top Ten” list as opposed to being the runners-up, there’s one thing you can say about all of them: They’re oldies but goodies. 

And this, too:  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

“Corporate Speak”: Updating the Buzzword Baedeker

Corporate buzzwords
Corporate buzzwords: Meaningless blather, signifying nothing.

All of us are familiar with them: jargon words and phrases that have become so overused, they’re nothing more than meaningless noise.

These are the so-called “descriptive” terms that are meant to add flavor and emphasis to a particular subject, but are more likely to make you want to roll your eyes – or maybe even reach for the nearest comfort bag.

Traditionally, the worst offenders have been high technology companies and other B-to-B firms when it comes buzzwords. But we’ve been seeing the phenomenon leech into consumer categories as well, such as automobiles and healthcare services.

Even worse, we’re now seeing a new generation of buzzwords coming to light, joining the veteran terms that have been plaguing us for years now.

Some of the old standbys are still overused today, unfortunately.  They include terms like:

  • Cutting-edge
  • Flexible
  • Next generation (or the too-cute variation NextGen)
  • Out-of-the-box
  • Partnering
  • Robust
  • Seamless
  • Solutions provider
  • Synergies
  • Toolbox
  • Turnkey
  • Value-added
  • World-class

Today, one may be more likely to encounter a crop of more contemporary-sounding – but equally obnoxious – phrases such as these:

  • Best-of-breed
  • Best practices
  • Core competency
  • Groundbreaking
  • Integrated
  • Mission-critical
  • Scalable
  • Thought leader

Much as we’d like for these buzzwords to just go away quietly, that’s hardly likely. And there’ll be plenty more new ones to come along in the future.

In fact, marketing strategist David Meerman Scott and others are already taking a stab at predicting tomorrow’s new buzz terms. You can view one such prediction here.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any buzz-cuts in the offing when it comes to lowering the level of “corporate noise” out there, however welcome that might be …

So if you can’t beat ’em … join ’em.  Are there any particularly irritating buzz terms you encounber that aren’t noted above?  Post a comment and let’s see what we can add to the list.