Twitter Updates

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    How to write B2C direct email: 9 cues from Apple

    Here are some pointers I gleaned through my analysis of a recent Apple email ad that came my way on October 1, 2010. This isn't meant to be a soup-to-nuts presentation of how to write a killer email. In fact, I jotted these down it mainly to crystallize some concepts for myself--publishing it on my blog was only an afterthought. And I'm exceptionally short on time, so I'm just offering my notes as is, warts (and typos) and all.

    With that disclaimer out of the way, the nine points:

    1. Subject line is short, clear, and to the point(s).

    Consists of announcement plus price: "The all-new Apple TV is here. Only $99.

    2. Top nav supports desired response/action.

    Each is a mini call to action. Also, each funnels clicks toward a place where the reader is encouraged to buy an Apple TV:
    Shop Online (hyperlink)
    Find a Store (hyperlink)
    Phone number (text)

    3. Speaks directly to its audience and addresses their concerns and needs up front.

    Consequently addresses reader in 2nd person singular (“you”), which empowers the reader to be the active agent. Assumption: If you address their needs, they will buy. If you speak to them directly, they will buy. If you talk to them like they will buy, they will buy.

    4. It puts all its key messages up front.

    ALL (3) primary key messages were included in the first paragraph. One message per sentence:
    Rent from the largest selection of HD movies and HD TV shows to stream to your widescreen TV. Watch Netflix titles instantly.* And enjoy your photos and music on the big screen. Best of all, Apple TV is just $99. Try it out at the Apple Retail Store or order online to get free shipping.

    5. The call to action immediately following the “key messages” paragraph up front.

    Formed last sentence in first paragraph AND paired with a “Buy now >” button.
    Rent from the largest selection of HD movies and HD TV shows to stream to your widescreen TV. Watch Netflix titles instantly.* And enjoy your photos and music on the big screen. Best of all, Apple TV is just $99. Try it out at the Apple Retail Store or order online to get free shipping. [button here]
    Then mini calls to action follow each feature paragraph below it:
    Instant HD movie and HD TV show rentals.
    Rent thousands of movies and commercial-free TV shows. HD movie rentals start at $3.99. And TV shows are just 99¢ per episode. Learn more >

    More flicks with Netflix.
    Browse a huge selection of movies and TV shows from Netflix on Apple TV.* And when you find something you like, watch it right away or add it to your instant-watch queue for later. Learn more >

    Photos, videos, music, and so much more.
    Show off your photos and videos on the big screen. Stream your iTunes music library or listen to Internet radio through the best speakers in the house. Grab the remote and access YouTube videos, MobileMe galleries, and Flickr photos from Apple TV. Learn more >

    6. Having introduced key messages, it sticks with them consistently and emphasizes them throughout.

    Each key message then featured in its own paragraph, in the same order they appeared in within the intro paragraph (see examples in item 4 above).

    7. It uses imperative verbs everywhere and nearly always.

    Imperative verbs (verbs that tell people to do something) account for 65% of all verbs in the piece. Nearly every clause (not just the call to action) begins with an imperative (or “command” verb). Go back and read the three paragraphs copied above again. See?

    8. It’s smartly hyperlinked.

    Each blurb has a hyperlink to a specific page on Apple’s site (doesn’t look like a landing page, but still tracks analytics and drives reader toward making a purchase). The links are either contextual or “learn more >,” but not both. That no blurb has more than one link may be to avoid confusing the reader with multiple choices (it’s an established fact that people faced with multiple choices (which to click) often chose to make NO choice, whereas people who are only given one choice (whether to click) are more prone to click.

    9. It uses language efficiently, directly, and succinctly.

    Uses nouns and imperative verbs. Uses subject-verb-object and verb-object word order to the exclusion of every other configuration. It uses NO complex constructions, using coordinating, not subordinating, conjunctions, and never using participial phrases. Very limited use of infinitive verbs. No verbs in passive voice, and only one passive participle. Very limited use of adjectives and adverbs, and they pack a punch when used (they are used with a keen ear for common usage). Very short sentences (shortest: 2; longest: 24; average: 11). Three hyphenated words—all adjectives. Some stats:

    Word and character count

    1. Subject line (two sentences): 8
    2. Body (total): 265
    3. Total chars (w/spaces) 1463
    4. Heading average: 6
    a. Subject line:
    b. Headline 1: 8
    c. Headline 2: 4
    d. Headline 3: 7
    e. Headline 4 4
    f. Shipping heading: 4
    g. See it heading: 9
    5. Paragraph average: 32.7
    a. Intro paragraph: 55
    b. Feature graph 1: 24
    c. Feature graph 2: 36
    d. Feature graph 3: 44
    e. Feature graph 4: 28
    f. Shipping graph: 24
    g. See it graph: 18
    6. Sentences average:
    a. Shortest: 2
    (“learn more >”, which is repeated three times)
    b. Longest: 24
    c. Average length: 11

    Language and usage

    1. Person and number: 2nd person singular
    2. Verbs /words%: 37 / 14%
    a. Auxiliary verbs/verbs%: 3 / 8%
    b. Non-auxiliary verbs/verbs%: 34 / 92%
    c. Past tense/verbs%: 1 / 2%
    d. Future tense/verbs%: 1 / 2%
    e. Imperative mood/verbs%: 24 / 65%
    f. Infinitives/verbs%: 3 / 8%
    g. Feature headings do NOT contain verbs.
    h. Functional headings (shipping/see it) have imperative verbs.
    3. Nouns / noun phrases: (haven't counted yet)
    4. Discretionary adjectives: (haven't counted yet, but low)
    5. Discretionary adverbs: (haven't counted yet, but low)
    6. Conjunctions: 17 / 6%
    7. Prepositions: 25 / 9%
    8. Hyphenated words: 2 / <1% “all-new”, “commercial-free”, and “instant-watch”)
    9. Acronyms / abbrev.: 17 / 6% (all are either “TV” or “HD”)
    10. “you” / nouns % 15 / 6%
    11. “Apple TV” used in 5 out of 6 sections
    12. Dependent clauses: 0 (simple coordinating conjunctions used instead)
    13. Preferred word order:
    a. Subject-finite verb-object
    b. Imperative verb-implied subject (you)-object

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Business Blogging 101: One topic per post

    Recently a small-business owner new to blogging asked me what he ABSOLUTELY MUST DO in order to write blog posts that people will want to read, will read to the end, and will generate traffic and sales.

    Talk about a tall order.

    But not as tall as you might think. There are a number of must do's when it comes to effective blogging, but what I'm writing about today's in the top three:


    If you're like me, you're busy. When you finally site down to blog, you want to dump everything in and move on to the next task.

    But for a host of reasons, that's a bad, bad idea. It defeats the purpose of business blogging in the first place, which is to give people bite-size info snippets that inform them and incite them to action. So short and single-minded is the key.

    Don't believe me? Which of the following do you think will get eyeballs and dollars: (a) Five short readable posts spread over two weeks or (b) one long, scattered, and meandering post every two weeks? I rest my case.

    If you're a Twitter user, think of blog posts as longish tweets: One topic. Period.


    Easy! Five points.

    1. Write it. Write whatever comes into your mind—anything and everything—as many topics as you want!!!
    2. Chunk it. Now go back and break up what you've written according to topic. This is what's called chunking.
    3. Name 'em. Then give each chunk a catchy title that uses the KEY WORD you’re emphasizing (this is SEO best practice, BTW).
    4. Copy 'em. Take each of those separated chunks and copy them one by one into your blog each as separate posts and put the appropriate title to it.
    5. Auto-post 'em. If your blogging client allows you, schedule each of the posts to go out at a particular time—say one every two days. If your client doesn't have that functionality, then just post the first one and save the others as drafts. Then every two days or so, log in and publish one.

    Voila! Easy, frequent, usable, and SEO-friendly blog content!

    Got it? Now go do it.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Great usability checklist.

    Just found a great site that I think I'll be spending a lot more time at: UserEffect for strategic web usability.

    Just one of the many cool things they have: a 25-point website usability checklist. They've really boiled down a lot of experience and insight into this humdinger. I've already started using it for quick website evaluations. Good stuff!

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Instant blog content.

    The number one argument against blogging is that folks say it's just plain hard putting their thoughts down. And that translates into lots of time.

    Well, writing can be tough.

    But the time problem is a non-issue. In fact, I guarantee you you've written tons of blog content in this past month alone.

    Fact is, you write a lot more than you think. And every time you write anything, you're writing a potential blog post.

    What am I talking about?

    • How many explanatory emails do you write to clients or prospects in a week?
    • How frequently do you write an internal memo or note?

      ...And for extra credit...

    • How often do you reply to or initiate a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Biznik topic, group, or discussion?

    Every single one of those little notes or replies, with a few keystrokes of editing, can be top-shelf content for your very own blog!

    Of course, you need to stay within company policy and respect your clients' contracts and privacy, but most of what you write is actually stuff that a much larger audience would benefit from knowing, and which will set you apart as a expert in your field. And if you're a recognized expert, you'll start attracting leads, no question.

    So you think that writing blog content will take time? Just recycle what you've already written.

    Don't believe me? My recent blog post entitled "Why should I Blog?" started as an email to a client. A few tweaks here and there, and, voila, I had a perfectly serviceable blog post. In this case, I did some rewriting, but I don't always do that.

    So open your sent folder and post away.

    Instant blogging--who'd a' thunk it?

    Why Should I Blog?

    Recently I've been chatting with a client of mine about the business case for blogging. In her case, she's a business development consultant who's trying to establish herself as a thought leader and expand her influence beyond her very successful Washington DC/Northern VA speaking circuit.

    The advice I gave may well apply to you too--regardless of your niche.

    Here goes.

    Spread your influence.
    Having your own blog can be a net benefit, especially in terms of your becoming a recognized thought leader that reaches out beyond your immediate face-to-face audiences.

    As things stand right now, you only reach out to the people you speak to face to face--your audiences at your speaking events, your corporate training session attendees, and, of course, the folks you meet from day to day and in networking situations.

    But no one else.

    • No one outside of your geographic location.
    • No one in cyberspace.
    • No one even within your geographic location who hasn't had the opportunity to meet you or see you speak.

    of these potential clients--not one of 'em!--has even a chance to meet you and see what you have to offer to them.

    But is blogging worth it?

    You may say that blogging and other forms of content production = time and money.


    But so does most business development and PR.

    Besides, as you'll read below, blogging is quick and easy. And since time is money, quick is cheap.

    It's just a question of whether you think it's a strategy that will work for you or not. If you think it'll work, do it. If not, I advise against it.

    Don't rely on other people blogging about you.

    Some folks say that other people's blog posts about you are far more valuable than you blogging for yourself. While at first blush that seems true, I'd rethink that.

    Essentially, relying on third parties blogging about you is highly unreliable because you're ultimately putting your success in others' hands.

    • You're not in the driver's seat.
    • You're not the one making the news.
    • You're relying on third parties and middlemen.

    When, however, you or your company representatives proactively blog or put out regular Web content in some way, the tables are turned:

    • You're in the driver's seat.
    • You're driving the news.
    • You ARE the media.

    If it's good, others will notice and will link to it, quote it, call you, spread the buzz etc. etc. and your influence spreads and business grows. It can be a huge contributor to groundswell impact.

    It's super easy.
    So, want to get your ideas out?

    Sure you do.

    Want to increase the number of possible conversions you make in a month, a week, a day?

    A no-brainer.

    Want to get in front of more eyes with a simple 15-minute time investment once every week or two? (Seriously, I practice what I preach).

    [The crowd goes wild.]

    Simply write out a thought a week--just a few sentences--and post it on your blog.

    It's that easy.

    No go and do it.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    A lesson in copyediting

    Sometimes, even the pros slip up. And when they do, their reputation can take a hit. Put enough of the slips together, and you have a tarnishing brand.

    I read a fascinating BBC analysis of the votes cast in the recent Iranian election.

    But something besides the story's content caught my eye.

    Bad copyediting.

    I spent years as an editor, so stuff like this really chaps my hide.

    Here's the offending part of the story (from the editor's perspective). Let's see if you catch the goof, too:
    According to a study edited by Professor Ali Ansari, of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews and of the London think tank Chatham House, the problem lies in the increased turnout.

    In 2005, Mr Ahmadinejad got 17 million votes and in 2009 he got 24 million.

    The question is, where did all those extra votes come from?

    The answer, according to this study, is not at all clear.

    It examines three factors:

    1. Voter turn out
    The report says that two provinces showed a turnout of more than 100% and four more of more than 90%.

    Regional variations, it says, have disappeared, and there is "no correlation between the increased turn out and the swing to Ahmadinejad. This challenges the notion that Ahmadinejad's victory was due to the massive participation of a previously silent conservative majority."

    "If Ahmadinejad's victory was primarily caused by the increase in voter turnout, one would expect the data to show that the provinces where there was the greatest 'swing' in support towards Ahmadinejad would also be the provinces with the greatest increase in voter turnout. This is not the case," it says.

    It concludes: "A number of aspects of the reported turnout figures are problematic: the massive increases from 2005; the collapse of regional variations; and the absence of any clear link between increases in turnout and increased support for any one candidate."...
    See it? If not, check out the section header, "Voter turn out."

    "Turn out" they write. Only problem is that a few paragraphs above, they spelled it "turnout." And then they spell it "turnout" again not only in the very next sentence after the sectio header but four more times after that in that very section. All in all, they use "turnout" six times in the article and "turn out" twice.

    To the Beeb's credit, one of the instances of "turn out" was within a quotation from an external source (apparently the BBC's style lets external quotes stand as is). But if they'd had this story properly copyedited, they would have caught the improperly split word in the section header.

    And consequently I wouldn't be writing this blog post.

    And consequently, you might not know that the BBC made a boo-boo.

    The upshot? If the BBC slips, the rest of us REALLY ought to stay on our toes. I do words for a living, and I KNOW I make mistakes all the time. And if you're like me, you make mistakes, too.

    So maintain your professional image and do what I do--hire a copyeditor. Your company's credibility may well depend on it.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    How to Put Your Twitter Feed on Blogger

    Just added my twitter feed to this blog. Quite simple, really. (Just copy and paste, folks.)

    Do it all in 3 minutes by following this link from

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    My twitter feed

    Yes, it was bound to happen.

    Check out my tweets (on copywriting, online marketing, social media, web 2.0, etc.) @nathanbetz.

    I'm now noodling about how to balance blogging and tweeting, and what each medium is best for in terms of info broadcasting. Stay tuned...

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    New design blog from Ken Lee

    Just got word from my friend, Dallas/Ft. Worth based designer and marketer Ken Lee, that he's starting a new design blog. If his blog is anywhere as good as his designs, it'll be a blog to watch. Welcome, Ken.

    Friday, May 1, 2009

    Three SEO writing indispensables

    The top three from a list of SEO writing "Must Dos." I couldn't remember the source, so i googled a phrase from it, and it came up verbatim no less than 273 times. Plagiarism is apparently alive and well. (One of the sources, here.)

    1. Insert keywords within the title tag so that search engine robots will know what your page is about. The title tag is located right at the top of your document within the head tags. Inserting a keyword or key phrase will greatly improve your chances of bringing targeted traffic to your site. Make sure that the title tag contains text which a human can relate to. The text within the title tag is what shows up in a search result. Treat it like a headline.

    2. Use the same keywords as anchor text to link to the page from different pages on your site. This is especially useful if your site contains many pages. The more keywords that link to a specific page the better.

    3. Make sure that the text within the title tag is also within the body of the page. It is unwise to have keywords in the title tag which are not contained within the body of the page. Adding the exact same text for your h1 tag will tell the reader who clicks on your page from a search engine result that they have clicked on the correct link and have arrived at the page where they intended to visit. Robots like this too because now there is a relation between the title of your page and the headline.

    Also, sprinkle your keywords throughout your article. The most important keywords can be bolded or colored in red. A good place to do this is once or twice in the body at the top of your article and in the sub-headings.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    The world's best online resume application

    No, really.

    Check it out. VisualCV. Here's an example:

    Functionality is incredible. Resume, portfolio (!) and contact--all rolled into one.

    The operative word, of course, is visual. So you have an impressive resume? But it's boring to look at, isn't it?

    Now, add bells, whistles, and scratch 'n' sniff. VisualCV's great stuff.

    (Now let's see what it can do in terms of building my clientele...)

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Are You Asking the Right Questions About Your Website?

    Went to a great presentation by Merry Bruns on Saturday called "Looking Professional on the Web: Maximize your Web Site Impact."

    While the facility Ms. Bruns was presenting at gave her the worst of all technological support (they wouldn't let her use her own Mac, instead having her use one of their old and s-l-o-w laptops for her demonstration), she conveyed gobs of top-notch content about, well, content.

    A sampling of a few key takeaways for copywriters (and, perhaps more importantly, for the businessowners they write for):

    1. Why are people coming to my website?
    This is perhaps THE MOST important question a website owner can ask him/herself.

    According to a recent Pew Center study (link forthcoming), people use the Internet to DO things, not to be confronted with verbiage. They want to buy something, learn something, schedule something, give something, write something.

    You get the idea. If you're a book seller, they're coming to find a book. If you're a babysitter, they coming to find recommendations, your rates and availability. If you're a copywriter(!), they're coming because they need content/copy.

    >>RULE OF THUMB: Design and write your site so you give first visual priority to immediately helping your reader DO what they want to DO.

    2. What should I put on my commercial/corporate website?
    This is, come to think of it, very similar to point 1.

    But important things need repetition, right?

    So, what should you put on your site? Drumroll, please....

    What your reader wants!

    This is not rocket science. Or brain surgery. Or rocket surgery, for that matter.

    The prime real estate on your business website is not about ego stroking, internal affairs, or what makes the suits (or middle managers) happy--it's 100% about what your clients want to know and see.

    If business owners would get this one simple rule down, their website would finally start doing what they want it to--sell product!

    >>RULE OF THUMB: If your reader won't find it immediately helpful and useful, it doesn't belong on your website (at least on the homepage).

    3. What kind of language should I use to connect with my readers?
    Once you know what your readers want to know and do, priority numero uno is helping them do it.

    And you do that with direct, clear language.

    Do they come to your website looking for HR solutions? Feature a link or button that says: "Discover the top 3 HR mistakes offices make" (might take them to a short article that ends with a killer call to action). Do they come wanting to buy event tickets? Feature a link with a "Buy your tix in 30 seconds!" call to action (leads them to your fancy schmancy in-n-out ticket purchasing app).

    How do you use language to do this?

    Easy. Use the imperative mood--that's grammarese for "tell them what to do!" All your copy should move people. That's all your copy.

    Don't inform; command! Tell them to complete specific actions. Call them to action!

    >>RULE OF THUMB: Don't tell them what you do. Tell them what to do.

    4. What will people do when they come to my site?
    The harsh reality is that they'll do whatever they want. Including leaving it.

    While not as true with print media, Web-use is driven by active choice.

    When people see your site, they immediately start making decisions: Do I want to stay here? Does this site help me do what I want to do? Am I yawning? Do I want to go to the competition's site?

    Your success on the web depends 100% (yes, 100%!) on how your content and design team up to answer your visitors' questions directly and helpfully.

    >>RULE OF THUMB: Don't talk to yourself on your web site; engage your customers and you'll get their business.

    P.S. For more great content-related tips, check out Ms. Bruns' s article called The Six Rules of Web Writing.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Note to designers: Remember the reader!

    One big problem with websites is that both their writers and designers usually forget about, well, the readers.

    Mandy Brown gives a gentle reminder to designers in the most recent issue of A List Apart.

    Her core insight? Respect the three distinct phases that the reader goes through and design accordingly.

    The reader's phases:

    1. Searching(a): Browsing to read something that interests them.
    2. Reading: Getting lost in what has captured their imagination.
    3. Searching(b): Returning to searching for something (further) to read.

    The designer's corresponding responsibilities are:

    1. Design in a way that invites the reader in.
    2. Design in a way that gives them visual room to "settle in" and read.
    3. Design links that will allow the reader to follow corresponding interests.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Seizing the day. One bubble at a time.

    Speaking of David Seah's blog, if you've never checked out his productivity / planning printables, do yourself a favor and do it right now. As of the beginning of January, I've been using The Emergent Task Planner on a daily basis, with stupendous results.

    Basically, the ETM is a one page per day system (you can print it yourself) that allows you to plan major tasks ahead of time, and roughly schedule them visually, while still having room on the sheet and time in your day for other events as they crop up (hence, "emergent"). Plus, each sheet has a bunch of space for jotting down notes, numbers, reminders, etc. Talk about day at a glance!

    Since having begun using it, not only do I plan my days more--more proactive, less reactive--but even on those days where I plan but don't feel that I've accomplished much, I can go back over that day's ETP and discover that, lo and behold, I usually did get a lot of important stuff done after all! And for that, I sleep much better at night.

    Besides, it gives you lots of little boxes and bubbles to fill in as you plan and accomplish things. Which, for simple-minded folks like me, is lots of fun.

    While you're at it, you'll ll also want to check out his Printable CEO(tm) series.

    How to describe your freelance business.

    If you're a freelance like me, you're probably always looking for a better way to describe what you do to potential clients. As many times as I've described my practice, you'd think I'd have come up with the perfect elevator speech. But nope. Whatever I say always seems to fall short.

    Turns out we're in good company.

    David Seah offers a great blog post on his own struggle to describe his freelance practice. It's the kind of article that bears close study and probably some careful reflection.

    A few teasers:
    I had an insight about how I should tackle the challenge of describing myself in a way that felt intuitive. It's a matter of remembering that the biggest challenge of describing yourself isn't coming up with the right keywords and categories; it's being able to paint a picture in people's minds about how they work with you....

    I'm not planning pursuing a straight service model, otherwise I'd just be hanging my set of keywords up on various job boards. The skills I have, in other words, are NOT my offering. I'm seeking a certain kind of personal interaction that happens to make use of my skills; this is the expression of my general desire to create more "awesome and inspiring" experiences for myself and people that I like....

    You need to have some kind of story that lays down the foundation, which then helps put you in context to the prospect's vision of the good life.
    David goes on to ask five very specific questions in this vein. The first two are from his perpsective and help him discover the kind of client he likes working with; the remaining three are from the prospect's perspective and help the prospect discover whether David's a good fit for them.

    The whole thing's very inciteful. Read it all.