Don’t Call Me a Copywriter – I Write Content

CSwainLogo 2

The first thing I do after walking into the restaurant and into the room reserved for the networking meeting is wave to the attending waitress and order a beer. Then I turn to the greeter who signs me in with a warm smile and gives me my pre-printed nametag, conveniently swinging on a lanyard – Colleen Swain, Content Writer. I’m relieved about the lanyard because I don’t like fumbling with pinning the nametag on my jacket, or worrying about pinning it wrong. Is it the right or left side? I can never remember. Centering it in the middle works for me.

I’m a leftie, but I say I’m ambidextrous – sort of. When I was little, my mom insisted that I eat with my right hand. She’d say, “I won’t have you banging elbows with people at the table.” I navigate my computer mouse with my right hand, too. It just feels right. (no pun intended) Other than that, I’m very much left-handed. So, the networking etiquette of remembering which side to wear a nametag can be a problem.

It takes a while for me to warm up at these networking events. The beer helps. I take a modest sip and scan the room looking for a familiar face, but remembering names of people I’ve met before  is another problem. Thank goodness for those nametags.

What Do You Do?

A woman, perhaps in her fifties, walks up to me. We haven’t met before. I can’t help feeling a little awkward staring at her chest to read her name and what she does for a living, even though she’s staring at my chest too. And then this happens:

“A content writer, eh?” So you’re a copywriter?” An image of Peggy Olson in a scene from “Mad Men” pitching a concept for selling lipstick flashes before me.

I run my tongue over my teeth, smile, and say, “Well, not exactly.”

Then I try to explain what I do.

“I’ve written ads, but my expertise is focused more on writing content that will help a business promote their brand online as well as in print.”

“Oh,” she says. She gives me a blank look. “So, what do you mean by ‘content’?

That’s when I realize that maybe to her the term “content” means stuff contained in something, like the percentage of hops in my beer.

The Internet Changes Everything

I flash back to the mid 90s, before computers changed how we work. I can see myself typing an inter-office memo using an IBM electric typewriter, making copies on a Xerox copier and then walking around the office to manually deliver them to each employee, (no e-mail). I’d archive the original in a three-ring binder stored with other binders dated by year in a jammed-full file cabinet. What a waste of paper, space, and time back then!

Then I flash forward to 2000. By then, my boss, the communications director, was pressuring the CEO to invest in building a website. “It’s the future we can’t afford to ignore,” he said. It was a hard sell. We got the go-ahead, but we had no idea how to do it. We were a department of marketing wordsmiths – not techies. This new language of web code was way over our heads. We had no choice but to succumb to the mercy of programmers – and they had no concept of marketing whatsoever.

It was a learn-as-you-go strategy, if you can call it that. We ended up with hundreds of web pages crammed with hard-to-read copy.

We had to fix it.

That’s about when I attended my first seminar on website writing and was tasked to bring back what I learned to the marketing team. It was called “How to Write Killer Content” with Gerry McGovern, offered by Marketing Profs, a leading educational training resource for marketers.

That may have been the first time I heard the term “content” in relation to writing for the Web. And, I realize, this may be the first time my new acquaintance – her nametag says “Accountant” – has met someone who writes it.

As Simon Dumenco, columnist for Advertising Age, put it, “I remember when people first started referring to ‘content.’ The term really gained currency circa Web 1.0 – during that moment when coders gained the upper-hand, and creative types, backed into a corner, felt compelled to defensively declare things like ‘Content is King’ … When I was a kid, nobody talked about words and pictures as ‘content.’” (Yup! I remember.)

At the seminar, I also remember noticing a young woman sitting in the back of the room. She was on the Marketing Profs team and she was monitoring McGovern’s presentation. I don’t know what her title was then but Ann Handley has built herself a reputation in the marketing world as a top digital marketer and writer. She is now their Chief Content Officer. Way to go!

And I am a content writer. But even at my last full-time job, just a few years back, that wasn’t my title. It was “Copywriter,” though I wasn’t writing ads. My job was to help the SEO Manager get our company website ranked on the first page of Google. (Hmmm. My accountant friend definitely won’t know what SEO means.) That was just about the time when Google wised up to the bad practices of SEO (search engine optimization) that used link-building trickery and poor-quality, keyword-stuffed writing spitted out by writers working for content mills. I never bought into it.

Unfortunately, now that I’m freelance, I’m still competing with lower-paid content-mill writers, though all signals point to the demise of content mills. The trend – finally – is to produce quality content that delivers value. Thank you Google. “Content is King” after all.

Gerry McGovern said as much in the Introduction of his book, Killer Web Content, “The Web runs on content. It is its hidden asset, its gold. Yet for so long it has been treated like coal – a low-grade, low-cost commodity best published in bulk… I have always taken a content first, technology second approach…the best website creators know that it’s the content that counts now.” Yes! And this was before Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm changes were made to ensure quality content on the Web.

Ann Handley, in her book, Everybody Writes, stated, “Writing matters more now, not less. Our online words are our emissaries: They tell our customers who we are…and that means you have to put a new value on an often-overlooked skill…how to write, and how to tell a true story well.”

What Is Content?

So what do I mean by content? I tell my “numbers” lady that it’s everything she finds online to read, listen to or watch – packaged in different ways – from flash ads to YouTube videos to articles she finds when searching for info on anything that may interest her, like the latest tax codes. It’s also print stuff, such as junk mail, or the brochure she picks up at her doctor’s office.

I love to write – always have. And, yes, I’ve worked as a copywriter in the past, but the term “content writer” better describes what I do now.

“I get it,” she says, as we walk together to the buffet table to fill our plates with appetizers, “So, if I ever want a website for my business, you can write it for me?”

“Absolutely. And anything else you may need to market your accounting business.”

We join a table of other attendees and sit down to make new contacts.

And then we come to the portion of the meeting when each person in the room stands up, introduces themselves and gives a very brief (under one minute) “elevator speech’ about what they do.

Just when I decide which hand to hold my fork – it’s always a conscious decision and sometimes it’s my left (sorry Mom!) – it’s my turn.

“Hi, I’m Colleen Swain. I’m a content writer. In essence, I’m a brand storyteller. I help businesses, from startups to national corporations, build awareness about their brand by crafting clear, concise content for their web and print communications that is original, engaging, optimized, and shared.”


Need a content writer?  Contact me and let’s team up.

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If You Have a Facebook Page for Your Business, Why Do You Need a Web Site?

Party BalloonsWhere’s the Party?

I went to a speaker event not too long ago about how to be successful with social media marketing. The attendees were a diverse group of entrepreneurs and small business owners, many of whom were there to better understand the ins and outs of Facebook more than any other social media platform.

As it turned out, the presenter,  Bill DeRosa of Talking Finger, a social media marketing agency, chose Facebook as his focus for demonstrating how to create a social media strategy to build brand awareness and gain customers.

It was during the Q and A session, when I realized that there were quite a few business owners who felt that Facebook was more important than a Web site. In fact, a few only had a Facebook page. No business Web site at all.

No, no, no! That’s putting the cart (social media) before the horse (content).

Content First – Then Share

DeRosa, who is a Facebook expert, said pretty much what I was thinking.  Quality content comes first because “content is king.” Your social media strategy depends on sharing content for the purpose of driving customers somewhere. Where do you think that should be?

Who’s in Control?

Facebook is a content-sharing platform. It’s simply not a good idea to use Facebook in place of a business Web site. Why?

Think of it this way. Say you want to throw a party. You could decide to host it at a favorite restaurant (Facebook) but that would mean following the restaurant’s rules.

But, if you host the party at your home (Web site), you can do whatever you want to do because it’s your place. You’re in control.

You Do Not Own Content on Facebook

You don’t own Facebook. You have no control over what Facebook chooses to do. That’s a fact.

As we have seen many times, Facebook can change the rules at any time. Think of Timeline. Whether you like the layout or not, you’re forced to live with it. Recently, Facebook changed e-mail addresses in user profiles. It was an annoying surprise that raised the ire of millions of Facebook users.

You could even be shut out of your Facebook account if you break the rules. Think of all that lost content!

You Do Own Content on Your Web Site

But your Web site is your own. It’s your place. Once you get it set up your way, with good quality content that supports your business brand, then you’ll be ready to share your message and hopefully get people to the “party” – your Web site.

Once they get there, they’ll talk about their experience with their friends, (Facebook) which will encourage more people (customers) to join the party. That’s the way to do it.

So, who’s in charge of the party – you or Facebook?

Need a content writer?  Contact me and let’s team up.




How Well Can You Tell Your Story?

Update September 2014*  What has changed since I wrote this post in 2012? Only that writing clear, concise, compelling and engaging quality content, and finding good content writers to do it, is more important than ever before  . . .Summers on the Lake

How Well Can You Tell Your Story?

Some people have a gift for storytelling. My husband is like that. He still delights our grown kids with stories about his summers on a New Hampshire lake that could easily challenge the best Bill Bryson “Thunderbolt Kid” memoirs. Except for one thing: my husband can’t write the way he talks. Writing slows him down, and he doesn’t have the patience to do it well. His passion is in the telling, not in the writing. And that’s okay.

Writing is not for everyone. And yet, many of us are forced into it.  The game-changer is the information-driven Internet. It’s changed how we do business. And the pressure’s on.

To Be in Business Today You Need to Provide Quality Content

However, you don’t have to wear the content writer hat on top of all the other hats you wear to run your business. Actually, do you really have the time? Unless you paid attention in English class, perhaps it would be better to direct your passion towards operating your business instead of writing about it. As top marketers know, you have options.

More Marketers Outsourcing for Content

2014 Update: A 2012 survey put together by Brandpoint and the Content Marketing Institute revealed that 70 percent of savvy marketers were planning to use outside sources for creating content that year.  And what they wanted most of all was “engaging and creative storytelling (44 percent); custom content (39 percent), and professional-level writing (34 percent).”

Digital Content Marketing Survey

Source: Brandpoint and Content Marketing Institute

And now? The trend for quality content is more important than ever. According to Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) latest B2B and B2C content marketing surveys, more businesses are producing content, more are feeling pressured into creating quality content that engages, more want to be better at telling their brand’s story, and more are outsourcing content creation to get it done  . . .

 What B2B and B2C Marketers Say about Content Marketing - Source CMI

Clearly, writing concise, compelling  content is key to effective brand storytelling.

Quality Content Builds Brand Credibility

How many times have you landed on a website that didn’t deliver what you expected? Maybe the content was poorly organized or it just didn’t make sense. There are too many of these sites hanging out on the Internet, and search engines don’t like them. In fact, Google penalizes websites for poor-quality content. Google’s latest Panda 4.1 algorithm is making sure of that, according to Marketing Land’s in-depth analyses of how Panda 4.1 is impacting business websites. Google wants to maintain credibility too.

Poor content is not just online. How about getting a print brochure in the mail that’s full of grammar mistakes? Do-it-yourself marketing looks like it. Unprofessional. That’s a sure way to lose credibility and customers.

Is Your Message Consistent with Your Brand?

No matter how good your product or service might be, nobody is going to spend time trying to decipher your Web site. No one is going to trust in your business if you hand out shoddy print materials. And, as far as social media is concerned, there’s no point in trying to get “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter if your message isn’t clear and consistent with your business brand.

Content Drives Business

Quality content should be at the heart of everything you do to promote your business. There are no shortcuts if you want to stand out as a go-to business. That’s just the way it is.

So, what do you think? How well can you tell your brand’s story? More importantly, how well can you write it?

For more on how marketers are using quality content to drive business, check out CMI’s latest B2B and B2C Content Marketing surveys:

B2B Enterprise Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America

B2C Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America

Need a content writer?  Contact me and let’s team up.

Want to know when I write a new post? Please look to the right and subscribe to my blog. Thanks!