You slaved over a piece for days. You researched thoroughly. You wrote, rewrote, did some copy editing and rewrote some more. You made sure every thought, phrase and word was on point. And you feel great about it.
You shouldn’t. Not yet at least.
There’s absolutely no way you can be objective about anything you’ve written. And that’s true whether you’re a seasoned copywriter or a novice scribe. Why? Because you wrote it. So of course you think it’s brilliant.
But yours is the last opinion that matters. Your natural bias is overwhelmingly powerful, and it will obfuscate obvious issues.
Every professional writer knows this. In fact, we’d argue that knowing this is what separates the pros from the amateurs. It’s why newspapers and magazines have managing editors. It’s why ad agencies have creative directors. And it’s why, if you’re creating content for your business, investing in copy editing before you publish is 100% in your best interests.
A good copy editor gives you and your work perspective. They play the role of your audience and evaluate your work from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been staring at it for seven hours.
They’ll call out the groan-worthy wordplays that made you giggle at 3 am but are actually quite silly. They’ll question the assertions you think hold water but really don’t. And they’ll make sure you’re saying what you think you’re saying.
Think of the copy editing process like a dress rehearsal for your work — a chance to perfect it before it goes live.
But before you hand your “masterpiece” over to a copy editor, internalize these truths:
Accept that your work is probably going to get ripped apart in copy editing.
Don’t take it personally because it’s not personal. It has everything to do with what’s on the page. This is why you should never have a friend copy edit your work. They’ll pull punches to spare your feelings (sometimes, they don’t even know they’re doing it). A well-taught copy editor is trained to judge what’s on the page and nothing else. And they’re taught to be honest — which is what you’re paying for. Better you get that honesty from one person you’re paying than a million people you’re counting on to take action after reading what you’ve written.
You are NOT obligated to agree with everything your copy editor recommends.
In almost every case, you’ll know your material better than your copy editor does. If they’ve deleted a thought you know is critical, put it back in. A responsible copy editor will track all their changes and provide rationales for any major changes they made or are recommending you make. This’ll make changes super easy to accept or reject. And don’t feel bad if you reject them. Editors have thick skin.
You have every right to ask your copy editor questions.
They work for you. Not the other way around. They’ll tell you what they think, but that’s all it is: an opinion. Now granted, it’s an informed opinion backed by a copy editing education and (hopefully) a ton of experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s the gospel of Luke. If you don’t understand why your copy editor did what they did, speak up. If you want a deeper explanation of their choices, ask for it. A quality copy editor will have answers for you.
You’ll get a better end product if you answer your copy editor’s questions.
Every heard of WYSIATI? It stands for “What You See Is All There Is.” Here’s a fabulous explanation from the acronym’s coiner:
It’s a very important concept to grasp if you want to understand the copy editing process, because it’ll remind you that copy editors aren’t mind readers. This is why editors are trained to ask their clients probing questions that help them understand what they see so they can recommend improvements.
And like any other professional, copy editors get into a groove when they sit down to work on a piece. So the sooner you can answer their questions, the more efficient you’ll make them. Since more and more copy editors are starting to charge by the hour as recommended by the Editor’s Association of Canada, more efficiency for them means a lower bill for you.
Your writing WILL be better.
And not just the piece you’ve sent through for copy editing. The more you work with an editor, the more little tips and tricks you’ll pick up. And over time, you’ll see fewer and fewer major changes and comments.
Your first draft may still stink, but it’ll be poo instead of shit.
Writing a white paper? It should be educational, comprehensive and formal, right? We agree with the first two, but we’re vehemently against the third.
This isn’t to say that when you’re writing a white paper, you should be writing in slang or that the material shouldn’t be presented in a well-organized, easy-to-follow-fashion. But if you want someone to actually read your white paper, you should keep in mind that your reader is a person. And a person, no matter how conservative they are, doesn’t want to read something that puts them to sleep.
First: what is a white paper?
According to our friends at Wikipedia, (and we’re paraphrasing), a white paper is meant to thoroughly explain an issue, thoughtfully solve a problem or aid in the decision-making process. But in that definition, there’s no reason why, when you’re writing a white paper, that you can’t be engaging, interesting and possibly even entertaining.
When most people sit down to write a white paper, they flush themselves of anything resembling personality because they think the more buttoned up they are in their writing, the more credible the white paper will be.
That’s hogwash. And here’s why.
Explaining an issue requires comprehension
If you go into writing a white paper thinking jargon = credibility, you’ll have spent all that time writing it for nothing, because no one’s going to read it.
A probable reason your reader even picked up or downloaded your white paper in the first place is because they don’t understand the issue: most likely due to an inability by everyone else in their personal or professional lives to explain the issue to them.
The last thing they’re going to want is more confusing language.
So while you should prepare heavily, write lightly. Simplify concepts. Choose real-world examples that the average person would get. Break down the issue as invitingly as you can. And don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality. Like our man Jules Whitfield said, personality goes a long way.
Yes, we’re extremely thorough in our research. Yes, we’re crystal clear on our client’s stance. And yes, we consider the audience we’re writing it for. But no matter the demographic, as we said above, the people reading it are people who want a better understanding, and who don’t want to have to work too hard to get it.
Tip: As you’re writing, ask yourself if you would read it. If you really think you’d glaze it over, the chances are extremely good that someone else will too. And boring your readers is worse that insulting them, because if they’re insulted, at least they’re engaged.
Solving a problem requires direction
We love IKEA for a whole whack of reasons, but a big one is the wordless instructions. As writers (and admittedly non-visual people), we’re blown away by how well they convey concepts. Their style embodies the “pictures say a thousand words” axiom. Mental Floss did a fantastically funny piece about IKEA instructions ¾ definitely worth a quick glance.
But what does IKEA have to do with white papers (besides the fact that IKEA instructions are printed on white paper)? The answer is a commitment to simple problem solving.
Complex problems might require more complex solutions, but that’s all the more reason to present them in the most non-complex way possible. Not many people can take meaningful direction from gobbledy-goop. And if they do, it’ll take far too long.
Tip: If your white paper is of the problem-solving variety, use bullet points wherever you can. They make directions easier to follow, especially if your readers are meant to refer back to it as they solve the problem. Here’s a quick guide to bullet-pointing in business writing from Montana State University’s Bracken Business Communications Clinic (amazing that it’s a “clinic”).
Decision-making requires confidence
Have you ever been staring at a restaurant menu, completely baffled by the descriptions of the dishes to the point where you legitimately can’t decide what to order? In that case, it’s the restaurant putting style before substance, and it usually winds up costing them in the long run (especially if that menu frustration is shared on social media).
Think of your decision-based white paper the same way. You want to give your reader the confidence to say “yes, I will try that tonight,” or “oh my god, I need to learn how to do that.” If you want someone to do something — and especially if you want someone to think something, you have to give them the confidence to think it. And that’s only going to happen if they clearly understand their options, which will only happen if their options are presented simply and fairly.
The more confidence you can instil in your reader, the more likely they’ll be to solve problems. Them doing that is directly related to how well you can teach them. And no one wants to be taught by a rambling, big-worded show-off.
Tip: When you’re done writing, read it over as if you were your ideal client. Do you get it? Do you see the value? If you can answer “yes” to both, you’re in good shape.
Nobody expects to enjoy a white paper
We say it on our website. And it’s 100% true. Buck the trend and surprise your readers.
As entrepreneurs, we’re big fans of Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank, The Pitch and every other showcased opportunity for dreamers to present their ideas to people with money. And while we get to see their spiels, we never get to see the pitch decks. And it’s too bad because without a good pitch deck, they’re not getting any money.
We think it would be interesting for all budding entrepreneurs to see how others articulate their thoughts. What works? What doesn’t?
We’ve put a lot of pitch decks together for a lot of clients. Most were successful. Some weren’t. But when it came time to submit, the pitch decks all had these six things in common:
A table of contents
It seems like an afterthought, but it’s actually critical. Think of your pitch deck’s table of contents like a primer for your potential investor. It sets them up for what they’re about to read, and it pre-organizes their mind. You’re telling them “I’m going to talk about this, then this, then that.” And if you can keep it short (more on that later), you’ll increase the chances that an investor will read it. No one wants to read a 30-page deck.
TIP: Use the table of contents language to establish positivity. You might have a page that details the business problem. And you can absolutely call it the “business problem.” But you can also call it the “opportunity.”
A demonstrated understanding of the space you want to be in
If you’re at the point of standing in front of investors, you’d need some kind of balls to not have invested a ton of time to attain expert-level knowledge of the industry, the market, the audience, the competition and the trends. This needs to be in your pitch deck because it instils confidence that there’s a need for your idea and, therefore, a reason to fund it.
TIP: Pick six to eight stats that tell the story and put them on one slide. Then include the rest as an appendix. And when we say tell the story, actually think of the stats as story-telling: beginning (this idea doesn’t exist ¾ and closest competitor is XXX); middle (XX% of people report that they would use this product); and ending (we can expect to convert XX% of the market in year one).
A competitive advantage
Something has to make your idea different or no investor will have a reason to fund it. And that point of difference has to be clearly stated in your pitch deck, as close to the front as possible. Again, if you’re at the point where you’re in front of investors, you should know what makes you special.
TIP: Think of your competitive advantage as an “unfair advantage.” It’s what should be keeping your competition up at night with cold sweats. And when you articulate it, it should induce those cold sweats. Consider “our competitive advantage is the way we make our silk” versus “our competitive advantage is the proprietary silk production process. It turns 3,000 years of silk production on its head, making it infinitely cheaper and faster.”
An exit strategy
Here’s the thing about investors: eventually they want their money back and then some. And they’ll want to know how that’s going to happen. In other words, what company is going to value your company at 100 times what you’re asking your investor to currently value it at? Now, obviously, a lot of things have to go right for this to happen, but investors want to know that you’ve thought about this and can make a legit case.
TIP: Be specific. If you think a telecom will eventually buy your company, indicate which telecom and why. In Canada, if you’re an entertainment property, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Bell. If you’re a technology company, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Rogers. As a founder, you need to know this, because a savvy investor will.
Yes, investors buy into ideas and companies. But they’re really buying into people. Without confidence in the human beings being the concepts, it doesn’t matter what the concepts are.
TIP: Keep bios short and on-point. Investors don’t need to know where you went to high school (unless you’re still in high school). But they might want to know what your passion has been since you were a kid.
A clear offer
What are you asking for, what is your investor getting and what will you be doing with their money? There’s no room for conjecture here, and definitely no room for wishy-washiness.
TIP: Give a high-level expenditure plan in the deck, supported by a full financial plan as an appendix. The more specific you are, the more confidence you’ll create.
Last word about pitch decks
Investors receive hundreds or thousands of pitch decks a year. They have no patience for loquaciousness and no desire to read through a novel. If your idea is solid, it won’t need a lot of verbiage.
Tip: Approach your pitch deck like you’d approach an elevator pitch. If this document was in a person’s hands for 30 seconds, what will it take to get them to the offer?
As Canadians, we’ll always remember the 2018 Winter Olympics as a record-breaking performance. But we’ll also remember the PyeongChang games as a reminder of how important it is that French Canadian translation is respected.
During the second week of the games, officials from Hockey Canada allegedly requested that the public address announcer stop using the French Canadian pronunciation of the francophone players’ names because it was confusing to the audience.
Naturally, French Canadian lawmakers and influencers were less than amused.
Mélanie Joly is not a happy MP.
“Extremely surprised” is how Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly described her feelings. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was far less cordial, calling Hockey Canada’s position “deplorable.” And Pascal Berube of the Parti Quebecois said he was “outraged” and called the request “insulting.”
Quality French Canadian Translation is a matter of respect. Period.
This has nothing to do with politics, separation or anything like that ¾ it’s safe to say that Canada is past that era. But just because the threat of Quebec independence is gone, this doesn’t mean Quebeckers should stand for a disrespect of their language.
So if you want to do business in Quebec, you have to be prepared to play by their rules. And you should want to do that because according to RBC’s outlook, Quebec is an economy you want be in.
This starts with respect. And that starts with finding a quality French Canadian translation resource.
Finding a translation partner you can trust to be respectful.
A few months ago, we looked at what you should be looking for in a translation provider, and it’s worth a read if you’re still on the hunt for a partner. But what we didn’t touch on in that piece was the idea of respect. And this is important because a reader will be able to feel the respect (or lack thereof) in the writing.
The three qualities of a respectful French Canadian translation
It’s well researched: It’s not just the meaning of the text that matters. It’s how the message is being conveyed. Like any language, French Canadian has its nuanced phrases that give it colour. A quality translator will know what those are and be able to replace the English with the ri
ght French ¾ which isn’t necessarily the “translated” French.
It’s completed with care: This is true of all writing, but it’s surprising how many translations are full of misspellings, incorrect accents and other mistakes that disrespect readers and make them not want to continue.
It’s not France-French: French Canadian French is similar to France French, but there are distinctions. Here’s an excellent primer from a leading French language training schools
Quality French Canadian translation is harder to find than you might imagine. The internet is full of pretenders and automated services that don’t capture nuance.
We’re the opposite. Our translators are real people. They’re educated. They’re experienced. They can translate for any medium. And they respect the language.
As copywriters, copyeditors, proofreaders and translators, our heroes are people with a gift for words. In this new regular addition to our blog, we’ll be looking at the men and women whose voices transcend their industries and whose words are quoted, remembered and revered.
Rick Jeanneret —The Bellow of Buffalo
No one would consider the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres an “important” team in the league. They don’t have the cache of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens, the draw of the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings, the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Chicago Blackhawks, or the trendiness of the Edmonton Oilers or the San Jose Sharks.
They made it to the finals in 2000, and all anyone remembers was the controversial winning goal and how Sabres’ fans are still complaining about it.
They’re in last place this year. They were in last place last year. And it looks like they’re going to be in last place next year.
But they have Rick Jeanneret.
The NHL’s best announcer
The job of an announcer is to describe the action in a way their audience will appreciate. As a national announcer, this often necessitates objectivity because you’ll have supporters from both sides to appease.
But announcers lucky enough to work for a regional broadcast can be fans. They know who their audiences are rooting for and have the freedom to root alongside them, with the added benefit of creating the sounds of the game for everyone else.
Rick Jeanneret takes full advantage of this fact. He’s unabashedly pro-Sabre and doesn’t care who knows it.
Like Bono, Barack Obama or Sean Connery, Rick Jeanneret has an unmistakable voice. It’s loud and expressive, a tad high-pitched and a lot nasal. But it’s what he does with it night in and night out that puts our jaws on the floor.
Some announcers do it with their mastery of vocabulary. We see that every four years during the FIFA World Cup of Football. Others do it with their insightfulness, and no one does that better than the NFL’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
Jeanneret does it with his excitement and his ability to create catchphrases on the spot.
You’d think he has them cued up and ready to go, but if you listen closely, you can tell he’s just riffing off-the-cuff. Something magical happens on the ice, and out come these gems.
Jeanneret was inducted into the Buffalo Sabres’ Hall of Fame in 2011, and into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 as a recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
We could go on and on about Rick Jeanneret’s talent or we could just let the man speak for himself. So without further ado…
Most of our copywriting, copyediting, proofreading and translation work is for content that’s meant to be read. Once in a while, we get the chance to work on speeches and it’s such a treat. It’s one thing to see your words on the page. It’s another thing entirely to hear them spoken and watch a crowd react to them. It’s one of the great rushes in our business actually.
So while some people take breaks from the day watching cat videos or setting their fantasy sports team roster (okay, we do those things too), we like to watch history’s great speeches and pick up a tip or two for the next time an oratorical assignment gets thrown our way.
Here are five of our faves:
Ronald Reagan’s Endorsement of Barry Goldwater (29 minutes)
Coming from Hollywood, Reagan clearly knew how to deliver a line. And he delivers a few good ones here. Our favourite is “this time gives no choice between peace and war; only fight and surrender.”
But what makes this speech a great one is the cadence and the vocabulary. He speaks to his audience like they’re intelligent. He doesn’t pause for cheap applause. He lays his argument out and trusts that people will get it. And even though Goldwater lost the election, this speech went down as the catalyst for the re-rise of Richard Nixon and the Republicans just four years later.
Tom Hanks after winning Best Actor for Philadelphia (4 minutes)
The courage Hanks had to take on this role in the first place was an inspiration. But then to follow that up with a speech like this in a time like that was off the charts. And even with the gravity of the topic he still managed to toss in a few little laughs.
Winston Churchill will never surrender (12 minutes)
Imagine you’re the once-proud Great Britain. You’ve ruled the world for 200 years and you just had your clocks cleaned by the Germans. How do you motivate an entire nation shell-shocked beyond belief?
These days, you might get a bunch of yelling and screaming and finger-pointing. But Churchill took a different approach. Calmly and rationally, he reminded Britons what made them who they are. It was just the right mix of somber and riling. And it worked.
Martin Luther King’s Dream (5 minutes)
No list of great speeches can exist without this one on it. Obviously, the message is important, but consider the way Dr. King invites the audience to share in his vision. The brilliance of this speech is the way he turns rage into hope. It would’ve been easy to stand up there and (rightfully) bemoan inequality. But he looks past it to a better world and brings everyone with him.
William Wallace (The blue paint)
Were those words actually uttered on the battlefield? Who cares? They’re amazing.
Ernest Hemingway famously said that the first draft of anything is shit. And he was right. This is because your first pass is rife with personal biases: what you’d understand, find interesting or deem relevant. Even the way you present your argument is one-sided (even if it’s not), because it’s coming from one person: you.
Part of a copyeditor’s training is to see past those biases to what you’re trying to convey or elicit, and help you bring it out clearly.
As a copyediting company, we’d obviously recommend that every piece of writing, from a dissertation to an email, be reviewed by a second set of eyes. Is that realistic in today’s fast-moving business world? Probably not. But the important pieces should definitely be passed by an editor to make sure they’re saying what you think they’re saying and doing what you need them to do.
So as you start your search for a copyeditor to have on speed dial, here are three things you should be looking for:
A formal copyediting education
Anyone can edit your work, but that doesn’t mean they’re a professional copyeditor. Because not anyone has taken courses in substantive, adaptive and structural editing (editing for meaning, content and readability). They haven’t been taught how to proofread properly, which means being able to spot all the mistakes, not just the glaring ones. Most importantly, they haven’t been taught how to work with writers to make their writing better. Because a good copyeditor is as much a coach as they are a service provider.
Regardless of what you need edited, you want a copyeditor who’s done a ton of that kind of work before. This isn’t to say a junior editor won’t do a good job, but someone who’s been around the block a few times has seen it all.
For example, a junior will have a firm grasp on Chicago style, but a seasoned vet will know where and how most people deviate from that style ¾ and so will spot those mistakes faster.
Also, an experienced copyeditor will have worked with enough personalities to develop a productive style. They’ll have worked with the writer who pushes back on everything (not ideal), the writer who blindly accepts everything (also not ideal), the overthinkers, overwriters, non-grammarians, ESL writers and writer-by-committees. Their approach to each will be constructive, helpful and collaborative.
A personality fit
Here’s another Hemingway-ism for you: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and open a vein.” Talk to any writer, from a novelist to a journalist or a copywriter and they’ll absolutely corroborate Ernie. What they produce is very personal ¾ it’s more than a labour of love; it’s a piece of their soul. And they’re very protective of it, no matter how incoherent or awful it may be.
So you have to trust that your copyeditor will adjust without judging. You’ll have to give yourself to the editing process, which can range from uncomfortable to soul-crushing.
And for that to happen, you have to like the person you’re working with. You have to like their energy; their vibe. That’s not to say they have to be the life of the party or your best friend. But that is to say that you’re not going to get on with everybody and that’s okay. There are enough copyeditors out there for everybody. Find one you gel with and taking their feedback will be a lot easier.
An investment in copyediting is a wise decision for any business, publisher, agency, studio or content-producing department. Choosing a trained, experienced, easy-to-like copyeditor might be one of the best decisions you ever make.
We used the phrase “too clever by half” the other day in a presentation. It’s one of our favourites.
The wiktionary defines it as “shrewd but flawed by overthinking or excessive complexity, with a resulting tendency to be unreliable or unsuccessful.” It’s often what happens when a copywriter writes for themselves and not for the client.
Thing is, whether you’re a copywriter or not, it’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re being too clever by half. And why wouldn’t it be? What you’ve written makes perfect sense to you. You wouldn’t have written it otherwise. And it certainly wouldn’t make it through the self-editing process.
Like the wikinition* correctly points out, being too clever by half starts with a shrewd premise. And it’s easy to justify keeping a shrewd premise in the mix because it works when you look at it rationally. The problem is that you are looking at it rationally, and your own rationality is inherently subjective.
And this is why we believe in pairing copywriters and editors.
The editor/copywriter relationship
An editor’s work with a copywriter is a bit different than it is with a novelist or graduate student because the audience is different one significant way: the reader doesn’t want to be reading. They have to be compelled. The audience has neither the time nor the inclination to figure out what the writer’s really saying. They’ll just move on.
And so in addition to looking for mistakes and such, a big part of an editor’s job is to call out the over-thoughts and complexities. And these are the most common too-clever-by-half examples our writers try (often unsuccessfully) to defend:
Popular culture references
Forty years ago when popular culture was defined by three TV networks and five movie studios, celebrities were truly universal. Everyone knew Elvis, Sinatra and Monroe, and so if a copywriter referenced them in a piece, the reader would get it. It’s a bit different today. You can’t assume everyone will know who Kanye West is. So even if you nailed a headline: Re:word Copywriting: More disruptive than Kanye at the VMAs, if people don’t know what you’re talking about, they’re not going to look it up ¾ although they should…it’s quite something.
B2C (business to consumer) copywriters generally have to be checked on this more frequently that B2B (business to business) copywriters because the average person reads at a Grade 6 level. And that means three things: they don’t know a lot of complicated words, they appreciate simple words and simple thoughts, and they’ll quit if something’s too hard.
It’s easy for a copywriter to fall in love with a word like “zenith” or “facilitate.” But readers prefer “top” and “help.” In the B2B space (depending on the audience), you can get away with being a bit more high-brow. But not too much more. Remember, the reader is still a person with limited time. Be credible and professional, but don’t show off with big words.
A useful arrow in a copywriter’s quiver is a word or phrase they can create. Two that come to mind are “ring around the collar” and “halitosis.”
“Ring around the collar” is exactly what it sounds like. Every dress shirt or blouse will eventually get one. And Tide detergent is (apparently) specially formulated to remove it. The key here is that when they say “ring around the collar,” I can picture the problem. If they were to have called it “Circle Stain” it would have been unclear. “Collar Crud” would have sounded too off-putting. “Ring around the collar” has a nice…um…ring to it. And it’s 100% descriptive.
On the flip side, in 1921, the term “halitosis” was created by Listerine, combining “halitus” (the Latin word for breath) with the scary medical suffix “osis” ¾ et voila, a condition only Listerine can cure. But what if they had named it “dragon breath” or “hot garbage mouth?” Would people have paid attention?
The best way to avoid being too clever by half
Remove yourself and your biases. Have a second set of eyes review your writing. And if you can, have a professional editor look at it. They’re trained to (a) spot those too-clever-by-halves and (b) guide you towards a more universal alternative.
Your readers will thank you.
*hey, look…we made up a wikiword…hey, look…another one.
Let’s talk about what seems like the easiest thing in the world to do, but the hardest thing to do really well: give something a name.
Have you listened to parents recount the way they came to their kids’ names? You’ll get the odd “we just knew we had to name her Gertrude” or “we both said Skye at the same time” or “my dad’s name was William so it was a no-brainer.”
But most of the time, it goes a little something like, “I wanted Wilma and she wanted Betty. We fought about it for months until she was born. But when we saw her, we knew she was a Pebbles.”
As a business owner, product developer or marketing manager, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until the eleventh hour to come up with a name you love. You have websites to write, collateral to print, social media feeds to populate, trade shows to attend, and, and, and…
So if 2018 is the year you get to name something, keep these tips in mind:
Two words or less. Two syllable words or less.
Great names are quick and easy to say. Think of all the one-word companies the world deems progressive: Apple, Uber, Google, Rogers. All two syllables ¾ and all following the same linguistic pattern: LONG-short. APP-le. OO-ber. GOO-gle, etc. There’s a reason for this. The pattern demands attention because it forces you to emphasize the word right away. You’re not limping in to the word; you’re jumping in full throttle.
If you’re leaning towards a two-word name, follow the same convention with both words: two syllables or less, with the emphasis up front. Under Armour. Perfect. Easy.
Once you start getting into multi-syllable names, you run the risk of mispronunciation and confusion. And you’re never going to keep your name on the tips of people’s tongues if they’re too long to sit there comfortably.
That brings us to important tip #2:
Easy to say. Easy to spell.
Two words/two syllables is fine, but make sure you have the right ones of each.
Flyynneyl Shloeby. There’s a two-and-two name. But can you say it? Would you know how? Do you think you’d say it differently than your neighbour? And is that a problem?
A few years ago, Korean car-manufacturer Hyundai ran a TV ad (during the Super Bowl, no less) that taught people how to say their name. “Just remember, it rhymes with Sunday…” went the ad. Fantastically eye-opening spot and very funny. But we STILL hear Hi-un-DIE all the time.
Clearly this isn’t much of a problem for them as they’re doing something right. But if you have the chance to avoid confusion, take it.
Speaking of avoiding confusion…
Clarity is key.
When someone hears your company or product name for the first time, they don’t know it from Adam. So what’s going to intrigue them to want to find out more?
We’d argue that there has to be something in it for them.
One of our favourite brand names is Volkswagen. No, it’s not a two-syllable word ¾ but it’s a German word so the conventions of English don’t count. But translated, it means “car of the people.” That’s a pretty bold statement and one most people would want to know more about. Car of the people? What does a car of the people have? I’d need to see. Show me this car of the people.
We mentioned Google before. Let’s look into that for a moment.
The word googol represents 1 followed by 100 zeroes. When we were kids, we all probably used that term at one time or another (I love you times a hundred/a thousand/a million/a billion/a googol!). So when Google’s founders conceived of a place to get all the answers you’d ever want about anything, googol made sense. A quick spelling change and voila: the empire is born.
What you want to avoid is anything too cerebral or clever that people have to think too hard about. Because they won’t sit there trying to deconstruct what you mean by your name. They’ll move on to a competitor whose name they understand.
Once you have a name you like, register it. Spend the money to trademark it so no one else can take it from you. It would be a shame to put in all that branding work only to get shut down the week you launch.
OK…so now that you have tips, where do you begin?
You begin by writing. You write down your first 100 names. They’ll all be crappy. And that’s okay. They’re supposed to be crappy. This part of the process is called “flushing your system.” Get all the garbage out.
Then you’ll look at the names you have and probably notice a few “thought starters” there. These are directions you can take your name.
So with those in mind, you’ll write 100 names for each of those thought starters.
Now you have a huge list to start paring down. Cross out the really stinky ones, but circle the ones that aren’t so bad. Then group the ones you have left into themes. You’ll start to see certain words
over and over again, and that’s a good thing because they’ll obviously mean something to you.
Pull those words out and start playing with them. Combine them in different ways. Look them up in the dictionary and the thesaurus. The more you tinker, the closer you’ll get to Eureka.
And when you get there, you’ll know.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. A good name can take weeks, even months to come up with. Don’t have that kind of time. We do.
It’s funny because not too long ago, when the trend was moving more and more micro, the “experts” concluded that people didn’t have the attention span to consume long-form content (or even medium-form content).
Well, they seem to have missed out on that one because they glossed over the basic tenet of the writer/reader relationship: make it worth reading and people will read it.
Today, the average blog post is roughly 1,600 words, a far cry from the 140 characters that defined the way we communicated in the recent past ¾ and even Twitter has rethought their insistence on brevity, moving from their original 140 to 280 character limit the other month.
Now, to be competitive online (that is, to put yourself in front of them when they’re looking for whatever you sell), long-form content has to be a key part of your strategy. And it’s not just because Google likes it.
People WANT to learn. They WANT to know more about a topic. They’ll APPRECIATE you for educating them, or just making them laugh. And they’ll SHARE your content because that’s what we do: show our friends and colleagues great stuff we find online.
The four rules of effective long-form writing
We’ve written a lot (a laaaawwt) of long-form pieces for our clients, and also for ourselves, covering topics ranging from weight loss supplements to city events to social media management. Each felt a bit different in its own way, but we took the same approach to each because it works.
If you can adopt these four strategies in your long-form writing efforts, you’ll produce better overall content and you’ll have a WAY easier time doing it.
Start with an outline
Remember back in high school, your English teacher would always ask you for an outline of your essay before you wrote it so they could vet your argument before you went too far? You probably saw this as extra work you had to do, but as it turns out, it’s extra work you’ll want to do.
For the return on investment you should expect to get from the effort you’ll put into a long-form post, you’ll want to craft your piece in the form of an argument.
Now, keep in mind that there’s a distinct difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative.
An argument is explaining a position you’ve taken for the purpose of convincing others to take it as well. Being argumentative is digging your feet into a position for the purposes of pushing others towards to your view. Everyone appreciates the former. No one likes the latter.
A strong outline will help you craft a compelling argument without the risk of falling into an argumentative tone because it’s meant to be a 20,000-foot roadmap to guide your writing.
It’s not supposed to be long or even that detailed. But it should contain all the information you’ll need to evaluate your finished piece against. They should align.
So let’s say you were writing a long-form piece about the evolution of winter wear in Canada (I just made that up because it’s –27˚ today and I’m staring at my toque on my desk). Your outline might look like this:
Topic: Evolution of winter wear in Canada
Keywords: Canadian-made winter coats, Canada Goose, winter coats, Canadian winter
Intro: Despite the popularity of European haute couture winter wear, Canada has actually led the world in quality winter wear. And given our climate, that makes sense
Part 1: The Hudson’s Bay Company sets the standard
Part 2: The rise of the department store (Eaton’s, Simpsons)
Part 3: Canadian winter wear defines its look through local designers
Part 4: The rise of Roots as a Canadian winter icon
Part 5: Alternatives to fur — Canadian fashion develops a conscience-focused technology
Part 5: Olympic gear
Part 6: Canada Goose becomes bigger than Roots
Closing: The rest of the world can learn from Canada when it comes to winter wear both from a product standpoint and an evolutionary standpoint. We do winter better than anyone because we have to. And that’s why we’ve succeeded in this category for so long.
Now, if we were to sit down and write this piece, we’d know where we were heading every step of the way. We can craft our section openings and closings accordingly so the piece flows, and we can stop ourselves from veering off topic. Readers hate that.
Do your keyword research
Yes, you should be writing your long-form piece for your readers, but those readers have to find you first. So your target audience is always the Google bots as well.
At its most basic, here’s how Google works: when someone types in (or now speaks in) a search term, the Google algorithm presents them with links that are relevant to what they’re looking for. Many factors go into determining what Google deems is relevant, but the biggest is a keyword match with what the searcher is looking for.
So if someone is searching college courses for advanced open source technology, ideally Google will present them with a page or two of class options with a few links to articles or blog posts related to college courses for open source technology. But the only way the Google bots can know if a webpage or article is about college courses for open source technology is if those words (or a variation of that concept ¾ Level 5 open source technology education, for example) is present on the page.
But remember that gaming Google is way more about human behaviour than it is about technology. You’ll want to know how your target audience speaks, what they want to read and how they’d describe what you’re talking about.
For example, if you learn that people interested in advanced open source technology refer to it more as OST (again, I made this up), and if you see OST as a commonly used acronym on social media, then it might be that your target audience would never key in “open source technology,” but would almost exclusively search for OST. In that case, you may want your keyword to be OST instead.
Another important note about keywords: with the steady adoption of voice search, we’re seeing more money and resources being put into long-tail keywords, which are key phrases that help better segment a search market.
So going back to college courses for advanced open source technology, the searcher’s not going to simply type or say “open source education classes”; they’ll be more specific with something like “advanced open source education classes in downtown Toronto” because (a) that’s what they want and (b) especially with voice search it’s not difficult to type it in.
So if you happen to offer advanced open source education classes in downtown Toronto, make sure that keyword is prominent in your post. And when we say prominent, we don’t mean repeating it over and over. What we mean is that it’s featured in prominent places on your page, like in your headline or subheads because those elements are what the Google bots crawl first.
Do your actual research
The name of the game in long-form content development is adding value. You want your readers to come away smarter, happier, more hopeful or more aware than they were going in.
This is the implied social contract of internet content: I give you my time, you give me a reason to feel good about that. Think about it: you’re asking a person to give you an average of seven minutes of their lives, which, today, might as well be an eternity when you think about what else you can do with seven uninterrupted minutes.
So do the digging to find information your readers don’t know. Consult multiple sources to make sure your information’s accurate. If you come across unfamiliar terminology, look it up so you can explain it to your readers.
Most importantly (and we really can’t stress this enough): credit your sources with a backlink. A backlink is simply a link to another page on the internet that readers who find your piece interesting will also find interesting. Here’s one to our copyediting service page (hint hint, nudge nudge).
A backlink serves three purposes. It can give your argument credibility if the facts you present come from accredited, accepted sources or the positions you take are shared by influential people in your space. It can push your blog up the Google ranks, as part of their algorithm rewards content with solid backlinks, and it encourages other websites to backlink to your content (the internet’s a tit-for-tat world), which also tells Google that you’re a credible source, which boosts your content even higher.
Consider visual appeal
In the last section, we reference subheads, and when you’re writing a long-form piece, these can be your best friend because they split up the content into manageable chunks.
No matter how voracious of a reader you are, a large block of text is still intimidating. By breaking up your content into sections, and paragraphing often, you’re making it easier on your readers’ eyes and minds to get through your piece.
That paragraphing creates what designers call white space. What white space does for a reader is give them a perceived break to further digest and internalize what they’ve just read. It may only be a split second of time to move from one paragraph to the next, but it makes a big difference.
Make the time to post consistently
To be a thought leader, you have to actually lead. And you don’t do that once a month. You have wisdom to share about your field and you should be sharing it often. Of course, if you don’t have the time to write your long-from pieces, we’re happy to take it off your hands. Again, hint hint, nudge nudge.