WriterAccess Webinar Archive
Writing Tone and Style
Thursday, July 26, 2012 – 6:00 PM ET
You can think of tone of voice as personality expressed in writing. It's the critical element that delivers your brand promise: who you are, what you offer and how you are different. But selecting a writing style (and writer) and developing a tone of voice that reaches multiple channels is difficult—if not, impossible—until now.
Join Byron White, Founder of WriterAccess and Chief Idea Officer of ideaLaunch, and learn how to develop a tone of voice that will bring your brand to life. You'll learn how to connect with readers, customers and fans. Explore 20+ writing styles featured in Byron's new Writing Tone and Style Guide. Best of all, you'll get private access to our new free Writing Tone and Style Wizard that walks you through the critical brand questions, compiling your answers that are instantly published in a PDF to get your writers, editors and employees on the same page.
Guests Mike Roberts, Founder of SpyFu, and Casey Joseph, Owner of Casey Joseph Marketing, will join the conversation and test out the new Wizard, offering some thoughts and feedback.
The slidedeck from this webinar is available for download.
Byron: Welcome everyone. Byron White here. Glad you could climb on board this fabulous webinar that I’m very excited about delivering with you. The topic as you can read from the first screen “How to Bring Your Brand to Life with Writing Style.”
I’m really happy today to be joined by Mike Roberts, President and Founder of SpyFu. We really need to upgrade your title Mike. I think you should give yourself a promotion to CEO or something.
Mike: CEO? You like CEO better than President?
Byron: I don’t know, something, maybe Foomaster.
Mike: I’d rather just go by Founder.
Byron: We’re joined by Mike, always a pleasure. I’ve done many webinars with Mike. Here with Casey Joseph as well. Welcome Casey.
Casey: Thank you for having me.
Byron: Sure. Casey I’ve had the pleasure to work with both as a customer for WriterAccess and a consultant as we recognized his immense talent and had brought him on board to help us strategically with some of the work we’re doing including some of this style guide development and all kinds of neat stuff related to bridging the gap between what customers need and he’s a tough customer I might add. Best way to describe you. Bridging that gap between customers and writers and how you achieve that perfection to bridge that gap. I’m really excited to have these guys on board.
So the format today is going to be interesting. I want both Casey and Mike to interrupt me or stop me as we go through this presentation to make it a little bit more lively and engaging and heckle me if necessary. Whatever. I’m going to open up a big can of worms with Mike certainly.
Just to sort of go through this deck. I think it’s a really important deck. I think we’re onto cutting edge stuff here. One quick sanity check you can do to show you how fresh and new this is: do a search in Amazon for any books written on writing style or tone of voice or any of these topics we’re going to be discussing and it’s amazing. You don’t find anything. So this I think is going to end up becoming something really special, really interesting. I’m working on a guide right now that’s up to about 60 pages, 8 ½ by 11 that I think I’m going to transform into a book, and this deck is a bit of a teaser for what you’re going to find.
What we’re also going to go over just real quickly, so we’re going to go through our deck in about 20 minutes, we’re going to open it up to questions. You can also use your questions tab to ask questions throughout the presentation that will be addressed and answered after the presentation. Then we’re going to go to the panelists after I give the presentation and I’m going to actually ask them some questions about where they’re coming from. Mike for example just launched a whole content marketing initiative. I’m dying to pick his brain. Casey has great perspective as mentioned on these topic areas.
So I’m going to actually ask them some questions. Not only “What did you think about this?” but “How are things from your perspective?” So that’s why I really wanted these guys on the phone today. I think that super great content and super great interaction hopefully will happen. So without further ado I’m going to dive right in and bring you through what we’re going to cover today.
We’re going to go to our first group of slides really quickly: “What is Content Marketing?” Then we’re going to talk about developing the writing style and then I’m going to have a secret surprise for everybody in the end, an actual writing style wizard that we’ve created in beta, which I’m going to give you the link for, that will allow you to actually, hopefully, to find a very quick, fast and easy way to create an actual writing style guide. It’s free, it will always be free, it’s a great tool and resource, and I’ll give you a link to it in the end.
So let’s see, without further ado, let’s crank through “What is Content Marketing?” This is my 33rd content marketing webinar, and I really think it’s critical that everyone that ever hears this, I apologize if you’re hearing this again, but you really need to understand the evolution of what’s happening.
Content marketing is the art of listening to the wants and needs of your customers and there’s a whole bunch of different ways to do that. Ironically, although it’s a critical component of the definition of content marketing, it’s actually the hardest thing to do. We can look at our search boxes, but we need to get much deeper. I think you’re going to see some innovation happen in that space.
How do we find out what our customers want? But of course it’s delivering the right content. We all know how to do that probably, and some of the people on the phone are writers for WriterAccess so you’re in that business. The challenge is catching customers that are orbiting at high speeds, and that’s extremely difficult. The whole content asset portfolio is radically increased so that makes it even more difficult. You need to publish more and reach more people.
And of course you need to give them what they want and need and that’s where the gap really gets rich. You can’t even discuss content marketing without talking about A/B testing and multivariant testing and that’s getting easier and easier to do now but it’s still pretty complicated. We’re doing some need tests on WriterAccess right now you’ll see the whole page has changed since you’ve been updated. The page that’s up now is the test that won and it actually almost doubled our conversion rate, believe it or not. I’m not sure why but there you have it.
Mike: What did you use Byron?
Byron: We used Visual Website Optimizer.
Mike: Yeah, that’s what we used too.
Mike: Very cool right?
Byron: Exactly. Google made some ridiculous changes on GWO when they integrated it with analytics and we just abandoned ship on that. It just was not working.
Mike: I had no idea that VWO was so much more awesome. You never have to involve IT. Just a shameless plug I guess for them but we both use it I guess.
Byron: Exactly. And it’s like pathway conversions as well, Mike to your point. It’s like just much more…
Mike: It’s e-mapping.
Byron: Right. So finding that efficient path to engagement is also an area of vast improvement, and that’s what Mike and I were just talking about. What is the conversion path? What information do people need along that conversion path and how can you motivate and accelerate people through the path? And think about all this stuff, it’s all just content. All these pages, all of this work, there is certainly some visual part of it but content really is becoming the centerpiece.
It’s funny, this slide I’ve been showing at speaking engagements for three years now, I look at this now and everybody’s probably looking at this like “Wow! Yeah sure, of course, Byron, this is content marketing.” But when we were preaching this stuff years ago we were so far ahead of the curve. We were making this stuff up. It used to be five sections to this, then it became six, particularly because we thought editing the fourth slide was such a critical component to content marketing we actually wanted to make it its own silo. I still do believe that. You know creating content, particularly when it’s freelance writers, someone needs to polish it and proof it and bring this content together to give it the voice and consistency you need across the board.
Mike: In regards to this silo of content marketing and the umbrella term. It’s getting a lot more buzz that marketing theoretically should always be customer-centric. What is being ushered in with content marketing, this new era that allows us to be more customer-focused, and how is it different than what marketing should have been all along?
Byron: Yeah, it’s a great question. And that first ding that you’re looking at over there, content planning, that’s where we made our living basically, an idea launch when we were a full-service content marketing agency. People didn’t understand the difficulty and the complexity. Mike, you’ll remember. I used to go to you and say “Mike, this took us four hundred hours to produce. How can you shortcut that for us?
Byron: You were producing these reports that gave a lot of data but they weren’t giving the data that Casey’s talking about which is you’ve still got to find out what these customers want.
Byron: You need to look at your analytics for that stuff and I think the paradigm shift we’re seeing here is…
Mike: It’s also the social feedback loop, right?
Mike: I was looking at SEO Mods which is obviously the biggest SEO community/tool, pretty big, right, in SEO? Their tagline has changed recently-ish. It’s now “SEO and social monitoring made simple.” So the whole thing is clearly converging. I mean, it has been for a while, but it’s just kind of telling when SEO Mods is now promoting their social monitoring tool on the top of their home page.
Byron: It’s funny because Rand was going to be a guest on a webinar with us and cancelled because of some medical problems with his wife that they’ve actually made public and prayer for his wife and everything but Rand and I got it a really interesting discussion about whether to even keep using the word SEO in our vocabulary. Is that something that we still want to stand behind? And his answer was “probably” and the need to optimize, but maybe the definition of optimization is going to take a new turn, a new role.
Byron: Optimizing words and phrases and all kinds of new things we’re going to see in a second here. Ok, cool. Good feedback. Much more fun than me just rambling on for sure.
So what is writing style? And how do we wrap our heads around this? Let’s take a look at it. Personally I think you can think of writing style as personality expressed in writing. That seems pretty simple to me but I think fairly on point to what writing style is all about it gets more complex when you realize that you’re drawing on a lot of different elements. Tone of voice we’re going to talk a lot about today, punctuation, word choice, sentence length, these are all things that end up being part of a thing you’re analyzing and creating that express what you’re trying to accomplish.
And so we need to get our head around it and certainly in developing a writing style guide, it’s critical to have a framework for all the writing assignments you’re creating and what I will argue and hopefully convince all of you of is that this writing style guide actually becomes the communication vehicle for your brand promise. And it needs to be something that not only your writers are in tune with but your employees are in tune with, with how they answer the phone, you’ll see, and literally every aspect of it.
So your writing style essentially needs to be aligned with your brand position, as I mentioned. It needs to be aimed at a particular target, that’s complex because different content assets you create actually might need a different audience and need a different style. And you also certainly need a consistent tone of voice so you at least have consistency throughout your messaging. You need to adhere to requirements, specifications, and restrictions, and that’s actually where I put SEO in one of five points and you also have legal requirements and other restrictions that you may place upon your content or the type of assets you’re able to produce. And of course you need to deliver on performance goals, which is really where SEO and measurement comes into play.
So that’s what it’s all about.
Mike: Hey Byron, could we go back to that slide because I’m really interested in this because I just brought on three new marketing people and they are all writing for us and they’re newish, they’re actually six months old now but I struggle when I tell them how to write. And what I’ve done and I think I can identify what step one and step two are: Step one for us is fight through the brand, we’ve always been a little bit irreverent, so what that means is you can use somewhat curse words.
Basically in all of my speeches I always drop in some f-bombs or whatever because it sort of endears us to our audience. We allow ourselves to speak how we think say twenty-five to forty-year-olds or twenty to forty-year-olds speak which is kind of identifying our target audience. Our target audience is pretty straight forward. It’s like you and everyone on the phone here. It’s everyone listening. We all kind of are internetty, so we’ll refer kind of like to nerdy Harry Potter jokes and crap like that. We refer to like internet memes and talk like people know what World of Warcraft is, and that kind of thing.
But in terms of the consistent tone of voice, I’m not quite sure where that goes. Like what I try to tell people what to do is just express their personality and just like write like they would speak. But of course they each have their own little sense of humor and their own personality so how does that, and if I told them try and write like you sound like me, that would not be good.
Byron: The good news is this comment has set the barometer that we can examine as we go through this. What I’m going to do is I’m going to walk you through all five of these steps, and give you some thoughts on each one of these things. That’s basically spot on what we’re trying to do. The real question is, “How can that style that I’m talking about bring your brand to life?” I’m not sure it’s the f-bomb that’s bringing your brand to life but it’s a loose style, it’s the founder of the company willing to say, “Express yourself however that is.”
Mike: Well our customer service policy for example is spy fu, not dicks.
Byron: Yeah, exactly, I’ve seen that.
Mike: Yeah, I mean we can be like not evil or whatever, you kind of get it, it expresses the sentiment.
Casey: Mike you bring up an interesting point. It’s the tone and basically the attitude you use when you’re writing, and you’re trying to reconcile the brand attitude with the audience attitude with maybe the attitude of a particular writer. There’s a harmony that has to take place and having guidelines can be really helpful for that. I think communication is complex and we tend to look at it as a megaphone to where we do our demographics and psychographics and behavioral research and we speak to our audience based on those things we know, you know, the video games that they play at a certain age. But at some point that communication has to be received, and I think it’s that communication feedback, you know that constant loop that brings it into refinement and starts in itself defining the attitude that you have collectively.
Casey: Byron approaches this too with some innovative thoughts on it.
Byron: All good. Everyone’s read this so let’s move on. Now let’s talk about the brand position because that I don’t think SpyFu or most companies have really thought through brand positions. SpyFu has not brought in outside agencies or consultants so they shape the brand of SpyFu. This is more Mike generically saying “Listen, let’s sit down with these new writers and just tell them who we are, what’s our background, how are we different from our competition, what are our goals short-term and long-term, how do we define ourselves, what’s our mantra, not dicks, right?
So Mike’s done a pretty good job of crafting a brand position but these are some common brand position phrases that come out by big branding agencies, celebrate something, you know, expect great things, save babies, these are the topographical lines but then you dig deeper, like on this slide, it’s like our brand position is we bring…this is an insurance company out of the UK by the way. We bring prosperity and peace of mind to customers.
And recognize customers as individuals listening to their needs and circumstances, right? So that’s kind of heavy, but it’s better than saying “We sell insurance, the best, most reliable insurance in the world” right? You’re trying to get under the skin of their target audience, and their understanding that they’re not just educating, they’re not creating a brand for their marketing material, they’re creating a brand position for their employees. And how their employees treat their customers.
Mike: Is this their values you’re talking about?
Byron: Yeah, I mean, absolutely.
Mike: Our mission might be, SpyFu’s mission might be to help search marketers make money online, basically. Which is what we set out to do with our tools, but then the way that we treat them is really like, I just more like give people the latitude to do what they think is right. And if they violate the don’t be a dick rule, if I feel like in any way they’re ever doing that, then I don’t know, that’s, I think I need some help with that.
Byron: I think you need to flesh out your brand some more.
Mike: I do okay on that, I think people are aligned but…
Byron: Well, okay, so you have an example now of a nice tight, clean brand position. I would say back to the drawing board for you. I’d say now what about your mission, you know? I like the help SEO professionals make more money, that’s cool. But I think it’s deeper than that. You probably want to connect and engage with customers who want to use technology to advance their business, right? Like that might be a sexier way to say what you’re doing. And then tie that back into marketing. Tying that back into how your employees are going to take that and run with it. So what are you bringing to your customers? That’s one way of doing it. So that’s this one slide.
But the other challenge you have is this incredibly diverse channel that you need to exude your brand position into, right? Articles, blog posts, video. SpyFu actually does amazing video. Your video like, some of your favorite videos is the whole 60s magic bus thing, which is like, really I could connect with that, you know, I guess I’m like fifty years old, I’m a product of the 60s, but that was a connection point and I think that’s what SpyFu has a reputation of doing. You produce what, hundreds of videos? They’re usually somewhat entertaining, they’re almost like teasers, like movie teaser caliber, you’ve taken that and that’s helped you with your brand, but now you’re starting like content, assets, information, you’re extending the brand, so that’s hard to do.
So the other thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that brand position needs to be executed not just in your marketing material, how you answer the phone, look at these distinctions here. “How can I help you today?” versus “How may I direct your call?” Can you imagine someone answering SpyFu’s phone saying “How can I direct your call?” Like how cold is that?
Mike: In our space, funny enough, Byron, having a phone number on your website is a brand differentiator. None of our competitors have that so the fact that you can actually call us and talk to a human is actually
Byron: But look at the sensation have, like even large companies now are “Please press the extension of the party you are trying to reach, parentheses, or we don’t give a crap about you.” Right? So this is a cool… versus picking up the phone and talking to those people. So email, correspondence, remember those “To whom it may concern” right? Email marketing certainly changed that, all of the type size is one face but the little teeny typeface, it’s like one person’s name, it just reeks of spam. “Hi blank Jim (lowercase).” Not that this is a form letter, but you know, you get the idea. But even the way tonally you’re expressing, like “I will contact you” is an active statement, versus “Let me know if you need additional support is more passive, right? So are you going to be an active company and be aggressively wanting to help people, or are you going to be like “Hey, let me know if I can help ya, talk to ya later.” These are small sentiments, tiny little variations but very critical to the execution of the brand.
Now let’s jump into target audience. I think we all understand the importance of understanding your target audience, defining it, and putting it in writing, but I think that’s often a great place for you to start or anybody to start on: Who are these people? I would argue that you wouldn’t have potentional inner taglines like “SpyFu, not dicks” if your target audience wasn’t a fairly entrepreneurial guerrilla marketing do-it-yourself sort of customer.
Mike: Yeah I mean it really is a small set of people.
Byron: Yeah but a majority of your customers, well I think that your brand has come from your customers, right? It’s like you know who they are, you hang out with them. You smuggle beer into trade show booths, sorry I busted you for that, but you used a brilliant trick, like buy a limited supply and everybody gets free beers. Wow, that keg really lasted a long time, like two days.
So my thought is that you need to not only think about your target audience as customers, you need to think of them as readers, right? And you certainly need to crunch some data on that and find out what they’re reading, where are they coming from, what is their navigational path? You need to think of them as let’s find out what they’re excited about, what your most popular pages are. So thinking of your customers as readers or absorbers of content is a different way to look at it, and I think a really important one.
So you’re also going to see it’s critical to understand the level of proficiency, this becomes critical when you’re launching new products or new services. How educated people are, do you need different marketing people for different groups of people? Do they understand your products, where are they? And that’s important so you don’t talk up or talk down in the content you’re creating. Also you have to enter their mindset. Like Casey for example, was a know it all, we know that when it comes to content, so I can’t possibly educate that customer.
Casey: I’ve got some great titles, like “The Tough Customer Know It All.”
Byron: It’s hysterical but it’s out of pure respect, I promise everyone on the line listening in. It’s out of pure respect. If all of our customers were like Casey, we would market to them differently, we would introduce products and additions differently. Whereas we really deal with a lot of customers that are smaller customers that are trying to learn what content marketing is and who have very little idea what is going on. So we’ve got a vast audience and we need to gear our marketing and our mindset with the content we’re creating around those variables. And particularly we’re going to try to get under the skin of the audience which is how you engage them.
So personas, you all know about that, these are a couple samples that I’ll have in the deck for everybody to look at, you don’t have to read them now but you really do need to put in black and white and on paper exactly what you’re trying to imagine about your customers. I also think an image is a critical part of putting in your personas, and you’re going to see a surprise on that later.
So writing style. Now certainly there are elements of writing style, and there are a lot of elements, I mentioned a few of them in the beginning. There are roots in writing style which are actually quite intense. Language, psychology, culture, metrics, all of these things are beginning to blend and need to be inside the head of a writer creating content. So a lot of stuff going on here.
Mike: I’ve got a question for you. We were writing some content today, redoing our home page, and I couldn’t think of a better word, even though I knew it was totally wrong, I used the word “opine” and I’m like “There’s no way I’m putting the word opine anywhere in any sentence that I ever write” but I’m going to leave it here right now because I just want to keep moving through the sentence and I’ll go fix it later. How do I tell somebody that they should never use that type of word?
Byron: I’ve got a slide for you on that. And I’ve got a solution for you on that. In quick summary, a really cool thing to do with guiding writers in creating a writing style guide is to, I’ll just give you a teaser on it, “more of this, less of that.” Right? Define the boundaries, that’s what you’re trying to do as you put this together.
Mike: I think it also stems back to what you’re saying about the target audience and the brand position as well. If you’re a university and you have an educated audience, like you were showing in that slider, and everybody’s familiar with the word opine, and it actually, this is maybe just my passion or my preference as a writer, if it truly encapsulates what you want to say better than any other word, and it’s understood by your audience, it’s exactly what you should be using.
Casey: The problem with words like that, I agree with you, you could use it in speech at a dinner gathering and maybe recognize that your message is lost.
Mike: I feel like I’m Frasier Crane if I do that, you know? “Opine.” There’s no way I’m going to, like it’s not the actual perfection of the word as a choice for accuracy but I would just prefer to use four or five letter words even if I have to use three of them to get across the point of a six letter word that’s got the texture or something of opine. I think I also used like “pore over” in the same sentence.
Byron: Personally I think opine is a great word for SpyFu. It’s all about one’s opinion, that’s what it defines. I think it’s a great word for you. But I like you making statements for the tone of voice for all our copy should be x, y, and z, you know? Mike would have three very different things here than what you see. But here’s some examples for you to follow, that are easy to follow: Keep things brief and to the point. Use crisp language. These are common things that you’d hear. But what about this? Engaging and surprising, write with a warm language as if you were talking to a friend. Bring a smile with clever use of ideas and analogies, aphorisms, quotations, this is opening up and inspiring a writer to do something different and unique.
These are key elements here that you need to get up front and summarize in a concise form like this. Imagine thousands of, tens of thousands of orders at WriterAccess going for a month now, and it’s hard to write instructions for these orders. And being brief is difficult, writers don’t want to be tasked with looking through a 10-page style guide that explains everything under the sun and is typically center focused on your products, and your services, and all kinds of other stuff. You’ve got to get to the point, you’ve got to summarize what you want, and this is a good barometer to check it out.
So writing styles is interesting. I’m working on this monster document I mentioned earlier, where we’re up to 18 styles now that we’re fleshing out complete with descriptions of how the styles vary. Casey’s seen a teaser on this and is welcome to comment on it. It’s ridiculously ambitious and it goes way beyond the typical six or eight styles that you’re learning in grad school now if you’re a journalism major.
We’re trying to get into really clever and different elements. Like Wired for example came to me just because of my love and interest for the Wired Magazine product descriptions. Casey and other people are worried I’m going to get sued for using that but Wire Magazine has an editorial standard and the standard is engage the reader, entertain them, and also convey a great review about the product. So those are just a couple of teasers of what you’ll get. We’re about 80 percent there and it’s interesting as we’re putting samples together for each of these and that’s what’s complex because we need to get permission from both customers and places like Wired Magazine to use an example. And it’s something I’m putting together.
Casey: What I really appreciate about what you’re doing Byron both with the writing style guide and this presentation on tone is that there are discussions regarding these things and they typically are academic. And it’s not that that makes it any clearer, but I think that these feed in to so much of our communications and although we may not know with certainty what that exact style should be or what our tone should be or exactly what our audience is thinking, I do think we’re better for considering these things.
I do a lot of work in educational consulting, and we evaluate state and federal grants. And we’re talking about learning, there are a lot of variables and you can’t control for all of them, so sometimes the best thing you can do is say “Okay, let’s be aware of what’s out there.” Probably you do this a lot Mike, with your surveys and your SEO research, but let’s be aware what’s out there, so that we know what we can talk about. Let’s mark the uncertainties of what we don’t know and let’s try to pull away something or take away something practically that we can use that improves upon what we’re doing. It may not be perfection, but it takes us a step closer to our goals. And I think with the writing styles and with these considerations that we’re bringing up now, this discussion itself brings it a little deeper to the top edge and hopefully make us better communicators with our customers.
Mike: This is outstanding. I’m just thinking about all the really interesting things that could be done because I’ve never seen a break down like that but I can immediately identify what that means, my mind is running now like crazy, sort of programs I could write.
Byron: The technically inclined like Mike, especially stacks of them not as good as Mike for us over at Google are looking at language very very closely because before you know it Google will not rely at all on back-link popularity as a ranking device to determine which content is better, whose website is better, who deserves a better listing for a keyword phrase. They’re going to need to look at the quality of the content, who wrote it, who the author was, what their social sphere looks like, how many followers do they have. These are all things that are beginning to come into play, but I do think language is quite interesting and I do think these fundamental styles need to be fleshed out. We’re taking a wild stab at it.
Look at this next slide. These are just blog writing styles. Blog style was one style but there are sub-styles within some of these styles. Let’s take piggyback, that’s writing about a topic that is currently popular on sites like Technorati or Trail Rank. It’s taking a topic that’s already popular and writing about it. So Wing Flap is one of my favorites. That’s sharing dislike or hatred for a person, product, service, or brand. Every company gets that and those are important posts to look at. People like writing them because they get attention, they stir up emotion. Challenger, we’re all looking at that. Those are some of the most interesting elements of sharing a response to a topic or challenging other bloggers to run their own blog and starting this whole circle of people challenging one another on their blogs and following the theme. Events, sharing an opinion on an event that’s happening at a particular time.
So this is cool stuff, but this slide alone should open everyone’s doors to the possibility of what should I write for my blog this month. These are techniques, these are styles, this is tactical stuff that I think you could take with you today.
Casey: It’s almost like an ingredient list, when you look at it. Each of them could be used independently or they might be used together to create something entirely different. Insight, and take you back for example, it gives you an idea of what do I have available to create what I need?
Byron: Yeah. What resources do I have? How do I direct?
Mike: Where did you come up with these? Did you just think about it really hard? Because I can see, I can imagine each of these things but it seems like a lot of work to come up with it all. Is it your internal research?
Byron: It’s everything that all of our writers do. It’s looking at orders and looking at researching topics and talking like smart people like Casey and other people I work with and Mia. This is just what you have to do if you’re in the business of writing. It’s like you know Mike how do you come up with that idea for the new killer report that you’re generating in beta right now? I mean this is what we do for a living.
Casey: What would be interesting Mike added to your question, is Byron, after you’ve completed this work, to be able to take somebody who’s not been part of it, give them these blog styles or writing styles, and give them a large sample set of let’s say different blogs, like 50 to 100 blogs, and see how easy it is for somebody to actually use that guideline to categorize those blogs or if they find themselves struggling. You have the insight of 20 years of doing this and all the writers who work for you and so forth, but then is it transferrable and does it make sense to the world that we live in? That would be just a curiosity of mine, academic curiosity of course.
Mike: I just broke my whiskey glass.
Byron: I was going to say what? That was the first actual breaking of a glass or whatever it was that we’ve had on a webinar.
Mike: I was going back for another sip of some Johnny Walker and dropped my whiskey little thing.
Byron: So SpyFu don’t be a dick drink whiskey. All right, here’s what I call the writing style barometer, that’s probably not a good name for it, maybe you guys have a better name, but again, you’re trying to gauge, as we were talking about earlier Mike, so I want my content to be straightforward style. So I want it less like as quickly as possible and more like pronto. So it’s sort of showing somebody, cut to the chase, you know inspiring apply decoration, jazz it up. Proper organization – are your ducks lined up? I just love this. You’re going to see something here in a second with what we’re trying to do.
Next is tone of voice, which is probably the most fun part. When people think of style and style guides, and what style do you want me to write, there are a lot of elements to writing style. But the most fun element is tone of voice, and it’s also without question the most difficult to master. And the reason it’s so difficult, I think now more than ever, now there are so many different types of styles. I just showed you 18 of them and then another 22 blog styles. You have all these different styles out there. It’s impossible to master all of these styles, no one could ever do it. It’s impossible. And that’s both good news and bad news. The challenge is writers, and particularly freelance writers at WriterAccess are being asked to write and be very modular. I call it style flexing or tone of voice flexing. You’ve got to get good at flexing and our best writers are absolutely writers that can flex and adapt to the different needs. The problem is articulating those needs, which is hopefully what we’re going to get to.
So that’s sort of tone of voice quick summary there.
Mike: In regard to tone of voice I have one question and clarification. So earlier you showed a lot of different elements that play into style and also described it as personality expressed in writing I believe. And so I know tone is an instrumental part in that but how do you see tone as being just one of those parts of writing style, how do you see it differing from writing style as a whole? Is it just a part and not the whole? What’s the distinction between the two? Between writing style and tone?
Byron: I think I’ve got a good slide on that. If I were to verbally describe it I’d say tone of voice is one element of writing style, you know punctuation, jargon, syntax, there are many different elements of writing style. Writing style’s a big picture element of all of these things. Tone of voice is only one element.
Mike: So would tone be like irreverent versus formal and you have those styles that are be short and to the point or be a story teller? Because I can talk about something in a relatively flowery way, how we’re not dicks during customer service events, but I could also be like short and to the point SpyFu not dicks. About as short and to the point as you can be, you know what I mean?
Byron: Yes, so that my first question answered maybe Casey’s question. My first answer was maybe Casey’s was how does tone of voice fit with style and I see and I might be wrong on this Casey, I mean you’re the academic. Correct me if I’m wrong but I see writing style overall as the big picture element and tone of voice is only one element within writing style.
Casey: I definitely agree with that. Not that I’m the expert in this particular area but I think that what I’ve seen is that tone is usually referred to as kind of your attitude towards the subject and the audience. Where writing style is the manner in which you communicate. So I agree with you that that attitude feeds into the manner in which you communicate or the style. I think both of them in what you have expressed here, personality expressed in writing can be part of your attitude toward the subject and it can be part of your writing style.
Byron: Fair enough. We’ll all agree that writing style in general is complex, right, and it’s drawing on different elements like tone of voice, diction, use of punctuation, word choice, sentence and paragraph length, abstract versus concrete imagery. There are a whole bunch of different elements to writing style. Tone of voice is only one of them.
Mike: Can we talk about the relationship aspect? Like I’m thinking for us it would be, we are sort of like your peer educators, we’re like tutoring you but we’re not like your recessor. We’re able to just speak to you in your same language, we’re part of your peer group, but we understand math really well, or whatever.
Casey: Maybe in that sense the tone would be how you feel about your peers. So there might be a common respect, how you feel about the subject matter is one of which you feel you have mastery of.
But the manner of which you express that respect or that control can take place through all these different literary devices. You could use figurative speech or the words that you choose, you could use opine or think through something. That becomes the way your tone is manifested in your writing style.
Mike: Okay. Can I have one more question? You’ve heard about how there’s two ways to write sales copy. There’s not only two ways but if I divide it into two ways, one is to assume that your potential customer knows both sides of the arguments, is basically educated on what they’re trying to buy, and you tell them “Well, here’s the benefit and here’s the drawback, here’s both sides of this things. The others say “Let me just tell you all about everything that’s good and I’m not going to tell you anything about anything that’s bad.” Is that part of tone or style then?
Byron: Style, definitely. That’s actually part of the…whoa, I don’t even know where I would put that. But that’s a particular content asset in developing a style for that asset, and it’s related more to the, what’s the purpose of the content, what’s the goal of it, and therefore what content should drive that goal? That’s more of a content related issue, not even a style issue. I mean style is going… it’s different material, different content that is really the driver. Not so much the style. Imagine the style comes in when you know what you’re going to say and it’s all bullet-pointed out, the direction you’re going, now you have to put it into a style. This slide right here helps to explain the different elements of tone of voice. Is it authoritative or informative? Academic or friendly?
So again you’re taking those eight bullet points and by the way the content is different for those two sales letters. There’s eight different bullet points for each of those sales letters. Maybe four have overlapped but you’re making different points, so we could get into a whole discussion about that as well.
Mike: I guess my confusion there was that my relationship with the person I felt like would be different since I’m kind of assuming or kind of treating them like they are, I’m assuming that they’re either smart or more educated or less educated on the buying.
Casey: This is where it translates to a tone. In making the decision on how to best communicate with your audience and what content to choose that’s the how of it. It may overlap with writing style but it’s possibly not directly related to what Byron’s presented right now, except in the way that you’ve described. If that decision is coming from an attitude and that is my customers are uninformed or unwilling then it’d be cast in a way that’s not negative or coming from a place where they know everything about this, then that is a disposition or an attitude you have about your customers. And I do think that’s an integral part of tone.
Byron: Personas are where you’re seeing me now. Those two sales letters would have been written from two different personas you put together and you’re trying to test to see which of the individuals that you’re targeting is going to get a better response and you’re creating that for the two different personas. So you’re beginning to see how this is coming together.
Let’s go to another one here. And that’s how personal is your tone of voice. I love this example. We all probably know American Idol. These are three very very different people, right? With three different, very different personalities. So the question is “Which personality is best associated with your company and your brand? Mike? What are your thoughts on that?
Mike: Which one of these is best associated with my brand?
Mike: Oh, hmm, I’ve never watched American Idol, so I only know of Simon Cowell and I only know of Paula Abdul from her '80s or early '90s music. So I guess Randy Jackson maybe?
Byron: The important thing is you have to make a choice, right? It doesn’t matter who these people are and it’s very hard to do but it forces you down a pipeline to say “Wow! These are very different opinions. Gosh I don’t know which one I should be.” That’s a bad sign. If you don’t have a sense for what your company’s tone of voice should be, you need to find it quickly.
So the requirements we talked a little bit about, we don’t need to go into it in too much detail, and the performance element as well. I actually want to look at any questions that people may have had in just a second. I’m going to go through this performance but I encourage anybody to ask questions for all of us and I’m going to dive in an answer them.
But I think the good news is there is a way to measure performance of content. Mike’s been in tune with WordVision and Mike has his own entire platform on measuring success and guiding you on achieving success with search engines.
But in looking at the impact of the content you’ve published in terms of improved search positions and looking at how much additional traffic has come to your sight for keywords you’re focusing on, looking at time on sight and on particular pages is easy to measure. Looking at return visitation can be a key indicator for whether your content marketing investments are paying off. Looking at the content asset downloads and actually correlating those assets as it downloads to your actual sales, either in SalesForce or some other mechanism you may use to track that, and looking of course at conversion rates. And people often overlook, people tend to hyper focus, would they be testing in multivariant testing as Mike and I were talking about earlier, and probably you too Casey with some of your customers and even at your own site.
But really I think content surrounding those conversion pages can have a huge influence, so you need to keep your eye on the ball and how much content you’re publishing, where you’re publishing it, where people are coming from to really get a feel for what’s happening.
So I’m super psyched to introduce this content style wizard which I’m going to give everybody the link for in about one second. Now our writing style guide, I just have a couple quick slides on it and then I’m going to try to show you the actual wizard or give you the URL and everybody can go there and play with it. Matter of fact, Mike can go there right now, I’ll fast forward the link that Mike can go to and Casey as well. Go to WriterAccess.com/style-guide-wizard, and you can start to take the little wizard test and see if it floats your boat or what you think of it. And there’s a feedback button on step six.
What we’ve tried to do is first of all just make it easy for anyone, any company, any person to create a style guide. Difficult to do, believe me. And really I just want to explain to you quickly the importance of a style guide, and that’s to really get everybody on the same page. Writers, creative team members, and even employees on the same page. So a writing style guide can take a number of different forms. It can be a simple two or three page or even a one page document. It can be an addendum to a branding guide that you’re putting together. It can be a white paper where you bullet point some things that become the essence of what you want to write about or it could even make it’s way into a task list. So there isn’t an official writing style guide that I feel needs to exist. But it certainly should involve your marketing team and your writers and your employees and your customer service specialists and of course content strategist if you have one and the other important thing is everyone should use it, especially employees.
And what isn’t a writer a writer guide? That should be talked about. It’s not always necessary for simple content projects. It’s not a long summary of how great your company is or your products or your services. Trust me that does not help writers, it probably hurts their ability to write well for you. It doesn’t guide them for the style and the tone that they need direction on and it’s not an all-in-one document that applies to all of your creative projects.
Some rules for style guides? Every angle, you need to think about that, I think it needs to be inspirational, you need to write it to try to inspire writers and not to just tell them how great you are. And you need to of course, don’t hype things up too much, find a deeper way to communicate what you need to in that brief. So these are just a few elements, you can read them yourself.
So here’s the writing style wizard. Everyone can take a look at it, poke at it, play with it, there’s a great element of feedback on the last screen as I said. It actually prints out a pdf document so have some fun with it. See where your thoughts are, welcome your feedback and opinion.
But for now let’s go to any questions anyone has and any feedback from our panelists on the presentation.
Mike: Great presentation. I was just going through the wizard. I was trying to fill out my own brand stuff and I appreciate that you have in the industry dropdown, I was like, am I like computer services, or internet, there’s always these really generic ones, and you happen to have search marketing, yes! So that was a direct hit. I am trying to figure out, I’m trying to think about how, we just got done or not just done, we’re in the process of, we just published like 10 articles on helping people sell SEO. It’s kind of like our report, the SEO Recon Report, it’s basically designed to help consultants and SEO agencies sell their services. And so we wrote a bunch of content around how to sell SEO.
And quite honestly, we’re profitable writing that content and just to give you an idea of the way that we actually measure it, I just try to break even on the content from the perspective of I look at Google analytics, and I basically say “Well, of the content that we just produced, how much money have we made in terms of goals. Everyone has a goal funnel and we just created an advanced segment, and that advanced segment happens to be our selling SEO articles, and then we look at our conversion area of our Google analytics and see how much money we’ve made and how much we make per visitor. And in about two weeks we’ve made about $2,000 out of 10 articles.
So it’s, I mean, you can imagine amortizing that over a year, it’s pretty profitable, so I’d definitely like to be able to scale it, so that sort of thing. And then curious whether or not you think that I could use your platform to actually generate content that’s that sort of, that’s focused in that way. It’s kind of like you have to have at least a reasonable amount of industry knowledge if not industry empathy in order to tell SEO consultants or agencies to talk to them in any intelligent way about how to sell their own services. And of course we sort of soft sell recon files and those things. So my sort of concern has been like, well I can generate this sort of content, and it costs us maybe $500 an article, but how do I do that in super hyper scale. Because I’ve got like 100 ideas of content that we could write but I only have five writers on staff. How do I scale that?
Byron: So first you could certainly use the WriterAccess platform to do that, but the way to do that, we try to solve this problem. You’ve reached a pain point that really all customers have. How do I know that I’m going to get what I want?
Interestingly enough the answer is not “Oh well we have 5,000 writers, and we’ve got tons of writers and they’re all great.” The answer is much more complex. It’s number one – how can you screen writers and find the writers you like?
We’ve created something called casting call that allows you to do that, where you can put in a three to five sentence description of what you just described and what you’re looking for. You can then have writers free of charge apply to you, saying, “Please choose me. Here’s why.” You can then test them out on an article and all is well.
But here’s where it fails. I’ll be honest. It fails typically because the customer can’t articulate exactly what they want until they see what they don’t want. So it becomes a guessing games for writers to guess what’s inside your head. We’ve tried to solve that by creating this wizard for example. We’ve also tried to solve that with something super innovative called voice communication where you can get on, ramble on on a message without even talking to the writer and attach that recording to the call so you may articulate somehow better with your voice somehow better than with the written word exactly what you’re looking for.
So it’s hard to summarize that but you would probably get a lot of that, like you Mike alone, would be a very good guinea pig for that because the way you talk and approach ideas about your company someone would probably immediately get a flavor for what you’re looking for.
Mike: Yeah actually that’s how I do it in-house, I use Camtasia, and I’ll actually sit there and ramble about an article for like twenty minutes, and I’ll do like five articles at a time and then I send people like a screen cast of it. That’s interesting how you guys…
Byron: It hasn’t caught on. Customers have been slow to adopt that as a method to enter orders. I’m not sure why but I think it’s because of the way we set it up. We set it up charging the customer like .25 cents a minute and kind of a lousy job of explaining to them how it could benefit them. And we weren’t paying the writer to listen to the recording so it was like additional work and writers weren’t supporting it.
So we’ve declared kind of failure on that and we’re going to spin it around backwards and basically change the whole model and say “Okay, it’s a dollar per minute to talk with a writer” or like fifty cents a minute to leave a recording for the writer. And then the writer makes 70 percent of that money, just like they do in our normal model right now. So now a writer can make money, rightfully so, for spending the time on the phone with a customer, or listening to the voicemail, so by spinning it around I think the second take on this will be better.
But back to the writing style because I know we have people who do want to talk about writing style. And of course we’re all interested in helping you and talking about this.
But Casey, you’re playing with the wizard, I’m dying to hear what your take is on it. So what’s your thought on the wizard?
Casey: I’ve actually been listening intently to the conversation you’re just having but I, knowing what we’ve talked about, I appreciate for one that you’re recognizing that practically people are not going to go through a five or six page wizard to complete what they need to do. And that you’re getting at the heart of, just like everything, and I’m going to speak a little bit academically for a second.
You know when we go into, into just any kind of relationship or we go online and looking for businesses, there’s so much information we have to process at any given moment that it’s overwhelming. We know now that we have access to a greater amount of information than we ever have. So we do have a tendency to try to simplify our lives by creating filters.
And even though those filters aren’t always perfect, they can be helpful. So I think you chose an important filter here, starting with industry which is fairly standard, but going into the brand positioning is another key, because some people might think of brands as just a distinguishing mark but in reality it’s what does your company mean to you and to your audience.
And that’s where you’re getting into that first deeper aspect of communication when you talk about meaning. And when you go forward on this, I always like Byron, that you give us something like simple and tangible to grab onto, like the market position, are you an elephant, a lion, or a gazelle? That kind of mnemonics I think will stick with me for a while. I also appreciate that you have these proficiency levels.
As I said earlier, it’s not that we’re trying to create a comprehensive list of the considerations but just like you’re doing with your analytics, you’re picking key performance indicators. So industry knowledge for example, product, service, knowledge, education level, I think are all important. There might be something that speaks to interest, what do you assume their level of interest is in this or what is their ability?
Not their knowledge but what can they do in regards to this? And then their mindset, we talked about that a little bit as well. All of these things to me are kind of preset, they’re filters that give people an immediate way to understand a large amount of data in a quick amount of time. And I think it’s probably right about the right size in my opinion what people will do.
I know right about that third page where I was starting to go, I’m getting in deeper into this, so it may be helpful to have categories to expand and collapse, so people feel like they’re in a position to speak to personality, to tone of voice, that could expand that, fill that section out. That on their own merit, their own right, they’re all important categories that could give a very comprehensive view of what you’re trying to do to a writer so that they could communicate in the voice that you desire.
Byron: The challenge becomes getting the customers to fill this out. And that, I think the writers would greatly benefit from this data and that’s why we feel strongly that we need to give it a try and give it a go. We had an internal debate, for example, on the step five on whether we should include SEO instruction. In this document, is providing keywords relevant?
And I’m kind of hoping that people respond positively to that because there’s so much anti-keyword-stuffing discussion going on right now and it seems pretty clear that, we had an interesting question from somebody, and it was related to could you talk a little bit about post-Penguin and clients wanting longer content? Could you talk about how that affects style? Really good question from Lisa, thank you Lisa. And I would tend to argue that Google’s, with both Penguin and Panda, Google’s making a statement that content matters, links don’t matter as much, content matters more.
I think that there’s been a lot of discussion about longer versus shorter as well. Personally I think that Google’s looking at quality not length.
Casey: I fully agree with you on that. I think even Google says that in its weblog. Google’s trying fundamentally, if we take everything at face value, Google’s trying to provide relevant, high quality content to people’s searches. That’s how they thrive. If they’re unable to do that, their tool’s ineffective, all their advertising dollars are down the drain. I think what Google’s been saying for quite some time is speak to your audience, give them something that they value, and we’re doing our best to create algorithms that reward that.
Now there’s a world out there just like you could be a high-quality person with some amazing ideas and you could show up to an interview dressed in flip flops and un-showered, people aren’t going to listen to you, probably, unless you find a very sympathetic soul. So I think this is where the world of SEO and SCM come in specifically SEO. There’s still a need for putting our best foot forward for that high-quality relevant content is presented in the best possible way.
But I think when you get into the details of, it’s a little audacious for me to be speaking of because this is far more your expertise than mine but it seems to me that when you get into these discussions about should it be a 250 to 300 word article or should it be a 500 word article, again you’re starting to write for the algorithms rather than your audience and if your audience is seeing a 200 word article of value, they’re sharing it widely through social media, it’s being posted on various websites and it’s driving a great deal of traffic to you, that’s going to do far more for you and your ranking than this specific criteria of whether you chose 250 words or you chose 500 words. What do you think? Mike?
Mike: The question is how much spam do you get in your email inbox in 2012 versus five years ago? It’s hardly ever a problem or a consideration anymore. Google’s going in the same direction. It doesn’t matter how much you try to cram stuff in, if it’s not high-quality content it’s not going to get through. So I agree. I would appreciate if some of the selections between authoritative and informative had an example, just like a little question guy there because as I’m going through it there I’m like ”Well I think we’re informative but we’re also an authority” so if you could give me those things in the wizard that’s my one bit of…but the examples are awesome.
Byron: We need to wrap up because we’re about 10 minutes over time, I think we might get cut off a little bit as well, but the net of it is people want to know if this presentation will be available, it will. We had some wonderful comments on some grammatical problems which I can promise you will be cleaned up when I can get this deck over to other people to clean up for me. Thanks for those comments though, spot on, as a leader of a great community of writers I should have the time to finish the deck sooner so I can get it, copy it to my team members. Welcome that comment, I appreciate that.
But hopefully writers, there’s a lot of writers on board for this particular webinar, and I hope we’ve left you with a great understanding that we’re committed to educating and acclimating both clients and writers with new methodology to create better content. And it is difficult, I think writers need tactical training and advice, and I had some great comments on that as well. Can we get more from you, can we get taught how to do things, how can we take our career to the next level? I think those are all really important things that everyone needs and we’ll work hard to deliver some of those variables. But don’t underestimate the power of this presentation as you think back on it. There’s a lot of really important stuff that we went over that my role is more the bridge between customers and writers and trying to find better ways for them to communicate.
So without further ado I just want to thank everybody for being on the line. Feel free to reach out to me and anybody else. Casey how do you want people to get a hold of you and who do you want to get a hold of? And Mike you can answer that question as well.
Casey: They can reach me, I can provide a number through WriterAccess or they can call at 505-264-6771 this is recorded, or reach me at email@example.com. I’m primarily focused on helping businesses harmonize their need for profitability with their audience need for desirable, interesting content. And so if they have any concerns in that regard, I’d love to talk to them.
Mike: Reach out to me at mike@SpyFu.com or on Twitter at @SpyFu, actually don’t check at Mr. Spy as often as I should so you could try @SpyFu, yeah I’m around.
Casey: You provide Byron both our websites so I think we have our contact information there too.
Byron: Yes exactly. I just actually went back to that page to check the proper spelling. I want to thank everyone for tuning in today. I’m hoping you enjoyed the presentation. I’m hoping til next month your content world’s a little smarter, better, faster, and wiser and thanks Mike and Casey for being on the call today.
Casey: Thanks Byron!
Mike: Thanks! Always a pleasure.
Byron: Thanks guys! See you next month. Appreciate it. Bye bye.