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6 Tips for Extracting the Best Out Of Outsourced Writers (For Solopreneurs)

outsource writersDo you often wonder why you bother to outsource?

You’re not disappointed with the writing quality per se, but it’s the generic nature of the content that makes you think twice. If only you had the time—and in some cases the skill—to wear the hat of a writer too.

Let’s get one thing straight: you’re not making a mistake by outsourcing content creation. Sure, there are times when only your perspective, specific skill set, and brand of creativity will do, but outsourced writers can bring a lot to the table, reducing your workload and increasing overall output.

So, how do you ensure your team craft pieces of content and sales copy that accurately represent your brand while hitting the right psychological and emotional triggers? The following tips can help.

1. Understand Your Brand before Defining Your Content Needs 

When writing doesn’t live up to expectations on a branding level, you can almost guarantee that the brand’s image and personality were unclear or not detailed enough. Using words like “professional” and “conversational” provide some direction in terms of tone, but they exclude core personality traits that define how your brand is unique and relatable. It’s no wonder content so often lacks spark.

Before writing your order instructions, consider your brand and strategic intent when describing the ideal voice and tone for the content you’re commissioning. When you convey this effectively, you’ll find your writer is better equipped to use the right language and tone to express the right range of emotions.

2. Choose the Right Subject Experts 

While many writers position themselves to cover a wide range of niches, it helps to have someone with expertise and experience in your industry. Besides having a bank of knowledge to draw from and a good grasp on relevant terminology, the author is likely to keep abreast of the latest industry happenings.

Although you can evaluate a writer based on existing portfolio work, you’d be better off ordering a fresh test piece—preferably one that isn’t high priority. That way, you’ll be able to assess each writer’s strength based on writing quality, ability to adapt to your brand’s personality and voice, ability to write for your target audience, and other pertinent factors you deem crucial for your business. Make sure you sample a good pool of writers before selecting the ones you want to work with on a regular basis.

outsourcing manageable team size3. Build a Team that’s Manageable 

One major benefit of outsourcing content is that you free yourself to focus on other business matters. Unfortunately, you’d be negating that advantage by building a team too large to manage efficiently. Unlike agencies outsourcing content for a variety of clients, you only require a few writers with expertise in your field of work. Be sure to have at least one general content writer on your team for all informative pieces, as well as one persuasive copywriter for all printed and digital marketing collateral.

4. Learn To Write Clear Project Instructions 

If you’re tired of run-of-the-mill articles, then you need to make sure you’re providing detailed briefs that effectively guide writers into producing content that packs a punch. Include details regarding your objective, target audience, SEO considerations, preferred writing style, and brand voice. Provide links to supporting information or websites, add examples of content you love, and clearly establish what you don’t want. The key is to direct writers without smothering their creativity.

5. Manage Your Content Strategy and Editorial Calendar Wisely 

Once you find writers you love, you want them to be available for your projects. The best way to guarantee this is to map your content in advance (with a little leeway for breaking news) and then efficiently manage your publishing schedule. Giving writers enough lead-time often results in better, more fully developed ideas. Be sure to account for editing and revision time so you don’t find yourself in a time crunch unnecessarily.

6. Treat Your Writers Right 

You don’t need to put writers on payroll permanently to make them stick around. Simply make them care about you as a client and foster their passion for your brand. Besides being a pleasant person to work with, how do you accomplish that?

  • Build strong working relationships with authors so they feel they’re contributing to something meaningful.
  • Praise them when they’re doing an amazing job.
  • Provide useful feedback to help them understand your preferences.
  • Understand there will be a learning curve that requires some give and take. 

By treating writers well, you help develop a sense of accountability. This generally leads to better content. Don’t forget that if you no longer find a particular writer meets your expectations, you simply don’t have to order content from that freelancer anymore. Eliminating the anxiety of firing someone is one of the many benefits of outsourcing.

Since content significantly affects your SEO, lead generation, nurturing, and customer acquisition efforts, you must ensure your writers deliver great content consistently. A successful outcome depends on your ability to extract the best work from your content creation team. Start with the tips above and the battle is almost won.

 

What are your greatest struggles when it comes to outsourcing content creation? Share your stories with us in the comment section.  

7 Tips for Extracting the Best Out Of Outsourced Writers (For Agencies)

outsourcing contentQuality is a common concern for marketing agencies outsourcing written content. After all, you not only have to commission the creation of content assets that fulfill the needs of your clients, but you also need to ensure your team of writers make you and your brand look great. That requires reliability, loyalty, subject expertise, consistency, and a serious display of writing chops in the people you hire.

The following tips serve as a guideline for extracting content you’d be proud to resell to clients—the type of content created by writers who are dedicated to quality, accuracy, and consistency.

Tip #1: Look for Writers with the Right Expertise and Skill Sets

It takes time to find qualified wordsmiths who possess niche-specific knowledge. It takes even longer to find copywriters who could sell water to a drowning man. No matter how long it takes, the wait is worth it to get the job done right every time. Aim to build a team of authors who have experience writing for the industries your typical clients target. Besides producing thoughtful pieces with accurate information and detailed insight, writers with expertise in a particular subject are likely to have a better grip on relevant buyer personas and industry trends.

Tip #2: Sample a Reasonable Number of Writers

Reward doesn’t often come without trial, which is why you should be prepared to sample plenty of writers before narrowing down your options. Set a small portion of your budget aside to order test articles that are designed to measure certain performance factors. Right off the bat, you should evaluate candidates based on their quality levels, writing style, and ability to adapt to a brand’s voice and personality. Although results may be subjective, you know what you’re looking for in a writer. Just as you wouldn’t implement a marketing action without testing in place, don’t commission content on a client’s behalf without first finding a writer you can trust to deliver content your client will love.

Tip #3: Master the Art of Compiling a Great Editorial Brief

Extracting the best work from a freelancer depends largely on your ability to provide clear and concise instructions. An editorial brief is your opportunity to provide direction and set expectations for a particular piece so that you’re not disappointed with the result. To ensure your brief positions a writer effectively, be sure to include the following:

  • The Content’s Objective – Always let writers know what your client wants the content to achieve. Whether it’s conversion metrics like sales, signups, and social shares or editorial goals like educating consumers and promoting your client’s unique selling proposition, telling writers upfront allows them to craft content around the main objective.
  • The Target Audience’s Profile – Tell your writer about the individuals your client aims to connect with so that the writing style and language will resonate with the right people. Make certain you also fully comprehend who the buyer persona is before you relay this type of information.
  • Your Client’s Brand Voice – In order for a writer to ensure your client’s content is on-message, consistent, and perceived desirably, you need to provide relevant details regarding the style and tone the writing should convey. Provide writers with existing examples so that there’s cohesiveness no matter who pens the material.
  • Supporting Information and Resources – If there’s specific research, examples, information, links, or other data your client wants incorporated into the content, make sure you provide those details in your brief.
  • Basic Project Specs – From content type and word count to paragraph requirements and SEO considerations, your brief needs to cover the basics. If you’re working on something a little more in-depth than a blog post, you may want your writer to provide project updates so be clear about those expectations too. 

To ensure the efficiency of your agency, it’s best to build templates for certain types of projects or clients and keep them on file. While you don’t want a brief to be too restrictive that it stifles a writer’s creativity, you don’t want it’s vagueness to result in generic content.

Tip #4: Keep Deadlines in Mind

5 Practical Keep Deadlines in MindThings to Look For In A Social Media Editorial Calendar TemplateProviding a writer with plenty of lead-time not only allows time for ideas to marinate and develop, but it provides time for editing and revisions. Refining content can take time, and while some people work better under pressure, last minute orders don’t always render the best results. You also can’t guarantee your preferred freelancer will be available to accommodate your needs. Managing an editorial calendar for clients can help you keep things on track but be sure to schedule projects with writers as far in advance as possible. This also gives freelancers an opportunity to ask relevant questions and gain additional information about your client if needed.

Tip #5: Offer Constructive Feedback

Take the time to offer thoughtful critiques your writing team can use now and in the future. If your clients offer positive or constructive feedback, you should pass it on so your writers know how well they’re performing. Constructive criticism will ensure they continue to do the things your clients love while helping them identify areas that demand improvement.

Tip #6: Build a Solid Relationship with Your Writing Team

build relationships with valued freelancersAlthough you might never be in the same office, you want writers who are as passionate about your projects as you are. A major part of that is making feel like they’re a vital part of your team. Whether it’s dropping them a quick note in your next order or sending an email to let them know you appreciate their work, try to engage them as you would engage in-house staff. This can help cultivate a greater sense of accountability with better content being the by-product.

Tip #7: Create a Review Process

The great thing about outsourcing from a provider like TCA is that our team already has a review process in place to monitor quality levels. What you should do, though, is monitor writers on your favorites list and conduct an internal review after every few projects. That way, you’ll be able to track progress and ensure a particular writer is consistently delivering the stellar content your clients have come to enjoy from your brand.

The crucial thing to keep in mind is that your firm doesn’t need to add a full-time editorial team to payroll. Outsourcing a task like writing is a cost-effective solution that keeps both yours and your client’s expenses to a minimum. The trick is to find the right writers who produce a consistent level of quality content you’d be happy to white-label before selling it on to clients. Use the tips above to build a top-notch outsourced writing team you can count on for exceptional content.

 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced when finding writers for your firm? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

Content Readability: The Success Factor You Can’t Ignore

Are you paying attention to the readability of your content?

Tips to Improve Content ReadabilityIf your focus is on technical terminology and a beautiful page design, then the chances are that readability is a little further down your priority list. Unfortunately, it might be the element of quality content you need to master before you find success online. After all, if readers can’t enjoy what you’ve written, you can’t expect them to stay on your page and remain engaged.

What Is Readability?

In essence, readability is the quality of writing and language use that makes it easy to read, as well as understand.

Wikipedia expands on this concept by detailing metrics observed in an effort to measure readability. These include…

“…speed of perception, perceptibility at a distance, perceptibility in peripheral vision, visibility, the reflex blink technique, rate of work (e.g., speed of reading), eye movements, and fatigue in reading.”

Although there are many formulas to score readability, few of them factor in the design, organization, visual elements, content, and purpose of a text.

What Affects The Readability Of Your Writing?

Readability takes into account reading ease, your writing style, the quality of your language, and the level of reading comprehension. However, it also factors in the design and presentation of your writing. While these latter elements technically fall into the category of legibility, they aid in improving the readability of a text as they influence user experience. How the words on your page look can affect the speed at which a reader is able to work through a piece of text. Although you can’t control every aspect of readability, there are some things you can do to enhance a reader’s enjoyment.

Why Is Readability So Important?

The reality is that very few people read web pages word by word these days. Instead, they prefer to scan for words and phrases that help them get the gist of what you’re saying without wasting precious time. It’s for this reason that readability has serious implications for the way you structure your content marketing messages.

When we read, our eyes don’t move across a page smoothly. Rather, our eyes make discreet jumps from word to word, fixating on each one for approximately 200-250 milliseconds. While this is happening, there’s a cognitive process taking place that allows us to recognize the shape of a word and then translate it into something that has meaning. When we scan or speed read, we expand our eye span to incorporate clusters of words so that there are fewer eye movements.

Good readability ensures readers are able to scan quickly, process the piece of text they’re seeing, and then understand its meaning. As a result, readability should be a priority if you hope to influence as many people as possible with your message.

18 Tactics to Help Get Your Content Read

To ensure your content is not only easy to read, bust also remains competitive within a noisy online environment, here are 18 best practices for improving the readability of your writing:

1. Use a good font size

While you don’t want your text to be too big, you also don’t want it to be too small, as it can lead to eyestrain. Thankfully, modern web design not only caters to a variety of devices and display resolutions, but it also allows for a flexible, scalable approach that adapts to personal browser settings. Use percentages rather than absolute sizes when setting the size of your fonts. 

2. Maintain a reasonable line height

The line-height property establishes the amount of white space above and below each line of text. Also called leading, a good line height provides clarity by ensuring the shapes of letters and words are recognizable. Although your line spacing will depend on your font size, the following example shows you how leading can hamper readability.

Content readability tip - line-height or leading

Be careful not to provide too much line height as it makes your use of vertical page space inefficient.

3. Use a clean and simple font style

There’s no denying that font styles can get complicated, resulting in bad design choices that destroy the legibility of a text. Even in cases where the most legible typeface is used, a font’s creative elements might not lend itself to easy reading.

As a result, you should avoid styles that are too edgy, fancy, or decorative. Differentiate between headlines and the paragraphs that follow, but make sure you use a typeface that’s compatible with good web design and user experience. Consider using sans serif fonts like Arial, Geneva, Helvetica, Verdana, Trebuchet, or Tahoma as they lack small finishing strokes that easily blur together. Alternatively, you can try a reasonably designed serif font with as little distinct flair as possible.

4. Use short sub-headlines

Since people tend to skim content, it’s crucial to use short, meaningful headlines to break up monotonous text patterns. Besides making a web page easier to read, sub-headlines act as a teaser and indicate that the following paragraphs contain a new idea. Ideally, a sub-headline should be bold and slightly larger than the content below it.

5. Be smart about paragraphs

Most readers find that large blocks of text are hard to digest. Thankfully, chunking can help alleviate this problem. Besides adding necessary white space for improved scannability and readability, paragraphs give structure to your written work.

Here are some things you should know about creating smart paragraphs:

  • While conventions for length vary, paragraphs should be adapted according to medium, subject, and audience. Ideally, a paragraph should be no less than three sentences and no more than six.
  • Try not to add more than three paragraphs under a single heading.

  • Make sure each paragraph contains a single, developed idea.
  • Use connectives like “Nonetheless,” “Besides,” “However,” “Furthermore,” and “Alternatively” to unify your writing between and within paragraphs.
  • Paragraph shape can vary depending on the text you’re chucking together. While APA guidelines call for an indent on the first line of text and no white space between paragraphs, block paragraphs are more appropriate for readability on the web.

Content readability tip - paragraphs

6. Keep your writing simple and consistent

Concise, simple, and focused writing keeps your message clear. Jargon throws readers off while inconsistency confuses them. As a result, you should keep your sentences short and get to the point quickly. Bear in mind that your tone and use of punctuation also affects the readability of your content.

7. Use bullet points and numbered lists

Bullet points and lists grab attention, create white space, help structure content, and aid in the consumption of information quickly. All of these benefits contribute to easy reading and better comprehension.

8. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters

A mixture of capital and lowercase letters is easier to read than sub-headlines and content that consists purely of uppercase text. The difference in letter height assists with scanning while a combination of cases gives words shape. In turn, readers recognize words quickly, which makes for easier reading.

9. Apply style choices appropriately

Using italics, making certain words bold, or highlighting keywords can help emphasize the information you’re trying to deliver. However, you need to consider these style choices carefully as they can help with scannability, but hinder readability if there are too many.

10. Avoid poor contrast

In addition to annoying readers and weakening engagement levels, low contrast text can cause eye fatigue. This is especially true for readers who are visually impaired. Therefore, you should think about readability first and visual appeal second. If you opt against classic color combinations that include darker text on a lighter background, be sure to consider things like color brightness.

Content readability tip - color contrast

Examples of high and low color contrasts

You might also want to think about building typographic contrast into your headlines and sub-headlines by making them noticeably different to the type you’ve used for your paragraph text. A larger or darker text for headlines is ideal for guiding readers through your content.

11. Avoid busy backgrounds

There’s nothing like a noisy background to distract visitors and hinder readability. Case in point:

Content readibility tip - avoid busy backgrounds

If your website or blog has a creative background image, make certain that the layer behind your text doesn’t interfere with the way words look or an individual’s ability to read them.

12. Leverage images with captions

Breaking text patterns with visual stimuli like images can make a piece of content easier to read, as well as help readers remain focused. Captions on images are also a popular reference point for scanners since an individual’s eyes tend to drift down naturally when seeing an image. Therefore, you should not only consider images that support your text, but you should also include persuasive, interesting captions that compel people to read further.

13. Avoid awkward text wraps

Wrapping text around images or other elements often causes text to break awkwardly. This interrupts a reader’s rhythmic eye movement and interferes with an individual’s scanning speed. Text wraps also create blank lines, thin columns of text, and issues with hyphenation. If you do choose to use a text wrap, make sure it lends itself to a well-balanced design and that it enhances readability rather than hinders it.

14. Use an inverted pyramid

If you’re unfamiliar with the inverted pyramid, then look at this eye tracking research published by the Nielson Norman Group.

Reading habits - eye-tracking studies

Eye tracking study: Heatmaps from three different websites indicate where readers focused most. Gray areas failed to attract fixations while red areas were looked at the most.

If you scour the web, you’ll find many different opinions regarding the inverted pyramid as a style of writing. Since most readers search for the content they read, the belief is that they’re already interested in what you have to say. However, it’s crucial to realize that the hook and setup for a good piece of writing needs to be at the top of the page where a reader’s eyes naturally go when viewing content. Other readability factors and your call to action won’t matter if you can’t get people to move past the headline and first few paragraphs.

15. Keep lines of text a reasonable length

Long lines of text that travel across an entire web page are frowned upon when it comes to reading comfort. They’re hard on the eyes, and they cause fatigue. You also increase the chance of readers losing their place. Although you don’t necessarily want multiple columns, you should at least use a single column to control the width of your text. Ideally, you want to aim for 50-60 characters before the sentence breaks off onto the next line.

16. Avoid clutter

Clutter can affect the readability of your text, as well as dilute its relevancy. A clean, professional, and streamlined look will prevent distractions and improve a reader’s experience.

17. Make sure links look like links

Although there are many conventions for making a link look like a link, the important thing here is to use them wisely when assessing the readability of a page. Too many links can be distracting, affecting a person’s retention of information and drawing readers away from your article. Links placed appropriately within your text can improve scannability. Words or phrases that are underlined but aren’t clickable can frustrate readers and decrease user experience. Therefore, you should pay attention to your linking habits and only use links when necessary.

18. Check your text with a test

Readability tests and standards can help ensure your writing style meets the reading level of your target audience. While formulas and scoring measures may differ, these tools provide similar results in terms of understanding the reading ease of your content. Most word processing software contains built-in readability tests these days, but you can always search for testing tools online to check your text.

Common readability tests include:

  • Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: This formula produces a result that’s measured on a scale of 1-100. The higher the score, the easier the content is to read.
  • Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: Results are given according to academic grade level, with a 7th-8th grade reading level being a recommended standard.
  • SMOG Index: This test also scores text based on a grade level between 1 and 12.
  • Cloze test: This formula offers a great way to measure readability and reading comprehension. You should aim for a score of 60% or more.
  • Gunning Fog Index: While this scoring scale starts at 1, complex text can reach index readings in the high teens. However, you should aim for an index reading of 8 or less for a universal understanding of a specific piece of content.

Online tools you might want to try:

The great thing about many of these tools is that they allow you to measure content you’ve already published. When the option is available, simply insert the relevant URL into the search field, click the accompanying button, and then wait for the tool to work its magic. This gives you an opportunity to find blog posts or pages of content that require improvements in the readability department. As you practice with these tools, you’ll find it becomes easy to write content at a comfortable reading level.

 

Conclusion

Effective communication is essential for content marketing success. The way you write and structure your content influences the way readers consume your message. By practicing design literacy and making readability a priority, you ensure your target audience enjoys your content and receives your key message even when they’re simply scanning.

 

How do you ensure your content is easy to read? Share your tips and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

10 Examples of Content Your Audience Will Love

In the ever-challenging quest to reign as king of the Internet, businesses and online marketers are constantly searching for ways to captivate and connect with their audience members. Experts encourage the creation of engaging content, but that can be a complex undertaking if you’re not sure what that type of content should look like.

In this post, we break down 10 key elements of remarkable content that’s destined to be remembered, as well as provide examples you can use as inspiration.

1. Content That Educates

Content that educates

Let’s face it: you’re bound to remember a massive gold billboard with a fun, interesting fact in raised lettering. Science World excels at creative and educational content that attracts attention and gets the brain juices flowing. Check out a Google image search of their ads for more inspiration. You might want to create tutorials in a visually appealing format like an infographic, tackle an engaging how-to blog post that provides the kind of insight readers won’t find anywhere else on the web, or reveal tips, secrets, tactics, and strategies that turn conventional thinking on its head.

2. Content That Tells a Story or Takes Audiences on a Journey

Combine a relevant song, great animation, and a plotline about the goodness of old-school farming and you have a recipe for success. From how it all started to behind-the-scenes footage, the creative marketing team at Chipotle appears to have a knack for telling the brand’s story. Are you taking your audience on a journey that tells them about the birth of your brand or what you’re currently doing to improve your products?

3. Content That Encourages

Whether it’s to be brave, never give up hope, or do something to make someone else’s life better, the message your content sends can be encouraging and powerful. With nearly four million views for this upload alone, Pfizer hits the nail on the head with a tearjerker that encourages us to work together for a healthier world.

4. Content with an Element of Surprise or an Unexpected Ending

There’s nothing like a good plot twist or unexpected ending to captivate the mind. This one is not only sweet and memorable, but it’ll make you want to pick up the phone and call your dad. Not before downing some Robinsons double concentrated orange juice, of course.

5. Content That Offers a Different Perspective or Confirms a Belief

Content that shows different perspectives

With more than 750,000 people watching live online, an additional 100,000 views in the following days, loads of press coverage, tons of user-generated content, and follow-up merchandise like DVDs and video downloads, many would agree that the “Creation vs Evolution Debate” was a raging viral success. All it took was two different opinions and a controversial topic.

While there’s no denying you can find steadier ground in terms of subject matter, adding a new perspective to an industry-related conversation can be a great way to generate buzz for your brand. Entice a few industry experts with differing view points, set up a Google Hangout, and let your content do the rest. If you’re not comfortable with a live audience, record a video or write a great blog post that explains your perspective or beliefs on a particular topic.

6. Content That Brings On the Feels

Okay, so we’re cheating a little here because we’re not just talking about one piece of content. We’re talking about hundreds of YouTube stars who spend their waking moments creating content that makes an impact on millions of people every day. They share their lives, they share their creativity, and they connect with viewers. Most importantly, they make people care about them.

It’s because of this emotional investment that their new vlogumentary is geared for success. The trailer alone hits all the right triggers. While these YouTubers haven’t necessarily established business brands, their personal brands have enough pulling power to attract promotional deals and other revenue-generating opportunities–all because they make people feel.

Start thinking about ways you can produce content that evokes the right emotions. Consider a piece that incites action, raises awareness, reminds people that they’re beautifully unique, shows the underdog winning, throws out a challenge, or reminds people they can achieve anything. If you can do that, you’ll soon have people invested in you, your brand, and your products or service offerings.

7. Content That Induces Laughter

Just when you think you’re watching the trailer for a new horror film this happens…


Although this ad is fairly old, Dirt Devil has managed to rake in more than 30.3 million plays on Vimeo, as well as millions more on social media sites like YouTube. Their commercial parody of The Exorcist may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but people are still commenting on its ability to incite giggles more than two years down the line. A successful piece of content? We’ll let you decide.

8. Content That Entertains

Content that entertains

Besides creating awesome educational content that captivates audiences worldwide, the Discovery Channel develops plenty of interactive content that they heavily promote across their marketing platforms. The screenshot you see above is one of the games the brand has developed around its programming. They also publish trivia sheets and post polls that generate good feedback and entertain followers.

9. Content that’s Unexpected


AXE campaigns are usually centered on the “ladies’ man,” so when the brand breaks away from its usual style, people tend to notice. Surprise your fans and take a risk. Create content that successfully catches people off guard, and you might just have a viral hit on your hands.

10. Content That Reinforces the Value of Life


“Help save the birthdays.” That’s a heavy reminder that life is short—and in some cases, shorter than we ever expect. Most of us will always want another moment with a loved one, another milestone to celebrate, and another day to see dreams come true. The ad is only 15 seconds long, but the American Cancer Society does a great job of reinforcing the value of life while encouraging us to donate to a worthy cause.

Which elements would you add to our list? Have you recently seen a memorable piece of content you’d include as an example? We’d love to hear your take on what makes a great piece of content so join the conversation by leaving your comment below.

Free, High-Quality Web Development Tools

Web design graphicWhen you are starting out as a novice web developer, or maybe even if you are pretty good at making websites, it can be difficult to afford some of the mainstream development tools out there. I was super surprised to find out there are a number of completely free (and high-quality) coding programs available.

Aptana Studio

This one is probably one of the richest free programs I’ve ever used. It supports a lot of different development environments, and there are many different customizable features. For instance, you can select from one of many different default profiles for text color in your documents, or you can customize the color of the code. If you are focusing on more than just HTML and CSS, this is a good one.

Netbeans

NetbeansAnother good program for those focusing on many different languages is Netbeans. Really, though, it is best for applications built using JavaScript. If you are brand new to development programs, this one is not for you unless you are a fast learner. It has a big learning curve. One of the best parts about this software (other than it being free) is that the creators have a ton of support documentation and tutorials on the website. It’s really great when you can find a free application and lots of documentation to go with it. It’s also a good program if you are into HTML5 and CSS3.

Notepad++

Notepad++Yes, I know, this is probably the most basic text editor out there, but I have to include it because sometimes less is a lot more. Notepad++ is a step up from the original notepad because you can actually get some development work done. It color-coordinates your code, lets you know when there are basic errors, and allows you to save in virtually any file format. If you are brand new to development, this one is great. It won’t tell you or suggest how to write anything, but there aren’t any confusing tools to learn or get in the way of basic programming. If you are learning the basics of any language, this is a good one to write it with.

HTML-kit

HTML-kitThis is another simple one. It’s like Notepad++, but a little more robust. The cool feature on this one is its search functionality. If you are at all familiar with web development, you know that scanning through lines of code is tedious as…well, it’s tedious. The search function in HTML-kit suggests lines of code in your document as you type. You can also use a drop down menu to select what kind of snippet you are looking for whether it be ids, classes, comments or whatever. The interface is also a bit more like a web development program instead of a text editor. Note that there is a free version and a more full paid version.

Alleycode

Alley-codeThis is a web editor with a twist. I like the features in this one, but there are some big drawbacks. The main thing that concerns me is that it hasn’t been updated in a while, so use it with caution. The reason I mention it here is that it has some cool and relevant features for web designers in today’s world. The most notable are the search engine optimization features. There are some built-in features that allow you to check architecture of your pages for SEO like meta descriptions and other meta tags, and also seeing your page rank on the Alleycode website. Another cool feature is that you can see your updates in real time on their website. I would investigate this one further before you go ahead and use it extensively, but it’s worth looking into.

Chrome Elements Panel

ChromeYes, I know this isn’t an editing program, but I wanted to mention it as a very handy web development tool. In case you are not familiar with it, the Chrome browser (from Google) has an excellent web development tool called the Chrome Elements Panel. You can activate it either by right-clicking while looking at a web page in the Chrome browser, or by pushing F12 (also while viewing in Chrome browser). A panel will appear at the bottom of your screen showing the HTML code on the left that makes up the page and the corresponding CSS to the right.

As you hover your mouse over the HTML tags, you will see the sections highlight on the page above. You can expand and contract the contents of elements on the page by clicking on little arrows in the code. One of the coolest and most useful features is that you can make edits to the code and see how the changes will affect design right on the page!  Note that this is not really editing your code, and only you at that exact moment with that machine and that browser can see the changes. It’s a fantastic tool to figure out why something isn’t behaving like you want it to or to see how a change will affect something before you do it.

You can learn more about the elements panel here: Chrome Elements Panel

 

What free programs or tools have you found useful for web development? Join the conversation by commenting below.

How To Overcome Writer’s Block – 7 Great Tips

From tips on how to improve time management to advice on editing your manuscript, I’ve covered a lot about the subject of writing in the last couple of weeks. However, I haven’t mentioned how to deal with most scribes’ worst enemy – writer’s block. You can manage your time wisely and set yourself up for writing success, but when you experience a mental block, it can throw your whole day into a tailspin. If you’re desperate to learn how to overcome writer’s block, I have some tips that can help you open up the floodgates of words, phrases, paragraphs, lists and more once again.

 

#1 – Change the Setting

Writer’s block has a tendency to set in when you get too accustomed to a routine. If you’ve been writing from the same chair at the same desk for years, it might be time to find a different spot to work. Try taking your laptop to the coffee shop around the corner, or even the public library. Simply relocating to a different room in your house can work wonders, too. A change in scenery might be just the thing to break you out of your slump.

 

Engage Physically to Improve Mentally#2 – Engage Physically to Improve Mentally

I’ve written about the importance of physical activity before, but I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to your mental performance. When you move around, you cause your heart to pump blood more vigorously throughout your body, which has the effect of stimulating your brain. If writer’s block has got you down, a simple walk around the block or a bike ride could get the ideas flowing again.

 

#3 – Inspiration From Music

Although it might not be convenient for you to listen to tunes on the job, music is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to unlocking your brain. The combination of melodies, rhythmic patterns and words can help your mind reconfigure the way it thinks, thus getting you unstuck from your writer’s block. If you’re having trouble getting the ideas to flow, listen to a few tracks on shuffle mode and you’ll be re energized in no time.

 

#4 – Accomplish the Toughest Tasks First

This is one of the key tips for managing your time wisely, but it’s also helpful if you’re wondering how to overcome writer’s block. Begin your day by tackling your toughest projects, and the remainder of your work will come more easily. If you have trouble getting good ideas committed to your hard drive, simply do the best you can – you can always come back to the tough projects later to improve them once you’re feeling the flow again.

 

Stay Consistent as a Writer#5 – Stay Consistent as a Writer

Do you write every day, or do you take days off in between your projects and assignments? If you’re not consistent in your writing, it’s much easier for writer’s block to become an issue. By writing every single day, you keep your writing muscles in shape, and you stave off the specter of writer’s block more easily. Even if you simply write a few sentences on your days off, you will notice an improvement in the ease with which you accomplish your work.

 

#6 – You Are What You Eat

This is one of the world’s oldest cliches, but it’s also true. You are quite literally made of the foods and beverages you consume, so if you subsist on a steady diet of junk food, your brain and body will perform accordingly. If writer’s block is something you’ve been struggling with, try substituting fruits and vegetables for chips and candies. You’ll notice a boost in energy, and you’ll also find that your brain becomes sharper.

 

#7 – Take a Nap

This tip probably seems antithetical to your goal of becoming more productive, but it might be the most powerful piece of advice on this list. If you’re just not coming up with the ideas you need to complete your writing assignments, you probably need to recharge your brain. A simple, 20-minute nap can realign your perspective and give your brain the energy boost it needs to get great ideas flowing once again.

 

Do you suffer from writer’s block? What do you do to get your ideas flowing again? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Essential Tips to Improve Time Management for Writers

Content writing is a great job, and I’m glad I live in a world where I can work from home, set my own hours and get paid to do something that fulfills my need for challenges while taking advantage of my talents with words. If you write for a living, I have little doubt that you feel the same way. Unfortunately, time management for writers is something that most of us seem to struggle with.

Even the most famous and well-regarded writers in history have famously struggled with time management. Some of them have even ignored their deadlines to provide us with some great quotes that illustrate this phenomenon:

The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing” – Alan Dean Foster

I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.” – Oscar Wilde

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” – Rita Mae Brown

Time Management for Writers: Can it Really be Improved?

Can Writers Really Improve Their Time Management?Why writers seem to be so predisposed to procrastination is another topic for another blog article, but you should know that you don’t have to be a prisoner of your propensity to put things off. Just like most other writers, I struggle with time management; however, I’ve found some tools and techniques that work for me when it comes to making sure I use my time wisely and meet deadlines. These tips on time management for writers might not work for you, but I think they’re worth trying if you feel like too much of your time is being spent avoiding your work.

  • Tackle the Most Difficult Project First
    If you’re like me, you have several different writing projects in the hopper at any given time. Unfortunately, one dreaded assignment can make you avoid all of the easier ones. In other cases, you might work on completing all of your “fun” assignments while you continue to push the more difficult writing projects to the back burner. Make a habit of performing your most difficult work as the first thing you do every day, and you’ll definitely improve your ability to meet deadlines.
  • Get Your Butt in Your Chair
    It’s been well-documented that writers like to take walks and pace around their homes as they fiddle with ideas in their brains. This certainly helps me organize my thoughts, but too much pacing around can keep you from the place where you need to be to actually get work done – your chair. Although it takes great willpower sometimes, you need to decide on a timeframe during which you’ll be sitting in your chair and writing. For me, I set aside two to four hours every day (usually first thing in the morning) specifically for being tethered to my writing desk and chair. Once you’re in this position, it’s much easier to avoid procrastination and generate content.
  • Find a Timer That Works for You
    Focus Booster Logo
    Sitting down for two to four hours of straight writing is pretty daunting, which is why I like to schedule regular breaks for myself. Getting into the habit of setting a timer was one of the best things I did for my career as a writer. Personally, I like to use the Focus Booster app. It counts down 25 minutes for work followed by five minutes for a break. It seems like it would be too simple to really work, but I’ve found that it keeps my eyes on my screen and my fingers tapping away at my keys. This makes the hours fly by, and it helps me ensure that I complete my work in a timely manner.
  • Set Clear Goals
    I actually write my daily and weekly writing goals on a sheet of paper because I like the feeling of physically crossing something off of a list. Regardless of how you keep track of your goals, it’s important that you find a system that helps you keep your work in perspective. Make a list of what you need to accomplish and remove it from the list when you’re done with it. You’ll get addicted to completing projects and you’ll feel much better about your productivity.
  • Be Good to Yourself
    On the surface, this one has very little to do with writing. However, I think it’s the most important tip on this list. If you’re running late on a deadline, don’t beat yourself up. If you’re running into a mental block, remind yourself that it happens to every single writer on the planet. Congratulate yourself when you complete a project. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well-done. Writing is a lonely profession most of the time, so it’s up to you to provide positive feedback and a comforting work environment.I believe that it’s also important to take care of yourself physically. Staying hunched in a chair as you come up with content on a daily basis can take a lot out of you, and when your body is unfit, your mind will soon follow. This doesn’t mean that you should join a gym, but you should try to integrate some physical activity into your life in order to give it balance and to ensure that you’re always as sharp as you can be mentally.

Good Habits and a Positive Attitude

Good Habits and a Positive AttitudeAs you can see, most of these tips require you to take action – none of these tips or any other bits of advice will complete your projects for you. The key is to replace some bad habits with some good ones little by little while retaining a positive attitude. Over time, you’ll realize that your accumulated efforts have been paying off in the form of less stress, more free time and clients who want to keep giving you good, lucrative work.

 

Are you a writer who struggles with time management? What do you do to make sure you meet your deadlines? Let us know by dropping us a line or leaving a comment below.

Writing SEO Content: Balancing a Brand and Website Rankings

As SEO or web marketers, our jobs are to promote web properties and get them maximum exposure to an audience that is increasingly spending more and more time online. We read posts and articles every day about the 5 greatest tips for driving traffic to a site or the 10 best ways to optimize your site. We read about thought leaders in the industry and how their tactics have increased traffic rates by hundreds of percentage points. Writing SEO content helps make a site more visible in search. So, its no surprise that when we go to design a website or write content or do anything else related to this field, we tend to think about what’s best for search or what’s best for a bot crawling the web, and not much about the users that are searching for good information.

Writing Good Content is SEO

I have young children who are starting to ask complicated questions about the world. They want to know how fish breathe under water or they ask how far the sun is from the earth. It’s probably no surprise that I do not own an encyclopedia or any kind of reference material on these sorts of things, so I do what I have been doing for the past decade. I do the same thing when I need to know a phone number for a local business or when I need to know the answer to a complicated math question — I go to the Internet and search for the answers that I need. In the back of my mind, I know that there is always the potential that what I’m reading could very well be the most inaccurate piece of information out there, because anyone with a computer and enough ambition can publish content online. For those who consistently write or otherwise produce content that is valuable, accurate, informative and otherwise “good,” that is the content that travels to the top of rankings. The pages that focused on writing SEO content may enjoy good rankings as well, but their chances are smaller for staying at the top of the charts for long.

A Balance Between Optimization and Quality Content

Now that I have prefaced this post with a phenomenon endemic to the modern Internet, let’s talk more about how we balance good content with the notion that it must be configured in a way to make it easily found online.

Writing for Users Should be the Primary Goal for SEO

I have discovered both in my own experience as well as from other leaders in this industry that the main goal of any kind of marketing online is to be helpful. In terms of content, the main goal should be, first and foremost, to produce a quality, well-researched piece. Think of those people out there searching for information about how far the sun is from the earth and how they depend on content producers to get it right. So, when you go to write your content, ask yourself if what you produce would be something that others could depend on.

Here are some tips for getting that good content

  • Primary research (things you discover on your own)
    • This means interviews, studies, trials or surveys. Data gleaned from these resources can be very valuable.
    • Secondary research (standing on someone else’s shoulders)
      • Researching information others have produced is also an acceptable way to generate good content. Whatever you are writing about, find resources like trade journals, published studies and papers, other well-researched blog posts, articles from authoritative sources or statistical information from authoritative sources.

 

The idea here is that before the Internet, those who published content only did so because it was both high-caliber and accurate. Now that the barriers to publishing content have been eliminated by the Internet, it’s much easier to publish (and for the public to consume) misinformation. Follow the same steps to the end goal that traditional content distributors did in order to make your website an authority in its niche and deliver good content to users.

Writing for Search Engines Should be The Secondary Goal

Writing great content is all well and good, but if you want it to get found, you must do some search engine optimization. This is the trickier part of the whole SEO profession. There is not really a set of rules that says, “place your keywords here, here and here and you will rank number one” — “Build your site according to this template, and the traffic gods will smile upon you.” It’s really a science and an art form. As far as your onsite optimization goes, these tips should help to make content easily found and highly relevant to their related queries.

  • Front-load title tags and meta descriptions.
    • Place your most important keyword phrases first.
    • Use only those keywords in your copy.
  • Re-write URLs to include target phrases
    • If you have ugly URLs or ones that don’t relate to the content the page, rewrite them. You may have to pull off some tricks with redirects in order to preserve links.
  • Optimize one page of your site for each keyword that you are targeting
    • Use one keyword per page (and its variants).
    • Place the keyword phrase in the header above paragraphs and then in the paragraphs themselves.
    • Be mindful of keyword density
      • A good range is around 2%. Don’t put in a keyword too much, and definitely don’t make your content sound unnatural.
  • Canonicalize your URLs
  • Make your home page links no-follow
    • Search engine bots follow links. If you have bots following links back to your home page, this is not good because chances are this is how they entered your site in the first place. Although dated, Matt Cutts has an interesting post about sculpting PageRank from within a website.

 

As marketers in the online world, we must be positioned as anthropologists and objective reporters more than sales people out to push a product. People don’t go online to be sold, they go there for information and they go there to buy. Providing web users with helpful information that will help them buy should be the primary goal, and any SEO form should follow that function. Good content makes the provider of that information look like they know what they are doing, and it gives visitors confidence that they have found the information they need to make their decisions.

 

How do you balance SEO and content production? Do you often find yourself writing for search engines? I know I sometimes do!

 

How to Generate Compelling Email Content

There are a lot of strategies for making an effective email campaign, but few of them pertain to the email itself. You can do all the right things to get your message to its recipients and ensure that they open it, but if you don’t craft your message well in terms of content and structure, the rest is a waste of time. To write compelling email content, you also have to think about how people read on their computers.

People Scan, they Do Not Read

People do read text once they have made sure it’s what they are looking for, but before that, they scan. It’s the same for web pages as it is with email. For some reason, we are all in a big hurry when we are online, and we want what we are looking for right away. As such, we have developed practices that are unique to looking at content online. We scan content instead of reading a web page or an email all the way through. A user experience study conducted by Nielson Norman Group revealed how 232 users looked at thousands of different web pages. It was found that people read in an F-shaped pattern while scanning. Other notable discoveries were as follows:

  • Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the top bar of the “F” pattern.
  • Next, users move down the page a bit and read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
  • Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times, users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.

This study pertained to web pages; however, it’s not that far of a stretch to say that users probably read their email content in the same way — at least those messages from senders they may not be expecting or don’t know very well. Given these facts about how people read online, you should make sure that you craft your email message to be scannable. If your message is longer than a paragraph, organize the information by splitting it up and placing headers that describe what the user will read below the header. Use keywords that your target audience may be searching for in your email. Use some of the same words that were in your subject line in the body of your email so people can find them easily.

Get to the Point

It is natural to be compelled to explain who you are and what you are doing emailing a prospect. That’s fine, but do it quickly and get to the point of the email. All that is really necessary is your name, your company’s name and perhaps the reason you are emailing. Next, get right to the value proposition, or, in other words, what’s in it for the recipient. No matter how you are contacting a prospect (whether by phone, Internet, or some other means), they are typically always thinking of themselves and their time, and they care very little about you and yours. This is the way we all think, so leave out all the fluff, and only include the parts of your message that will resonate with the prospect.

Give Them What They Want

People usually open emails because they think there is something compelling inside. Keeping with the theme that a prospect doesn’t care about you and only themselves, be sure the value proposition is delivered right away. If you have a special offer, let them know how to take advantage of it. If you have interesting news to share with them, share it. No matter what it is, make sure you deliver it right away and also make it easy for your recipient to get it. Some common mistakes are an inconsistent email body and subject line, value propositions that are buried in email text or drowned out by other elements and ambiguous conversion processes.

An Enticing Call to Action

You should always have a call to action in any advertisement and an email is no different. After you have explained the product, service or offer you are emailing a prospect about, create a compelling call to action that entices recipients to make a decision and act. Start your call to action with a commanding noun and create a sense of urgency. Be careful not to overdo it here. Cheesy or deceptive calls to action work more to turn recipients off than to get them to convert.

Put the Most Important Information First

We all know the basic conventions of a newspaper (even if we aren’t aware of them). Look at a newspaper written in any language and you can tell which stories are very important and which are not that significant. You know this based on the placement of the story on the page. These conventions make it easier for readers to know what to read first and what can wait for later. In your email, the most pertinent and useful information to your recipient must be placed first. This is important because your reader won’t have to scroll to find the important info, and if they end up not reading your email all the way through, at least the most important themes were conveyed.

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Keep Your Message Short

This tip applies to a lot of marketing messages, but it is not an ironclad rule. There are obviously times when having a lengthy email is ok, such as when sending an email newsletter or when the target audience is expecting a lot of text. In general, though, if you are promoting an offer or trying to entice someone to buy a product or service, you need to keep the message short. Write as much in the body of your email as you think will be necessary for your prospect to convert.

Well-Written Content

When I mentioned well-written content, I’m talking about writing without errors. This is one of the easiest elements to control, and it is often overlooked or rushed. It helps to create an editorial calendar of when you will send out email messages so that they can be critiqued by another set of eyes before being sent. Poorly written content not only conveys the message that you are unprofessional, but it also makes people think you are careless. Poorly written content also undermines a prospect’s faith in you as a business person.

Test, Test, Test

This isn’t really a tip for creating compelling content, but you should always be tweaking what you do. Try emails with differing subject lines or copy. Use different keywords or different images, and experiment with different calls to action. In the world of marketing, few things are truly finished, and there is always a chance to go back and strengthen what appears to be done in order to get a better result. Remember to change things slightly and keep a record of what you did change so you can measure it. If you go about changing an entire email haphazardly, it’s hard to know what helped it perform better the next time around. Take advantage of tracking platforms like Google Analytics if you are sending people to your website.

 

How do you come up with compelling content for your emails? What strategies have worked for you?

Top Tips for Creating Mobile-Friendly Content

Picture of SEO for Mobile Device Apps

According to the Pew Research Center, as of January of 2013, 45% of American adults own a smart phone. In April of 2012, 55% of them used the internet on their phones, which was nearly double the rate of three years ago. Facebook currently has more than 100 million users on its mobile platform across a variety of devices. Ever since the dawn of the iPhone, mobile computing has reached a new standard, and having mobile-friendly content is more important now than in previous years. Check out these tips for getting your website content ready for the small screen.

Mobile-Friendly Plugins and Themes

Plugins

Making the transition to mobile will be easiest for those already using popular CMS’s like WordPress or Joomla. If you are using WordPress, WPTouch allows you to change your content for mobile users on iOS, Android, and other popular mobile platforms — no more itty-bitty menus and using the pinch-to-zoom method on i-devices. With the plugin, users can customize the way their content looks for users accessing the site via mobile devices. Some other WordPress plugins to try include WordPress Mobile Edition and WordPress Mobile Pack.

If you are using Joomla, there are also a variety of plugins to make your traditional site mobile-friendly. Mobile Joomla is an extension that translates all your previously hard-to-see content into an easy-to-read format. The extension optimizes itself depending on what device is accessing your site, and it leverages the strengths of that particular device. There is a free version of the extension, but it lacks support and is full of advertising. If you sign up for the 8 dollar per month subscription, the advertisements disappear, plus you gain access to some extra features and support. There are also a lot of other extensions for displaying your Joomla site on mobile devices.

Themes 

If you haven’t started development acitvities on a site yet, and you plan on using a CMS, there are tons of responsive themes for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and numerous other popular content management systems. I don’t like to draw attention to specific themes because there are so many, and the type that you choose should be driven by the goals for your site. I can, however, offer some tips of things to look for when choosing your responsive theme. No matter what you choose or what CMS you use, make sure the theme you select is designed to work for the version of CMS you will have or currently have. Avoid free themes for WordPress and Joomla (and most likely for other CMS’s, as well). This may not be true for all free themes, but for most that I have seen, free comes with strings attached. For instance, the themes and their associated files may be poorly designed. They may contain unwanted links that could cause you issues down the road. They could also (and often do) contain advertisements, links to spammy sites or difficult-to-remove code that you certainly don’t want. I can also recommend a couple of different websites that offer good themes and reasonable prices. For WordPress, check out Elegant Themes. For Joomla, AS Templates has a lot of good choices and excellent documentation for all of their themes.

If you aren’t using a CMS and have a custom-designed website, have no fear! There are some really cool tools out there to help you. Tekora, for example, is a software as a service (SaaS) provider that helps webmasters build mobile websites easily. GoMobi is another such provider, and both can help businesses that may not be able to just download a plugin or a theme to make their website mobile-friendly.

Should I go Mobile?

I have heard people ask this question before, and the fast answer is, it depends. Like any action we take in business, our decisions should be based on solid data that tells us what to do. Sometimes data is not available, but in the world of web marketing, data is abundant and it is also very targeted. If you have been tracking your site (and you should be), take a look at how many visitors come from mobile devices. There are bound to be at least a few, so does this warrant making your site mobile-friendly? Probably not unless the task of doing so is extremely easy and won’t take much time. If you do have a lot of traffic coming from mobile devices, perhaps it is time you think about how those visitors’ experiences are being affected by your site not being mobile-friendly.

Are you planning on building a mobile version of your website? Have you already done it? If so, what challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?