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Less Is More: Time to Cut Content Bloat & Create Content Connections

When it comes to the craft of writing, my favorite luminary is the late William Zinsser. His book, On Writing Well, is — in my opinion — the definitive work covering its stated subject. On Writing Well is an essential read for anyone who wants to elevate their prose. Zinsser’s primary focal area is word economy. “Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly,” he implores. “Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work?” That last question is especially pertinent to B2B marketing writers. The reader should always be our top concern when penning copy, but in this case, the stakes are even higher. Attention is at a premium with business professionals, so wasted words are especially costly. Content bloat leads to audience abandonment. via GIPHY In the spirit of Mr. Zinsser, we’re offering up tips on trimming down your writing to make it more punchy and concise. And to do so, we’ll curate advice from top wordsmiths in the marketing game, with a key emphasis on overcoming the most prevalent pitfalls for today’s content creators.

3 Keys to Concise and Compelling B2B Marketing Copy

Rigid formats, giant blocks of text, and unnecessary filler words are banes of succinct writing. Here are some pointers from the experts on conquering them.

#1 – Nix Stringent Word Counts

So many writers are at the mercy of word counts, and it’s a tragedy. We’re told we need to produce at least 1,500 words, so we inject a bunch of unnecessary filler to get there. Does this serve our audience in any way? Hell no. The conundrum is that numerous studies show higher word counts correlating with higher SERP placements. However, this is misguided thinking. Long-form content is fantastic and it’s certainly part of our mix here at TopRank Marketing, but it needs to be valuable. Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Rand Fishkin — co-founder of Moz, and one of the planet’s top authorities on SEO — has to say: “700 more words will not help you reach your goals any more than 7 more words. Create content that helps people. Do it efficiently. Never write an ultimate guide where a single image could more powerfully convey the same value. Trust me; your audience and your bottom line will thank you.” [bctt tweet=”700 more words will not help you reach your goals any more than 7 more words. Create content that helps people. Do it efficiently. @randfish” username=”toprank”] According to SEMrush’s hierarchy of ranking factors, content length falls below time on site, pages per session, bounce rate, and backlinks in SEO importance. In other words, if excessive wordiness is turning readers away, the number doesn’t really matter all that much. Delivering a quality experience is vastly more valuable. To see what high-performing short-form content looks like in action, check out these examples from IFL Science, courtesy of BuzzSumo.

#2 – Use Every Bit of Space Intentionally

It might not be a writer’s first instinct, but visualization is a helpful practice. Take a step back and look at your content — how it really appears on the page. Are you making the best use of your digital real estate? Ann Handley suggests we take a page from the lead character in Charlotte’s Web, who she says might be the best content marketer in the world: “Think of how Charlotte was able to save a life with just [a few] words,” Handley said during a session at Content Marketing World a couple years back, as relayed by our own Caitlin Burgess. “How can we use our words more intentionally? How can we make a difference?” [bctt tweet=”How can we use our words more intentionally? How can we make a difference? @annhandley @MarketingProfs” username=”toprank”] Think of each page on the worldwide web as a finite spider web. You only have so much space, and so much thread, to get your points across. Make it count. You might not be saving the life of a radiant pig, but you will be more likely to delight and connect with your audience.

#3 – Banish Buzzword Banality

To celebrate the NCAA Tournament earlier this year, our friends and clients at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions* put together a lighthearted marketing madness bracket, calling out the most overused jargon in the profession. If you find yourself leaning too heavily on any terms listed there, you might want to rethink. LinkedIn Marketing Buzzwords It’s not just marketing buzzwords that drag down our copy, though. Content Marketing Institute (CMI)* recently published a rundown of 25 words and phrases to avoid. “Stuffing your sentences and paragraphs with filler and fluff — words and phrases that add zero meaning to what you’re trying to say — is the opposite of clear writing,” author Julia McCoy writes. Many of the items she includes are extremely common, and the types you’re likely to summon out of sheer habit and routine. For instance:

  • In order to
  • Really
  • That
  • Then
  • Just

They seem harmless on the surface, barely taking up space. But this is exactly what makes them so insidious. Most often, you can make the exact same point while deleting these words, and you’ll provide a much more crisp and efficient experience for the person on the other end. Here’s an example: In order to write great copy, you’ll really want to avoid using words that you don’t need. If your goal is to be efficient, then it’s just the best choice. We can pare that down to: To write great copy, you’ll want to avoid using words you don’t need. If your goal is to be efficient, it’s the best choice. Six words removed, zero substance lost. Over the long haul, you’ll save readers a lot of time — and keep them more engaged — by adhering to this mindset.

Writing Well (Usually) Means Writing Less

To be clear, long-form writing isn’t always unnecessarily drawn out. In many cases, exploring the full breadth of a subject requires it. Recently I wrote about the example of Backlinko’s Brian Dean, who puts together massive power pages spanning thousands of words. These posts rank and perform so well not because of their word counts, but because of what those words accomplish: they comprehensively break down important topics and provide credibility-building best-answer content for his audience. If you scan through one of these pages, you’ll find the copy is actually quite sparse in its arrangement, divvied into small chunks and broken up by plenty of visuals.

The Final Word

  1. Forget word counts — maximum or minimum. Write as much as it takes to deliver a satisfying best answer, and no more.
  2. Be mindful of space on the page. Keeping in mind that a majority of users don’t make it very far into online articles, consider leading with your most critical points, or even offering a brief summary atop each new piece of content.
  3. And before you hit publish, challenge yourself to delete every single word throughout that isn’t tied to a specific, tangible purpose. You might even consider printing out the jargon lists from LinkedIn and CMI as references for your cleaning.

The three guiding principles above might sound simple, but they don’t come naturally to even the most seasoned writers. And overthinking word economy during the drafting process can badly hamper creativity and productivity. Focus first on getting your thoughts on the page, clearly and coherently. Later, you can go back and — as Zinsser puts it — prune ruthlessly. “Writing is hard work,” says Zinsser. “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.” Indeed it is. But in the immortal words of Jeff Bezos, “You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” You also earn trust, authority, and — ultimately — business. So, grab your shears and let’s get to work. Pruning and optimizing your content can happen post-launch, too. Check out our piece on why refreshing existing content is great for your audience and results. * Disclosure: LinkedIn and CMI are TopRank Marketing clients.

The post Less Is More: Time to Cut Content Bloat & Create Content Connections appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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About Daniel Rodgers

A lot of news that you will not see in the paper. A lot of technology that is coming out that will not see in the paper.

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Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader

I was roughly five years into my marketing career when I began managing my first direct report. It was the biggest challenge I faced yet. I was now being evaluated on the actions, successes, and failures of another person—and I also knew it was my responsibility to give them the support and tools they needed to have more successes than failures.

I felt as if I didn’t know how to influence, motivate, or persuade another person. But I was given the opportunity to try and to learn. I had a great group of bosses, mentors, and peers giving me advice, listening to my concerns or wins, and allowing me to make mistakes.

Quite a few years (and many direct reports) later, today I have a much better handle on how to manage a team. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just to manage people, time, projects, or priorities, my job is to lead.

But it can be hard to make the transition from a “doer” to a leader. And the stakes are high. In fact, a recent study from TINYpulse found that nearly 50% of employees have quit a job because of a less than stellar manager. In addition, those who don’t feel recognized for their work are two-times as likely to be job hunting.

Whether you’re stepping into your first management role, moving onto middle management, or you have your eye on the CMO office, as a leader it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and grow a happy and high-functioning team. The insights below are designed to help guide you down a successful path to a fruitful career and happy, supported, and motivated employees. 

Tip #1: Understand the landscape

Whether you’re managing one team member or an entire department, you’ll be setting goals and playing an integral role in setting the marketing strategy your team is responsible for driving results with. But to do that, you must understand the broad and niche context in which your organization, department, or service line operates. This means getting to know your customers, prospects, and competitors more deeply, so you thoughtfully can guide and educate your team:

  • Seek out opportunities to hold monthly or quarterly one-on-one calls with your priority customers. Ask them what they value most about your organization or product, as well as where you can do better. 
  • Regularly research your competitors. Subscribe to emails, follow them on social media, and attend industry events where they might be speaking. This will give you unique intel that you can bring back to your team.
  • Get out of the marketing silo. Brainstorm with the sales team. Talk to your customer service team. These teams are intimately familiar with the challenges your customers and prospects face.

Tip #2: Set goals … and exceed them

Yes, you’ve probably be setting goals at all stages of your career. As an individual contributor, your goals were likely focused on what you could individually achieve. In a leadership role, you’re likely responsible for setting goals for your team that will ladder to corporate goals. If you are new to a leadership role, achieving goals that map directly to the success of the company, can be a quick win to build trust within leadership and grow your team and influence. 

  • Keep your goals top of mind. Discuss progress, roadblocks, and wins with your team, your boss, and other leaders. The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. 
  • Incentivize if you can. Big and small incentives can keep your team motivated to achieve their goals.
  • Make it a number. In my experience, setting and achieving a numerical goal has more impact on the organization and is generally more impressive than an accomplishment-based goal. For example, make the goal double MQLs, instead of rolling out a new marketing automation system. The marketing automation system is a stepping stone to reach the goal, not the actual goal. 
  • Set goals quarterly. Ninety days is long enough to achieve something big-ish, but short enough to keep you focused. We’ve found quarterly goals helps us track for the year and keep the team more motivated. 

[bctt tweet="The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #3: Focus on scalability

Once it’s time to step out of day-to-day execution and supervision and into leadership, you should focus more on optimizing and solving issues on a systematic basis, rather than local basis. When I was a new manager, I found myself constantly on the run putting out fires as they would pop up, instead of focusing on why it started and how to prevent it going forward.

  • Create make-sense processes. Identify the things your team does over and over again such as campaign launches, attending events, or adding new content to the website. These are replicable events that you can create process around and then optimize for efficiency, results, and so on.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. Just because the marketing team has always had six copywriters, two content strategists, and an analyst, doesn’t mean that’s the ideal structure. Document the needs and functions of the organization and then map out the most make-sense roles to those needs. For the sake of the exercise, take the current situation out of it. You can employ a phased approach to get you from current situation to ideal. 

Tip #4: Shift the spotlight to your team

As you’re moving into leadership, you’re likely trying to build trust and show value to upper leadership, and it can be easy to lose focus on serving your team. Fostering a happy, well-functioning team is your top priority. Not only can you not do your job without them, but it is one of the best indicators of success to your boss and your boss’s boss. 

  • Shift how you find personal value from work. Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve, rather than the work we did ourselves. 
  • Clear obstacles. Be transparent when you can; have your employees’ backs. These things build trust and create a secure, happy, and productive team. 
  • Cultivate the next round of leaders. Understand what your team wants to achieve personally within their careers within the next five or 10 years, and help them do that. As leaders, we should always be identifying and growing the team members who want to move to the next round in their careers. 

[bctt tweet="Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #5: Stay fresh on the job

At all levels of my career, I’ve found the best way to build trust with a team is to help them solve a problem. The more you understand your team’s job function, the more able you will be able to help them solve problems, innovate, and provide feedback to improve the function of their performance. 

  • Stay fresh. I find the best way to do this is to jump in and help execute from time to time. So, write a blog post or create the tactical plan. This keeps you from getting rusty, but also helps you empathize with your team and the challenges within their roles. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes you won’t understand the details of what they’re working on, particularly if you’re leading a cross functional team. But ask questions. Help them look at the problem critically, and it’s likely you’ll guide them to their own answer. 

Tip #6: Be the leader

One of the toughest transitions from individual contributor to leader, is owning your role as the leader. For the first few years that I was managing a small team, I was more likely to be found deep in the weeds, doing the tasks I did in my previous job titles, than actually doing my work as a leader.

There were a couple reasons for this. It was comfortable doing the work; I already knew how to do it and I was good at. I also felt like I was most helpful to my team if I was helping them get the work done by actually doing the work. 

This was not true. See tip No. 3. You (and I) are most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. If you’re always in the weeds, all you can see is the weeds. 

[bctt tweet="You're most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. @Alexis5484 on being a #marketing leader" username="toprank"]

Tip #7: Keep learning

The leaders I am most inspired by inside and outside of my organization are probably the most voracious learners. Continuous learning through a variety of mediums will help you continue to evolve your skill set, bring in fresh ideas, and help you be inspired to test something new. Here are a couple of the resources that I go to:

  • Read: HBR is a go to for great content on how to lead, manage and shape a business. 
  • Listen: Dear HBR has a great Q&A format about navigating workplace challenges. 
  • Attend: Industry events are great for providing outside perspective, networking with other leaders and inspiring the evolution of your tactics. MarketingProfs is a great event for marketers.

Take Your Place at the Leadership Table

Each stage of your career offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The way in which you handle those situations—tackling them head-on or leaving them for someone else—has the potential to make or break your success in that position… and the one that may or may not come after. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you work to build your team, your organization, and career as a leader.

Looking for more tips on how to inspire, motivate, and build a more effective marketing team? Check out our tips for getting your marketing team to work better together.

The post Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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