Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well

Image of Ernest Hemingway Writing

Who better?

Many business people faced with the task of writing for marketing purposes are quick to say:

Hey, I’m no Hemingway!

But really, who better than Hemingway to emulate? Rather than embracing the flowery prose of the literati, he chose to eschew obfuscation at every turn and write simply and clearly.

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Don’t Take This Advice About
Online Marketing!

Advice is a tricky thing, especially when dispensed en masse.

The answer to most things, if we’re being honest, is it depends.

There are certainly principles that are near universal, and I try to stick with them as much as possible around here, while showing how those basic principles can be applied in a new and quickly evolving medium.

Aaron Wall’s recent confessional post about advice got me thinking about this topic a bit more than usual. In reality, everyone’s situation is different, and what works for me might not work for you when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details.

Now, of course this truism won’t stop all the opportunists with their Gobbledygook Manifestos telling you that the entire world has turned upside down thanks to social media. And of course, only they have the high-priced new ideas you so desperately need to avoid going out of business.

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How to Go Out In Style With Your Ending

Once you’ve sucked people in with your headline, entranced them with your opening, and sent them down the slippery slide with each sentence until the conclusion, you may find yourself wondering…

How do I wrap this thing up?

How you start will determine if you get read, but how you end will determine how people feel about the experience. And, depending on your goals, your ending will determine the success of the piece as a whole.

Begin With the Ending in Mind

One key to a successful ending is to understand exactly where you are trying to take the reader before you ever write a word. I tend to do this all in my head before I write an article, but if that doesn’t work for you, do a quick outline and state exactly what the point of the piece is.

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Little Known Ways to Write Fascinating Bullet Points

Oh, those magical bullet points. What would blog posts, sales letters, and bad PowerPoint presentations be without them?

  • Bullet points are so common because readers like them.
  • But typical bullet points are kinda lame … kinda like this one.
  • So let’s start making our bullet points downright fascinating.

Bullet Point Basics

Before we get to the graduate level, we’ve got to nail the basics. So here are the 5 cardinal rules for general bullet points that convey your points clearly:

  1. Express a clear benefit and promise to the reader. That’s right… they’re mini-headlines. They encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.
  2. Keep your bullet points symmetrical if possible; meaning, one line each, two lines each, etc. It’s easier on the eyes and therefore easier on the reader.
  3. Avoid bullet clutter at all costs. Do not get into a detailed outline jumble of subtitles, bullets and sub-bullets. Bullets are designed for clarity, not confusion.
  4. Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.
  5. Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.

Using “Fascinations” to Captivate Readers

Are you curious about my use of the word “fascinations” in the subhead?

Curiosity is a very powerful force. It’s one of those things that makes us human, and one of those things we’ll never shake. We simply want enticing things we can’t have or don’t yet understand.

And that’s exactly what drives people to take action.

A fascination refers to a copywriting technique where you create “special” bullet points so compelling and so benefit-driven that the reader simply cannot help but discover the answer.

It’s a great technique for:

  • Drawing people back into the copy they skimmed.
  • Prompting the download of a free report.
  • Causing the click of a link.
  • Driving subscriptions to your blog.
  • Triggering the purchase of your information product.
  • Initiating a new client relationship.

The key to a fascination is dangling the benefit out there in a teasing manner, without actually giving away what it is.

The undisputed king of fascinations is Bottom Line Secrets, a subscription periodical that promises insider information that makes your life easier. The company launched itself many years ago with a sales piece that was essentially nothing but incredibly compelling bullet points.

Here are some samples from that original ad:

  • Why some patients are given favored status in hospitals… almost preferred treatment. This little known information could save your life.
  • How to learn about medical discoveries before your doctor.
  • How and when blood pressure can fool you… and drinking alcohol without hangovers.
  • The two famous cold remedies that, taken together, can give you ulcers.
  • A simple way to prevent Montezuma’s Revenge.

Bullets points are maligned because most people don’t know how to write them. Put a little time and effort into making yours fascinating (or, at minimum, crystal clear and beneficial), and you’ll see your response increase.

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How to Find the Hidden Hook

What’s the secret to finding the remarkable reader benefit that leads to sales, publicity, links or attention?

It’s keying in on the right element of the story.

Recently, blog network b5 Media accepted venture capital in the amount of $2 million to further grow their business.

Certainly, a collection of blogs as a real business is interesting, especially to those outside of the blogosphere.

And a business built around a collection of blogs landing $2 million bucks is certainly interesting as well.

But what’s the angle that’s hooking the mainstream media? Let’s take a listen to b5 Media partner Darren Rowse on that:

I had interviews this week with two journalists about b5media and it was interesting to see that in both cases the story that they latched onto was that we’d built a company without having met each other.

Being interesting is just the baseline requirement.

The real hook is the part that’s fascinating.

Here’s ace copywriter John Carlton’s take on fishing for hooks.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter and Google+.

The History of Link Bait

Woe is me…

A reader contacted me after my last post and called me out for using the term “link bait” in it.

While he was nice enough, the objection seemed to be that only a sleazy marketer would try to “bait” someone to visit, or link to, a web site.

Never mind that I’ve called the term inelegant several times myself.

Or that “link bait” is just a sexy term for high-quality content that benefits the reader.

I can certainly see that the word “bait” has potentially negative connotations even beyond the fishy subtext. Bait and switch comes to mind.

And I also realize that in the early days of blogging, the only creative bait that was utilized by the pioneers amounted to attacks and insults.

But let’s look at the history of the word “bait” as it relates to content, and see if the original connotation is negative or not.

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