War of words: what The Reformation taught us about language

War of words what The Reformation taught us about language - Wendy Woodhead copywriter

Those of us who work with words for a living often overlook the battering this tool has taken through the ages. The way it has been honed and crafted by the upheavals of man. All for us to use as a handy medium for selling whatever it is we have to trade on: information, stories, ideology, dreams…

This weekend I decided to retrace the footsteps of my postgraduate study in late medieval literature. Back in 2012, I had finally saved enough to take a year out and study at Manchester for the pure enjoyment of it. My area of interest was religious texts, specifically personal books of devotion and manuals for living and dying by which had come to take on huge import.

So, with the John Rylands Library still practically on my doorstep, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see their current display on The Reformation.

For anyone in the vicinity of Manchester, there’s still chance to catch this modest exhibit which runs until 4 March. It takes you through some defining texts of a moment in history that was shaped by the written word. After German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses against Catholic indulgences on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, nothing would be the same.

A literature and not a linguistic student at heart, what I loved studying during my masters was the relationship between the incorporeal construct of language and its physical, corporeal entity. Both on the level of transmuting God’s word into a written text, but also the doctrine that the Word of God was made flesh in the body of Christ.

By extension, it seemed to me that there was an acceptable and unacceptable way that language should be used in the middle ages, especially when it came to communicating scripture. The written word and, moreover, the act of writing straddled the boundary between piety and sin.

However, as any writer, marketer, journalist and politician know, one of the biggest problems with language is that it is unfixed, changeable, open to interpretation. So to try to impose a correct and incorrect way to use it is clearly going to be fraught with tension.

Today, we’ve grown quite used to the fact that language is there to be moulded – that it is a way of assessing the cultural and political changes happening around us daily. We forgive Presidents their covfefes, while text-speak long ago normalised abbreviations.

Emojis? They go one step further. In fact, even Luther acknowledged the use of images to say more than words. He recommended illustrations be used alongside biblical passages, adding yet another layer of interpretation, easily understood across literacy and language barriers.

You see, back in the middle ages, a standardised Queen’s English as we think of it today didn’t exist. The bible was in Latin and had undergone various translations, a process which had, it came to be considered, introduced various errors. Few laypersons except the aristocracy and scholars understood Latin, and as such the priest’s role was an intermediary between the layperson and God. This meant that the system was open to abuse – which Luther railed against in his initial attack on indulgences.

Indulgences, such as the one included in the exhibition, were a type of written pardon for the sins of one still living or believed to be trapped in purgatory. Priests sold these documents of salvation for a pretty penny. Hence, Luther’s distrust. He believed this was a corruption of the Catholic faith for extortion – that no one can intercede on behalf of another, certainly not in exchange for money, and that the only contract worth valuing is that between individual and God. For which in our secular, modern world we could read as the relationship our readers establish first-hand with our words.

As a consequence, Luther believed heads of state should be head of their country’s faith, which is where Henry VIII comes in. Though he initially decried the idea of translating the bible into a common language, he did like the idea of being above the law of Rome. Although many had to die first, including William Tyndale who is credited with first translating the bible into early modern English, Henry eventually authorised The Great Bible, published in 1539. A copy was placed in every church.

Today, we take for granted how being able to read something for ourselves is a massive leap towards independence. And it’s little wonder that this marked a major shift in literature towards an emphasis on what is known as the empirical self, or the subjective narrator.

However, it’s a political gamble too. Can anyone deny the power of words? This reminds me of that Arthur Scargill quote, “My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.”

In short: knowledge is power (not such a coincidence that this humanist sentiment is attributed to the Renaissance statesman Francis Bacon).

What happens when you allow for the possibility that there is more than one truth or interpretation is that power is gradually stripped from those who hitherto held it. Thus, conflict inevitably ensues.

Who hasn’t experienced that moment when your intended meaning is misconstrued, whether through a lapse in body language, or a neglected comma in a piece of prose. When you lose some control over your authorship. It’s not uncommon for politicians or even marketers to use the ‘wrong’ choice of words and later be punished by their audience for it.

While nowadays the words we use are less likely to cause civil division as in the early 16th century, its more pressing concern is what it leads to in its immediacy – such as a lost customer or less invested reader – and on a personal level, what it reveals about us. After all, language is one of the most defining tools of humankind, and over the years we have sought to use it to express ourselves in one form or another. And it is considered to subconsciously unveil our own unspoken or unrealised beliefs too.

When we write, we often forget that language is not only borne of personal ideology, it is also subject to it. We cannot control what happens when we unleash our words into the world. The Reformation exhibition at the Rylands is an artful case in point.

Prefaced with a letter from Luther to a friend in Germany, he confides his personal struggles with a bout of depression, which almost led him to despair. And bookending the close of the exhibition sits the tome of The Great Bible – a literal manifestation of Luther’s revolutionary ideology made flesh. The Word of God piecing itself back together after having torn itself apart.

At any one time, the impact of our words can range from weak and unconvincing to persuasive and destructive. But language as a whole is also regenerative, and as resilient as we who constructed it.

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9 tips to get mobile optimised content

9 tips to get mobile optimised - Wendy Woodhead copywriter

What the hell is mobile optimised content? Well, in 2016, Google announced that mobile had finally overtaken desktop with over 51% of searches performed on tablets and smartphones.

What does that mean for your website? Simply: that it needs an overhaul to ensure you aren’t unwittingly deterring potential customers.

Picture the scene

You’ve spent hours fine-tuning your web copy. You’ve enlisted the help of copywriters and web designers. You’ve plumbed money into a full SEO and PPC campaign.

But all of a sudden, your visitor numbers are dropping off and you’re failing to register on the first page of a Google search for your top keyword.

What’s happened? Many business owners are asking themselves the same thing.

Mobile-first indexing

Google recently launched their mobile-first indexing, prioritising those websites which in turn prioritise their mobile customers. To ensure you don’t lose out to your competition, it’s vital you learn how to optimise your copy for mobile.

Here’s how to get mobile-optimised content:

1. Ensure your web design is responsive

That means it has both a desktop and a mobile version. This might be a matter for your web designer, but if you use WordPress, there are plenty of themes that embrace this.

2. Use short sentences and paragraphs

Imagine browsing a website on your smartphone and seeing a full screen of text. Are you going to read it? Unlikely.

White space is key so break up longer paragraphs into smaller chunks: 2-3 sentences, 26 words per sentence. It wouldn’t hurt to familiarise yourself with your Flesch readability score either.

3. Encourage scrolling

Mobile users have a tendency to scroll more, so long-form copy works to your advantage – but only if it’s of value.

Use this opportunity to give customers insight, advice, facts and sell the benefits of your service, breaking it up with good-quality images. You also have more chance to use a variety of keywords.

4. Have a purpose…and sell it

Just because you can get away with more copy, don’t lose sight of your mission: to sell. The benefits – as always – should be right up at the top.

However, you can spread calls to action throughout your content, so that readers can move on when they feel sufficiently persuaded.

5. Speed up your loading time

Any longer than 3 seconds to load and a customer loses interest, clicking away. Your bounce rate might increase but not your conversions.

You can improve your loading time by decluttering and keeping image and graphics sizes low yet still good quality.

6. Feature videos

43% of consumers want to see more video content online. Since Google owns YouTube, featuring videos is crucial to score highly.

You don’t necessarily need to produce these yourself, even sharing video content from YouTube will help.

7. Format, format, format

Bullet points, indents, lists, colours that emphasise key sections, bold, subheadings – all help to sustain interest.

8. Clean up your links

Google will penalise you for spam or broken links so ensure they’re all in good working order and include a mix of internal and external reputable pages.

9. Ensure your copy is polished

Writing concise content that speaks directly to your demographic telling them what they want to know is crucial. Otherwise, despite your best efforts, you’ll lose them before they click ‘buy’.

Long-form copy is a bonus of easy scrolling, but since mobile users bounce in a third of the time a desktop user does, your content must be spot on.

It’s also vital your mobile copy is proofed and error-free as mistakes will stand out a mile on a small screen.

Get mobile-optimised copy

Producing mobile optimised copy can be time-consuming. Where is the fold, do you have strong calls to action, is your content scannable?

Ready to get snag those mobile customers? Contact me today to discuss your mobile optimised copy needs.

Will Trump stay loyal to his brand?

Last week I wrote about what content marketers can learn from Brexit and the US election. But in the wake of Donald Trump becoming president-elect, something quite startling has emerged. Is it me or has he completely changed tack?

Prior to his election, Donald Trump’s campaign was fought on vitriol and sensationalism. Since, there’s no denying his tone has taken on a much more sombre inflexion – it could even be called gravitas and humility. Who’d have thought?

Was he really just saying whatever it took to win? Is he truly waking up to the reality of the job at hand? Have his words suddenly become subject to the many officials now dictating (or trying to) his every move?

With suggestions he’s already looking to retain several of President Obama’s policies – flying in the face of the wild claims that were so integral to his victory – it poses the question as to how far a brand can go back on their values.

In marketing, it’s not uncommon to hear about companies that have failed to make good on their promises to the buyer. But these are usually flagged up on consumer affairs programmes and in newspaper columns for failing to meet the advertising or trading standards. The necessary measures are taken to prevent such bold claims and money is refunded where possible.

But how so for a president?

In the ordinary course of politics, we know that politicians who make claims they can’t possibly fulfil are subjected to fierce criticism. Quite often, however, there is a genuine reason behind this: lack of funds, lack of support higher up, etc.

But will such excuses rub with his supporters? There was a certainty in Trump’s promises – “There WILL be a wall”, he said – that leaves little wriggle room. What’s more, this wasn’t any old political race. It was anti-establishment feeling that bolstered support for Trump, rallying against the political elite who the electorate broadly accepts are liars and cheats (who can forget the appellation “crooked Hillary”).

So surely the man of the people will be held to even greater account since he was elected with a pseudo-optimism – quite simply the assumption he will make good on his promises – he will increase jobs for American citizens – he will make America great again?

In reality, we know it’s going to be very difficult if not unlikely for Trump to pass many of his policies, at least in the way he set them out during the campaign. The president is, after all, just a figurehead – and the world saw how Obama struggled to get many of his policies through Congress. The question is, will Trump’s supporters, the ones that put him in the White House, feel aggrieved?

More than likely. But perhaps not enough to change anything.

Rallying against the result of a vote gets you relatively little in comparison to suing a company for mis-selling in an advertising campaign. When it comes to beneficial claims made by marketers, there are more or less clear lines about the standards that should be conformed to. Not so with a presidency, short of being put on trial for war crimes.

Ah yes, but didn’t you just mention this was a different kind of election? I hear you say.

Yes. But the reality is, Trump has already served his purpose. He is the symbol of white America giving two fingers up to the PC establishment, to multiculturalism, to gender equality. So although I believe he is unlikely to be re-elected in 2020, I don’t necessarily attribute that to him betraying his brand, him deciding not to run again in 4 years time, or because the job will have ground him down (though they are all distinct possibilities). It’s because he is a temporary measure, a symbol of an aggrieved nation. He has already done enough and he isn’t even in power yet. He isn’t the next Coca Cola or McDonalds, here to stay. He is a passing fad.

At present, however, we are still trying to work out just how this anti-establishment figure (who is by his very nature so rooted in capitalist establishment) has managed to become the next President of the United States. Well, just as in marketing campaigns, testing his presidency is the only way to work out how effective his strategy has been. If Trump does indeed pursue a more moderate angle in his presidency, we will find out whether his campaign was truly won on the divisive lines of his policies by the way his supporters respond. Otherwise, we will see this event  for what it was – simply an outpouring of anti-establishment sentiment. But only time will tell.

What your content marketing can learn from Brexit and the US election

At the start of 2016, we didn’t know that the UK would vote to leave the European Union and the US would vote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as their new president. But it’s happened, despite these two causes apparently being the rank outsiders. So what can your content marketing learn from their campaign techniques?

The promise

When you start a campaign, your promise is central to your advertising. With the US election and the EU Referendum, this is the slogan – the chief message. It’s not only what you’re promising your ‘customer’ (or voter), it’s your lead benefit, your call to action, and if you want to know how to construct an effective call to action simply look at these two examples:

  • ‘Make America great again’ (Trump)

  • ‘Take back control’ (Leave campaign)

These slogans worked because they’re full of active, passionate, emotive language. They include the reader and they tell the reader to do something. ‘Hillary for America’, ‘Stronger together’ (Hillary Clinton) and ‘Stronger in’ (Remain) try for the same inclusivity but they just don’t have the driving will.

It’s easier to fight for change

This brings us onto the fact that it’s easier when you’re the underdog – that’s the same whether you’re a football team, a political party or a small business. You might think you’re on the losing side, but if you have the character and the initiative, you’re in luck – people’s innate instinct is to stick up for the little guy (as far as we can reasonably believe that a billionaire counts as a little guy).

Fighting for change, as opposed to preserving the status quo, has a fierce rebellious side that appeals to people’s latent sense of adventure. What will it be like? You’ll never know unless you vote Leave or vote for Trump… If you own a small business, it’s important to play up your underdog status by focusing on what you do differently to the big businesses. Handcrafted, artisanal products are huge USPs here.

Address a problem

The best way to construct your message is to start with the dichotomy of

problem : solution

Unfortunately, for the Remain campaign, they weren’t advocating change as such. Without a problem to rally against, it’s hard to drive an effective marketing campaign. It’s like trying to sell someone the current house they live in, where the owner knows all the faults, over the new flashy one they’ve only ever seen from the street, with the high-security gates and swimming pool (you’re sure you glimpsed a pool). Instead, the Remainers had to focus on preserving the same quality of life – it’s just not as exciting.

On the other hand, the Leave campaign identified a clear problem (immigration) and a clear solution (strengthen the borders – take back control). That’s not to say effective marketing should focus exclusively on negativity, but it can help to relate to your customer’s fears before knowing what the product is that they’ve been waiting for all these years – the product of their dreams that undoes all those fears. And remember, allowing your customer the chance to dream of a better future is a powerful marketing tool.

Use the language of the common people

Were you bogged down in the arguments, facts and stats of the EU Referendum? A handy fact is a great tool to persuade a buyer to purchase, but when your customer can’t see anything but complex arguments, they’re inclined to turn away.

This happened on both sides of the camp in the referendum, and Hillary Clinton has fallen prey to it in the US presidential election. We’ve heard lots of information from Hillary because, let’s face it, she’s the most experienced for the job. Yet Trump won. Have you ever heard Donald Trump utter a fact? No. He doesn’t have to because he can rely on simple, straight-forward, effective statements. And, if you don’t use facts, you don’t have to worry about being proven wrong.

‘You’ doesn’t work all the time

We’re often told in content marketing that appealing to ‘you’ is vital. Whether you’re writing a blog post or an advert – prioritise the reader. This is something the Remain campaign focused on a lot through their emphasis on better jobs.

But the exception to the rule is when you’re trying to activate the masses. Yes ‘you’ helps appeal to the individual, which is why it works well in text, where there is that intimate space between word and reader. But if you’re trying to instigate mass rebellion (or in the business sense, convert a lot of people away from a competitor and towards a new product, company or service) ‘we’ and ‘our’ is much more powerful.

Utilise social media

The Republican and the Leave campaigns have been phenomenal on social media because their simple messages can garner (often anonymous) widespread support quickly. And if they can gather it in huge swathes, people no longer have to feel like they have anything to hide, prompting more supporters to come out of the woodwork and giving credence to the cause.

For politics, social media is an easy way to reach the working classes and younger voters, but for any business, it’s a good way to connect with their customer and get a handle on their core demographic. Social media is an excellent way to distribute viral (shareable) media such as memes, videos, infographics – all of which can be used to promote the cause/business/key message of your campaign.

Always offer a softer middle ground

In all the debate over the EU Referendum and the US election, there have been many, many people expressing dissatisfaction at the lack of a third way. In this age of excess choice, people do not take kindly to having to choose between one thing or another. There is always that feeling of losing out.

In fact, when it comes to voting, many choose to express the third way by spoiling their ballot papers or simply not choosing to vote. In the EU Referendum, turnout was 72% which means roughly one-third of people chose neither to Leave nor Remain.

When you’re giving your customer a choice, such as with a subscription/membership or an offer of some kind, always make sure you provide a third option. This should be a best of both worlds – you will often find the middle choice gets the best results.

Hire a content writer

When you’re planning your next advertising campaign, bear these lessons in mind. Or hire a freelance content writer to take the burden off your hands and write your blog posts, print, social media – or other content – for you. Contact me today for your free quote and follow me on Twitter for the latest insight and offers.

Why your academic essays need proofreading

About to submit your first essay of the academic year? Spent so much time brushing up on your referencing you’re certain you’ve missed some glaring mistakes?

Why you need a proofreader

Hiring a proofreader to check over your academic essay is a great way to make sure you get the best marks for your work. When you’ve been slaving over a lengthy project, you want it to be perfect. But unfortunately, there are likely to be at least a few typos.

The reality is, your eyes are so used to reading the same words over and over, obvious errors are bound to slip through. Yes – even when you’re convinced they haven’t! Trust me, it’s only once you get your paper back you’ll see them for yourself.

To avoid that face-slap moment, hire a proofreader to look over your work with fresh eyes.

What can an academic proofreader do?

An academic proofreader can give your work a light or in-depth proofing, depending on your needs and preferences.

If you just want someone to skim through your essay, coursework, proposal or funding bid to check for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, you can hire a proofreader to read through and mark any changes using Track Changes in Word. This way you can easily decide whether to accept or reject them.

Or, if you’d rather give your prized essay or project a little more attention, a proofreader can copyedit your work, paying attention to sense and consistency in addition to typos and mistakes. They won’t change the meaning but they’ll help you convey it in the clearest and most concise way possible. This is a great option if you’re an international student or English isn’t your best subject.

You can read more about the differences between a proofreader and copyeditor here.

Is hiring an online proofreader easy?

Hiring an online proofreader is so simple.

For starters, they don’t even need to be located nearby. I live in the north-west of England, but I’ve proofread and copyedited work by writers living on the other side of the world. In fact, I’ve spent the last 12 months editing academic textbooks for international scholars! What’s more, I copyedit texts on a daily basis for a renowned content-creation platform.

We can communicate via email or Skype, whichever is best for you. I’ll also put together a small brief and send it across to you for confirmation, so you have full control over what I edit.

If you need something proofing at the last minute, I can also help you out, depending on your project. Academic proofreading is also cheaper than you think. At least, it is when you use my services.

Get your essays proofread today

Don’t let some obvious mistakes cost you crucial marks. If you need your academic essay proofing, get in touch today and I’ll reply within 48 hours with your free quote. As soon as it’s confirmed and part payment is taken, I’ll get started eliminating errors from your essay, coursework or funding bid to ensure your hard work is rewarded.

Get 20% off your first copywriting order

The big spending holidays of Halloween, Christmas and Black Friday are looming large on the horizon, which means it’s time you were getting your marketing materials ready.

But if the prospect of writing all that copy, editing it tirelessly and proofing it is daunting, you’ll be glad to hear I’m running a 20% copywriting discount for new customers for a limited time only.

You can save 20% off your first piece of content booked with me. Whether that’s an engaging and SEO targeted About page for your website or a persuasive sales letter promoting a new product.

So what might you redeem your 20% saving on? Perhaps you need…

  • Leaflet or advert copy
  • Press releases
  • An advertorial
  • SEO articles
  • Direct mail
  • Brochure content
  • Blog posts
  • A job advert

Or if there’s anything else you need writing, simply get in touch. We can draw up a brief that gets you exactly what you need.

The process is as easy as 1, 2, 3

  1. Send me a message quoting this blog post with an overview of your business and what your content needs are. Be sure to do it by Friday 30 September 2016 as that’s when this offer ends.
  2. Your consultation and quote will be free, with no obligation to buy. It’s OK, sometimes you simply change your mind. Otherwise, we’ll agree a brief, a deadline and the final cost, minus your 20% discount as a new customer.
  3. Sit back and let me take care of the hard work. What’s more, the first revision is always free of charge.

Is there a catch?

The terms and conditions are pretty simple. You need to be a completely new customer and to place your order with me by Friday 30 September 2016.

I only usually accept one job at a time, so your 20% discount is valid for one-off orders placed at this time. However, you can book up to 4 blog posts, SEO articles or press releases as your first order (you will receive a 20% discount off the price for all 4). If after this you would like to set up a rolling contract, we can do this no problem, but your discount is only valid for your first fixed order of up to 4 posts. This offer does not include proofreading services. (Offer can be removed at any time)

Still not sure if you want to take advantage of this great saving? Find out how you could benefit from a copywriter.

Is your business ready for Christmas?

It might only be September, but this is the most important time of the year for most businesses.

Autumn is the time when everyone officially starts planning for Christmas and New Year. But before then there’s Halloween, Bonfire Night and Black Friday to get out of the way.

Thinking about your website and marketing strategy now is important. It will save you time and help spread your budget. Plus, the sooner your hire a copywriter, the more time you have to get it right, which means less stress.

Here are just a few things you might need to consider hiring a copywriter for over the next 4 months…

  1. Press releases

Is your business going all out for Halloween or are you looking to entice shoppers with an earlybird Christmas offer? Perhaps you’re running a completely different kind of Black Friday promotion this November? Whatever your activity, a press release can make sure it reaches a wider audience.

Local press loves covering topical stories, and a well-written press release could get you featured on local radio and in the regional magazines and newspapers. If you sell online, a good press release could get your business or product reviewed by bloggers and vloggers or picked up by specialist publications in your area.

  1. Promotional copy

Perhaps you’re running a special pre-holiday spa retreat for stressed out shoppers. Or you want to promote that stunning new range you’re getting in especially for Christmas. You could even have a special offer you want to give your most loyal customers.

Whether it’s leaflet or email copy you’re after, a copywriter can make your words all the more enticing.

  1. Brochure content

A new year, a new start. Many businesses want to showcase their new services, collections and events around Christmas when their traffic is at its peak. From product descriptions to welcome pages and featured items, having a copywriter craft the words for your new brochure or programme will give you a professional edge.

  1. Social media content

In the run up to the biggest shopping days of the year, having a presence on social media is a must. Many shoppers flock to a company’s Twitter and Facebook streams ahead of their physical outlets to see if they can get their hands on the latest products, competitions or time-limited discounts.

Your Twitter and Facebook accounts need to be on red alert right from October. A copywriter who is social media savvy can help compile content for your marketing strategy, making your online presence easier to manage.

  1. Web copy

If you have a website and offer any kind of service, chances are your traffic will be booming in the final months of the year. Or at least it should be.

Enticing your customers with seasonal messages and news, promotions, and well-written content is crucial to securing that all-important transaction. At the end of the day, if your content isn’t up-to-date, accurate and reassuring, your customer will have doubts about parting with their money. Think about overhauling your homepage or landing page copy and increasing your traffic with useful blog posts or strategically placed SEO articles.

September through December are the most important months of the year for almost all businesses. Start planning how you’re going to make the most of the holiday rush and hire a copywriter who can afford to spend the time crafting quality content that does the hard work for you. Contact me today for your free and informal consultation.