How To Overcome Your Fears and Write The Perfect LAST Blog Post

perfect last blog post

Photo courtesy of Freepik

What does July 4th mean to you? Freedom? Liberty? Justice? Independence? The American Dream?

Well, as an Irish lass, it never held much meaning for me. It was always just another day. Until last year, that is. Last year July 4th marked the day that my first post for Spokal, entitled “How To Overcome Your Fears And Write The Perfect First Blog Post“, was published.

As a writer, there are very few times that you look back at your writing and confidently declare, “I wouldn’t change a thing”. This, however, was one of those pieces.

When I was mulling over ideas for my first blog post, I realized a 2 things:

  1. I had no experience in the marketing industry, so writing about SEO or lead nurturing was out of the question. I’d need more time to do some studying and learn about the industry before I can write about it in any legitimate way.
  2. Being the sole writer of a business’s blog (that’s not your own) is kind of intimidating.

So what did I choose to do?

I focused on myself. I focused on what problems I was facing.

The 16 Best Content Marketing Twitter Accounts To Follow

content marketing twitter accounts to follow

Photo courtesy of FreePik

Content marketing is an ever-evolving marketing strategy that can, at times, leave us feeling overwhelmed. How are we supposed to keep on top of all the latest news? When are we supposed to take time out of our very busy days to read all the latest blog posts? How does everyone know about the latest so-and-so before me?

Well, it’s all thanks to Twitter.

Twitter provides us instant access to the inside workings of some of the best in the business, and you’d be a fool for not tapping into it.

From social media strategists, to growth hacking gurus, and prolific bloggers, Twitter allows you the opportunity to follow some of the best in the business to help you keep updated and informed. But, it’s not as easy as “build it and they will come” anymore. You can’t just start an account and follow anyone related to “content marketing”. You may very well end up following a bunch of Twitter accounts that are less than stellar.

So, if you want to get all the latest and most reliable updates and insights quickly and easily, you have to know who to follow. Or, in other words, you have to figure out who’ll add the most value to your Twitter stream.

And while there are tons of amazing thought leaders out there, here’s a list of 16 best content marketing twitter accounts to follow.

10 Grammar Rules You Should Be Breaking!

Grammar Rules

I love writing. I love language. I love reading a sentence that flows with such lyricism that stopping it could be likened to a blow against the very fabric of nature.

So it comes to no surprise that I’m all for preserving language and abiding by its grammar rules. For me, grammar rules are there for good reasons. They exist to ensure that we’re able to express what we want to say with complete clarity and confidence.

However, I believe that some rules are made to be broken. I believe that some rules don’t help with clarity. I believe some rules are outdated. Plus, language is fluid and should grow and change as society does.

So I like to start sentences with “and”. Sometimes there’s nothing like good ol’ slang. And I think using “I” makes things way more personal and creates connections with readers like no other word can.

And I want you to learn how to write without fear of the Grammar Police reigning down their corrections of terror on your content.

But before we go any further, here’s some ground rules:

  1. Think about your audience. If you’re writing an academic paper, you should probably be writing in a formal tone. If you’re writing for an audience of small business owners who’ve very little time to waste, you want to keep things informal and straight to the point.
  2. Be true to your voice where possible. If you’re writing for personal reasons, or in a market that’s more informal, this will come naturally. However, if you’re writing in a more formal tone, this is going to be more of a challenge, but one that you should definitely work on.  
  3. Understand the context. What is the topic you’re writing on? What kind of content are you creating? An EBook will be more formal than a blog, for example.

Now, on to the rules you should know (and break).

Grammar Rule #1 Never end a sentence with a preposition

This is probably one of the most frustrating grammar rules out there for me. Whenever I see a clunky sentence rearranged as to avoid a dangling prepositions, I die a little inside.

Ok, so that’s a little bit dramatic.

But from where has this rule come? 

I don’t know, but I do know that that sentence sounds bizarre and should be written “where has this rule come from?” Honestly, appeasing the Grammar Police on this one makes you look like a crappy writer. So please, in the interest of readability, clarity and my own poor soul, end your sentences with prepositions when necessary

grammar rules - ending a sentence with a preposition

Photo courtesy of LifeHack

Grammar Rule #2

Do not begin a sentence with a conjunction

Another rule that I can’t quite understand is the one that tells us that we’re not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction. The rule is entirely unjustifiable. Many believe that it all started with teacher’s attempting to teach their students basic sentence structures and, in an effort to avoid fragmented sentences, taught them that they weren’t supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction. 

But whatever the reason, this is definitely a rule you can break. Using conjunctions at the start of a sentence is a great way to grab your readers’ attention and emphasize a point. But, as always, use it wisely and in moderation.

grammar rules

Photo courtesy of Grammarly

Grammar  Rule #3

Avoid splitting infinitives

Ah, the dreaded split infinitive.

You know, I once handed in a college paper and used a split infinitive in one of my sentences. I knew what I was doing, but the sentence worked wonderfully the way it was written so I thought that the tutor would forgive the transgression. However, I was harshly corrected by my tutor, who then promptly handed me a list of books on English grammar.

See, the thing is, I had this awesome English teacher in second level. And she’d encourage us to split an infinitive or two if it made our writing sound better.

I mean, why shouldn’t you be allowed to let another word come between “to” and its verb? Can you imagine if “to boldly go” was written grammatically correct? “To go boldly!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

grammar rules

Photo courtesy of Writing Course Blog

Hey, if a rule doesn’t make sense, don’t abide by it. The internet will forgive you, I promise.

Grammar Rule #4

Don’t use personal pronouns

This one harks back to our school days, for sure. And back then, I guess I can understand why it was enforced. Starting every history essay with “I think” or “I believe” is a surefire way to omit any substantial facts. (And as a former History teacher, I can tell you how much of a pain that is)

But this is the internet, not school. You’re writing content that is supposed to be engaging as well as informative. Using personal pronouns makes writing more engaging and it also allows readers feel like they’re getting to know you.

Grammar Rule #5

Don’t Do Not Use Contractions

If you like sounding like a robot (or pretentious Victorian Englishman), then sure, avoid contractions. However, if you’re trying to sound like a human being, a contraction or two can go a long way. 

For formal and professional writing, this is a legitimate rule to follow. Contractions are more casual and informal, hence why they’re great for writing online. If you’re writing marketing material, then your written voice should reflect the way you talk by and large. The more you can achieve a conversational tone between you and your reader, the more likely they’ll feel more comfortable, and thus more receptive to what you have to say. 

Grammar Rule #6

Don’t Use Slang

First of all, let’s take a minute to remember the first ground rule: think about your audience. 

Using slang in your writing is one of those rules that you can either use or ignore at your discretion. For example, if you’re writing about elder law, you probably don’t want to be using words like “awesome”, “rad”, “totes”. Older people don’t use that language, and the context is all wrong. But, on the other hand, if you’re selling a hipster unicorn t-shirt, any of those words would be appropriate and even entertaining to your audience.

Moreover, even when you do choose to use slang in your writing, use it in moderation. Think about the language that your target audience actually uses, and try to reflect that in you’re writing. Even the youngest of heart won’t search “totes awesome t-shirts” all the time (although there’s definitely a market for that, too).

Grammar rules

Photo courtesy of Centennialarts

Grammar Rule #7

“An” always goes before nouns starting with a vowel; “a” always goes before nouns starting with a consonant

This rule should be broken based on sound, not spelling. The purpose of using “an” instead of “a” is to make a sentence easier to say. “An ant” much easier to say than “a ant”. Likewise, “an hour” is easier to say than “a hour”. “An historical event” sounds better than “a historical event” and “a united team” rolls off the tongue much better than “an united team”.

Grammar rules

Photo courtesy of Quick and Dirty Tips

Language, and the rules that uphold it, are supposed to work to help understanding and clarity. If putting “an” or “a” in front of another word is clunky when spoken aloud, then change it up.

Grammar Rule #8

Never use one-sentence paragraphs

When writing for the internet, you want to be able to make your content as easy for readers to skim as possible. People are searching for quick and easy answers, and don’t want to read your content word-for-word.

One sentence paragraphs are effective because they are easy to read while skimming a page.

They stand out from the crowd of text.

Fear not the one-sentence paragraph. The internet needs you!

Grammar Rule #9

Always use pronoun-subject agreement

The issue regarding pronoun-subject agreement arose when women began to voice their feelings of exclusion (and confusion) when “he” was used as the assumed gender when the subject’s gender was ambiguous. For example, “everybody should take his seat”. As you can see, the masculine pronoun is assumed, because the word “seat” requires a singular agreement to be grammatically correct.

Grammar purists adamantly refused to bend this rules for years, and yet, we’re starting to see this rule being bent – and broken – more and more often.

To amend the situation, some writers started to use the stylistically painful “he or she”. Nowadays, it’s more common to use of the pronoun “they”, “their” and “them” when the gender of a person is unknown, even though it does not agree with the singular subject, as in the example below:

“Everybody should take their seat.”

If it sounds a bit clunky now, not to worry. A bit of practice and you’ll soon see that it’s not only inclusive, but makes your life much easier.

Grammar rules

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kunkle

Grammar Rule #10
Proper use of whom

Whoever tells you to use “whom” instead of “who” is 1) the Victorian era, or 2) a pretentious snob. Either way, don’t trust them. Oh, and don’t use “whom”, unless you want to be the Ross Geller of internet writers.

We created a site in Wix, Weebly, Squarespace & WordPress – See How Each Stacks Up

Creating a website and trying to figure out what platform to use? 

We created a site in the big 4 website creation tools – recorded the video and show you the pros and cons of each.

If you’re thinking of building your own website – you want to read this first.

First, some background on each:

Reports of the number of users of each platform vary widely from source to source, but the general consensus is that WordPress leads and no one else is catching up anytime soon. 

According to a July 2015 study by W3Techs, out of the 40.1% of the websites it surveyed that use a Content Management System, WordPress enjoys a market share of 60.3% (24.2% of the potential market overall, when including non-CMS users). 

The study found that all other CMS platforms together account for just 15.4% of the potential market, and Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace each claim less than 1%. WordPress dominates on all fields and channels, except on Facebook, where Wix’s recent surge is likely attributable to its promotional broadcast during Super Bowl XLIX.

Numbers aside, each platform utilizes WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which allows you to construct your site without ever having to look at its HTML-laden underbelly — an approach that has both pros and cons. 

To assess the usefulness of WYSIWYG, and to compare other key features of each platform, I set out to create a website on all four, keeping colors, layout, and content as consistent as possible across platforms. 

I started out with a visual concept, which I quickly discovered was limited by each platform’s templates; so if you have specific colors, formatting, or other key elements in mind, your first step in choosing a platform should be to look through each provider’s templates, because availability may be a deciding factor.

Wix.com

Based on its training videos and user reviews, Wix seemed like the easiest platform to master, so I decided to start there — and it certainly lived up to its “easy” reputation. With over 500 templates sorted into descriptive categories, there’s bound to be at least one to suit you.

Another Wix advantage is that all of your content is visible, and editable, on your screen at all times. The editor is pretty simple, and the menu is similar to Windows Paint: just drag and drop the elements you want.

On the downside, clicking anywhere on the screen opens a menu, which can be annoying and distracting, especially if you’re working — and clicking — quickly. And once you’ve selected a template, you can’t swap it out later, so you have to choose wisely. In addition, when you choose Wix, you stay with Wix — this platform will not let you export or transfer your site elsewhere.

On the plus side, hosting and domains can be taken care of on the spot, and fees are reasonable, with packages ranging from $4 per year to about $20 per month.

Wix also offers a ton of apps to add to your site, a lot of them free — though some, like Shopify, cost extra even if you upgrade your Wix plan.

All in all, Wix is fairly quick, simple, and easy to use.

Watch me build the site (in fast forward!):

Weebly.com

I found Weebly just as easy to use as Wix — perhaps even easier, in terms of user friendliness and navigability.

There are hundreds of templates to choose from, and you can switch templates whenever you like, which is not an option on the Wix platform. Weebly’s drag and drop is more limited, though, in that you can employ that function only in designated areas.

Personalization of templates is also limited, unless you have coding skills — an  unlikely scenario, given that most folks who use a basic site builder do so because they don’t know code. What I liked more about Weebly was that there weren’t sub menus upon sub menus; you make your selection and edit it on the spot. And the site can be exported (in code) if you decide to migrate to a more advanced platform later.

Like Wix, hosting and domains can be taken care of right on site, with premium hosting  packs priced from $4 to $20 monthly. The domain, paid for separately, is priced at around $30 yearly, depending on the plan you choose, but you can also buy your own domain independently.

Overall, again, I found Weebly a bit easier to use than Wix, but it doesn’t offer as much potential for personalization.

Watch me build the site (in fast forward!):

Squarespace.com

Wow, I did not like Squarespace! For me, the whole user experience was frustrating and annoying.

The good news first, though. Squarespace’s templates are elegant and expensive-looking; even a professional web designer may not provide you with the quality available here. Unfortunately, though, the templates also seem designed  for very specific audiences and more oriented toward personal rather than professional sites. Even after find a somewhat acceptable template, I still had the uneasy feeling that it was too cool and “hipster” for me. If you’re an artist with a portfolio and a gallery, this may be the way to go; but for any other type of business, I’m not a fan.

In addition, the WYSIWYG editor is unreliable, in that the format it displays when you’re working in it is entirely different from the one that appears on the finalized page. HTML code is an option, and the better choice if you know how to work with it.

Another drawback to Squarespace is the confusing side menu of editing options; I had to repeatedly click through multiple screens to access the various editing and design features I was looking for.

Like its competitors, Squarespace offers a selection of hosting and domain services onsite, at a reasonable cost of $8 to $26 per month, depending on your chosen plan.

Unlike its counterparts, though, Squarespace does not offer free apps.

Overall, again, I did not like Squarespace for the purpose of creating a business site — but if you have artwork to publish and share, and the patience for the cumbersome editing functions, I think it can provide a great platform.

Watch me build the site (in fast forward!):

WordPress.org

As noted above, WordPress is the most popular and widely used tool for building sites, and for posting blogs in particular.

WordPress offers over 10,000 template themes, ranging from free to premium paid — there’s something here for every imaginable personal or business concept, or anything else under the sun. Because it’s strictly a Content Management System rather than a website builder, setup works a little differently from the other platforms. Though WordPress itself is free of charge, you’ll need to spend some money registering a domain name and securing a web host (which can be done from the wordpress.org site).

Bluehost is a good choice; it’s a partner of WordPress, which makes the hosting process a lot easier. Hosting services cost from $3 to $15 a month, depending on your plan and needs, and some options include a domain.

So, how well does WordPress work? Pretty well, actually. There are a million and one available plug-ins (or so it seems) to help non-coders create what they need — though as is the case with most things, there are great plug-ins and bad ones, and some are free while others cost money.

The dashboard was pretty self-explanatory and intuitive. There’s a user tutorial, and online support is available. In addition, WordPress offers suggestions or shortcuts for just about every function, and even breaks down code to a level I could comprehend.

Exploring all the features took time, and involved trial and error, of course. But the interface was very interesting and engaging, and rather than fidgeting in my chair or cursing the screen, I was constantly wondering, “What does this button do?”

My conclusion should come as no surprise: WordPress is the way to go, because it’s the most likely to provide the results you’re looking for when you need something done right. WordPress proves that you don’t need to pay a developer to build an effective website. I made a basic site with no major setbacks, using only the power of the Internet and my deductive skills — and given time, I feel that WordPress would enable me to create a site that fully realizes my visual concept.

Watch me build the site (in fast forward!):

So to sum it all up:

The website builders get the job done, but they’re pretty basic.

In the grand scheme of things, if you want a platform with good SEO options and enough flexibility to easily update and change your site, WordPress is the obvious choice. The site builders are great for showcasing short-term projects and events, but WordPress is what you want if you have a major business idea or project and are in it for the long haul.

How to Use Your Customer’s Pain Points To Create Killer Content

How to Create Content Based On Your Customer's Pain Points

Photo courtesy of FreePik

Let me ask you this: why did you think your service/product would be a viable idea for a business? I’m willing to bet it’s because you identified your ideal customer’s pain point and validated that your product and/or service could solve this problem. That’s how most successful businesses start out. They see a customer’s pain point, and they find and then offer a solution to it.

So why doesn’t our content marketing work in the same way?

In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he tells us of an anecdote of researchers who conducted a study where they sent two different ads to homeowners in the same neighborhood. 

One ad said, “if you insulate your home fully, you’ll save 50 cents every day.” The other said, “if you don’t insulate your home fully, you’ll lose 50 cents every day.”

When the study was completed it showed that the people who received the ad that focused on “loss language” were 150% more likely to insulate their house than the other group.

What this study shows us is that people are more often motivated by fear of loss than hope of gain. As humans, we’re wired in a way that avoiding pain is much more important to our survival than gaining pleasure is (most of the time, anyways!).  

If you want to find more customers, then focus on creating content that provides them with a solution to their pain points.

The 5 Things You Need To Know About Keywords

Things You Need To Know About Keywords

There are a lot of questions that come to mind when we talk about keywords. How should we use them? Where should they be placed? What’s too much and/or too little? Are long-tail keywords or short term ones more effective? Does Google even take them into consideration anymore?

If you’re new to the content marketing world, or just trying to keep up with the latest updates, you’re probably going to want to get the skinny on keywords and, as is natural, query some of those questions. What you’ll find is a whole bunch of conflicting advice. Some will tell you that keywords are obsolete, while others will tell you that they’re still as important as ever.

And, with Google constantly updating their algorithms, most of these results are undoubtedly outdated too.

It’s a little frustrating, to say the least.

What’s more frustrating is that keywords aren’t all that complicated. In fact, keywords make more sense now than they ever have before.

Here’s the 5 things you need to know about keywords.

How To Spot and Combat Writer’s Burnout!

writer's burnout

Every day, without fail, you’re writing.

This could be because it’s part of, or the entirety of, your job description. Or maybe it’s because you’re a business owner and content marketing is the lifeline of your business’s success.  

Whatever the reason, you find yourself producing and writing content on a daily basis.

But, lately things haven’t been going so well. Sure, you’re putting out the content that you’ve been asked to, you’re finishing up the posts that you’ve been assigned and you’re always hitting your word count target every day. It’s paying the bills, you’re checking the boxes, and on the surface, everything’s going just fine. You’re doing what you love as a career, how can you complain?

When you go home, you’re tired. But that’s normal, right? You’d love to work on those personal writing projects that you enjoy, but you just can’t write anymore today. You’re finding yourself more often than not sitting brainlessly in front of the television.

Then, you start to notice that even your content writing at work isn’t going too well.

It’s taking you longer to finish writing projects, and the content just isn’t that deep or exciting anymore. Your editor can tell, your readers can tell, heck if you’re being totally honest with yourself, even you can tell. Your writing has become formulaic, basic and low-quality. You’re not proud of it, and you begin to resent the restraints on your creative mind that are holding you back from writing something truly remarkable.

This, my friends, is writer’s burnout.

Top 8 Content Marketing Blogs To Read in 2015

Top 8 Content Marketing Blogs To Read in 2015

Inbound marketing is an ever-growing topic and it seems like every year it becomes more complicated, more intricate, more… well, more. 

And sometimes it can feel overwhelming. 

But not to worry – there are people out there committed to keeping up to date with all the latest updates, trends, news, research and data. People so committed to keeping up to date with all of this information that they maintain wonderful blogs that then help us to stay on top of this fast-paced industry. 

Last year, we brought you the top 7 content marketing blogs to read in 2014. Each and every one of those blogs is still going strong, so check them out if you get a chance! This year we wanted to top that number and bring you 8 more that are sure to help you stay at the top of your game. 

Here are the top 8 content marketing blogs to read in 2015 to get more customers and boost your sales online.    

How #Hashtags Are Making The World A Better Place! (Kind of…)

Hashtags

Photo courtesy of Freepik

Ah, hashtags. Once simply a button on my telephone that I was often prompted to press while using automated telephone systems, the hashtag now claims a spot in the Oxford Dictionary (along with “selfie” and “totes”), with the accompanying definition:

“A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic”

It wasn’t until 2007 the idea of using hashtags on social media came to be, thanks to one Chris Messina, a social technology expert, who first posted the hashtag #barcamp in August 2007. The whole tweet appeared like this:

“how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

Nowadays, it’s hard to go a day without hearing/reading/saying/using the word “hashtag” – even if you aren’t a social media marketing guru like moi! (I use term “guru” very lightly).

But, as we know all too well, just because something in prevalent in our day-to-day lives (such as beards, dadbods, and the colors blue, black, white & gold) doesn’t mean we really understand it very much at all.