Tag Archives: Copy

George Orwell and the English Language

George Orwell

In 1946 George Orwell (Eric Blair) wrote a short essay on how despots use language to obstruct their people’s and others understanding of the crimes their regimes were committing.

Today language still can be manipulated albeit often by those with purer motives, terms such as “ethnic cleansing,” “surgical strike,” “collateral damage,” and “reform” airbrush the grim reality of a situation or just plain mislead.

How many times have we hears politicians talk about “reforms” for instance when pushing for a piece of legislation that is not progressive in any way, actually reversing more repressive or conservative legislation?  And how often do we challenge the misuse of such language?

But putting aside the political commentary that Orwell expanded upon with near genius in 1984, lets take a look at the essay from a copywriting perspective.

Orwell was as much an artist in letters as he was in demystifying and exposing the crude propaganda of odious regimes.  His essay Politics and The English Language stands the test of time as a guide to better expression in words.

Orwell’s Advice for copywriters

It is a true art for a writer to express themselves so simply but so effectively, and with such style, as George Orwell did.  Writers such as Graham Greene and Franz Kafka (only read in translation) also come to mind.

So what advice did Orwell give?

These are his six key rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.  This is something Churchill agreed on, using Anglo Saxon words whenever possible
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

That’ it, simple enough but takes years of practice and constant vigilance to make sure flowery, woolly or confusing English does not re-emerge.

There are some more useful pointers for writing with speed and flow here.

A piece on Christopher Hitchens will I am sure follow.

Cross post: the demise of SEO, not quite but employ a range of content generating, marketing & PR activities

demise of SEO
Are we seeing the demise of SEO? Perhaps of black hat techniques.

James Daniel from experienced copywriter Earth Monkey gives his views on the demise of SEO or not as he argues:

“Partisans have been announcing the demise of SEO ever since the web was in nappies. Till now, reports have been premature. But thanks to Pandas and Penguins and other changes Chez Google, top internet marketers are less willing than ever to rely on natural search.

The reason is, SEO’s perennial limits have been exacerbated. The old problems of narrow scope and exposure to changing search trends have been joined by two new problems: personal search listings, and ever shifting goalposts.

It all adds up to crisis time for any site with all its eggs in the SEO basket.

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at each of those limitations:

Limit #1: Narrow Scope
As any good SEO knows, you can only optimise a given page for a handful of keywords. At best, you’ll rank for umpteen variations on the same phrase, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get one page to rank for every suitable variation.

Example: a courier agency has multiple segments, like ‘parcel courier’, ‘mail courier’, ‘international courier’, ‘same day courier’, ‘motorbike courier’ and so on. And each of those segments will attract dozens (maybe hundreds) of different searches, from regional variations to random phrasing. So e.g. ‘parcel courier’ opens up a whole niche, including ‘parcel courier + region’, ’24 hour parcel courier’, ‘cheap parcel courier’, ‘courier packages’ etc.

It’ll take a lot of work to get your ‘parcel courier’ page to show up for all those searches, plus the dozens of others that will emerge through detailed research. And that gives you three choices:
(a) use paid search to boost visitor numbers
(b) create sub-pages within every niche to target stray variations
(c) focus on the best opportunity and forget about the other searches

Limit #2: Changing Search Trends
SEO depends on the ‘fingers crossed’ belief that if 1000 people search for ‘xyz’ this month, then another 1000 will search for the same thing next month. Spookily, that theory does kind of work, albeit with a 20-30% shift up or down from one month to the next. But there are still two weaknesses:

What if demand ebbs and flows with the seasons…or worse still, the keyword just drops off the radar altogether?

Seasonal demand mainly hits the obvious victims, like ‘seaside holidays’, ‘sun cream’, ‘Christmas presents’, ‘Valentine cards’ etc. (But hopefully, if your business is seasonal, you have other irons in the fire for the rest of the year!)

But the outright drop-off factor can strike just about anywhere.

The biggest driver is innovation. When a new product hits the shelves, the old product name immediately loses popularity (except on eBay, Gumtree and co).

Plus there are economic, social and political forces at work, each with the power to wipe out search trends and make SEO efforts redundant. Prime example, we haven’t seen many searches for ‘100% mortgage’ in the last few years!

Of course, Limits #1 and #2 have always been there, and SEO bods have put up with them because of the untold advantages of getting free traffic from Google. But now we’ve got the two newbies…

Limit #3: Personal Listings
Google’s mission is to tailor its listings to individuals, based on available data like previous search habits and peer endorsements. That adds a whole new layer to SEO.

In its plainest form, it means that if Mrs Jones searches Google for your type of business, she’ll be more likely to see your listing if she’s been to your site before, or her social media contacts have given your page the thumbs up.

I spoke to some members of the Google crew about this recently, and the party line was they’ll only factor in ‘Plus 1’ endorsements through Google Plus – i.e. not Facebook ‘Likes’ or other votes through social platforms. How long that position will last, we don’t know, but I’d be loathe to take Facebook Liking out of the mix, especially if you want traffic from sources beyond Google.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is additional work and a lower addressable market. You have to jump through extra hoops (building a network of endorsers with your likely prospects in their circles) and still, you’ll get fewer listings, because inevitably competitors will touch the circles that you can’t.

Limit #4: Shifting Goalposts
The move towards personal listings has rewritten a slice of the rule book. Traditional link building is no longer the be all and end all. And that’s typical of how the goals are shifting month after month.

The latest example is anchor text. Till recently, it was deemed good practice to present links to your website through keyword-rich anchor text. So taking an example where you want to rank for “Children’s shoes”:

ABC Shoe Shop sells all kinds of children’s shoes

…would be more effective than a ‘naked link’, as in:

For children’s shoes, go to www.abcshoeshop.co.uk

But that’s (kind of) changed now. Google has recognised that too many webmasters have been exploiting anchor text, with the same anchor links repeated time and again across the web. So the key now is, make sure (1) all anchor links are uniquely worded, and (2) you’ve got more naked links than anchor links pointing to your site.

In fairness to Google, this was always best practice – they’re just doing more now to clamp down on offenders, and in some cases the penalties are likely to get heavy. But it’s all in the interests of improving the user experience, so we can’t cuss and moan about it. We just have to roll with the punches.

Still, it can hurt, especially if you’ve been badly advised in the past and acted in good faith using tactics that Google is starting to frown on or outlaw.

And the pain goes deeper, because this process will never come to an end. Google will always be tweaking the algorithm, to keep its users on cloud nine and stop the nasty black hat types who are hell bent on working the system for their own evil and spammy ends.

So where does it leave the ethical, quality business who just wants to do the right thing?
The best way to show up on Google is to follow their one guiding principle, that good quality content is the only thing that really matters. In other words, put the user first, instead of stuffing the page full of keywords – and don’t try to trick the search engines by plastering the web with badly placed or badly worded links. They’ll catch you out!

That said, there are still a few tactics. Using keywords in title tags, headings and sub-headings is as effective as ever, as is letting them fall naturally into the body text. And prompting endorsements through social pages can’t be a bad thing either. Just as long as everything happens naturally.

If they sense you’re overdoing it, pain will surely follow.

So back to the big question: are we seeing the demise of SEO?
No. But it’s not the straight forward process it used to be. It’s not about ticking boxes then reaping the rewards, it’s about doing right by the reader in a way that’s a bit less tangible now.

And that has two consequences:

One – SEO is only worthwhile if you can take it on warts and all. That means putting in the investment of time and money to make it work, and accepting the delays and obstacles as an occupational hazard.

And two – it’s a brave decision to rely solely on SEO traffic. Play nicely and it will come, but it will take time and in the early days it will be harder than ever to forecast. So a mix of paid search and other traffic sources (especially social media) will be a sound security measure.

That’s my tuppence. What do you think?”

Digital ghost town

digital ghost town

Mick Greer, a Manchester based advertising copywriter, mentioned a new concept today: digital ghost towns.

Digital ghost towns are big corporate websites that are essentially static and dull and receive far fewer visitors than they should.

Mick referred to the Scamp blog, written by a creative from advertising giants BBH, which gives some light on the subject.  But better still there are two awful examples of companies with powerful budgets producing static unengaging sites that are mentioned: Budweiser and Texaco.

Scamp actually mentions BudTV, but I came across the Budweiser UK site first, which I have linked to above and is duller.  I guess it doesn’t help that I like real ale and view Budweiser, Fosters, Carling, Strongbow as tasteless mass produced piss.  Sorry I put it like that, I should be harsher.

The thing that gets me is that content, whether traditional PR, online PR or digital media or pieces that cross over,  is king.  Of course the distinction is not always clear nor can it be most of the time.

I believe we will see more businesses using their web more constructively, especially if we have to fight harder for business.

But there will still be plenty of digital ghost towns, or should I say villages, populating the web for small enterprises that need to punch above their weight in the harder times we have now.

Top tips to unleash your writing power from Judi Goodwin

Judi Goodwin is a journalist and teacher of creative writing based in the North West, this is her tips to unleash your writing power:

1. Keep fit and well. High energy copy never came from tired, hung-over or weary journalists. Make sure you eat well, rest well and get plenty of exercise – and write early in the day before you become tired.

2. Complete all your research before you start writing. Confident writing comes from the knowledge that you have all the facts at your fingertips. Though of course, if you realise something vital is missing, it’s never too late to fill the gaps.

3. Let talking to people be the backbone of your research. An enthusiastic expert can fire your passion for a subject much more than researching via books or the web.

4. Enjoy your writing. Remember it can be fun. Before you begin, close your eyes and remind yourself you have all the skills you need – and you’re going to enjoy it. Then be prepared to play with the words.

5. Do your best to memorise the information before you start writing. The time you invest in transcribing notes or reading and re-reading your research will mean you can write faster and more fluently without having to stop to check your facts.

6. Don’t get it right, get it written. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s only the first draft.

7. Contributing to prestigious titles can sometimes trigger the terror that brings on writer’s block. If it strikes, pretend you are writing to your mum or best friend – or for the local rag. It makes it less scary.

8. Write quickly and spontaneously without monitoring yourself. Resist the temptation to continually keep checking as you go. Unless you suspect you are seriously off track, leave the revisions until the piece is complete. Editing on the hoof only inhibits the creative part of your brain.

9. Use sights, sounds and smells in your writing to bring it to life. While you’re doing the interview, or at the location, make notes in any spare moments of the things you can see and hear. What are they wearing, is their collar a little frayed, a button missing? What does their home/office look and smell like?

10. Write from the heart – edit from the head. In other words plug into your passion when you write. You can always tone it down later if you decide you’ve gone OTT.

11. Wait a while before you revise. A couple of hours delay will help you be more objective about your own work. If possible edit next day – you will instantly see what changes are needed. Then, with a little polishing, you should have lively, engaging, energetic copy. Good luck.

Found on the Connect Media website.

Manchester PR agency Artisan Marketing Communications offers clients effective public relations, copy and social media services

What we do

Primarily we are a Manchester PR agency that offers media relations, copy writing and social media throughout the UK although most clients are based in the North West.

We also can offer advice on integrating your PR programme into your overall marketing activities.

How is that beneficial?

PR is a far more effective way of communicating with your market than any other marketing, including direct marketing, tele-marketing and advertising.

The only exceptions are word of mouth and nepotism.

Papers have a wide reach – The Manchester Evening News sells 148,000 papers each day- and readers generally accept the truth of what they read. If a paper talks about you then you’re are newsworthy. It is almost an endorsement from a “neutral” source. That is a powerful way of connecting with your potential clients.

But more than that, the PR aims to improve your reputation online, be it on blogs, media websites or through Google search.  Quality content in online media outlets is perhaps the most powerful online marketing there is.

Will I have to pay the media?

No. Artisan gets you in the media because it creates newsworthy stories that an editor will want to publish.

Is it expensive?

It can be if you go to a big agency. Many agencies charge £750 per day, that’s £100 an hour.

We are considerably cheaper –within the budget of a Small to Medium sized Enterprise – because we do not have big offices or egos.

We provide a service that is based on getting you results.

Other agencies will state they provide the same service. How can you be sure that we will? Well, we depend on word of mouth. So, we depend entirely on delivering the results and customer service you expect. This means that doing a superlative job will get us the new customers we need by referral.

If we lose your account it will hurt. Some agencies only care when they lose a big account because that is the only time it hurts for them.

Curious? PR might be the catalyst for your growth or it could support your current PR?

Please call and we will be happy to explain more about how PR can help you.Please contact Rob at Artsian Communicationsrob@artisanmc.co.uk07957611834