Readability Matters

Read This for Tips on Readability

It’s now just what you say; it’s how you say it. There are many masterpieces in literature that aren’t very readable. But in the world of readability, what really needs to be readable is marketing content. And it absolutely matters.

It impacts SEO, user experience (UX) and the success of content marketing. If you don’t care about readability, you should. The days of keyword stuffing are over. Google cares about how readable your content is not just that you used the keyword a few times. As voice search becomes more popular, the emphasis shifts much more so to readability.

If you don’t think readability impacts SEO, your’re wrong. Maybe you’re wrong a lot; I don’t know. I am not basing this on anything but pure experience as a professional writer and content marketer. I write upwards of 5,000 words a day so I understand what it takes to write on many different topics and be interesting. Yes, I care about SEO and keywords, but I don’t force it. I choose quality every time.

Readability is also a factor in UX. If you publish poor content that emphasizes keywords over telling a story, the user will not have positive experience. They then become unlikely to read more of your content or become a customer. Just as every element of design impacts UX, your copy does, too.

The elements of readability

There are certain specific areas around readability. Again, my experience is the basis for these thoughts. I didn’t copy this from another article. It’s just what I think matters.

Kill adverbs and adjectives unless that provide context. You do not need seven adjectives in one sentence. It comes off as being fluff and not authentic. Use them sparingly so that when you do, it’s purposeful.

Vary the length of sentences. It’s good to have a variety of sentence lengths. When in doubt, edit and cut. I was provided copy to review recently, and one sentence had 42 words. 42 WORDS! There is a rhythm that happens with readable content. Read it out loud to understand if you are on point with rhythm. Don’t make sentences so hard to read that it takes three huge gulps of air.

Use active voice. Passive sentences don’t read well. Sometimes passive cannot be avoided. However, consider the syntax of the sentence. Revise as necessary to create a better balance.

Don’t use every word in your extensive vocabulary. Most content should be written on an eighth grade reading level. Unless there is a good reason, be simple. When writing about very technical topics, using big words makes more sense. Remember simplification isn’t dumbing it down. It’s making it more accessible to your reader.

Grading your readability

It is possible to score your readability. There are many tools that will give you a grade. The Flesch reading scale is used by many applications like Yoast. The scale grades how easy it to read the text. It looks for how hard a sentence would be able to read (the 42 word sentence did not bode well). I am a big fan of Yoast. It’s my preferred plugin for SEO on WordPress. I also use the Hemingway App, which is a great working tool that highlights where the issues are.

I encourage every writer, content marketer and SEO specialist to care about readability. I know people don’t read much these days. They scan. We live in a world where content is created and consumed at a rapid pace. But before you publish, do at least this – read it.

(P.S. I scored this on Hemingway App. It received a grade of good.)

Do Sh** That Scares You

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Wise and revered First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something every day that scares you.” This is good advice even for those who aren’t risk takers. Because doing something that scares you need not be solely concerned with the physical.

Because I’m not a risk taker or an adrenaline junkie. I’m not a thrill seeker. I was never a fearless child. Not that I have many fears. Heights I can deal with except in certain circumstances. While at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto years ago, I could not step foot on the glass section. It’s an area where you can stand and see straight down. It can hold like a herd of buffalo. But my leg wouldn’t stop shaking so I just looked at the view in front of me not below me.

I’m also fine in the dark except that I can’t see. Roller coasters aren’t so much scary as they are nauseating. So I don’t tempt fate on that one. I’m looking out for my fellow riders. I’m also not really scared of death. It’s inevitable so it does little good to waste energy being scared. And that prevalent fear of public speaking doesn’t apply to me. I love it.

But life is scary. It’s scary in that everything can change in an instant. I could walk out my door today and never come back. Accidents, crime, wrong place wrong time and a million things in between can 180 your life in a heartbeat. So why not do some sh** that scares you. If you’re scared of something then you actually do it; you win. More importantly, it takes away the power of fear.

As I’m out there living life with a capital L, I’ve pretty much had fear’s number. I zip lined a few weeks ago. No hesitation, just stepped off and went. It was exhilarating. It’s the closest thing to flying most humans will ever feel. Great experience and would love to do it again.

But I haven’t been really scared in a long time until I went down the Wenatchee River on a raft with four real rafters. I thought it was just going to be a laid back rafting adventure. Then we got there and started getting into wet suits and packing up gear. Then there was the safety review, which I paid attention to like my life depended on it (spoiler alert: it did).

Then we get in the water, and the fun begins. There were multiple occasions where my heart was in my throat, and I was literally shaking. As a city girl, I’m not super outdoorsy. To clarify, I love to be outdoors but I’m just not an outdoor adventurer. My many years of girl scouting or previous rafting experience did not prepare me. I was with people who knew what they were doing so I deferred to them. Even though I did fall in, I received a passing grade from the pros. And more importantly, I did something really damn scary.

So these are examples of scary situations. But I do things every day that scare me just as much, but in a different way. I bare my soul with words that aren’t always easy to write. I’m honest to others and myself. I walk away from circumstances and people that are toxic. I’ve lived every day for 20 plus years without my mom, yeah that’s still scary. I take chances on people and let myself be vulnerable, unimaginably scary. I love people who may disappoint me or leave me. I prepare for professional rejection on the regular because not everyone thinks I’m publication worthy.

So I guess these adventures are small potatoes compared to what I and many of you do every day. Being brave is different for every person and every situation. If you want to feel alive; if you want to feel your pulse, simply do something that scares the sh** out of you. Every. Damn. Day.

The Adult Card

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Dear Life, I need a break. Adulting is a 24/7/365 type of job. There are no breaks or reprieves. When you’ve been adulting as long as I have, eventually you hit a breaking point. Mine was about two hours ago. Not one thing I needed to go right has in the last week. And most of it is out of my control. As an adult, I know that I can’t change it. But honestly I’d really like to bury my head in my pillow and not get up for two weeks.

Unfortunately, that’s not an option. I don’t have the luxury of taking breaks. I don’t necessarily feel overwhelmed by what’s on my plate. I like most of the stuff on my plate. It’s just the way it’s being served. There’s not enough time for everything to get the attention it needs. There’s not enough money to really make life easier.

Instead there is just the churn of life. The routine of doing all the things you need to do every day to keep your official adult card. Go to work. Pay bills. Buy groceries. Deal with intolerable people. This is what being an adult is. Of course, some of us do it better than others.

Errors have been made that have impacted me negatively in the last week. I’d gladly blame myself, but I’m not the culprit. Lucky for me, those responsible aren’t accountable. So it’s up to me to show up, flash my adult card and turn on my I’m not taking any shit voice. This voice is usually reserved for AT&T, United Healthcare, the HOA, numerous other organizations that I am forced to do business with and occasionally my husband.

I imagine that he can see it in my eyes when I’m about to lose it. Yet, he never does. You know when you get so mad and frustrated that you are literally steaming. Yeah, that’s me right now just waiting for him to get home so I can spew. I’ll reiterate he’s done nothing wrong; my fire breathing is not directed at him. But he’s my person that gets to hear all of it. He signed up for this. I never hid that I was holding on by a thread.

The thread may have broken. It does every so often. Then I have to work real hard at returning to human form and rethreading the needle of my sanity. If any of this sounds shocking then good for you and your commitment to being sunshiny. I just can’t do it. If you asked me right now, “How are you?” I think it would be physically impossible for me to say, “well” or “fine” or any other normal response.

So what do I do when I’m under water and cannot adult any more. I write in the hope that it will make me feel better or at least just get it out of my head. Sometimes just writing words can dampen the fire. Even though I’d like to resign from adulting, that’s not really how life works. I have to get up every day and work and learn and grow. I have babies that depend on me, and people that care if I show up for life. So I’ll keep showing up, and I’ll keep writing.

And I will hold on to what’s to come, including a girl’s weekend and a trip to two places I’ve wanted to see my entire life.

I feel as though I’ve been an adult my entire life. So why hand in this card I’ve worked so hard for? After all, if life was all uphill, what fun would that be? I’m quite sure I’ll never have to find out.

10 Twitter Musts for B2B Brands

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If you are going to use Twitter as a channel for your B2B brand then you must be strategic. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. By incorporating these Twitter musts, you can actually begin to see ROI (return on investment) for your social media marketing efforts.

Share original content

Twitter feeds on great content. If you produce relevant content that your audience wants to read, you are starting a conversation. You must have a content marketing plan in place to execute this. I adhere to the 50/30/20 rule, wherein 50 percent of content is original content that attempts to answer questions, provide education and nurture the relationship; 30 percent is third party content that complements your original content; and 20 percent is purely promotional.

For the 50 percent part of the pie, it’s great to come up with a monthly featured topic, and break it down to lots of formats: eBooks, whitepapers, blogs, infographics and video, all of which you can share on Twitter. Original content that resonates with your audience and allows them to learn or have a broader understanding will get liked and shared and can lead to conversions.

Share partner and third party content

For the 30 percent part, you should curate content that makes sense for your brand, monthly topic and partnerships. You should have a third party content spreadsheet, identifying the organizations that you feel align with your brand. Examples include trade groups, publications in which you advertise, thought leaders/SMEs (subject matter experts) and those companies of which you have official and unofficial partnerships. Sharing their content of course increases the chance, they’ll share yours.

Engage with your audience

I analyzed a Twitter account recently for a brand that had been on Twitter since 2008, and they had a total of 288 likes. So in almost nine years, they’ve only liked 288 tweets. That’s not how Twitter works. You have to be engaged. You must like tweets that mention your brand (where appropriate) or those from your partners and thought leaders. The same thing applies to retweeting.

Respond

Twitter is a place where clients often bring concerns or successes to the conversation. If you are asked a question about your product or service, answer it or at least acknowledge it and respond via direct message. Not responding at all only makes a negative experience worse, and if the tweet is positive, your “fan” feels ignored.

Include CTAs (calls to action)

Why do you tweet? Do you really see Twitter as a channel for content or a necessary evil? To use it as a channel, you must guide a prospect to the next step. Most interaction between prospects and brands would be considered the Awareness stage of the buyer’s journey so that means they are just determining they have a problem. Using Twitter to publish original content that answers questions and educates transforms it into a meaningful channel for lead generation. Your post should be a quick summary with keywords hashtagged, include a photo and end with a CTA like read our blog or explore our options. It’s a meaningful ask that propels the user.

Grow followers legitimately

This is a PSA to urge you to never buy followers. Buying followers as well as using “bots” to make a post seem like it has more likes and shares continues to be an issue. Bots are really algorithms working behind the scenes. Bots look like real profiles to a lot of users, however social media marketers and influencers can spot it. Using bots may seem like a great way to “viral” or engage real users, but I would never recommend it. If you’re just “buying” engagement then what’s the point of using Twitter as a true lead gen channel.

Tag correctly

As I’ve discussed, it’s important to share the content of partners and engage with your followers. That means tagging profiles properly. If you are sharing a piece of content from a partner, then use their handle as a mention as well as the actual author of the content. This is a simple way to expand your reach. Always use handles when replying as well.

Hashtag responsibly

Just because it’s a keyword in your niche industry doesn’t mean it will have any hashtag relevance on Twitter. Twitter uses hashtags as a way to determine what’s trending and for users to search based on a particular phrase or word. Don’t over hashtag. My advice is three max in a tweet. Not sure if your keyword is a real hashtag, just search it on Twitter.

Measure and tweak

Of course measurement is an important part of ROI. But measuring just the basics of follower growth and engagement (based on shares and likes) isn’t enough. You must put context around the data. You should be benchmarking against competitors as well as determining what your actual reach and visibility are. For instance, if you had 50 likes in a month with only 500 followers, that’s decent. But it would be immaterial if you have 10,000.

You should also be measuring how Twitter is working as a channel. What’s the click through on your links? How does Twitter compare as a referrer compared to other social media platforms or organic search?

Once you start compiling data then you need to make it actionable. If the data reflects infographics are liked and shared more than any other content then consider increasing the number of those. Do more of what works; less of what doesn’t.

Have fun

B2B companies often miss this important mark on Twitter. They’re overly promotional and seem like a machine rather than a human. Stop taking yourself so seriously. There are so many national days and holidays that provide you the opportunity to tweet a trending hashtag and show off your lighter side. Resist being too cheesy.

Here’s an example: June 29 is Talk in an Elevator Day; you could suggest some fun topics like, “Ask your fellow elevator passengers their top three favorite movies.”

Twitter and its abbreviated lingo can be a great way to connect with many different buyers. Keep in mind that it’s not all about you, your products and your awesomeness. You must give to get in the Twitterverse. If you don’t have a defined strategy that includes goals, actions and KPIs (key performance indicator) then it’s really just throwing up some random content and seeing what sticks. So do these 10 key tactics and see what happens! I’d love to hear your Twitter musts for B2B, tweet me at @bethfosborne.

How I Landed My Dream Career

How I Landed My Dream Career

 

First, I just want to say this isn’t an article about how everything happens for a reason, and if you just focus on success, it’ll happen. This is a story about not settling. This is a story about how a job and a career are different things.

A year ago, I felt like my career was going nowhere. I left a job I loved because I just couldn’t keep going on a path that was all dead ends. So I took a job that I thought would move me into the right lane, and the pay was great. I soon learned that the job wasn’t what I expected. So I moved on after a few months to a position that paid more but still wasn’t what I wanted to do. But it gave me the time I needed to focus on where I wanted my career to go.

However, this was just a job, and I was a contractor not an employee. As a contractor, it was hard to feel like I was a part of something, which made feel disconnected to the work. I worked with some very smart and competent people. But no one seemed to have a plan for my role. It was like they went on a hiring spree, I showed up, and they weren’t sure what to do with me. I was used to just being thrown in, but when you work for a large company, it’s basically impossible to create work. But I tried. And really the clichés about large companies are mostly true: lots of red tape, corporate speak is rampant, and most of the time, new ideas aren’t appreciated. These were not bad experiences. I did learn things. I learned a lot about what I didn’t want for my career and that having at least some leeway to be creative is essential. And that I really like working and collaborating with others. The in person meeting is hard to come by in global companies. Technology allows for alternatives, but in my opinion, there’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye and giving them your attention.

I also learned that in a large company, your role is just one small cog and that was hard for me to swallow as my experience has been one where I’ve had to wear a lot of hats. I was able to connect what I was doing to the bigger picture; I just had little opportunity to influence the strategy. It became easier to just do what I was told. And that’s not me. I need to be challenged and engaged. Otherwise, I just feel like I’m simply showing up.

But during the year of contacting, I enjoyed flexibility that allowed me to find exactly what I wanted and focus on continuing to improve my skills and connections. This time allowed me to connect with some amazing folks and do some really cool things. So even if my day job was blah; I had work that was creative and challenging. I also took this time to learn new skills. I can now create landing pages without the help of a developer! Life doesn’t really hand out opportunities just for showing up. Attitude about your situation is what you can have control over, not much else.

So while I could worry less about financials, I had plenty of time to find the right fit. I had a lot of bad interviews. Not that the people were bad; it’s just I kind of immediately knew it wasn’t for me. I never turn down interviews even if I was already on the fence. You never know who you might meet or what it might teach you. I, at one point, thought I had found a great opportunity but because of situations beyond my control, the company made the choice not to fill the position. I did meet a great guy who 100 percent believed in me. We were completely on the same page so it turned into an opportunity, just a different kind.

The worst interview had to be the one that made me literally sick. It was so hot in the room, and I was in there for over an hour with no water. I’m not saying it was a literal toxic environment, but I decided my body was trying to tell me something.

So it was months of bad interviews or jobs that seemed like a good fit but were under my salary requirements. I could have just gotten comfortable in my day job routine. But I knew I wasn’t fulfilled so I kept putting myself out there.

Then something amazing happened. I applied for a job on LinkedIn and had a phone interview with my now boss. I immediately knew I wanted to work for him. Then in my in person interview it got even better. I knew I had found my people and my place.

I’m just finishing my first week, and thus far it’s as advertised. The people are fun and friendly. I’ve already received so much praise and recognition for my work and ideas. That’s pretty amazing! And I’m thankful everyday that I get paid well to do what I love, write and marketing!

My advice to anyone unhappy in their career is that only you can change it. Your boss isn’t suddenly going to start appreciating you. The work won’t become interesting and challenging if you wish hard enough. But don’t settle. You deserve to be treated well and paid fairly. I bring up pay because it’s important to ask for what you need and not back down. I know what I’m worth, and in the end so did they.

If the offers don’t come then keep learning and growing. Top talent is a bit of a unicorn these days. If you know how great you are, make sure employers do, too. Tell your story because we all have one. I’m feeling really blessed right now, and right now, I feel that my career story has just launched into an exciting new chapter.

Why do we have to make things so hard?

 

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In life, whether professionally or personally, we often make things much harder than they have to be. Many people seem to reject simplicity and believe complexity is the only way, especially in marketing. Why? I think there are several reasons why this is happening in organizations across the U.S. Here are some observations of why people can’t seem to understand that simplicity is not inferior to complexity:

Confusing simplification with “dumbing it down”

I have run into this wall many times when working with technology and software companies. They believe that the complexity of their product or service is validation of its greatness. WRONG! What these types of companies fail to remove from the marketing and tone is this bias that they are experts; their customers are not. If you use words that require a dictionary then your message is not on point. Simplifying your message to focus on value and benefits to your end user will get them to listen. If they want to know more about the specifications and technology, they will ask once they are closer to making a buying decision. Strive to be simple and human in your message; not formal and condescending. This is in NO WAY “dumbing it down.” It’s about creating a message that resonates with your audience.

Creating complexity to ensure purpose

Are you the only company offering your service or product? Probably not. Maybe you have a different angle or approach, but there are always others that can offer what you offer. So to ensure your purpose, you market or write about your product’s complexity as a differentiator. I don’t think this is a good move. Competing on complexity isn’t really a winning strategy. There has to be another way to substantiate purpose; I think it’s in the “why.” The “why” is just that: why you do what you do (not to make profit, although of course that’s part of it). But defining the “why” is much more powerful to users than how complicated your product is.

Internal communication is absent or strained

Marketing is not an island unto itself. As a marketing professional, I’ve worked closely with sales, operations, R&D, ownership and almost every other department. Marketing’s job is to create messaging and campaigns to spread that message to attract leads. But marketing often has to work with subject matter experts (SMEs) or other groups to capture what is happening in the industry and what users are saying. I’ve had both great and strained relationships with these groups. And in some organizations, I’ve seen ZERO communication or collaboration. If as an SME or technical expert, you can’t explain to me why someone would need or want your product then I’m going to have a hard time translating this. It’s been such a struggle in many organizations that I have just become the SME myself. SMEs or others may not know how to effectively communicate. But marketers can teach them. By asking the right questions and pushing back, you can get some great nuggets of information. My final advice on this topic is that all stakeholders should meet regularly, learn to trust each other and of course communicate!

Goals are unclear

I have an excellent example to illustrate this point. My dog, Fawn, does not like to put her harness on. She has to wear a harness because she’s a puller. She likes to think it’s a game, but I’ve assured her it’s not. Usually trickery is involved to get her into the harness, but the reward is she gets to go outside for a walk and more than likely will also get a treat. So she completely understands what the harness means, and she does love to go outside. Yet, she always makes it more difficult than it has to be. You may be doing the same thing with your marketing. Your end user understands his or her goals. They have a problem; they need a solution. Their preferred end state is to have something in place that removes the problem. If your marketing isn’t geared to your buyer’s end goal then this is a huge problem. It really is that simple: be the reason somebody’s life or job just got easier. When you don’t align marketing with the buyer’s journey (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) then you miss the mark often. You may be making it to complex for the end user to see how your solution solves their challenge. Look at the pathway from prospect to client, where are the gaps? Is it too hard to do business with your company? If you don’t simplify the process and make it user-friendly, you will lose prospects and clients.

Parting words: simplicity is your friend; complexity is your foe! I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and please share if you found this worthwhile.

I almost died last Tuesday

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I almost died last Tuesday. Okay that sounds super dramatic, and to be clear, I’m fine. I work in the downtown area of Charlotte, N.C. It’s not exactly pedestrian friendly. I’ve had close calls before, while I was in the crosswalk and had the green light. This was different. I was crossing one of the main roads on my way back to the office from running an errand. I’ve learned to hesitate a second or two even after the light comes on that says walk. I stepped out into the road, and an SUV ran the red light and literally came within inches of hitting me. A lady behind me even gasped. But as I said, I’m fine, not even a scratch. So what did I learn about myself in that split second?

I learned that it doesn’t take almost dying for me to know my priorities. I’m not suddenly going to start using YOLO as my mantra or seize the day. Because I’m already seizing the day, at least as much as I can.

You see, this isn’t my first brush with mortality. I’ve lost almost everyone that was important to me. And I’ve been in the room sitting across from the doctor hearing him say words like “cancer” and “surgery.” Maybe this gives me a unique perspective. Sometimes I’d probably trade that perspective to just have one more moment with my mom. But that’s not the path my life has taken. I often say, “Life rarely turns out as expected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful.” I really believe this 84 percent of the time. I’m not perfect. I often get caught in the cobwebs of the past or the shininess of the future.

But I don’t think you need loss or trauma in your life to realize what’s important. I read something the other day, “I want to die with memories not dreams.” That’s a really powerful statement. We all have dreams that still haven’t quite come true. My biggest unrealized dream is to have one of my novels published and to finish my memoir. The routine of life gets in the way of dreams sometimes, but I want more than dreams; I really do want memories. I want to live a life that’s full of beauty as well as heartbreak. I understand that a life well lived has both because you have to take chances, fail terribly and pull yourself back up, which sometimes takes longer than you had planned. I want to see more than the five miles around where I live. I refuse to let fear keep me from experiencing life; whether that be traveling abroad or sharing my stories. I’m not paralyzed by what “might” happen. I understand the reality of what can happen.

I’m not completely fearless. My worries are not uncommon: bills, loved ones, rejection. But you know, I’m just not afraid of death. It’s inevitable. Nobody gets to bypass it. I just want to be sure that when that day comes, however it comes, that I lived a life, took every opportunity, lived by my own rules and left nothing on the table.

How do you really live your life? What keeps you brave?