Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Write the Compelling Article, Get the Business You Deserve

One of the best ways to publicize your website, product or service is to write articles that link back to you. So if you're a plumber, tell me what to do when my toilet won't stop running at 3:00 AM. If you're an accountant, tell me what is and isn't tax deductible. If you're an attorney who specializes in defending white collar criminals..well, you get the idea. In general, writing these articles and having them point back to your website or contact information is a wonderful idea.

There's just one little catch. They've got to be well written. That doesn't just mean spelling, grammar, and correct information, although these elements are very important. That means your articles have to successfully compete in a marketplace of articles whose authors are trying to do the very same thing that you're doing.

So, how do you make sure readers select your articles and not those of your competitors? By making your articles clever, informative, and above all, magnetic. Once a reader's eyes focus on your article, they should not shift away from the page until they have taken in every word.

It's All About Them

Most of us are eager to promote our products and services. We want to talk about our education and training, our long lists of publications, our skill at making widgets, or whatever else we are proud of.

Big mistake. Readers don't want to read about you. They want to read about themselves. Why should they care if you're the fastest widget-maker in the world if they don't know why they should want a widget in the first place?

Still stuck? Follow these five easy steps to lead you through.

1. Find a Need

In one scene of the movie, The Prince of Tides, the mother of a poor family is trying to get into a local social club that keeps rejecting her. Her daughter asks why she wants to be a member of a club that doesn't want her. "Oh, they want me, honey," the mother replies smoothly, "they just don"t know it yet."

If you can tap into an unmet need that your readers may not even be aware that they have until they see your work, your articles will be a vein of pure gold running through the drudgery of most online pieces.

So use your expertise to convince readers that you know about something they need, and they'll be beating a path to your door to get the advice, the fix, the cure, or the service.

2. Wow 'Em From The Start

Start with a short anecdote, a startling statistic, or a pointed question. For instance, which opening would keep you reading?

#1. People who lose weight sometimes find that they regain the weight soon afterwards. Losing weight is a constant struggle..


#2. Randi Forest lost 54 pounds last year. Think she's thrilled? She's not. That's because she gained 60 pounds this year. If you, like Randi and like the vast majority of other dieters, have struggled with weight maintenance, you'll find these tips for keeping the weight off especially helpful..

3. Use A Conversational Tone Of Voice

James Herriot, who wrote All Creatures Great and Small as well as a host of other books about being a Yorkshire country vet, used to say that when he wrote he imagined himself in a pub telling the stories to other patrons. Anyone who has read his books is familiar with his friendly, conversational style.

Like Heriot, imagine you are swapping stories with a buddy, or chatting with someone over the telephone about the issue you're addressing. Accept in special cases, such as writing your dissertation, a friendly, approachable style will win over more readers than an unapproachable, academic style.

4. Offer Realistic Hope

We all live on hope, though the things we hope for may change daily.

Even if you can't make sweeping promises to fix the problems of the world in your article, extend some form of hope and give the reader a gentle nudge to get started. For instance, you might finish an article on safe driving by saying, "Defensive driving will not, of course, guarantee that you will never have an accident, but it may help to minimize the damage if you do. So, slow down, turn the music down, put the cell phone down, and focus on the cars around you. Driving may not be nearly as much fun, but the people who care about you and don't want to see you hurt will thank you for your new attitude."

5. Edit

There's nothing worse - okay, a lot of things are worse, but there's little more embarrassing - than publishing an article only to realize that you've made a typo that turns a perfectly innocent little word into an obscene one, or spelled your own name wrong, or any of the other humiliating things writers do every day. So take a few minutes to read through your work. I read mine out loud, because I know that what doesn't register on the eye will often jangle on the ear.

Unless you're on a strict deadline, take a one day cooling off period and re-read, then make your final edits and submit.

Always remember, you're the expert in your field. No one knows your topic better than you do. You just need to write articles that will get the information across in a style readers will enjoy and appreciate. If you learn to do that, you should have no trouble raking in the business.

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