Wednesday, October 7, 2015


In an internal review yesterday, someone mentioned that we need to make sure to make the logos at the top of the email clickable ("hot"). We don't have a good system for recording this decision or making sure this gets done in the build. I'm getting on the documentation bandwagon, big time. Be forewarned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Write an Ad Like an Idiot

What happy horseshit is this?

I saw this ad in National Geographic (from this year, no less) while waiting in the dentist's chair. Naturally, I was appalled.

The ad left me filled with burning questions: Do men tell time differently than others? What split-personality dunderhead needs a watch with both a digital and an analog readout? How can that watch be as sturdy as they say it is for only $59?

And, who the hell puts that much copy in a print ad? 

The ad is written in the first person, like a letter to you, Dear Reader. It's filled with action ("swinging a hammer"! "changing a tire"!) and description ("chromed," "heavy-duty," "bright green" [WTF?], and both "luminous" and "electroluminescent" [whatever that means]).

Who, aside from the occasional dumbfounded copywriter, is going to read this stuff?

I'd like to know the answers to all of these questions, but most of all, I'd like to know whether they sold any of these watches.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Do you sell to writers? Maybe consider using good writing.

I heard about a new writing app called Ulysses. (Questionable name, I think. I'd guess the largest percentage of their potential customers would associate this name with pain and boredom; a smaller percentage don't know what it means, and the smallest proportion associate it with utter genius. But that's not my point.)

The point is, I went to the website and was asked a question.

Why, yes. Yes, I do. But this isn't a date; you shouldn't be shutting up about yourself and asking me all about me. In the case of a landing page, it's all about YOU. What the hell are you? From the home page of Ulysses' site, I have no idea what the product is.

More importantly, from a conversion standpoint, what do you want me to do?

Oh, OK, you want me to watch the video. In it, I'm sure, you're going to tell me all about your product.

But wait. You don't. The only words in the whole video are "Do you write?" The video doesn't say anything about what the app does. No benefits, no features, nothing. It doesn't describe the product at all. It shows people using Macs.

The home page also fails in telling me what to do. Users want to know what's going to happen when they click a button; we can help them by providing clear, meaningful CTAs. "Learn more" is everyone's favorite CTA to deprecate, but at least it gives a clear command.

These buttons do not. How about "discover" or "meet" or even "learn about" or "see"—in short, how about a verb here, please?

The app is for writers. From this page, it doesn't appear that Ulysses employs any.

Once I click in, though, it becomes clear that they employ too many—or at least, that their writers employ too many words.

What? Make up your mind. Which is it? What does this even mean? That's a question I asked myself a lot reading through the verbiage on this page.

"Consider yourself a night owl?Ulysses offers a dedicated Dark color mode. It's said to also save energy."

Weak. "Consider yourself" is waffling; this should be "are you." But you haven't made the connection between being a night owl and using Dark color mode, anyway, so your offer of a "dedicated" (what the hell does that even mean here?) Dark color mode is a non sequitur.

And then the last sentence. OK, Yoda: this is your big selling point? "It's said to"? You may as well say "We don't actually believe that it saves energy, and there's no evidence to support this half-assed claim, but we're just putting it out there."

And come on, people. Proofread. You're marketing to writers, who (while we're not all copyeditors) are likely to notice that you forgot a space between the first two sentences.

"When it comes to distraction-free writing, there's still no better way than going full screen. We know. We invented it."

You invented going full screen. Yeah.

It's bad enough that any site should have writing this awful. But a site selling something to writers? Wow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Very Punny

Some people hate puns. In my family, if you can't take puns, you'll take some punishment. I grew up with wordplay and have a healthy appreciation for puns (thank goodness, or I wouldn't be able to tolerate my husband for five minutes).

Obviously, there's a time and a place; copywriters need to be judicious. It seems journalism allows more opportunity for punsters than digital marketing does. I wish I'd been the one to write this headline:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Take a Lesson (or 36) from Don

Just came across this fantastic infographic from Joanna Wiebe and Copy Hackers. I got a lot out of Mad Men, but it's wonderful to have the copywriting lessons all assembled in one place! Now I need to go rewatch the whole series.

Courtesy of: Copy Hackers

Monday, July 27, 2015

Boy do I love me some good button copy

A call to action (CTA) is an exhortation to do something specific. On a website, they usually appear on buttons or links; the action here (sign up, buy now) will happen after the user clicks.

At the 2014 Authority Intensive conference, I heard Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers discuss the user's fear of commitment as it relates to clicking a button. Joanna advised that we remove that fear by helping the user understand what will happen after the click. (Joanna wrote the book on button copy, btw.)

Clear CTAs that provide a sense of what's going to happen create good user experience; they're good for conversion; they enrich the whole site; and they're fun to write, unlike this:

Recently I wrote about the concise, verb-rich writing on Zuli's site. Their calls to action deserve a few words of praise, too. Just look at these clear drivers from their home page:

  • See for yourself
  • Experience it
  • Pop the hood
  • Check it out
  • Get answers

For every one of these, I had a good idea of what was going to be on the other side of the click.

Simplicity IS harder than it looks. It's nice to see some folks doing a great job.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Verbiage need not apply.

I love the word "verbiage" because I'm a bit off and I tend to like confusing things.

"Verbiage" is often misused. My coworkers might say "maybe Heidi can just write some verbiage," but they don't want me to craft "writing that contains too many words or that uses words that are more difficult than necessary" (thanks, Merriam-Webster). They actually mean "maybe Heidi can just write a short, concise blurb."

And, "verbiage" sounds like something it's not. The word isn't related to verbs at all; Merriam-Webster gives its origin as being from the Middle French verbier, "to chatter," and further back, from the Old French werbler, "to trill."

I also like it because it always brings to mind "roughage" and "foliage," so I get a mental image of a chewy, leafy word-wad. It's just fun.

Better in Absentia

More than I love the word, I love that verbiage appears (in name or fact) absolutely nowhere on Zuli's lovely website.

What does appear here are verbs--a lot of them. In the hero copy alone, including the CTA, we have five verbs out of 27 words total. Yes, 18.5% of the copy is verbs. That's effective.

They're great verbs, too: simple and imperative. Meet. Connect. Control. Enable. Shop. If you just read the verbs (and I believe they resonate more with readers than other words), you already get the message. Now, that's doing it right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Selling to zombies.

Is it wise to imply your customers, or their teams, are dead?

The people even look like zombies--well, except for the robot. This headline doesn't mean much, unless the customer's team IS, in fact, dead. It's a waste of words. "Bring your team together," although equally un-snappy, is so much stronger.

The Subhead Is Dead, Long Live the Subhead

The subhead is as dead as the team here. It's not a complete sentence, so why does it get a period? It's not a complete sentence because it doesn't contain any verbs, but verbs are what sell. How about this:

"Chat in groups or privately. Share files. Work seamlessly."


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Repeat the right line.

Sometimes, a little repetition makes a great point, which is especially handy if you're really sure of the point you want to make. Check out this succinct "about" copy from theSkimm:

"Across subject lines and party lines" says a lot with just that little bit of epistrophe (the repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses). You can't always fit "we're a bipartisan publication" into so few words.

But why "subject lines" and not "headlines"? Their service creates synopses of news, not emails. Nice effort here, theSkimm, but you need to push a little further.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Selling ash with a story.

I learned about storytelling as an integral part of marketing the summer after Mt. St. Helens blew. My little brother and I were in Michigan visiting our grandparents, and somehow we wound up with a little stand in front of a Baskin-Robbins, selling little vials of ash for a dollar each.

When a man accused us of tipping our parents’ ashtrays into the vials in lieu of real volcanic ash, I was outraged. By the time I finished telling about the sky-ripping crack we’d heard all the way to the Oregon Coast and the ash-covered Jungle Gym in our back yard, the man had become a customer—and we’d gathered a crowd. We sold out of ash and I learned two things about storytelling: that it’s an incredibly powerful means of product marketing, and that I wanted to do it.

(The third thing about storytelling, which I learned much later, is that it’s a clichéd term. But like any of Shakespeare’s famous quips, it’s become cliché because it’s an accurate descriptor.)

A product’s story, or the story of the brand behind it, creates a connection. For the doubting Thomas in front of that Ann Arbor Baskin-Robbins, the detail and emotion of my recollections validated the authenticity of the ash. For a housewife buying laundry detergent, a product or brand story can be equally important. Its purpose isn’t to convince her there’s actual detergent in the jug; it’s to convince her that the detergent will work and is the right choice for her family.

Brands go about telling their stories, and their products’ stories, in very different ways with varying degrees of effectiveness. A large part of the story is big-picture: big concepts, like integrity, or quality, or comfort. But a large part of storytelling is in the details, from design decisions to word choice. To be truly effective, marketing must not only choose the right concepts but also make sure that the details back up and pay off those concepts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thinking too much.

When I get up in the middle of the night, I have to try very hard not to wake up too much, or I will have a tough time getting back to sleep. Usually this means that, as I stumble to the bathroom, I'm hanging on tightly to some piece of the dream I was just having, so that when I return to bed I can envision it and hopefully drift back off.

Last night the image I held to was a sort of flat, grayish box with a bunch of other shapes on it. I just kind of kept thinking about it as I did my stuff. But as I crawled back into bed, I had a revelation.

Wait a second. That grayish box. It's got other grayish boxes on it. It's like a piece of paper, maybe, or something you'd see on a screen....

Then it hit me. A wireframe? I've been dreaming about a wireframe?

Oh, god.