Archive | Writing Without Waffle

Are you writing for humans or spiders?

People or spiders

Who’s your reader?

Human beings search the internet for specific ecommerce products, information and/or entertainment.

Search engine spiders crawl the internet looking for content to match the search phrase that has been typed in (because it’s the World Wide Web, ha ha!).

Before you write each blog post, you need to decide on your objective.

Are you trying to demonstrate expertise and add value for human site visitors, or are you writing in the hope that your content will be found (and ranked highly) by Google?

The art of a professional copywriter is to craft words that influence, persuade and change behaviour e.g. making someone click a ‘buy now’ or or ‘subscribe’ button.

The art of an SEO copywriter is to help a webpage or blog post appear in the organic (aka natural or free) search engine listings.

I can do both, but if you’ve read my articles before, you’ll know I prefer writing for people than for machines.

Read my SEO articles to find out more:







The day I went to an improv workshop and fell in love.

heartIt was December 2014. I was at PSA London. And John Cremer was running an improv workshop.

At the start of the session, he said something like: “At the end of the session, four people will improvise a play, totally unscripted, and it will be brilliant and hilarious.”

I thought to myself: “I’d never do that in a million years.”

We played some improv games including one-word storytelling and three-line scenes, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. “I can do this,” I thought. “This is just like the games we play as a family every Christmas.”

How restful and relaxing it was to turn off the bit of my brain that edits everything I say and do. What a joy to unleash the playful part of myself. What a delight to let go and laugh and have fun in a completely professional setting.

We got to the end of the session, and it was time for the play. I’d completely forgotten about that.

Three volunteers sat on the chairs John had placed at the front of the room.

I was stunned when my legs disconnected from my brain, and walked me up to sit on the fourth chair. My face was frozen with fear. My mind was shrieking: “What the f*** do you think you’re doing?!”

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Homepage headlines

GrabTranscript from a 5-minute speech

I could grab you with my first few words – or I could lose you.

With a website you have less than three seconds to grab attention and make an impact.

But what impact do you want your website to make? What’s the objective of your website? What’s the point of having one in the first place?

Most of my clients tell me it’s to be found on search engines, and/or to convert site visitors into enquirers or clients. And how do you do that?

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4 x 4 x 4 approach to enhancing your homepage

4 objectives for your homepage, 4 words NOT to use, 4 elements to include

In the Lewis Carroll book ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, Alice fell down the rabbit hole, where she met the Cheshire Cat.

‘Pray, tell me, where should I go from here?’ she asked.

‘That very much depends on where you’re trying to get to’ he replied.

‘I don’t really care where I get to’.

‘Then it doesn’t really matter which way you go’.

Marketing is all about objectives. That’s so important I’m going to say it again: marketing is all about objectives. If you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, it doesn’t matter what you do; it doesn’t matter which way you go.

The main objective of your homepage is to get people to click the ‘buy now’ button or contact you. (Top right is the standard place for contact details, as that is where people will look.)

Aside from that, here are four more key objectives.

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How a call to action saves lives

In Kenya, you take your life in your hands when you travel between towns in a matatu – a small bus or minivan. They are notoriously driven fast and furiously, contributing to one of the highest road death rates in the world.

The Kenyan government tried a number of expensive options, including:

  • lowering speed limits
  • repairing damaged roads
  • encouraging the use of seat belts
  • installing speed bumps
  • cracking down on drunk-driving

Then two economists came up with an ingenious solution.

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“Oh f***!”


Keep calm and have a cuppa
photo credit: Hot tea at The Pizza Express via photopin (license)

That’s what many people were posting on social media when we woke up this morning to the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU.

But why did they use the famous four-letter F-word (in full) instead of Fiddlesticks, Fridge magnet, Gerbil, or any other word from our vocabulary?

When we are young, we are taught that certain words are ‘bad’, so we store them in a different part of our brain – the amygdala, sometimes called the reptilian brain, responsible for the fight-or-flight response. It’s where we find the language we use when we are most in shock, which is why people swear when they stub their toe or bang their head on an open cupboard door.

For more on this, see the language of swearing videos below.

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So you want to be a copywriter?

Having been doing this for over 30 years, aspiring copywriters often ask me to mentor them.

Here are some of the questions they ask (including my answers, because this article would be pretty useless without them):

Q. Do you have any advice for a marketing strategy, when a new freelance copywriter has little or no budget?
A. When you have time but no money, focus on social media, including blogs, guest blogs, newsletters and guest speaking. When you have money but no time, try advertising.

Q. How did you go about meeting new contacts and potential clients, when you were first starting out?
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Copywriting for your LinkedIn profile – the business end of social media


photo credit: DSCF0038 via photopin (license)

If you are launching a B2B business (business-to-business), or you want to promote yourself as an expert in something, LinkedIn is the place to be.

As with all marketing, LinkedIn marketing is about objectives. In order to decide how best to use it, you have to know why you are using it and what you are hoping to achieve.

Once just a glorified address book, it now has all sorts of useful functionality.

Here are my top three tips.

  1. Edit your professional headline

LinkedIn allows you to write a two-line ‘professional headline’ at the top of your profile. By default, it will show your latest job title and company name.

But a headline can account for 80-90% of success, and might be the only bit people read, so write it carefully.

For example:

  • Express your unique personality and sense of humour e.g. “Sub-editor and proofreader with special responsibility for commas”
  • Add your call to action e.g. “Currently looking to meet Brad Pitt. Can you help?”
  • Include keywords to help your profile get found on a LinkedIn search e.g. “Expert plumber in Pimlico here to solve Pimlico Plumbing problems”

If one objective of your LinkedIn profile is to drive traffic to your website – and it should be – there is space to include your URL in the professional headline area.  That’s because LinkedIn has hidden your web addresses under the index card icon and the default link “company website” or “personal website”. There is only a small chance that people who view your profile will bother to click there. (Bonus tip:  you can change this anchor text to something more compelling when you choose “other” from the drop-down menu.)

All your LinkedIn contacts who have not unsubscribed from the weekly digest email (let’s face it, most people don’t because they don’t know how) will receive a message saying “[Your name] has changed his/her professional headline to…”

I’ve won business just by adding the word “copywriter” in mine. One of my contacts got in touch to say “Hey, I never knew you were a copywriter!” I never knew he was in marketing, because we’d originally met in another capacity (public speaking). He went on to pass me a lot of web copywriting work.

You can change your professional headline as often as you wish. I know a recruiter who writes “Expert in recruiting for Javascript programmers” when he’s recruiting for those, and “Expert in recruiting for landscape gardeners” when he’s recruiting for those. He then does some other LinkedIn activity to drive his target candidates and clients to his profile. When they see it, they think he’s the right recruiter for them.

LinkedIn expert, Bert Verdonck, includes “happy chocoholic” in his professional headline. He told me that people send him chocolate just because of this.

Think of your professional headline more like a poster advert – a few words that will prompt people to read on and contact you. You have 120 characters to play with – go for it!

Do second level searches

At the top of every LinkedIn page is a dark grey search bar.

The default is set to search ‘all’, as you can see by the three-line ‘list’ icon on the left beside the drop-down arrow.

Click the word ‘advanced ‘on the right – this will open a new ‘people’ search window.

Ignore the third column with the gold icons. This feature is only available to (paid) premium users.

In the second column, tick the box marked ‘2nd connections’.

In the first column, type your desired search details. For example, keyword ‘copywriting’ within 10 miles of postcode ‘BR3 4HL’.

A list of your 2nd level connections will appear.

If you click the down pointing arrow beside the ‘connect’ button, you will see an option called ‘get introduced’. If you want, LinkedIn will walk you through the process of an online introduction. But I recommend an alternative approach.

Under each name will be a green link showing how many connections you both share.

Click the green link to see who they are.

Instead of using the impersonal LinkedIn interface, pick up the phone and contact one or more of your 1st level connections. Ask how well they know your target individual. Explain why you would like to connect with them. Perhaps they will be willing to introduce you? Or you could arrange a three-way Skype conference call or Google Hangout? Maybe you could all meet for coffee or lunch?

When a mutual connection arranges an introduction for you, it’s much more likely to be warmly received than a cold call. If nothing else, it’s a good chance to reconnect with a 1st level contact. And if it works out, remember to thank your introducer appropriately.

  1. Customise your URL and public profile

If you want to send the link to someone, you’ll find the default URL (web address) for your profile is not very catchy. Go to Profile > Edit Profile > Edit public profile to customise your URL i.e. change the random string of numbers to your own name, if available. You can also tick and untick the boxes on this page, to select which elements of your profile you want the public to see i.e. people not in your network. You will see a preview showing changes as you make them.



Sainsbury’s: What in the world were you thinking?

You might have seen this story; it was all over the press and social media this month. Here’s the ad that caused all the trouble (published 12 May, page 14, Camden New Journal):


Putting aside the fact that a £5.2billion organisation wants a local artist to paint their Camden canteen for nothing, the copy is appalling.

I had planned to list all the errors, but it’s SO bad, I almost lost the will to live. Here are just a few:

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