How to write a ‘lead’ for your blog
(like newspapers do)

Get skim-readers to pay attention to your blog posts.  How?  Start using a ‘lead’, like newspapers do.  This post will tell you why & show you how.

What is a ‘lead’?

A lead is the one-paragraph explanation at the top of an article.  I’ve crafted one at the top of this blog post, in italics, as an example.  (Though it’s not perfect – I’m still learning too!)

The term ‘lead’ comes from the newspaper industry, where a lead is used as a micro-story under the headline to emphasise what made the story ‘newsworthy’ in the first place.  In your blog post, you should use a lead to emphasise what made your story bloggable. Aim to write a short, focused summary that highlights the point of your blog post AND encourages people to read on.

Why you should use a lead:

Newspaper leadYou’ve probably heard time and time again that Internet users have a short attention span, right? Oh, and don’t forget nobody reads anything  anymore – it’s all about skim reading.

So, use a lead to capture attention, to hook users in.

Using a lead will draw in passive skim-readers.  It will encourage people to give your article their full attention.   It will tell people WHY it’s worth reading (i.e. why it was bloggable, or newsworthy in the first place) and why it’s worth their time and effort.

Examples of leads:

Here are some examples of leads from today’s news:

Newspaper lead example Newspaper lead example 2 Newspaper lead example 3

(Click to view the news item on its original site – in a new window)

As you’ll notice, under each headline is a small summary of the story.  The Guardian uses bullet points on its website, which I think is a fantastic idea!

What to put in your lead:

Here are a few basic tips to get you started:

  • Talk about the actor and the action:
    • Who did what?
  • Make sure you include the main event:
    • Hook people in by explaining specifically what is going on where…
  • Tell people what made this worth blogging:
    • Was there unexpected conflict?
    • Were the ‘elite’ involved?  (For example, Google, a footballer or just somebody well known in your niche).
    • What’s the value, is there something in it for people? (E.g. a freebie or a new tip to help make people more money)

EXAMPLE:  Joe Bloggs explains his suprising reasons for cancelling 2011 SEO conference talk in London, just hours before taking to the stage.

We can pretend that, in this example,  Joe Bloggs is an elite character in the industry.  The fact that his reasons are ‘suprising’ and he let people down just ‘hours before taking to the stage’ makes this story newsworthy.  We’re setting the context by including “who, what, where”.

TIP: Pay attention to the leads used in newspapers (or on news websites) to get a sense for what draws you in.  Try and replicate these in your own blog post leads.

TIP: Writing a really lead will come with experience and tweaking.  If you have the time and resources, try running an A/B split test to see if particular leads result in a lower bounce/exit rate and a higher average time on page value.  Then, note which are more successful and work out why.

How to write a good lead for your blog:

  • Make sure it’s packed with information
  • But keep it short – aim for one short paragraph
  • Ensure it’s clear, concise, focused and to the point
  • Emphasise what made the story worth blogging in the first place

QUESTION:  How long should my lead be?

Try and stick to about 30 words.  You have very limited time to capture potential readers’ attention, so help them grasp the meaning very quickly, pulling them in to read the rest of your blog post.

A few weeks ago I was in my news-making class learning about newspaper leads and why they’re important . I thought “we should really apply this to blogging too” so I wrote this post to share with you all.  The ideas come from a chapter in this book: “The Language of News Media (Language in Society)” by Allan Bell, which we read in preparation for the class.

Copywriting S.O.S – does your copy need rescuing?

Use these tips to rescue your web copy once it’s all gone wrong… This article will teach you a couple of methods to fix up what you’ve written:

It’s getting late: you’re on your ninth cup of tea, you’ve read your entire Facebook wall AND you’ve already paced the room three times in the last half hour.

You should have written a good piece of copy by now, but you haven’t.

Copywriting SOSDo you know what you need? You need rescuing.

Or rather, your copy does.

So, here four simple tips that will help you; they’ve helped me out loads over the last couple of years. They’re quick to master and simple to implement, so it wont be long before your copywriting nightmare turns into a copywriting dream!

Most importantly, these tips will help you write better, engage your readers and meet your deadlines.

Tip: I use these four different tips to help me write articles for SEO, copy for websites and press releases. I hope they’ll help you too, whatever copy you’re writing!

So, let’s get started:

1. Make a quick plan:

You’ll be surprised how much a plan will help you retrieve your focus. After all, how can you write if you don’t know WHAT to write about?

Scribble down several headings and decide what you need to talk about in each paragraph. You don’t need to write more than a couple of words for each point, just write out a very general outline.

Next, reorder your copy to fit with your plan. If appropriate, chop and change around different paragraphs, but most importantly, MAKE SURE IT ALL FLOWS!

Struggling to get finished? Your new plan will help you write the rest of your copy too.

2. Have you made your point yet?

What’s your point? The copy you’re writing must have a point. To inform? To teach? To sell?

Sometimes you can carry on writing blindly because you think the article isn’t finished yet, but all that’s really missing is your main point.

So, what is your point and have you made it yet?

If you haven’t made it yet, now’s the time to figure out what it is and state it. State it early on in your copy and reiterate it near the end to reinforce the point to your readers.

3. Simplify complicated paragraphs:

If you’re reading a paragraph and it just *doesn’t* sound right, it’s probably full of long winded sentences and poor grammar. So, strip it back and start again. Readers will easily digest concise writing, so by keeping your writing simple you’ll keep your reader’s attention for longer.  (Which means they’re more likely to do what you need them to do: buy, click or share!)

Copywriting plan

Follow these quick tips to keep your copy concise:

  • Only make one point per sentence
  • Use short, to-the-point sentences
  • Don’t over-complicate sentences with long-winded jargon and technical words
  • Avoid writing in the ‘passive voice.’
  • Take out extra words where possible

I can’t claim credit for these points, any good copy writing book will tell you to follow these basic rules.

But how often do we apply them?

Rarely, right? But they do make all the difference to your writing! After spending ten minutes rewriting a sentence to no avail, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can correct the troublesome wording by applying these rules.

Bonus: Soon, you’ll find yourself applying these tips automatically!

4. Think you’ve finished writing?

Nearly finished, but not sure if it’s good enough yet? Unsure why it’s ‘not quite there‘?

Go and put the kettle on, make your tenth cup of tea and take a breather. Use your ‘fresh eyes’ and give your copy a final read through.

Finished copywriting?

Edit anything that doesn’t sound right and then stop again.  Then read through your work one final time (after your 11th cup of tea!)

It’s really important to check your copy through all in one go after spending all day stopping and starting writing.

And that’s it!

Regularly, stop, breathe and apply these four tips to your writing when you’re struggling to get finished.

I hope they help you like they help me, and feel free to include more tips in the comments section if you have any to share!

Img credits: [SOS] – [Laptop] – [Done]

How to write awesome copy using other peoples’ experiences

This article will help you write copy to sell something, even if you’ve NO IDEA why people would want to buy it in the first place! Read on for some tips:

You’re probably aware that to sell something, your copy HAS to resonate with the reader. You MUST solve your readers’ problems and offer fantastic solutions.

BUT if you have limited knowledge on a subject, problems can occur. If you’re writing about something you don’t personally need it can get tricky, even if you’re an article-writing guru or a copywriting master.

I’ve personally been in this situation. I needed to sell a service but I had never used it. I didn’t even know why people would need to use it!
web copy inspiration

So, what did I do?

I applied my technique, which I’ll share with you now:

How to put others’ experiences in your copy:

This blog post will show you where to find other peoples’ experiences to work them into your own copy. These techniques will allow you to connect your writing to your readers. You’ll be solving their problems, giving them reasons to buy and hopefully closing in on the sale.

So, let’s get started:

Visit Google and type in your keyword, product or thing that identifies your niche. I’m going to do this now, pretending that my problem product is ‘luxury hand cream’.

web copy discussions

Next, visit the left of Google’s page where you’ll see a ‘more’ button. Click this and then a box full of links (like those on the right) will open up. Click on ‘discussions’ to see your search performed in forums and Q&A websites. You can even filter discussion posts by the last hour, day or week to find really topical information. Click ‘all time’ to find the most popular, influential discussions.

Tip: Read as many discussions as you have time for: skim read and note down common problems people are having or questions that are being answered.

Look deep into the discussions for ‘benefits’ to work into your copy. I suggest writing things in a note pad as you’re skimming from post to post.

Now, use these real, human experiences to help you sell!

Here’s what I found about luxury hand cream after a couple of searches:

  • Factors a good cream will have
  • Fragrance, advice on smells of different creams
  • What’s best to use for really dry hands
  • Phrases, language and style used in discussions
  • What’s considered a ‘good’ ingredient / what’s bad
  • Great benefits of using luxury hand creams
  • Common problems experienced by cream-users

By now, you should have a similar list. So, it’s time to work all of these into your web copy or article.

Use the information you’ve just researched to make your copy sell.

How to make your copy sell using your research:

Here are my top three tips, follow these and you’ll notice a difference to your conversions:

  • Take care to use similar language/words to those used in the discussions
  • Make sure you write about how YOUR product solves any common problems you’ve noted
  • Use your research to pin point unique selling points and highlight these in your copy

Follow these and you’ll have a more interesting, engaging piece of copy, geared up for selling.

A few final tips:

Try tapping in keywords about your service/product, and if applicable, any other words like ‘problems’, ‘help’ and ‘ideas’ into Google. Think about what potential buyers would search for. E.g. somebody looking to BUY luxury hand cream may ask for ideas or advice in a forum.

web copy Google

Affiliate bloggers: use these tips to make more money!

I think this is a great method of copy writing that affiliate bloggers/shop owners could really benefit from. If you’re into affiliate marketing, make sure you research your products  using my methods and use your findings to boost your copy!

web copy experiencesSome more places to try:

If you’ve pumped the forums dry, try searching on these websites too:

  • Yahoo Answers (and other Q&A sites)
  • Twitter (and other microblogging sites)
  • Facebook (and other social networks)
  • Online groups and communities
  • Social media websites like Digg, Delicious and Reddit
  • Search blog posts and comments too.

[eShop Series] Five questions to ask yourself – Pt.4 Uniqueness

Hello and welcome the penultimate article from my eShop series.   You can view all the previous posts by clicking here.  Do subscribe to ensure you’re able to read the final article as soon as I hit publish.

So, let’s begin.

Day 4 – ask yourself  ‘Why should they choose my eShop?’

I’ve seen a million e-commerce sites like yours, selling a similar product line to you.

Have you ever thought about what it is that makes your shop different?  What makes you the best choice?

Why should I choose to buy from you?  All valid questions that other visitors will be asking too.

You might know why, but do your website visitors?

Think about the above questions and start S.P.E.L.L.I.N.G it out to your visitors: You need to make sure you’re telling them why your shop is the best.

Find something unique about your company (that your audience will appreciate) and shout it from the rooftops.  Make sure that competing eShops aren’t saying the same thing.  One trustworthy and established jewellery shop is better than six shops exclaiming to be the cheapest online.

What’s your best feature?

So, what does your company do better than all the rest?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Are you more secure/safer than your competitors?
  • Are you open longer than your competitors?
  • Can your buyers reach you by phone, but not your competitors?
  • Do your competitors charge, and do you deliver for free?
  • Do you have multilingual staff on hand to help, unlike your competitors?

What sets you apart from the other eShops?  Write a list and prepare to tell your potential buyers!

Just remember: keep it truthful.  If you think your hand-knitted dog jumpers are the cheapest, do your research and check your facts.  Perhaps you think your shop is the most safe and secure in your niche?  Where’s your proof?

How to prove you’re the best:

Once you’ve come up with a unique selling point for your company, work into your ‘about us’ page or tagline.

Post evidence:  Look for press clippings, testimonials and reviews to help you back up any claims you make.  If your claim is about security, write down the measures your company takes to ensure visitors are safe.

When comparing your shop to competing businesses, your visitors should be able to see why yours is better straight away – it’ll  clench the sale!


  • Think about what makes your company different,
  • Find evidence that backs up your claim,
  • Work this into your about us page/tagline/sales copy.

Update:  I found this article for eShop owners:  tips for opening a successful eShop.  Enjoy!

[eShop Series] Five questions to ask yourself – Pt.3 Benefits

This is the third instalment of my eShop series.  If you’re in e-commerce you’ll benefit from these tips.  Subscribe to ensure you don’t miss the final two parts.

So let’s get started.

Day 3 – ask yourself ‘do I list my product’s features AND benefits?’

Today we’re going to spruce up your product descriptions by adding in ‘benefits’.

You’ll show your audience how your product’s features will positively impact their lives and hopefully, they’ll buy from you!

But didn’t we do this in the last article?

Nope, we looked at problem solving.  We thought of scenarios in which your audience would need to buy your product.

Now we’re looking at your product’s specifications (features) and detailing why they’re important, how they’ll make life easier and why they’re great value for money.

People will see exactly what spending money on your product gets them.

Getting started:  Finding features.

This is probably going to be the easiest part.  Write a huge least of things about your product.

Think about the following to get you started:

  • Your product’s design specifications,
  • Accessories your product comes with,
  • What your product can be used for,
  • Its functionality,
  • How it is priced.

Take a look at the benefits of these, and write them next to the features.  Think about what makes each feature you’ve just written down good, why would anybody care about it?  Who would it help them most?

If you’re struggling, look at the example below.

A practical example of features and benefits online:

Let’s go back to my pet store analogy.  During my research, I found the following website that sells cool stuff for dogs, including these dog life jackets:

Look how the shop owner has detailed the product’s features. A bog-standard dog buoyancy collar suddenly becomes a useful, potentially life-saving aide:

U-shaped buoyancy collar keeps your dog’s head above water

Here are a couple more:

Bright vest colors for added visibility

Mesh underside for additional comfort & support

Instead of listing the vest’s ‘bright colours and mesh underside’ we now feel safer about the added visibility and we know our pet will be comfortable and supported.

Try it yourself:

Find a product you sell and take a look the product’s features/specifications.  Write down on a sheet of paper how each feature/specification will benefit the person buying it.  Now edit your site’s copy and work these in!


  • Talk about your products’ benefits,
  • Drill home what it is these features will do for your buyers,
  • Add them into your web copy.

Some great resources:

Marketing Features Vs. Benefits
Close the Deal with Logical Benefits
Newbies Guide to Marketing
Marketing Dictionary

[eShop Series] Five questions to ask yourself – Pt.2 Problem solving

This is part two/five of my eShop marketing guide, perfect for e-commerce newbies and online shop owners with no marketing experience.  We’re looking at ways you can increase your shop’s conversion rate, which will mean more sales for you!

Here’s yesterday’s post on ‘audience’ if you missed it.  I will be posting the rest of the questions over the next four days Edit: I’ll be posting these during the week instead now, thanks. Please subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on any advice.

Let’s begin!

Day two – ask yourself ‘am I helping people solve problems?’

Look at your shop’s copy.  Do you list specifications or do you tell your audience how your product will solve their problems?  In reality, you should be doing both.

After identifying your target audience, use your product description and website copy to solve their problems.

Remember yesterday when we hypothesised about owning a pet store?  We created a ‘Paris Hilton’ persona and thought about how we’d sell to her.

So, with ‘Paris’ in mind, start thinking about potential problems she could be having as a dog owner, and how your products will solve her issues.

Where should I start?Solve your audiences' problems.

Start with your product.  Think about what it actually does.

What’s great about it compared to the alternative? Imagine situations where your audience would need to use your product. What would they be using it for?

Don’t worry if you’re unsure, read the example below and it’ll give you some ideas.

Solving people’s problems – a practical example:

Think about those dog poo bag holders we sell in our hypothetical eStore.  Why would our Paris Hilton wannabe audience need to buy those?  To pick up dog poo, is the obvious answer.

So, let’s dig deeper.  Think about the alternative to your product.  Instead, Paris could recycle her used carrier bags to pick up dog poo.

Would your Paris Hilton wannabe enjoy walking down the road with holey plastic carrier bags from her local shop?  Probably not.  It’s hardly glamorous.

At last, something to start with.  So let’s look at working it into our description.

We’ll change it from:

‘Pink bone-shaped canister comes with refill (25 bags)’

To something that will solve Paris’ problem:

“Sick of carrying plastic, hole-ridden bags to pick up your dog’s poo?  This cute pink canister holds 25 bags and clips to your lead so you and your pooch can go for walks in style.  You’ll never forget your dog poo bags again, so no more embarrassment when he’s caught short in the middle of the street!  Only £2.99”

Can you see the difference?  She’s not just buying a poo bag canister, she’s buying a solution to a problem too. We’ve solved another problem in there too!  Using the handy clip attached to the canister Paris will never forget her poo bags again!

Bonus point: Did you pick up on the language I used? I purposely targeted the description to our Paris-wannabe audience (“walk in style”, “cute”.)

Still unsure?  Take a look at this second example:

It’s for a hypothetical website that is selling a top of the range computer:

Audience: Designer.
Problem: Does it take you days to load up Photoshop and design huge images?
Your solution: Upgrade to render your images quicker than before – save time and never wait for loading programs again.

Audience: Hardcore gamers.
Problem: Is your slow processor holding back your gaming experience?
Your solution: Encounter your games exactly as intended – with exceptional horsepower.  Upgrade today.

Can you see the difference?  We know our audience, we know their problems and our products can solve them.

A quick practical exercise:

Have a go yourself, write descriptions targeted at casual computer users who don’t venture past Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer on a daily basis.  What problems might they encounter?  Why would an upgrade to a faster machine solve those problems.  Think about up-selling too – could you convince them to buy an upgrade of Office from you at the same time?


  • Imagine situations where your ‘persona’ would need to buy your product
  • Think how your product would help in those situations
  • What problems would your product solve in your persona’s life?
  • Work these into your store’s copy.

Image credits:  [Dog jigsaw]

[eShop Series] Five questions to ask yourself – Pt.1 Audience

If you own an eShop and have little online marketing experience, this guide should help you. I have written five questions you need to ask yourself, each with simple explanations to read and practical examples to follow.

I will be posting each question over the next five days.  Please subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on any advice.  Let’s begin!

Day one – ask yourself ‘Do I know my target audience?’

Are you thinking about the people you’re selling to and the people you’d like to sell to?  Does your website appeal to their needs? If not, read on:

Why do I need a ‘target audience’?

Competition is fierce and I bet a lot of people sell similar items to your stock.

Let’s pretend you sell a large range of dog toys.  A quick Google search indicates 36,400,000 websites currently rank for that term.  That’s potentially  36,399,999 other websites that could get that precious sale instead of you.

You need to appeal to one audience to win all of their custom. Know Your Audience, Build a Persona

So, let’s find your audience:

Start with what you sell.  Ask yourself ‘who needs to buy my product?’ Sticking with my online pet shop analogy, you could say ‘dog owners.’

But be as specific as possible.   You can’t target ‘dog owners’ as your audience – it’s too vague.

Drill it down and ‘dog owners’ could be:

Girly owners with cute pooches who dress their beloved pet up in jeweled collars (Think of a Paris Hilton wannabe with her Chihuahua.)

Or –

Serious owners who take their sturdy dogs out on their hardcore walking sessions (Think of a Bear Grylls type with a powerful Alsatian.)

You can already picture the difference in audiences can’t you?

If you’re struggling try to do some research.  It’s always good to look at your past customers and work from there.  Alternatively, think about the type of person you’d like to buy from your shop in an ideal world.

Next, learn about your audience:

One of the worst things you can do is assume you know everything about your audience.

Get on Twitter or Facebook and interact with them.

Participate on forums that interest your audience to get a feel for what concerns them.

Use everything you gather to build up a persona and use this to help you get a picture of your audience (or who you’d like to be your audience.)

You may wish to draw a picture of a hypothetical member of your audience and write gathered characteristics around the edge of it.  Give your doodle a name to really bring it to life.

It’s time to make your website appeal to your audience:

You need to take the plunge and ensure your website appeals to your audience.  I’m not suggesting you change your website’s colour scheme or images (though you may wish to consider this later) start small and edit your site’s copy.

Ask yourself:

‘is my copy specific, will it appeal to my audience, or is it too general?’

Start with product descriptions.  Don’t stress – you can start small, just think of a couple of lines to describe your products (see my example below.) Write them out while imagining your hypothetical persona.  Why would ‘Paris Hilton’ want to buy this dog lead?  As you write, imagine you’re explaining the reasons to her.  Look at her picture. How would she react to your comments?  What would she like/dislike about this lead and why? How can you turn those dislikes into positives?

If you’re worried about changing your copy all at once, test first.  You can set up a A/B split test of the old and new copy using Google Website Optimizer and track completed goals (purchases) too.  You can see exactly what is working and what isn’t.

Struggling with the copy? Here’s a practical example:

I want to buy my dog a coat.  I’m a girly, Paris Hilton type.  (For the example’s sake.) I have the same needs as anybody wanting to buy a dog coat: it needs to fit my dog and keep him warm/dry.

I browse two websites to potentially buy from.  Both websites tell me the colour and size of each dog coat.  Both are equally priced.

But, on the second website there’s a further description, hand written by the shop’s owner, which the first does not have.

“Size Small, Powder Blue.  A cute fur-lined jacket to keep your pooch glam and cosy during cold winter walks. ”

Can you see the difference?  Both sites give me the same information (size and colour) but the coats on the second website tap into my persona, they tell me my dog will be ‘glam’ and ‘cosy’ too.  So I am prone to buy from the second store – it feels like I’m getting more for my money!

Lesson summary:

  • Decide on an audience,
  • Learn about what drives them,
  • Create a typical persona,
  • Rewrite your copy to appeal to them, and them only.

Finally, let me know if you have any questions or comments, or to showcase changes you’ve made to your eShop using my techniques.  Tune in tomorrow (and for the next three days) for additional techniques to help you improve your online shop!

Image credits: [Alsatian] [Chihuahua]