Advisor Technology | 08/03/2016
4 Writing Tips for Improving Your Inbound Content
We all write, right? But does everyone write well? Writing well is actually not that hard, especially for inbound content, and Lord knows that requires a lot of writing.
The Four Types of Writing
Let’s go back to elementary school for a minute. There are four types of writing: expository, persuasive, narrative, and descriptive. Inbound content for advisors—blogs, ebooks, video scripts, fact sheets, etc.—should focus primarily on expository with a just a dash of persuasive writing.
Actually, it’s more like expository writing for the purpose of persuading. In case you don’t remember what expository writing is, its focus is to explain a topic. This genre consists of textbooks, how-to’s, news, and most inbound marketing blogs.
How Persuasive Writing Works for Advisors
As an advisor, your most attractive inbound content will center around explaining how to respond to market movements, breaking down complex financial issues, expounding on what the latest news means for your readers, and, if you’re anything like some of the advisors I read, the occasional nerd-out session where you get excited about numbers (this is a good thing!). (There are other subjects, of course. If you need help thinking of topics, check out our brainstorming list.)
While you explain the above topics, you also want to let people know that you’re the right advisor for them. You want them to realize that they can trust you with their money. You don’t want to be pushy—remember your main purpose is to explain the subject at hand. But you can still add a “dash of persuasive writing” with a CTA at the end letting them know they can contact you.
Regardless of which subject you’re tackling, if you don’t follow certain writing guidelines, your readers will either give up in frustration, or come away from your blog with a negative view of your firm.
Write What You Know, but also Write Who You Are
Of course, writing is an art. That’s why some people love Danielle Steele while others love Stephen King and others still prefer Mitch Albom. Your inbound content might be steamy like Ms. Steele, while mine might be suspenseful like Mr. King’s, while Johnny’s might be sappy like Mr. Albom’s.
My point is, your style is your style. No one can tell you your style is wrong, but there is a basic framework of writing that makes the medium engaging.
With that in mind, I put together a list of the bare essentials advisors should keep in mind when writing engaging content. These rules won’t make you the next Stephen King, but if followed, they will improve your inbound content.
The Essentials of Engaging Exposition
1. Stay on Topic
“To say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.”
― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
We’re all guilty of getting off-topic every now and then in conversation and writing. Sometimes you start telling a story and then a detail pops up that seems worth explaining, then you’re telling an entirely different story. What started as a quick recap of your conversation with your mom turns into a rant about how few chips they put in those individual bags of Doritos.
When I’m listening to my wife tell me about her day, I don’t mind these side journeys. I find them quite endearing, actually. But when I’m reading an article, I cannot stand them.
A headline is a promise. When I see the headline “What Does Brexit Mean for Your Portfolio?” I expect to come away from it knowing what Brexit means for my portfolio.
I don’t want additional definitions just because someone felt like writing or they got a little sidetracked and now they spent all that time writing it so they might as well put it in there, right? No, thank you. If you get off-topic, take all that currently irrelevant goodness and make it the topic of another blog where it will be relevant.
Good, engaging writing wastes no words. If a headline promises one topic and you’re adding in content that does not relate to your headline, you’re wasting words—not to mention your reader’s time. You most likely are reading this blog because of the promise of the headline, not the promise of reading my flowery prose.
If you’re struggling with writing at length on a single topic, here are two tried-and-true methods I use to spark additional ideas:
- Imagine you’re writing a letter to your mom/best friend/spouse about the subject. What would you want them to know?
- Apply the Potter Box to the subject. (This one takes a little time to learn, but it’s worth it.)
In the advisory world, this rule can definitely refer to writing off-subject, but more often than that it refers to an article that just plain doesn’t deliver on its headline, which brings us to rule #2.
2. Deliver on Your Promise
Headlines are the window display of the blog. They’re the thing that pulls people in. They’re the difference between 50 views and 5,000 views. Believe me, I’ve written some pretty good headlines in my day. But I’ve also written some stinkers, and the numbers proved it.
The number of views you’re getting is a good indicator of the quality of your headline. (The quality of your article can be determined by the amount of time people spend on the post, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s stay on topic!)
Yes, headlines bring the readers in, but they won’t stick around if the content doesn’t actually give them what they came for. It’s like naming your band “Free Drinks For Everybody All Night.” If you don’t follow through on that promise, people will show up, but they won’t stick around. And they probably won’t have the greatest opinion of your band (or firm).
All too often, we see articles with headlines like “5 Steps to the Perfect Portfolio” or “How to Invest with Zero Risk.” Not only are these headlines not very compliance-friendly, but they’re also impossible to deliver on.
Chances are, you’ll click on one of those headlines and find another article about risk management or diversification. That’s called a “bait and switch,” and the people on the receiving end never appreciate it. Your article might get more views, but your firm won’t get more prospects.
3. Connect Your Sentences Logically
This is a big one. Even professional writers struggle with this all the time.
Consider the following description of diversification:
Global diversification can protect you from the daily ups and downs of the market. Investors often underestimate the value of diversification. If you invest all in one place, you are exposing yourself to more risk than you would otherwise.
There’s something wrong there, right? While all of those sentences are true, the paragraph is disjointed and difficult to follow. It reads more like the beginning of an outline for a piece on diversification.
- Investors often underestimate the value of diversification
- If you invest all in one place, you are exposed to more risk than if you diversified
- Global diversification can protect you from daily movements of the market
In order for writing to flow, every sentence should build on the last or lead to the next. Think of it as a giant Jenga tower. Every piece is interlocked with those around them in a larger structure, just like every sentence should be interlocked with those around them in your piece.
4. Fall in Love with Ann Handley
One of the most essential writing resources I ever got was a copy of Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes, which is written for non-writers who want to write content as part of their marketing strategy.
When I read Ann’s book, I was far from a beginner. I focused a lot on writing in college and spent some years writing for a local newspaper. Yes, experience is the greatest teacher, but I would put Ann’s book right up there next to my degree in Communications and my years as a staff writer at a newspaper.
Ann believes anybody can write marketing content (I agree 100%), they just need a few tips to make their content intelligible and engaging. Each chapter presents a short lesson (typically two or three pages) on writing that is easy to understand and implement. A few of my favorite tips:
#24: Hire a great editor.
#28: Deadlines are the WD-40 of writing.
#34: Ditch adverbs, except when they adjust the meaning.
#37: Break some grammar rules.
Those are just a few of my favorites, but the book is jam-packed with them. I highly recommend getting a copy and keeping it next to your computer.
I know, advisors often struggle with finding the time to write anything, let alone content that follows these four rules. But if you follow them, I guarantee your writing will improve, your readers will thank you, and your online reputation will improve.
Want someone to look over your next blog? Drop us a line and we’ll look it over for free. (There’s that “dash of persuasive writing”!)
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