Write Reflection brand enthusiasts who have followed my blog for a while know that I normally write about helpful copywriting tips. Other times, I feature fellow creative people doing awesome things in this space. Today, I want to use my platform to warn my fellow copywriters and other professional services providers about a sneaky swindle making the rounds. Scammers have put a twist on the age-old check-cashing scheme trying to trick service providers out of their hard-earned cash.
The perpetrators tried to pull their ruse on me last week. They picked the wrong person to try to cheat. Thankfully, I caught on rather quickly to their con. During my investigation into the matter, I discovered that other hard-working copywriters and service professionals like myself were not so lucky. Some of them lost thousands to these dastardly crooks. I want to make sure it does not happen to anyone else, so I am putting those con artists on blast. Right here. Right now.
The con: overpayment for services
Their approach started out like any other prospective client reaching out to discuss my services. A gentleman calling himself Albert Zepp sent me an InMail request on LinkedIn, asking if I was available to handle a research article for his company. I thought nothing of it because many of my current clients have contacted me through LinkedIn. It is, after all, a professional networking site. After exchanging a few messages about the job requirements, I forwarded my standard contract. Like all service professionals, I require an upfront deposit before I get started. I discussed my fee with Mr. Zepp and he agreed to overnight it to me since he needed me to get started ASAP to meet his tight deadline.
The next day, a UPS delivery driver stopped by with my advance deposit from the client. When I opened the envelope, I discovered the check was for nearly three times the amount I required from the client. That was my first red flag. The second thing I noticed was the check was issued by an HOA in Georgia that had nothing to do with the client who was ordering the work. That was my second red flag.
One red flag I could have brushed off, but two? My reporter’s instincts kicked in. I spent the next several hours investigating everything I could about this supposed Mr. Zepp and the organization that allegedly had issued the check. I discovered two things: Mr. Zepp was a real person (at least on paper), and the HOA was legitimate. Still, I had a nagging feeling. So, I tracked down a number for the HOA and called them. The person who answered the phone was exasperated the minute I explained why I was calling. No, she did not know this person who contacted me, and yes, this was some elaborate check fraud scheme in which her organization also was a victim.
There is a saying that the worst thing you can do is try to con a con. Here is a new warning for scammers out there. The second worst thing you can try to do is con a former reporter.
The investigation: a reporter follows her gut
Once I knew I was dealing with an elaborate ruse to steal from me, I got a teensy bit angry. I work hard, as do most small business owners. I do not work this hard so that some schmuck can steal from me and my family. According to the person from the HOA, more than a dozen other service professionals had called her with similar stories in the last month. Some of them cashed the check and found out the hard way they had been swindled. What if like them, I had cashed this check and started to work, only to find out later the check was fake when it bounced?
Once I knew what I was dealing with, I started to dig a little deeper. The first thing I did was call the local police to report the attempted fraud. Although they really cannot do anything about it, I wanted it on record in case I need the police report later. I also reported it to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. All these things combined help get the word out to law enforcement across the country about this scam. I also reported it to LinkedIn’s Help Center. A LinkedIn representative acknowledge my report was received and sent this response:
After reporting the incident to all the proper authorities, I tried to catch the fake Mr. Zepp up in a few more lies so I could provide the HOA with some ammunition for their police investigation in Georgia. I sent a new message to him, letting him know he had sent me too much money. I was expecting him to tell me that I could cash the check and then write him a return check for the difference. That is a common check fraud scheme known as an overpayment. The fraudster sends you too much money (on a fake check) and dupes you into sending them a legitimate check back to refund them for the overpayment. When he replied, he instead said his partners wanted me to work on two stories, so they were sending advance payment for both. He urged me to cash the check so we could get started. I suspect at some point he would have eventually canceled the project and asked for his money back, trying to fool me into sending him nearly $5,000 in legitimate funds. I will never know for sure because I have blocked the fake Mr. Z from communicating with me further.
As of the writing of this post, I still am trying to track down the real Mr. Zepp. According to what I have found online, he appears to be a certified public accountant in the Philadelphia area. Let me be clear: I do not believe for one minute I was interacting with the real Mr. Zepp on LinkedIn or via email. I have a hunch someone has hijacked his persona. If it were me, I would want to know someone was using my name in the commission of a crime, so I will continue to do my best to locate the real Mr. Z and let him know what has happened.
How to spot a fake check
If you are wondering how I knew it was a fake check, I am going to let you in on some secrets about how you can tell so this never happens to any of you. Fake checks can be difficult – but not impossible – to spot. Scammers go to great lengths to pull off their heists. Banks and other financial institutions process them all the time without noticing the signs. They use the names of real people, organizations, and even financial institutions on their fake checks. Sometimes, they use real checks that belong to real people who were victims of identity fraud. Those kinds of losers are even worse than the ones who print fake checks on their home printers.
It often takes banks weeks to figure out a check is not legit. In the case of the check I received, it was made out for $4,870 even. Why? Well, here is another secret I will let you in on: scammers know that banks process checks under $5,000 and make them available in the depositor’s account within five days. Federal regulations require it. A person is more likely to fall for the ruse if they can see the check “cleared” and is posted in their available balance. By the time you and the financial institutions realize that hefty check was not real, you are on the hook for the total amount.
Here are some other tell-tale signs that check you are holding is not the real thing:
It is not hard to understand why businesses fall for check fraud scams. They are eager to attract new customers. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to these cons because they are looking to grow their brands. Waving large checks in the faces of business owners who may be struggling to survive post-pandemic makes it even more tempting.
When the fake Mr. Zepp tried to scam me, I could have simply moved on from the experience and considered myself lucky. After a few days mulling it over, I decided to shine a light on what this unscrupulous fraudster tried to pull on me in the hopes of sparing others the kind of financial ruin falling for these kinds of schemes can cause. I also am cooperating with the HOA in Georgia to supply them with any information or resources that may prove beneficial in tracking down this loser so he cannot do this to anyone else.
Be careful out there, friends and followers. Not everyone wishes you well and there are plenty of con artists looking to make a quick buck. Do not let the money that lines their pockets be yours.
Oscar Wilde once espoused that, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That may be true, but that does not make it any easier to see someone outright stealing your hard work and passing it off as their own.
Academics are all too familiar with this practice. It happens to them frequently. They spend hours researching topics and writing original theses, only to have an unscrupulous person swoop in and take advantage of their efforts without so much as a well-earned credit.
You know who else gets their stuff lifted a lot online? Copywriters. I do not mean someone borrowed our ideas and reworked them into their own brand voice (although that is kind of annoying, too). I am talking about full-on, outright plagiarism. The word-for-word, not even embarrassed they were too lazy (and unimaginative) to come up with their own stuff, kind of plagiarism. And man, that burns.
What is plagiarism?
It is difficult to believe that people do not grasp what plagiarism means. Yet, I find myself explaining it to some of the most educated folks sometimes. There is no such thing as borrowing something you have seen online. You must – let me say that again for the people in the back – you must give credit to other people’s hard work. Taking someone else’s ideas and passing them off as your own is plagiarism. At least that is how my good friend, the Oxford English Dictionary, puts it.
Plagiarism is a little more complex than that, so let me break it down even further so there is no chance of misunderstanding. There are several types of plagiarism. The two that most apply to my blog today are direct plagiarism and mosaic plagiarism.
Direct plagiarism is self-explanatory. Someone has copied word-for-word information from another source without giving attribution. This kind of plagiarism can involve a few sentences, a paragraph, or entire web pages of content. I once had someone take a piece of my original poetry and claim it as their own. Word. For. Word. To say it was infuriating is an understatement. Some professionals have had entire websites full of copy directly plagiarized by competitors because their content ranks well in search results, and the rival wants to achieve the same outcome. It is difficult to fathom people do not know what they are doing is wrong. Yet some feign ignorance when caught red-handed in the act.
Mosaic plagiarism is the term for using direct phrases from someone else’s published work and failing to use quotations and properly attribute the information. Another way mosaic plagiarism occurs is by using the exact wording of an original author and substituting their words for synonyms. In the writing business, this is known as “patchwriting.”
Content farms are famous for this kind of plagiarism. I am sad to say that some basement-bargain copywriting services are guilty of this as well. They hire writers and pay them quite poorly to regurgitate copy on a variety of topics for clients. It is just one more reason why if you need quality online copy, you should consider working with a reputable copywriter. You risk your reputation when you pay for cheap, subpar work that likely is guilty of mosaic plagiarism.
Does copyright law apply to online content?
You bet your bottom dollar it does. Whether it is an image, a video, a logo, or a blog post you crafted, once you post it online, it becomes a “work” that falls under the protection of U.S. copyright law. It does not matter where you post it online. Social media accounts and personal or business websites are all protected by copyright laws. Once you produce content and post it, it belongs to you and cannot be used or reproduced without your consent or attribution to its origins.
Yet, that does not stop people from stealing online content ad nauseam. That brings me to my next tidbit of helpful advice on what to do when you catch someone helping themselves to your hard work.
Stopping plagiarism in its tracks
Now that you know U.S. copyright law covers your online work, what do you do when someone has borrowed your words or other creations without your permission?
The first step is to send a letter on official letterhead from your favorite lawyer. If you want to be scary and effective, take the time to have your business attorney – or one familiar with copyright laws – draft it for you. Yes, it may cost you some moolah to do it, but it is well worth the expense. The letter should clearly state the content in question and advise the offender they must remove it, or you will consider your legal options. Most times, this is enough to scare the pants off plagiarizers. Other times, they just ignore you. When that happens, you must follow through on your threat or risk further victimization. Your attorney can discuss how to proceed with a potential lawsuit for copyright infringement.
Another option you can take (if you want to avoid the expense of a lawsuit) is to report the offender to Google. If the content they have swiped is from your website, reporting them to Google can get them banned from search results. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, you can file a complaint and request Google intervenes to remove or penalize a website using your stolen copy. Google’s data analytics capabilities can help prove when copy was placed on your site and when it appeared on the suspected plagiarizer’s website.
Here is one more remedy you can seek that sometimes earns a major payoff. Contact the offender’s website hosting service. ICANN|LOOKUP is a great resource for identifying which website hosting service a website uses. Simply enter the website URL where your content is duplicated, and the registration data tool produces information on the registrant. Reach out to the domain host once you have that information and ask them to remove the duplicate content. Sometimes they will go as far as to take down the entire site.
Will plagiarism hurt my SEO ranking?
This is a common concern among my clients who have discovered their digital content was stolen. Thankfully, someone else’s sticky fingers do not hurt your SEO ranking. Remember when I said earlier that Google can tell when your content was drafted and posted? That handy skill is better for more than just going after plagiarizers.
When Google’s web crawlers notice two different sites with the same wording, it prompts further evaluation. Since Google can see which site launched first, the offender is automatically penalized for copying your content. Your website always will rank higher for the keywords. Sometimes Google goes the extra mile in its punishment and refuses to rank copycat websites at all.
A final word on digital content thievery
Living in the digital age has its advantages. Information at our fingertips with a few keystrokes is one of them. That advantage also is a disadvantage because it makes it a lot easier for people to lift your work and pass it off as their own.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent someone from stealing your stuff. The best you can do is keep tabs on your copy and take swift action against anyone who dares “borrow” it without your express permission.
Need help drafting original copy to keep your brand an authority in your niche? Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. New clients enjoy a 25 percent discount on their first order with The Write Reflection.
AI content writing is not a new thing. Up until now, I admit that I have not given it much thought. The AI content marketing tools I had seen before now did not really intrigue – or worry – me. I had zero fears of my livelihood being replaced by a nameless, faceless automaton that cranked out copy at a customer’s behest. Most AI-powered content marketing tools were inferior to the quality copy a human trained in wordsmithing could produce. I would go so far as to say most of it was laughable nonsense. Anyone who would pay for it was wasting their money, in my humble opinion.
Flash-forward to now and using AI for content marketing is becoming a hot topic among my fellow copywriting professionals. Some, like me, debate the value of using them. Others fear they are just one AI-generated piece of content away from losing their jobs. I think the truth of AI content marketing tools lies somewhere in between.
What is AI-generated content marketing?
Since Alan Turing first posed the question, “Can machines think?” in the 1950s, man has been obsessed with artificial intelligence. AI has advanced the medical and industrial fields, to name just two of its profound impacts. Digital marketers started leveraging AI-powered content marketing tools as far back as 2017. According to the 2020 Salesforce State of Marketing Report, 84 percent of marketers admit to using AI. This is a 186 percent increase from the number of marketers using AI in 2018. Most of the AI tools marketers use focus on data collection and analysis. There were no specific data available for the number of copywriters who use AI content marketing tools to assist with their writing tasks.
AI tools for content marketing
AI copywriting tools use natural language processing (NLP) to spit out copy. If you are wondering what the heck NLP is, no worries. Let me explain. NLP is nothing more than the automatic manipulation of our natural language patterns for both speech and text. When NLP works as intended, it bridges the communications gap between humans and computers. The goal is to help computers understand – mimic, even – the speech and language patterns of humans.
Most AI tools for content marketing work like this:
Real copywriters dish on AI content generators
What do real copywriters think about AI content generators? Some leverage their power to increase their output and the number of clients they can serve. Others refuse to use them, citing a lack of quality and mediocrity in the content produced.
Yker Valerio of Bon Vivant Caffe uses Conversion.ai to improve content quality and boost his writing process. “It’s like having a writing partner. A weird writing partner, but productive nonetheless.” He said he has tried a few other AI content generators but prefers Conversion.ai.
Kyle Vine, the marketing director at CKLU Radio in Ontario, Canada, said he had the privilege of meeting the person who runs the IBM Watson program for AI a few years ago at a conference. “I discovered that (AI) can be good for proofreading, but the main way it can be good is with speak.ai or other apps that transcribe speeches to use for SEO applied to your copy. Otherwise, I’ve found there aren’t many options to use AI in copywriting because it’s 75 percent experience and word flowability. AI comes in with the last 25 percent for tiny things just to suggest better SEO/conversion words in my experience.”
Archana Karthikeyan from The Marketing Vogue has used AI copywriting tools for about four months. The benefit is that it sometimes helps her with a new direction for her writing if she is experiencing the dreaded writer’s block. Another advantage is it can help save her time during the writing process. The biggest drawback is it is written by AI, not a human. She and her team have discovered facts need to be rechecked any time the AI program she uses creates content to ensure accuracy.
My personal experience with AI content marketing tools is mixed. Like Valerio, I have found Conversion.ai to work well for generating titles and content ideas. I am not as impressed with its other content. Depending on the topic, it can be clunky and needing a human touch to make it more readable.
I also am beta testing a new AI writing tool now that is not very impressive. In a recent topic I gave the generator for a sales description I was writing about stand mixers, it generated this gem: “The item is circular, about six inches across. It has a lid.” Factually, the tool is correct. Stand mixers are circular and have lids. Does knowing that make me want to buy one? Nope. This was an epic failure. Another time, I asked the tool to generate a direct and adventurous headline for an article about first-time surfers in Australia. Here is what it gave me: “Surfing is a fun and easy sport to learn.” Once again, I do not consider this a success. While the statement is true, there is nothing adventurous about it. The tool still is in the early stages of development, so these results are expected. I will not mention it by name in this blog, but I will provide a more detailed review of it once the beta testing phase is over.
How copywriters can leverage AI tools
While I respect their opinion, I do not understand copywriters who fear AI-powered content marketing tools. I personally do not think AI will ever get to the point that it will totally replace humans for writing. Humans must teach AI software how to be more, well, human. Computers only know what we teach them. The success or failure of AI content generators rests on the capable shoulders of copywriters like myself willing to serve as teachers to AI. Computers do not understand – nor can they convincingly mimic – brand voice or persona. Humans are very much still needed to finesse any copy an AI produces to improve engagement and tone. My fellow copywriters can breathe a sigh of relief and embrace AI as a teammate rather than fearing it as a competitor.
Need help humanizing your content? Reach out to The Write Reflection today to schedule your hassle-free consultation to discuss your needs.
Graphic designed by The Write Reflection
Case studies are an effective way to add value to your brand. You can “toot your own horn” by doing what any product or service should do best: solve a problem.
If you have a website, consider adding a section dedicated to case studies. Then, populate it with the best examples of why your brand is the best at what it does. The U.S. is the largest advertising market in the world. Businesses spend an average of $253.6 billion each year on advertising and marketing. Case studies provide one of the best returns on investment of all content marketing strategies. Not all case studies are created equally. You must know the tricks of the trade to turn a case study into a lead conversion tool.
What is a case study?
Case studies are an advertising and marketing strategy businesses use as a value-added proposition. Convincing case studies meet the following criteria:
Some companies – and their marketing experts – become preoccupied with “staying on brand.” They focus too much on their brand voice or messaging matrix and forget to leverage the power of storytelling in their case studies. All they accomplish is to bore their target audience and make themselves look self-centered.
Case study advantages
Building trust in your brand is harder than it looks. Yes, having a great product or service – coupled with amazing customer support – is one of the best ways to keep people coming back for more. How do you convince someone who has never experienced your products, services, or stellar customer service to give you a try? This is where case studies provide an advantage.
Consumers have smartened up to fancy sales pitches and flashy graphics on social media. It takes more than these old tricks of the trade to convince them your brand is the solution to their problems. Ratings and reviews from previous customers carry weight, but even those are easily manipulated. Effective case studies provide tangible proof your brand does more than talk the talk.
Building brand trust is not the only advantage of an effective case study. Here are a few more worth noting:
Writing an effective case study in 5 easy steps
Now you know what a case study is and why you must include it in your content marketing strategy. Next, I will talk about the five steps involved with writing an effective case study.
Step #1: State your case
Case studies must leverage the power of storytelling, which means featuring a compelling angle. Not sure how to do that? Take a deep dive and investigate how your customers are using your products or services. Chances are, you will find someone using your brand to solve problems you never knew it could fix.
Step #2: Get relatable
Make sure whatever angle you choose for your case study is one that is relatable to most of your target audience. Think about what it is that helps you connect with a good story. On some level, you must connect with the story’s protagonist. The client featured in your case study is the protagonist. Find something about the client that makes your core audience root for his or her success with your product.
Step #3: Tell the tale
Some marketing pros insist they are telling their brand’s story. The problem is, they forget how to tell a story the right way. Think back to your high school English class. (Sorry, this is probably as painful for some of you as doing math is for me. Stick with it. I promise the payout is worth it). If you will recall, you learned that all good stories have certain components:
Step #4: Just the facts
Telling a story does not mean you rely on anecdotes to prove your case. Case study best practices encourage using cold, hard facts to back up your claims. Just because you are using storytelling techniques does not mean you should be weaving a tall tale. Make sure any data or statistics you use to support the case relate to the protagonist’s challenges.
Step #5: Support the journey
Every good story has a hero. I know what you are thinking: this is the part where my business swoops in and saves the day. Well, yes and no. Your brand is not the hero in the story. Think of yourself more along the lines of a supporting character. Your business is there to assist the real hero of the story. Humility is an incredibly effective marketing strategy. It allows for meaningful connections between your brand and its core audience and shows empathy. When you practice humility in case studies, you can increase your credibility without being obnoxious.
Case study formats that work
The final step in creating an effective case study is in the graphic design. This is where a copywriter designer is a valuable asset to have in your corner. They can craft a compelling story for your case study and design it in an eye-catching manner that gets – and keeps – your core audience’s attention.
There are no hard and fast rules for formatting your case study. From infographics and webinars to interview formats and brochure styles, your case study design should fit the content. Ready to get started with your first case study? Contact me today to get a 25 percent discount on your first order that includes content creation and graphic design for the case study of your choice.
"I used to be the fist-pounder on the table. I had to learn how to be a real mediator. It gave me a whole new perspective on dealing with my PTSD."
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects one in every 11 people in the U.S. That means you likely know someone who is struggling every day with the devastating effects of PTSD.
June is National PTSD Awareness Month. Spreading awareness about PTSD is not something I wait for other people to do. For those who do not know, one of my dearest friends is in his 17th year of living with PTSD. Together, we wrote and published Wars End With Me, the story of his ongoing battle. I met Pat Strobel in 2002 when I was working as a reporter at a daily newspaper in his hometown of Butler, Pa. When he deployed to Iraq in February 2003, my editor tasked me with chronicling Pat’s service in the pages of the newspaper. Every few weeks, as Pat had time, he would send me some photos of himself and a quick update on what it was like living – and fighting – in an active warzone.
Less than seven months after he was deployed, I received a call to tell me that he was seriously injured when his convoy came under attack in Fallujah. The physical injuries and emotional trauma Pat suffered that day forever changed him. For the last 17 years, Pat has struggled with PTSD. It has complicated his personal and professional life.
Three years have passed since we first published his story. What better way to catch up with our readers, who have joined Pat on every step of his journey? I reached out to Pat who, as always, is willing to share the most personal moments of his life in the pursuit of helping others with PTSD. What follows is a progress report and encouragement for others with PTSD to keep fighting the good fight.
Going Dutch on PTSD
Shortly after our book launched in December 2018, Pat was offered a three-year assignment as a director of maintenance. The catch: he would serve out the stint in the Netherlands, overseeing a Dutch workforce performing maintenance on U.S. Army pre-positioned stock. His new job was part of a partnership between the U.S. and Dutch governments. Pat was tasked with teaching former Dutch military personnel with mechanical backgrounds how to perform maintenance on U.S. Army equipment.
“That director of maintenance job was short-lived, because my boss was unexpectedly reassigned, and someone needed to step up,” said Pat. That someone was him. “I assumed that role, and that’s when the job became really challenging.” His new job required a little bit of finesse and a lot of political correctness. “And good communication skills to keep major political incidents from cropping up,” Pat added.
The last job Pat had in the U.S. before taking on this new assignment prepared him well. His biggest responsibilities there were contracts and negotiations. Those skills came in handy when he had to mediate between the U.S. Army and the Dutch government over a stalemate on the fine details of the working relationship.
Serving as a mediator was a new experience for Pat. He had served with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colo. during his active enlistment. He was the guy who fixed all the equipment, to put it simply. Fixing people was never his skill set. Until now. “I used to be the fist-pounder on the table,” he said. “That kind of behavior doesn’t work with the Dutch people. They are very laid back and not easily rattled. I had to learn how to be a real mediator. It gave me a whole new perspective on dealing with my PTSD.”
Leaving his family behind for three years was the most difficult part of taking the new assignment. It was an unfortunate negative that he worked around because, as Pat puts it, he needed a reset. He made it home just twice – with an additional visit in the Netherlands from his wife – before COVID-19 hit and locked everything down. With just two months left on his current assignment, Pat said he is eager to return home for good.
One of the good things that happened with his family involves his son, Josh. For those who have read Wars End With Me, you know that Josh enlisted in the military (much to Pat’s dismay). He did not want his son to suffer the same way he had and believed the stress over his son’s decision was a trigger for his PTSD. After a few years as a Corporal in the 101st Airborne and several deployments to Africa, Josh Strobel now has a full-time position with the Iowa National Guard.
The new role removed him from active duty in the Army, which has made Pat extremely happy. “It’s one less thing for me to worry about. I don’t have to wonder where he’s at. Once I’m home, I’ll get to see him all the time. If I could have done what he’s doing, I would have. I didn’t even know that active guard existed when I joined the Army.”
A different kind of therapy
One of the downsides of his three-year stint in the Netherlands was the lack of access to his usual therapy for his PTSD. Working with the Dutch, Pat said, was an alternative form of therapy. Before his new assignment, Pat struggled a lot with angry outbursts because of his PTSD. He has mellowed out and attributes his attitude adjustment to Dutch influence. “The Dutch really have shown me that life shouldn’t be so competitive. Everybody is playing music. Everybody is happy. It’s just a different mentality.”
The Dutch do not feel pressured to perform at work the same way Americans do, Pat noted. Screaming and banging his fists on the table when things were not going as planned did not motivate them. It forced him to find a new way to lead. He discovered presenting them with metrics about their job performance compared with others doing similar work (who were more efficient at their tasks) was the best inspiration. “They taught me so much about leadership. I tried to shape my leadership style around their ethics because, at the end of the day, I was trying to extract as much talent from them as I could. Knowing what motivates workers is the key to effective leadership. That, and a lot of patience. I’m definitely learning a lot of patience,” he said, laughing.
Lessons learned, anger burned
The last three years had their fair of challenges, but Pat is thankful for the experience. “There was nothing but success stories here. That’s what I liked about this place. Getting back around maintenance – grease, oil – it was good for my morale and good for my PTSD. I was starting to doubt myself before I came here. Coming here and separating myself from all those things was almost therapeutic.”
Pat said his new attitude will help him better manage his PTSD and his job opportunities once he returns to the U.S. “I don’t know where the perfect job is or if there is such a thing. What I do know is this job I have now has taught me that I just need to shut up and color.”
Long-tail keywords are a “must-have-it” for boosting your SEO value online. If you are saying to yourself “long tail what nows?” let me explain. Keywords are what Google and other search engines use to help you find what you are looking for online. There are two kinds of keywords: core and long-tail.
Core keywords are focused on the topic of a website. If you provide a product or service, your core keywords would describe that product or service. Let’s say you are a mechanic specializing in imported automobiles. Your core keywords would be something like, “mechanic imported autos.” Anytime someone types in any combination of those core keywords into a search engine – if you have optimized your website correctly – your listing will come up as a match.
Long-tail keywords are more involved. They consist of phrases instead of a few core words relating to your business or industry. SEO copywriters understand the benefits of working long-tail keywords into everything they write for their clients. It is something many have done for years now. As a rule, there is less competition for long-tail keywords than core keywords. Let me illustrate this with an example about a local doggy doo-doo yard cleaning service. Long-tail keywords that would work well for this niche include: “Is there a business that cleans up my dog’s poop” and “cleaning up my dog’s poop from the yard.” The key to crafting a successful long-tail keyword is to think like a consumer searching online.
Long-tail keywords benefits
Now that you know what long-tail keywords are, let’s talk about how they benefit your online content. To make a long story short, if you are not including long-tail keywords as part of your SEO strategy, you are missing out on a valuable tool for directing new traffic to your sites. There are four key reasons why you must embrace long-tail keywords.
How do you choose long-tail keywords?
Now that you know why long-tail keywords are a crucial part of any SEO content strategy, how do you figure out which ones to use?
Google is one of your best tools for figuring out good long-tail keywords for your business or industry. Make sure you have the autocomplete option turned on in your search settings. Then, go to the search bar and start typing a question about your products or services. You only need to enter a few words. Google will complete the rest of the phrase with popular searches conducted by other consumers looking for the same information. It also will provide a section called “People Also Ask” that includes other long-tail search queries. It really is quite handy.
There also are long-tail keyword generators you can use to help make suggestions. One of the most popular is called Answer the Public. Simply plug in two or more words that describe the topic of your search. It automatically generates a list of questions other online searchers have asked about the same thing. There are basic and pro versions of this service.
SEMRush is another popular keyword tool used by SEO pros for identifying core and long-tail keywords for clients. It is amazing software. It also is expensive. I never recommend it for businesses unless they have an extensive online presence. Only then would the benefits of using SEMRush outweigh the costs.
Conducting dedicated keyword research if you plan to optimize your entire website is your best bet. SEO researchers and copywriters can help with this task. Working with an expert can help your online content rank better organically since they know all the tricks of the trade. Reach out today to learn how The Write Reflection can help improve your online search ranking through the power of long-tail keywords.
You want to hear a juicy secret?
This is something I have never admitted out loud before. It is something I have carried around for a while now, and it really eats away at me. I think it might be a great idea to get it off my chest. Today is as good a day as any and you are a nice bunch of people so I know you will support me. Just make sure you are sitting down. Are you sitting down? I can wait a minute until you get a chair.
OK, here we go.
*Takes a deep breath*
My name is Shari Berg, and I suck at writing headlines.
I know, right? It is utterly shocking. How could such a skilled wordsmith struggle with writing compelling headlines? Yet, I do. This horrible affliction goes all the way back to my days in journalism school. I used to break out in a cold sweat and feel nauseous every time I was tasked with coming up with an attention-grabbing headline for the student newspaper or a class assignment. I would watch all my fellow journalism students and student newspaper staffers generate awesome headlines like it was second nature. No matter how much I practiced, headline writing never got easier.
Back then, there were not many tools to help spur your creativity. Sure, you could do some good old-fashioned brainstorming with other creative folks. But then you would have to admit that you sucked at writing headlines. Nobody wants that, Amiright?
If you are a bit headline-challenged like me, headline analyzer tools are a saving grace. There are plenty of choices on the market, so I reviewed a bunch to save you the headache of wading through them.
Here are my top 3 choices. They all have their pros and cons but do share one common benefit: they are all free. That is right, my friends. Free, free, free, free, free, free, free. One of the best-sounding words in the English language.
Free does not mean inferior. Give these headline analyzers a try. I promise they will make you a better headline writer.
EMV Headline Analyzer
Of all the headline analyzers I am sharing with you, this one is my go-to for writing amazing headlines. Created by the Advanced Marketing Institute, it targets a reader’s emotional side. Research tells us the best way to get someone’s attention is by appealing to their emotions. Writers do this by using “power” words that evoke action.
When I put the headline for this blog post through EMV Headline Analyzer, it rated it at 33.33 percent with a “spiritual” classification. What does that mean, exactly? Well, according to the analysis provided with my score, words with spiritual impact make up the smallest number of words in the English language. They also have the strongest potential for influencing your readers’ emotions. I was advised to aim for headlines with scores between 30 and 40 percent if my goal is to influence others’ emotions and prompt them to act.
Capitalize My Title
This handy tool is my runner-up because it challenges me to keep tweaking until I have the right balance between readability, SEO, and sentiment. Simply enter your suggested headline into the analyzer bar and then ask the tool to either analyze or capitalize it.
Using the same headline that I generated for this blog (the one EMV Headline Analyzer loved), I earned an overall score of 64. My score was circled in green, which indicates it is sufficient for achieving my goal of getting people to read my article. How did it come to that conclusion? It averaged out my scores from the three categories it rates. Here is how it breaks down:
- Readability: 90
- SEO: 70
- Sentiment: 30
Capitalize My Title uses the Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Score. Here is how it works:
What my score tells me is that my headline is written at a reading level that makes it accessible to most people. That is a good thing. At least when you are writing news stories or informational pieces. Now, with academic writing, you would want a readability score in that 0 to 30 range. Your audience matters, so do not always aim for that 90 to 100 range.
My SEO score also performed well. I kept my word count between 5 and 7 words (Google likes that sort of thing) and used both power words (do, your) and appropriate SEO keywords.
Capitalize My Title ranked my sentiment score close to what EMV rated it, so that was nice to see the tools shared the same opinion in that category.
As previously mentioned, this headline analyzer also offers a “Capitalize” option. What does that do? It makes suggestions on capitalizing words within your title for more effectiveness based on writing styles (AP, Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA). I have never really used this option. It might come in handy if you are trying to generate titles for email campaigns.
This headline analyzer is my third choice. It does a decent job but is not as effective as my top two choices. Since it is free, I hesitate to criticize it too much. It does have value. When you plug in your suggested headline, it will generate a quality score just like the other two headline analyzers on my list. It breaks your score down into strengths and suggestions. When I fed it my title for this blog, my limited use of positive sentiments and passive language earned me a 59. That is a good thing, according to this analyzer. As they like to say in the news industry, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Unfortunately, negativity sells. At the very least, it attracts attention.
ShareThrough also gives me a list of suggestions for improving my title. With my current blog title, it recommended the following:
- Increase your headline length
- Include your brand identity
- Reference the body of the blog
- Use context words
- Try adding a celebrity
This is the part of the tool I am not keen on. Some of those suggestions – increasing headline length and brand identity – are good suggestions. The rest? They are not always appropriate depending on your topic. I also disagree that I did not reference the body of the blog. I think it is clear I am going to discuss writing crappy headlines from my title. Still, the analyzer has value, so it never hurts to plug in your title and see what it has to say about it.
Getting your money’s worth
Yes, I know. These tools are all free. (I told you I sucked at writing headlines). What I am going for here is the sentiment behind that phrase. If you are going to use these headline analyzers, make sure you use them to their fullest potential for the best results.
While EMV Headline Analyzer is my favorite, I am going to let you in on another secret today. I never just use it when crafting headlines or sub-headers. I take the time to sample my headlines in all three of these tools on my list. It gives me a different perspective and helps me create more well-rounded titles and sub-headers. Give it a try. I promise it will make you a better headline writer.
If you try out any of these headline analyzers, I would love to hear what you think about them in the comments. Have other favorites not included here? Toss those out for consideration as well. I am always looking for new tools to try to improve every aspect of my writing.
Happy headline writing everyone. Try not to suck.
Can you provide me with a source for your claim?
How many times have we all seen that challenge issued to someone online? Usually, it happens during a nasty back-and-forth between two or more parties disagreeing on a topic. Facebook is great for this. Go there right now and I will wager that within less than a minute you will witness it. News pages and community groups are rife with them.
It is exhausting feeling like you must do research for other people all the time. Why are they not capable of Googling themselves? Some people state as much when confronted with the demand for a source. Even when the other person plays along and lists a source, they are likely to be met with accusations of #fakenews.
Sometimes legitimate information is deemed fake news because the other person does not want to concede that their points in the discussion are invalid. Other times, they may be right that the source another person is using to back their claim is less than reliable. I am about to drop a truth bomb on you. Not everything you see on Google is true.
After you pick yourself up off the floor, read that again. Not everything you see on Google is true. There are entire websites that are chock full of someone’s opinion without any real evidence to support their claims. There are even so-called online “news” sites out there that post derogatory claims and twist facts to suit their narratives to garner views. They do this because they know it is darn near impossible to prove libel and defamation. Quite a bit of damage is done when people read and believe without verifying that what Google spits out in the search results comes from trustworthy sites.
You cannot blame Google for offering up choices. The search engine giant uses an algorithm and web crawlers to search websites for keywords searchers are using. Then, it generates a list of websites and online resources with any mention of those keywords. It is up to the consumer to validate the information they are reading.
This brings us to the topic of our post: how to ensure the information spit out by the all-knowing Google is from a credible source.
Yes, this means you will have to do some digging. Yes, it means you will have to be responsible. Trust me, it is worth it. Knowledge is power. Make sure yours is gained from credible sources.
Here are the top 3 ways to spot “fake news” and to validate the information you find online.
1. Consider the source
Website credibility lends a lot of weight when determining the accuracy of information. For this reason, I suggest avoiding websites and other online sources that are user-created when digging for verifiable facts. It may rile a certain segment of the population when I say this, but Wikipedia is a perfect example of a user-created online source that is less than reliable. While it may look credible because there are sources cited, oftentimes those sources are misconstrued or misrepresented by the Wikipedia authors. If you want to validate any of those sources, go to them and read them directly from where they originate. If it is a scientific study, read it. Make sure what the Wikipedia post is claiming the study or research is saying is true. YouTube videos are another source rife with misinformation. Just because a “talking head” is stating something does not make it true. Many viral hoaxes begin on YouTube. Sometimes people create them for grins and giggles, and other times they are intended to deliberately deceive. YouTube’s algorithm is a huge part of the problem.
So, how do you know when a website is legit for quoting as a source? Websites with articles, news, and even blogs that are verified by experts in the field it is representing are considered reliable. Here is a perfect example of what I mean. This website requires all materials to undergo a review by healthcare experts to verify information shared is accurate and follows best practices for the industry. If you look right underneath the headline for the article, it states who reviewed and verified the facts in the piece.
Online resources that have expert reviews and cite sources are considered safe bets as well. Healthline is great at following this protocol. Their articles come with a fact-checked guarantee (along with information on who verified the facts), plus links to cited sourced within the text of the articles.
2. Check for satire
The Onion. Babylon Bee. Sports Pickle. What do these three things have in common (besides being incredibly entertaining)? They are not real news sites. You would never know it, though, by how some people quote them online. These online publications are the first to loudly proclaim to their readers they are satire. Some people who miss the proclamations are utterly fooled by the content. I have witnessed more than one post consumed by outraged individuals convinced that articles with headlines like “CIA Replaces Waterboarding With 12-Hour Lectures On Intersectional Feminism” are even remotely factual. Even when someone else points out the article is satire, the original poster sometimes sticks by their claim that it is a valid source. I do not know what to tell you when that happens. Sometimes arguing with the ill-informed is not worth the energy.
3. Conduct an advanced search
Google has this handy setting on its search page that allows you to get specific about where you would like it to look for search results. Here is how it works. Once you enter a topic into the search bar, you will see the options for settings at the top right. Click on it and from the expanding menu select the option for advanced search. Here, you have a variety of options for streamlining your results. One I like to use is under the site or domain option. It allows you to require Google to search only sites with .edu or .gov, where information is fact-checked and verified via multiple sources. You also can head over to places like Research Gate to find peer-reviewed studies.
Just the facts, ma'am
These are just three of the ways you can make sure your sources are reputable before tossing them into the fray. Interested in learning more about spotting fake news? Check out my interview with Nour Negm, where we discuss some of the best sources online for verifying information before you post it. Happy fact-checking, everyone! And remember…there is no such thing as alternative facts.
When I was a reporter, I often found myself smiling and nodding my head while secretly wondering what in the world some of my sources were talking about. Covering education and politics can have that kind of an effect on a person. I am certain if you all think about it long enough, you will come up with a time (or several times) this has happened in your lives. You struck up a lovely conversation with another person, only to find they began talking about a subject you know nothing about. To make matters worse, they used jargon specific to the topic, which further confused matters. No matter how educated you think you are on a subject, there always is someone who knows more.
Any time I found myself struggling to understand what a source was conveying I would ask them to explain it to me like I’m 5. It was my way of indicating that while they may be an expert in their field, neither myself nor the people reading the article were as well educated on the matter. Using simple words to break down complex ideas was going to be necessary for me and for my readers. It was a method that served me well throughout my reporting career.
Flash-forward to today and this method is everywhere. If you regularly visit social media and other online platforms, you have likely encountered the “explain it to me like I’m 5” phenomenon. Sometimes it is simply conveyed with the alphabet soup ELI5. Sometimes people use it as a sort of underhanded insult to suggest another person is out of their element and should leave the conversation. Other times, they are genuine in their request to have a topic explained in simpler terms so they can grasp another person’s view on a topic or issue. When an ELI5 suggestion is made online, how well it is received depends on the parties involved in the exchange.
It is an unfortunate possibility that the listener to whom the information is being conveyed will feel the communicator is insulting their intelligence by “dumbing it down” for them. The communicator also might feel slighted if they are asked to explain something in a way that they feel does not showcase their knowledge of the subject. A third possibility is that both parties will agree ELI5 is a great idea, and an amazing exchange of information will occur.
To help increase your odds of achieving that third outcome, here are five secrets to simple communication anyone can use. Whether you are having a face-to-face conversation, giving a lecture, or writing a blog post about a topic, the ELI5 technique works well when you incorporate some (or all) of these strategies.
As a professional copywriter, one of the questions I get frequently from prospective clients is, “How long will it take you to write a blog post?” That query usually is followed up by, “How much will it cost to write a blog post?” Reputable copywriters have a process and always are happy to explain it to their clients. Where we tend to get into a conundrum is when clients come into the process with a preconceived notion of how long a project should take and what is involved in producing the work.
One of my favorite assumptions as of late is the idea that any copywriter worth their salt can write the perfect blog post in an hour. Apparently, there is a so-called expert out there claiming this, complete with instructional videos on how to create the perfect 1,500-word blog post in one hour. That sure does sound appealing. I can understand why clients would be enticed by such a claim. The problem is it is not realistic. Can you write a blog post in an hour? Sure. Is it going to be top quality? Probably not.
Let’s break down the rationale behind this “perfect blog post in an hour” promise and explore why it is not the best method for producing the kind of content search engines will adore.
Claim #1: Hit lists
Keeping a “hit list” of articles reduces writing time. The theory is that if you have a go-to list of topics that already includes relevant keywords and some subheadings for inclusion, it will save you time later.
This is not an entirely bad idea. Many copywriters who have clients in specific niches find creating such a list helpful. The downside to this is if you have several clients within the same niche, you risk repeating copy for clients. Then you get into spun content territory, which never ranks well on search engines. What is spun content? It is taking the exact same copy and reworking it just enough that it appears slightly different to search engines. It contains all the same keywords and basic ideas, just rearranged a bit. Sometimes search engines can be slow to catch on to spun content, but Google’s bots are getting better at detecting it. Google dislikes this practice, and if it catches a website egregiously using spun content, it will penalize it by ranking it poorly.
Claim #2: The guy next door
Some of these self-proclaimed writing experts suggest you can cut your research time in half by taking the “guy next door” approach in your response. Rather than do proper research, the notion is to admit you are not an expert in the subject and that you had to do some quick Googling yourself to get the answers. Then just state the information without citing your sources.
While the “I’m not an expert, I just play one on TV” approach might work sometimes, it is not appropriate for every blog post. Some clients may be experts in their fields and require content that establishes them as an authority. In fact, 95 percent of the content I write for clients falls into this category. Conducting proper research and citing sources takes time (most definitely more than an hour).
Claim #3: Earning rich snippets
Anyone can earn a rich snippet if you just follow this guide to writing the perfect blog in an hour. At least, that is the claim from some self-appointed writing gurus. Before we explain why it is harder than it looks, you are probably wondering what the heck a rich snippet is and why you need to earn one. Amiright?
A normal snippet displays the page title, the URL where it is located, and a short description of what the page is about. A rich snippet includes extra information above and beyond the norm. It can include photos and reviews or ratings from customers if it is a product or business page. Rich snippets are important because they tend to produce a higher click-through rate on websites. Consumers love search results that give them a lot of information upfront. Here is an example of what a rich snippet looks like:
The claim says to earn the coveted rich snippet, you should write your opening sentence and paragraph before you do anything else. You must write it in a question-answer format known as a response-style blog. A response-style blog poses a question (ideally in the headline or opening sentence) and then answers it within the first paragraph of the blog post. To help boost your chances of earning a rich snippet, these experts suggest bolding the answer part of your response. The thinking is bolding text will help Google’s bots know you mean business and to reward you for your efforts. While bolding text is an old SEO copywriting trick to attract Google’s attention, it is not a surefire technique.
Why can it go wrong? Well, we can think of a few reasons. The most obvious is that your content is not original. We are going to circle back to that whole idea of spun content again. If you did the “guy next door” approach to your research, chances are, there is not much new or unique about your bolded content. So, even if the bolded text initially attracts Google’s web crawlers, they still may refuse your content a rich snippet if it is just like 20 other posts on the same topic.
Claim #4: Subheads can hurt your ranking
Long-form content ranks better with search engines. Why? Thorough content has a greater chance of earning quality backlinks that can boost your rating with search engines. One of the final aspects of these so-called perfect blogs in an hour is a warning that Google can sometimes treat long-form content like puny, thin content. Why? Their rationale is the subheadings lack substance and are irrelevant to the original topic.
On this, we can agree – to a point. Copywriters who shove subheadings into a blog just to reach word count are doing their clients a disservice. If the content does not add value, Google’s web crawlers will completely discount it.
The best way to keep long-form content relevant and exciting to Google and other search engines is to turn long-tail SEO keywords into subheadings. It is a sneaky way to ensure your extra words stay on target while giving them some extra oomph.
Quality trumps quantity every time
Cranking out the perfect 1,500-word blog post in an hour is simply unrealistic. The methods that some of these writing gurus tout will not earn your blogs the ratings they promise. Like any other “get rich quick” scheme, it really is too good to be true. It will just end up causing you frustration when these methods do not produce the promised results. Quality trumps quantity every time. Any good copywriter understands this and will never agree to methods that do not promote thorough research that produces engaging and relevant content. Ready to learn more about the right way to produce unique content that adds value to your brand? Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation consultation.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for over 20 years.