Bore-Proof Your Content in 3 Steps
Content is King.
How many times have you heard that trope?
It bears repeating because it’s a long-standing truth. If you’re not creating high-quality content that adds value to your readers, you’re failing in your marketing strategy. It’s just that simple.
However, there’s an internet full of content out there begging for someone to check it out. It’s challenging to break through all the noise, especially if SEO is your goal.
It’s tempting to cut corners and produce copy for search engines, not people. Don’t do it! Content written for search engines is B-O-R-I-N-G.
Instead, focus on using these 3 techniques to draw the reader in and achieve your content marketing goals.
1 - Tell a Story
One of the most effective ways to keep your audience engaged is by telling a story. Whether it's a personal anecdote or a fictional tale, storytelling is a powerful tool that captures your reader's attention and keeps them invested in your content.
When you weave a narrative into your writing, it adds an emotional element that can connect with your reader and make your content more memorable.
Emotions = connections. It’s just that simple.
Not sure how to craft a compelling story? Let’s discuss strategy.
Show, Don't Tell
You've probably heard this one a million times but it bears repeating. Combining vivid descriptions and dynamic characters in situations that evoke strong emotions is the key to strong storytelling.
Copywriters often fail at this task when they tick off the reasons why a product or service solves a problem instead of providing actions that serve the same purpose.
For instance, instead of, "These headphones block 99% of external sounds," say something like, "Wrap yourself in a protective cocoon that shields you from the chaos outside."
The cocoon imagery helps me picture the benefits more clearly. If your target audience can imagine themselves in that scenario, they are more likely to emotionally connect with your product or service.
Remember, emotional connection leads to conversion.
Create Conflict and Tension
Conflict and tension create urgency. No one is going to call the fire company unless the house is burning down around them. The same is true for copy that converts.
Say you're writing a social media snippet for a housecleaning company that wants to attract new clients. A common pain point for consumers who need these services is a lack of time to do the job themselves.
A lot of copy addresses this common problem by suggesting something like, "Are the dust bunnies taking over the house again? Give us a call to send them packing." While cute, it hardly creates the kind of conflict that might prompt the person reading it to immediately pick up the phone and call to schedule cleaning services.
Instead, you could try something like this, which creates more urgency:
"Does the sound of your doorbell strike terror into your very soul? Fewer things cause the old heart to thump harder than unexpected guests when your place is drowning in a sea of clutter and dust bunnies. Stop turning out the lights and pretending you're not home. Give us a call instead. Just remember to answer the door when we stop by to tidy up."
This copy is relatable. I mean, who hasn't flipped off the lights and nose-dived out of sight to avoid inviting guests into your untidy home? If you're tired of ducking for cover every time the doorbell rings, then you're going to call this company sooner rather than later.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Yep, another trope that's used to illustrate a point (pun intended).
Images, infographics, and videos break up text-heavy pieces and keep your readers engaged. Sometimes they’re helpful for driving home complex ideas or adding an extra layer of appeal to your content.
Don’t just toss any graphic into the mix. To get the best results:
2 - Keep it Conversational
Most people dislike content that sounds like a textbook (unless, of course, you're reading a textbook, then it's OK).
Writing overly-analytical content can bore your audience to tears. The last thing you want is for someone to use your content to help them cure a bout with insomnia.
Keep your writing conversational to improve engagement. Your readers want to feel like you’re talking to them, not at them. After all, if they wanted to read content that sounded robotic, they'd plug a prompt into ChatGPT and wait for it to spit out an answer.
Some effective tips for creating conversation include:
3 - Experiment with Formats
Don't be afraid to experiment with different formats. After all, variety is the spice of life. Your readers are less likely to get bored if they experience your content in a variety of ways.
Some types of content to consider include:
By mixing up your formats, you can keep your content fresh and exciting for your readers. Experimenting with formats can also help you determine what resonates best with your audience and adjust your content strategy accordingly.
Bore-Proof Your Content with The Write Reflection
Creating engaging content isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s certainly not for people in a hurry. A strong content marketing strategy requires effort and creativity (and a lot of patience).
Storytelling, creating conflict and urgency, and experimenting with content types bore-proofs your content and keeps readers coming back for more.
If you’re struggling to provide content of value to your target audience, reach out to The Write Reflection today to schedule a no-obligation consultation.
Is it possible to write a book in one weekend? Sure, it is. Just ask children’s author Ammaar Reshi (although he probably wishes you wouldn’t).
Reshi, a design manager at Brex, used popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools ChatGPT and Midjourney to create and publish a story called “Alice and Sparkle,” over a weekend. Reshi claims the book is the first of its kind because it was co-created with AI. He gives his writing and illustration partner full credit in the book synopsis.
But wait…it gets weirder.
The book is about a young girl named Alice who creates her own AI named Sparkle. In the book, they go on fun adventures, combining their knowledge to change the world for the better (or so the synopsis promises). Customer reviews give it a 3.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
Some reviewers took pot-shots at the fact Reshi relied too heavily on AI to write the book. However, a few others said they were less bothered by the AI involvement and more concerned with the complete lack of storytelling throughout the book.
“I’ve seen some amazing stuff that was made using A.I. tools such as Midjourney and ChatGPT,” said a reviewer with the handle Hamsteroid. “This is not that.” Hamsteroid goes on to say the book lacks an arc in the storytelling and just abruptly ends.
Fellow reviewer Langue Master said, “This is what happens when AI is used to write a story with no human writer behind to guide things. This story is quite empty in terms of its story arc and content and the illustrations are poorly made/generated.”
Besides the possibility of garnering blistering reviews for AI-generated content, there are other reasons why you probably shouldn’t rely on it to write that dystopian novel you’ve had brewing in your brain for the last decade.
Before you make nice with ChatGPT or another AI tool, take some time to discover:
What the heck is an AI content generator?
Technophobes (and those living under rocks) may have zero clue what AI content generators are all about. For the uninitiated, AI content generators are technology programmed to use Natural Language Generation (NLG) to turn thoughts into words on a page.
Since AI can’t think like humans, engineers train them to learn how to engage in human-like conversations. They rely on vast amounts of information gleaned from the internet – articles, blogs, news stories, Reddit threads – to respond to prompts.
One of the most talked about technologies in this space is ChatGPT. It’s dominated the news cycle since the beginning of the year.
However, AI content generators existed long before ChatGPT hit the scene. Some of the most popular technologies for creating written content include Jasper AI and AI Writer. DALL-E and Midjourney currently covet the top spots for AI image creation.
How is AI disrupting the publishing industry?
While most organizations are figuring out how to use AI to replace their marketing teams full of humans, there is another group of people coveting its so-called power to generate words quickly. Wannabe authors have turned to generative AI to make their dreams come true. As we discussed earlier in this blog post, using AI to write a novel can backfire.
Some publishers have publicly admonished writers who used AI to generate bland content. Science fiction publisher Clarkeworld Magazine took to its Twitter account in mid-February to proclaim it was closing submissions because of the sheer volume of AI-generate content it had received.
Of the 1,200 submissions it received in February, Clarkesworld founder Neil Clarke claimed more than 500 were AI-produced.
Another publication, Science, has outright banned content generated by AI in any of its journals. Its policy states, “text generated from AI, machine learning, or similar algorithm tools” is considered scientific misconduct.
On the image side of things, Getty Images has banned the upload and sale of AI-generated illustrations because of fears over future copyright claims. We’ll talk more later about whether you can copyright AI-produced content.
What are some of the common problems with AI content?
AI language models like ChatGPT can assist with content generation. However, they’re not a substitute for human creativity, critical thinking, or subject matter expertise.
Beyond lacking the emotions of a human writer, relying on AI to write an entire novel (or any other content, for that matter) comes with risks.
Who holds the copyright for AI-generated content and illustration?
The short answer to who holds the copyright for AI-generated content and illustration is not you. Herein lies a huge problem with organizations relying on AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney for creating all their written and visual content.
Images and text 100 percent generated by AI don’t qualify for copyright protections, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
In late February, the copyright office ruled in the case of the comic book “Zarya of the Dawn,” whose author used illustrations produced solely by Midjourney. Since non-humans created the images, author Kristina Kashtanova gained copyright protections for the story, but the images were excluded.
The same holds true for text written by AI that humans have not altered in some way. When AI makes all the decisions about how something is written or designed, it bypasses the human creative process required for copyrighting.
Choosing humans over machines
It’s tempting to turn to machines over humans to produce content, especially when you’re looking to cut expenses. Aspiring authors can fall into this trap along with organizations.
Choosing humans over machines is a better option. Not only does it get you higher-quality content, but it also ensures you own the rights to that content once it’s completed. We hope you make the right decision.
There’s an ugly side to local search engine optimization through Google My Business (GMB). A major flaw in how GMB accounts work can compromise a brand’s reputation. Most organizations aren’t aware of the issue until it affects them. By then, it’s a complicated mess to resolve (if you’re lucky enough to settle the matter at all).
So, what’s this 5-alarm fire raging over on the Google My Business platform?
Well, did you know that anyone can create a GMB account for your business, even if they don’t work there or have any affiliation with it? Worse yet, that same person can then run the account, posting anything they’d like about your brand.
If this is news to you, then brace yourselves for the ugly truth. In this blog, we delve into this potential nightmare and offer tips on what to do if your organization becomes an unwitting victim.
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business is a free tool provided by search engine giant Google. It allows businesses to manage their online presence through Google, which includes how prospective customers find them through another popular Google service called Google Maps.
By creating and verifying a business listing, you can update your information—address, hours of operation, phone number, website—and post other information like updates and photos. Customers can review your products or services and you can respond to those reviews.
Google My Business guarantees your brand gets found during a Google search when industry-relevant keywords are used for your products or services. The GMB listing appears in the top right of the search engine page, helping your organization become front and center for searchers.
Why do organizations need a Google My Business account?
Brick-and-mortar businesses and other organizations that want to boost their local visibility on search engines rely on Google My Business to get found online. At least, that’s the trick if someone is using Google to search for a product or service your company provides. Rival search engines like Bing and Yahoo don’t bring up GMB accounts (imagine that!).
Some of the benefits of creating and managing a GMB account for your brand include:
Who can create a Google My Business account for your brand?
Before you can get the full benefits of a GMB account, you must either create one or take control of one already created by another person. Herein lies the rub. You might go through the steps to create an account, only to find out someone has already established one for your business.
This recently happened with two of The Write Reflection’s clients. Navigating through this unfortunate situation felt like being trapped in the 9th circle of hell from Dante’s Inferno.
If you’re lucky, it was one of Google’s bots that created the listing. Sometimes they do that because they think they’re being helpful little AIs. They come across your website or social media while crawling the web and discovering your information. A quick scan shows you don’t already have a GMB listing, so they create one for you.
That’s the best-case scenario because it’s easier to claim the listing and control it. You’ll know if this is the case if you see a “Claim This Business” option on the GMB account.
However, sometimes a direct competitor or disgruntled former employee or customer can create a GMB listing in your business’s name. When that happens, buckle up because you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Navigating the 9th circle of GMB hell
What can you do if you discover someone created a GMB listing for your business and Google denies you access to it? Contacting Google Help directly is highly recommended. You must speak to a real person at Google. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself banging your head off your desk in frustration.
Here are two scenarios The Write Reflection’s clients recently encountered with GMB and how we resolved the issue.
Scenario #1: Someone has created a listing in your name.
Let’s take the worst-case scenario. A former employee who involuntarily left your company decides the best way to get some sweet revenge is to create a GMB listing and populate it with disinformation. To make matters worse, they convince a few of their friends to get onto the listing and create horrible reviews of your products or services.
When Joe Schmo starts typing in an industry-relevant keyword for your brand, the GMB listing is the first thing they see. It doesn’t exactly leave a glowing impression of your business, so they keep scrolling until they find a competitor instead.
This was the case for one of our clients who depends on local SEO to find new customers for his business. The GMB listing came up, but it was filled with incorrect information. So, searchers moved on to one of the three other businesses in the area that provide the same services. Our client was hemorrhaging new leads and needed to stop the bleeding.
We first tried to request access and verify our client as the authorized representative for the account. Google had us jump through several hoops in the name of verification, and finally granted us access. However, the victory was short-lived, because within a few minutes of authorizing our control, Google suspended the GMB listing without further explanation.
As a final resort, we contacted Google Help directly. A detailed explanation of the situation, plus providing information that proved our client was the legitimate owner of the business, finally did the trick. Google reversed its suspension and handed over full control. Problem solved.
Scenario #2: Someone has hijacked control of your account.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s something even worse than having an unaffiliated person create a GMB listing in your business’s name. It’s possible to hijack a GMB account simply by asking Google for permission, and then hoping the authorized person doesn’t intervene in time to cancel the request.
All someone must do is go to an existing GMB listing and request Google add them as an authorized manager. There’s a handy feature to make this super easy, which only encourages nefarious actors to engage in this kind of behavior.
Once you request access, Google sends an email to the GMB account manager on record. Here’s where it can go downhill quickly. You only have 3 days to respond to that email to refute the request for access. If you don’t see the email in time, Google assumes your non-response is an A-OK sign and hands over the keys to the kingdom.
We had a local business come to us for assistance in this situation. The first thing we did was request access. However, the hijacker made sure they denied our request, so Google wouldn’t let us in.
Because the information posted to the account was potentially damaging to our client’s reputation, we reached out to Google directly and explained the situation.
Once again, we jumped through hoops to verify our client was the legitimate owner of the business. Google removed the other individual from the account and authorized our access.
What are some other hidden issues with Google My Business?
Unauthorized access to your account is just one issue you can experience with Google My Business. Failing to keep your GMB listing updated can prevent customers from finding your brick-and-mortar location or reaching out to you.
If you have a phone number, address, or website change, it’s critical to update that information on your GMB listing immediately. Consumers get frustrated quickly when they can’t find you to do business with you. They’ll simply move on to a competitor who cares enough to keep their online information accurate.
Another potential landmine is negative reviews and low ratings. Sometimes competitors and former employees get onto GMB listings and cause problems by leaving negative feedback. Failure to monitor and respond to this issue can harm your brand’s reputation.
It’s the age-old question most website content writers dread: which comes first, the copy or the design? Depending on who you ask, you can get wildly differing opinions on the matter.
Prospective clients who ask me this question get a straightforward answer. Websites must lead with content, not design. It’s a bold statement. One that can be backed up with evidence for naysayers who argue that design is more important than content.
Design needs to work for the content, not the other way around.
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I believe in a “people first, SEO second” approach to content writing. Putting people first requires an emphasis on content over design.
Now, I’m not going to argue that website design isn’t important. It’s part of creating a seamless user experience (which search engines like and reward). Websites must load fast. They need to be visually appealing. But none of that matters if the meat of the website – your content – is subpar.
What role does design play in search engine ranking?
Remember when I said I wouldn’t argue that website design wasn’t important? It’s because I know that a poorly-performing website hurts ranking with search engines like Google.
Think about the last time you visited a website on your mobile device. Did it load quickly, or did you end up abandoning it because you spent far too much time watching that swirly “loading” icon on your screen?
Even worse than a website page that loads slowly is one that is so jam-packed with visuals and text that it’s difficult to navigate or read.
You need both a well-designed, user-friendly website design and high-quality content to perform well with search engines. Giving a website designer content to inspire the design is one of the most effective ways to ensure you have both.
What is effective website content?
Website content extends beyond the written word. Yes, your website needs an About Us section and a landing page that converts traffic to sales. However, effective website content can – and should – include graphics, photos, and videos that complement the words on the page.
One of the quickest ways to boost engagement on your website (or social media) is with a high-quality video. That’s because the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Just one minute of a well-scripted video can replace 1.8 million words.
Another way to boost engagement (and credibility) is with infographics that illustrate a point you’re making in your content. Visuals speed up processing time, which is crucial for decision-making. The sooner a visitor to your website (or social media) determines you’re credible, the quicker they’ll decide to do business with you.
One caveat about graphics: go original when possible. Using stock photography and other graphics can hurt your search engine ranking because you may be using the same visuals that thousands of other companies are using on their websites. Custom photography and graphic design make your content stand out, increasing your brand’s credibility.
What is the role of content on a website?
Educating and informing visitors to your website is the role of content. Through blogs, case studies, and other content strategies, you can let people know what you stand for and how they can benefit from doing business with your brand.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that content is the key to your marketing efforts. All forms of digital marketing—blogs, case studies, eBooks, infographics, videos—can be incorporated into a website that leads with content.
What if the website is already designed?
It can be trickier if you’re asked to create content for a website that’s already designed. I’ve been in this position more than once. While not ideal, it can be done with some consideration.
First, if the website design looks and feels cluttered, don’t be afraid to make recommendations for necessary changes. No one wants to redesign their website from scratch, but sometimes there are practical adjustments that can be made to help your content streamline seamlessly with an already-designed site.
One of the most important aspects of design that can easily be altered is graphics and videos. Too many can bog down the loading time for a web page, which frustrates visitors to your site. Graphics can be optimized for faster loading using website plug-ins (or by writing HTML code).
For videos, stick to no more than one per page. While videos can draw attention quickly, they also can affect the user experience if they are awkwardly positioned on the page or take too long to load and play. Make sure all videos are compressed to prevent this mistake.
Next, look at the visuals provided and craft content that complements it. Remember, when it comes to website content, more is not necessarily better. Keep your descriptions short and to the point. Use H2 headers to separate ideas if the website design lends itself to them. Doing so can boost your search engine ranking.
Inverted pyramid method
One of the most helpful tips for crafting content for your website is to use the inverted pyramid method. It works by placing the most essential pieces of information at the top of the page and declining in order of importance.
Using a traditional storytelling method can help you organize your content in order of importance. Start with a catchy title that grabs visitors’ attention. Follow it with a compelling introduction to your brand that is clear and concise. Don’t forget to include a conflict and resolution section to demonstrate how your products or services add value.
The conclusion of your story must feature a strong call-to-action that prompts visitors to take a specific action. What do you want them to do now that they’re hooked on your brand? Subscribe to a newsletter? Click the “learn more” option? Whatever it is, make it clear so you don’t lose a prospective customer who’s already on the hook.
How do you get quality content for your website?
Everyone thinks they can write—until they try. Then they quickly discover that creating compelling website content that converts is harder than it looks.
Working with a content specialist can improve your chances of meeting your content marketing goals. Don’t leave your website content to chance. Reach out today to schedule your complimentary consultation to get your website content producing sustainable growth for your brand.
“I find it interesting you claim to have done SEO for more than 20 years when Google hasn’t been around that long.”
That was the statement I was met with two weeks ago from someone claiming there was no such thing as an SEO copywriter. It came after I tried to explain what an SEO copywriter is (and is not) and how the most skilled in the trade work their magic. After my helpful explanation – which included my years of experience – I was challenged to prove my credentials.
To make a long story short, I gave the person a brief history of search before Google came along. Yes, search engine optimization, or SEO for short, existed before search engine giant Google entered the scene in 1998. As hard as that is for some to imagine, Google isn’t the “OG” search engine.
It got me thinking that maybe others truly do not understand how search worked before Google launched. Maybe they’re too young to remember the days of clunky dial-up internet and even clunkier search engines. Or maybe they simply never thought much about SEO because they don’t need to use it. If you fall into either of these categories, then this blog is for you.
What is a search engine?
Before we can talk about search engines, I should probably define them. If you want the techy explanation, here goes. According to our friends at techopedia, a search engine is, “a service that allows Internet users to search for content via the World Wide Web.”
Here’s the more exciting explanation, courtesy of me.
Users (that’s you) sit in front of their electronic devices that are connected to the internet. If you’re among 59.72% of internet users globally, that device is your cell phone.
Let’s say you’re searching for an auto repair place to fix your car’s muffler. You might ask Google (or Bing or any other search engine) “find car repair places near me.” And just like magic – POOF – a list of mechanics close to your home pops right up. Neat, innit?
You can thank search engines for that capability. They’re designed to scour the internet to find exactly what you’re looking for and deliver a handy list of possibilities right to your device. SEO copywriters also have a little something to do with how search engines work, but we’ll get to that later.
Why do you need search engine optimization?
Do you want to be found? If you answered no to that question, then you can stop reading this blog. However, I’m willing to bet if you own a business, I got a resounding yes to that query.
You can’t scrimp on search engine optimization these days. With 85% of Americans going online daily for something, you’re missing the opportunity for new and repeat business if you’re not coming up in search.
Search engine optimization is a complex beast. There’s SEO content strategy, link-building, local SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO (to name a few). It’s best to hire an SEO expert who can help your brand navigate through the SEO process if you want to achieve success.
Now that we know what a search engine is and why you need to include search engine optimization in your digital marketing plan, let’s dive into how people managed to find anything before Google hit the search engine scene.
How did people search before Google?
It can be difficult to remember a time B.G. – Before Google. Alas, it existed, and people were searching for things online even back then. User intent isn’t a new concept in SEO. It’s always been a thing.
However, how search engines ranked content was entirely different in those prehistoric days of the World Wide Web. Back then, it was all directory-driven.
If you’re wondering what the heck that means, let me explain. Directories were human-driven. There were editorial teams for early search engines who decided on content ranking. They would manually explore website pages and other online content and classify it into a category.
Directories were super for local search. You could call them the early version of Google My Business.
There were more than a few early search engines. Some are worth mentioning. Others, not so much. Here are some of my personal favorites.
AltaVista launched in December 1995. To this day, I have fond memories of this search engine. It was the first fully searchable, full-text database that was both accessible and user-friendly.
Don’t get me wrong – AltaVista certainly wasn’t fancy. But it got the job done. The search engine was bought out twice – once by Overture, again by Yahoo – before it went offline around 2013.
I could be wrong, but I often suspect Google’s creators were taking notes on how smooth the user experience was on AltaVista to incorporate some of those features into their search engine.
Excite launched the same year as AltaVista. Designed by six students from Stanford University, it was one of the first search engines that did more than simple searches. It had portals for news and weather, an email service, an instant messaging service, and a fully-customizable homepage.
Its creators continued to expand and improve services, including the 1996 purchase of WebCrawler and exclusive agreements with technology companies like Apple and Microsoft.
Excite was bought out by AskJeeves (now Ask.com) in March 2004. It still exists in some form today but is not nearly as popular as it was during its heyday.
Yahoo! was one of the most well-known search engines before Google became a household name. It went live online in 1995 and still survives to this day. Starting in 2021, it added other services to its search engine capabilities like Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Mail, and Yahoo News.
It may not be Google, but Yahoo is still one of the most popular websites by web traffic in the world.
The Wild, Wild West of SEO
Back in the early days of SEO, it felt a lot like living in the Wild West. Competition was fierce. Someone was always challenging your brand to a duel online to see who would come out on top. What made it tricky was most of the SEO tools that exist today weren’t in play back then. You had on-page SEO and that was it.
Unfortunately, the lack of SEO strategies contributed to shady practices like Black Hat SEO. SEO keyword stuffing was a big thing in those days. If a competitor used an SEO keyword for your industry 50 times in a piece of content, the only way to beat them was to use it 100 times (or more).
You can thank those limited SEO practices of yesteryear for most of the spammy, crappy content floating around on search engines today. Thankfully, Google finally has seen the error of its ways and launched its Helpful Content Update.
Thankfully, I never engaged in that nonsense, even back then. I knew then, as I know now, that quality content is the best way to rank well online. My early on-page content that’s still floating around on the interwebz today ranks just as well now as it did back then.
Journalism: the key to SEO genius
One of the things that made me so good at on-page SEO back then was my journalism background. I knew how to tell a story. People got hooked early and stayed until the call to action (even when the CTA was subtle).
Research was my thing, so I didn’t spew random and unverified “facts” in my content. I regularly included industry experts in my pieces so that readers felt like they learned something from a person who had been there and done that.
I still use my journalism skills to create top-ranking SEO content today. My clients are amazed at how fast I can get their pages ranking at the top without cheating the system. I don’t need luck to continue the winning streak. All I need to do is stay the course while producing high-quality content.
Search engine algorithms are fickle. They change at the drop of a dime. It’s why while I pay attention to SEO industry trends, I never stray from the journalistic formula for creating content because it works.
If you’re ready to stop paying SEO shillsters for subpar content that doesn’t convert, reach out to me today to schedule a free consultation.
Rules of Order, the latest offering from Jeff Vande Zande, evokes an eerie feeling of déjà vu for more than one reason. Firstly, it features a group of people forced to live together who can’t agree on, well, anything. Sound familiar? It’s like a real-life depiction of current events set against a dystopian backdrop.
Secondly, fans that have read his previous work, The Neighborhood Division, recognize the characters and the storyline. The overarching theme in that collection of stories focused on battling with the instincts of the self vs. the community. One of the stories called “Load” left readers wanting more. Not one to leave his fans hanging, Vande Zande fulfilled their wishes by expanding the short into its own novel.
In the shorter version, readers are introduced to the main character, Harvey Crowe. He has good intentions but struggles a bit with the execution. When we meet Crowe again in Rules of Order, he’s still busy trying to convince his neighbors that they must get on board with strict guidelines for weight limits in their individual apartments to protect the entire building from collapse. Although this time around, we gain more insight into his motives.
If you’re asking why they couldn’t just move to a new building, readers get the impression that’s not an option in this dystopian future. Readers aren’t told exactly how it happened, but we’re led to believe that leaving the building and venturing into the outside world is akin to an immediate death sentence. It’s effective storytelling that Vande Zande leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks on how the outside world became so inhospitable to human life.
“The bigger message I wanted to convey is that it was probably a good dose of capitalism that destroyed the outside world, and somehow, capitalism still found a way inside the building,” said Vande Zande. “It just became a microcosm of how the planet used to conduct itself. We want more for ourselves as individuals, even if we’re hurting the group.”
The sky is falling…literally
Without spoiling the storyline, it’s safe to say for most of the novel, Vande Zande taps into the reader’s anxiety with a sense of urgency about when – not if – the building will collapse. This sense of impending doom led to Falling Sky as the original title of the novel.
“It was titled Falling Sky for a long time,” said Vande Zande. “But the publisher eventually decided it was too close to some other movie and book titles and that because of it, it just wasn’t grabbing him.” Vande Zande started brainstorming a new title and kept coming back to Robert’s Rules of Order, which he used as a frequent reference when writing the board room scenes for the book. “I thought about making the new title Rules of Order and the publisher loved it.”
Of course, with Vande Zande, there always is a hidden meaning behind his book titles. Not only is Rules of Order a nod to Robert’s Rules, but it also is a play on words for how the order of society – rich vs. poor – was conducted within the building.
The book title isn’t the only aspect of Rules of Order with a double entendre. Characters’ names also carried hidden meanings. One such character is the well-to-do Gerald LaMark, one of the newest and youngest members of the apartment building board. Vande Zande said he named LaMark after the character Lamarque in Les Miserables.
“It’s kind of an homage to him because there’s a line in one of the songs that only Lamarque speaks for we people here below,” said Vande Zande. “It seemed a good parallel since LaMark speaks for the residents on the lower floors of the building.”
Two of the most interesting characters in the book are the building supervisor, Sam, and his wife, Anya. Unfortunately for Crowe, he can hear every conversation the couple has through a leaky ventilation pipe between their apartments. Most of those arguments are about how much they dislike each other.
“Some readers have shared with me that the super and his wife represent the oversharing that happens on social media these days,” said Vande Zande. “For me, they represent the existential threat of nuclear weapons that we can’t control among all the things that we try to do to protect ourselves and our planet. The whole planet can get annihilated only on our inability to get along.”
It’s hardly a surprise the building in Rules of Order is an analogy for our planet. The world is facing an ongoing climate crisis, divisiveness, and authoritarianism – all things represented within the microcosm of Crowe’s building. Sam and Anya represent the overarching feeling that we’re in the palm of a hand we can’t control and that can crush us at any moment no matter what insignificant actions we take to prevent our demise.
“The more we try, the harder we fail,” said Vande Zande. “We’re really botching it as a species.”
Looking toward the future
Readers who enjoy The Rules of Order also may want to check out Vande Zande’s 50-page novelette, Parable of Weeds, which discusses the nuances of gated communities.
It may be a while before fans of Vande Zande’s brand of dystopian writing have a new story to immerse themselves in. After writing two novels in 2020, Vande Zande said he needs some time to restore his creative juices.
Not to worry, though. He’ll be back to taking aspects of the real world, turning the volume up on them, and creating an amazing tale again in the future. For now, readers can get their copy of Rules of Order on Amazon.
Building brand authority requires creating quality content that establishes your credibility. Think of it as street cred for the internet.
Many organizations struggle with this part of establishing their bona fides because they try to take a short cut with their content creation. They get sucked into the game of producing SEO keyword stuffed drivel that prioritizes search engines over the humans reading it.
It’s nearly impossible to shape a stellar impression of your brand if visitors to your website and social media feeds are greeted by inferior content.
Google finally has realized the error of its algorithm’s ways and has set out to correct course. By now, most people have heard about Google’s Helpful Content Update. If you’re among the few who missed the newsflash, here’s the long and short of it: Google is going to start rewarding content that puts people first, not search engines.
Good thing for me that my business motto is, “People First. SEO Second.” I’ve always put readers first when writing content for myself or any of my clients.
Getting people to your website or other online content is only the first part of the battle. If your content sucks, they won’t stick around (or come back) for more.
Building brand authority takes time and skill. One of the tools in your growth strategy should include HARO. We’ll talk more about that later. First, let’s break down why you should care about brand authority.
What is brand authority?
Brand authority is all about trust. Not just trust in your product or service, either. Brand authority should extend to include how your current and prospective customers view your organization as a trustworthy source of information.
You may have heard branding strategists and other marketing professionals talk about establishing yourself as an industry leader or niche authority. That’s just a fancy way of saying when you post something online, people believe it.
Let’s say you’re a physical therapist with a large customer base and online presence. If you create a social media post about a new product to help with stretching that can reduce the risk of injury, your followers won’t doubt your recommendation because they believe you’re an expert on the matter. That’s brand authority.
Why do I need to build brand authority?
Organizations that want to be successful care about brand authority. If no one trusts your brand or has doubts about buying your products or services, they’re going to spend their money elsewhere.
Trust goes beyond encouraging people to try your brand. It’s a critical component of keeping customers once you have them in the fold.
Brand authority mustn’t be confused with brand awareness. You can know a brand exists, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to buy their products. An organization can be stellar at getting their name and products out there. However, that doesn’t mean they have a good product or service that people trust and rely on.
Unilever is a great example of brand authority. Under former CEO Paul Polman, the company redirected its focus from profitability to sustainability. The result was a positive social impact through its Unilever Sustainable Living Plan that reinforced the company’s business integrity and resonated with consumers.
Although its focus wasn’t on profitability, Unilever managed to increase its earnings over the eight years it spent concentrating on profit through purpose.