You Want Creative? We’ve Got Creative

Scratch the surface of anyone in the marketing content world, and you’ll find a would-be novelist, poet, screenwriter, or historical researcher-writer. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult for these talented individuals to deliver excellence during their “day jobs,” and still successfully pursue their dreams.

At Wordsmithie, we pride ourselves on fanning, not stifling, our people’s creative fires. Which is why, we believe, that the work we deliver—while always business-appropriate and tailored toward each brand’s individual voice—has that little extra something from being crafted by the different, fresh, and innovative minds of fulfilled creative individuals. It’s the mark of people encouraged to do their very best—both in their vocations and their avocations.

And Wordsmithie people are very productive in both arenas. Here’s just a sampling of what we’ve been up to on the creative side.

Creativity springs from the very top of Wordsmithie. Laura Bergheim, our extraordinarily busy founder and CEO, has authored or coauthored eight books, including several very delightfully quirky travel books. She’s now working on a new novel.

David Bergheim, Laura’s brother and our chief strategy officer, is also working on a new novel. His first novel, Greenbeaux, about a real clown who runs for president, was named one of the Best Indie Fiction Debuts of 2015.

Alexandra Kenin, a Wordsmithie studio director, is the founder of Urban Hiker SF. Her first book was a smash hit—if you live in or have visited the Bay Area, you may have used it when exploring the city. Urban Trails – San Francisco (2016) will soon be followed up with a book on East Bay urban hikes.

We’re extraordinarily lucky to have a world-class, award-winning poet in our midst. Mike Perrow, senior copywriter, this year released a book of poetry Five Sequences for the Country at Night, about which Forrest Gander has said, “Perrow is a kind of secular hierophant, with a sense of humor and a gorgeous lyric ear that sharpens our listening, tuning us to the notes that are ‘all / the more worth blowing.’”

Jim Leeke is probably our most prolific writer after-hours. A senior copywriter during the day, he’s also published numerous books about computing, technology, and American military history. His latest is Howell’s Storm (2019) about New York’s devastating 1949-1950 drought, and how an official “rainmaker” was actually hired to solve the problem.

Copywriter Lisbeth Kaiser is the author of Maya Angelou (Little People, Big Dreams, 2018), with illustrator Leire Salaberri. This book was Lisbeth’s first, commissioned by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, London, as part of a new series that introduces revolutionary people as young children, to young children. Now Lisbeth is continuing on this exciting road, working on two more books in the series, about Rosa Parks and Emmeline Pankhurst.

Copywriter Carmela Ciuraru published a book on famous writers who wrote under secret names. Nom de Plume (2011) was lauded as “highly intriguing” by Publishers Weekly, which gushed “amid informative, illuminating profiles, Ciuraru successfully ferrets out curious literary charades.”

Khaleelah Jones, Wordsmithie’s social media and SEO lead, has a book on the BBC television coverage of British decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s coming out next year. Entitled Window on the World: BBC Coverage of British Decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, it is part of the Manchester University Press’ series, End of Empire, and examines the ways in which emerging forms of media dictate the ways in which we consume and digest information.

Fritz Holznagel (with Roger Price) published The Ultimate Droodles Compendium this year, about which Carl Reiner said, “I’m so pleased that Roger Price is being rediscovered by new generations who haven’t seen his work before. It’s brilliant!”

Several Wordsmithie clients have also achieved creative success. Devora Rogers wrote a thoroughly entertaining book called The Spanish Painter that takes place around a fictionalized town based on Cuenca, Spain. And one of our  bloggers, Daniel Milford-Cottam, penned Fashion in the 1950s, Fashion in the 1970s, and is now writing Fashion in the 1960s.

As for myself, my fourth and latest novel, Half Moon Bay (published by Scribners and called a “dark, starkly beautiful and brooding suspense novel” by Kirkus Reviews), came out in paperback in early July. My fifth novel (still untitled!) is almost done. But the big news in our household was that Gideon Raff, the producer of Homeland, is making a movie of my first novel, Turn of Mind, with Annette Bening and Michelle Pfeiffer in starring roles. Shooting begins in early 2020.

Want distinctive and fresh case studies, UX copy, and white papers created by recognized literary artists who have also earned their business-writing stripes? Check out the Wordsmithie portfolio, and give us a call.


ABOUT Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, and taught writing at Stanford for more than 20 years. She is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of four novels, and wrote The Making of a Story, the best-selling textbook on writing published by W.W. Norton. Alice also is also a sought-after content writer, strategist, and story consultant for leading technology firms.


Copywriting for Print vs. Digital

copywriting for digital

Copywriting is copywriting, any way you slice it.

Right?

For professional writers weighing the differences between writing for print and writing for digital, this distinction is important. And understanding it can mean the difference between a portfolio of satisfied clients, and a string of embarrassing rewrites.

So, what are these key differences to remember, and how can copywriters leverage them to their advantage?

Wordsmithie takes a look!

Consider the possibilities and limitations of the format

Like an artist’s canvas or a musician’s instrument, a good copywriter needs to understand the inherent limitations – and unique possibilities – of the format he or she is writing for.

Writing for graphics and visuals

As a professional copywriter, you’re just one member of a marketing orchestra that also includes graphic designers, editors, developers, and other stakeholders at many levels. You supply the words that play in perfect harmony with what others supply.

The design components are particularly important:Depending on what visual elements your copy will be sychronizing with,you’ll need to write with one eye firmly focused on the final product.

For example, if you are writing summaries for a report that will include graphs and charts, you’ll want to include referential language like “As you can see from this chart, ,” or “As shown in the graph here” that makes it easier for the reader to follow and understand the flow of the material. Just remember that, once it goes to layout, the placement for those elements may vary on the page, so avoid describing the exact location of the visual element.

Similarly, copywriters will want to confirm with the project’s editors and designers whether they will simply need to summarize certain information that also will be represented in a graph, or if they will need to deliver stand-alone, comprehensive copy that explains everything a graph would have – including the data, its scale, the number of subjects, and more. Also, ask about whether you need to supply a caption for the design element (this goes for photos as well).

In print media, editors will (almost always) provide this information to a writer at the beginning of a project, since print formatting tends to be fairly set in stone, and governed by several factors outside of the writer’s control.

In digital media, however, there is often more flexibility, since many webpages can simply expand to accommodate more text, and any visual elements are (relatively) simple to move around or will be optimized for display settings such as mobile vs. desktop. Asking to see an example of a similar page layout before you start writing can help you understand the general look and feel. And always ask for character count limits for all elements (especially if you’re dealing with something like emails or other heavily templated layouts).

Formatting for emphasis

Another area where a copywriter must consider design and formatting is when deciding how to create emphasis within the text.

In digital media, basic HTML makes it extraordinarily simple to bold, italicize, and change the size of text to create emphasis. For example, if a digital writer wants to call attention to a specific change, they can so using any of the following three (3) ways:

Please note: this has changed.
Please note: this has changed.

Please note: this has changed.

In print, however, this ability may be limited by font sets, brand style guides or other logistical considerations. Often, the only way to create textual emphasis is by simply…well…writing more emphatically. That’s where your skill as a copywriter comes in!

Print is permanent: proofreading and editing

One of the other biggest differences between print and digital is that print is absolutely, completely, utterly permanent. You get no do-overs, and you can’tt send your print editor a frantic email at 1 a.m.asking to stop the presses because you used the wrong spelling of “there” or misattributed a quote.

To that end, writers must be—perhaps—even more careful in their print proofreading and self-editing than in digital. Not that we should be ignoring digital mistakes and hitting “submit.” But copywriters should be extra careful when their words will be appearing in print, since they cannot be changed without substantial additional costs.

We recommend every print copywriter execute additional rounds of proofreading than they might otherwise for digital. Also, we highly recommend stepping away from your copy overnight, and coming back to it the next day with fresh eyes. Then, read your copy out loud; your tongue will catch more slip-ups and awkward language than your eyes. Not that you’re more likely find mistakes, necessarily, but any changes, tweaks, or improvements to the copy that you discover or decide you’d like to make…well, your only chance is now, before you deliver your final version.

All of that said, copywriters should approach every assignment—whether in print or digital—with the utmost care, skill, and respect for the client’s project.

Summing it up…

Digital copywriting and print copywriting require similar skills, but each includes unique considerations and challenges for professional copywriters.

By keeping these differences in mind, copywriters can deliver better copy to their clients, better meet their demands, and—in turn—build an ongoing portfolio of loyal, satisfied clients.


ABOUT Jason Rogers

A graduate of the College of William & Mary and La Sorbonne, Jason has worked in content marketing all over the world, serving as Director of Digital Marketing for the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, China. Based in Washington, D.C., Jason covers the National Hockey League as a credentialed reporter and television analyst; he has wordsmithed for high-visibility institutions and companies from the United States Congress to Google. He loves hockey, hip-hop, and original hyperbole.


Search Engine Optimization (aka, SEO)—What It Is and Why Every Business Needs It

someone searching for a term on Google, which will use search engine optimization to return the best result for the searcher

Here at Wordsmithie, we work with a handful of clients who have heard of SEO but aren’t sure how or why they should be using it to benefit their business. (Trust us—you should!)

As a content marketing agency, we live and breathe SEO, and we’re happy to educate our clients on the basics. Put simply: If you want to grow your brand or business, it’s a necessary tool to incorporate into your marketing strategy as soon as possible. Not sure where to start? Let us be your guide.

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is exactly what it sounds like: the practice of optimizing your web content to increase quality traffic to your website through search engine results page performance (or SERP). Sounds simple, enough—but what does it mean to “optimize web content?” Here’s an example: Let’s say you run a wellness coaching business in London, and you’re looking to increase your number of clients. (Clients = money!) The easier it is for a prospective client to find you online, the more sales you’ll make. So ask yourself: Where do people go to find services they need? Google, of course! Which means you’ll want your business to appear as high as possible in the search results when your target audience searches for “wellness coach London.”

what happens when you type "wellness coach london" into Google

A number of factors go into determining the selection and order of websites that appear in a SERP, but the simplified explanation boils down to search engine algorithms (or computing formulas). These algorithms determine what websites are matched with certain words or phrases, known as keywords. (The keyword being “wellness coach London” in the previous example.)

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a variety of methods for sifting through and separating the SEO elements, but we like to prioritize three to optimize your search engine ranking (or how high you appear in SERP): technical, on-site, and off-site SEO.

How Will SEO Help Your Business Grow?

Before we get into the three elements, let’s dive into the importance of SEO and how it can impact your business growth.

No matter what industry you’re in, quite frankly, there are most likely a ton of other people out there doing what you do. So why should a prospective client choose YOUR business over one of theirs? What makes your product or service unique? Obviously, that’s for you to figure out—and once you have, only one question remains: How can you get the message out to the rest of the world? That’s where our trusty friend the internet comes in!

Every day, millions of people use search engines to find answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, and recommendations for a variety of products and services. If you’re a business owner that offers a product or service that can help make someone’s life better, you’ll want to show up in their SERP so they’re more likely to click through to YOUR website and purchase what you’re offering. How is this done? By optimizing your web content (which we’ll get into).

When your company’s site is one of the first listed in a search engine result, users are faster to associate your business with quality and trustworthiness—simply because of your ranking. Think back to the last time you searched for a particular service in Google. Did you scroll through to the third, fourth, or fifth page before clicking on a provider? Most of us don’t even make it to the second page, settling rather on one of the top five or six options.

This isn’t the only benefit, however. SEO ensures that the people who are looking for you find you without much effort. (There’s nothing worse than losing a sale because your website is buried beneath pages of clutter.) Your business deserves better.

Three types of SEO: technical, on-page and off-page

Photo courtesy of moz.com

Three Types of SEO

Now that we’ve covered the importance of utilizing SEO for your business, let’s discuss what goes into a good SEO strategy. While there are many different ways to sort through the components of a quality SEO strategy, we prefer to break them down into technical, on-, and off-page elements.

Technical SEO ensures that websites can “crawl and index” your website without technical problems. In non-tech speak, this just means that search engines like Google can effectively read and understand your web content so it can appear in relevant searches. For technical SEO to work in your favor, a secure connection, responsive design, and a fast loading time are essential.

On-page SEO places more of an emphasis on the actual content throughout your site—for example, the readability and quality of blog posts, informational pages, and any written text. Proper formatting of your content is also important, as are the appropriate use of keywords, which optimizes your content for search engines and makes your site “search-engine friendly.”

Off-page SEO has to do with efforts taken outside of your own website to better rank in a search engine. One such effort is “backlinking,” when a link to your website appears on another website. Search engines love these external links, as they help build up your site’s credibility.

More to Know about SEO

Just to wrap up, here are a few more things to consider when planning out your SEO strategy.

I’ve mentioned Google a few times throughout this post, because it’s the world’s largest and most widely used search engine, with an average net share of 75% among the use of search engines in 2017. Just to put that in perspective, there are over 2 trillion Google searches per day in 2019, or at least one search per internet user per day. (YouTube falls next in line as the second largest search engine.)

SEO is both a science and an art form, but it basically boils down to user experience. Search engines are smart, and they want users to have a quality experience AND get what they’re after when searching—so they’re going to favor relevant websites that show all the signs of being user-friendly. This looks like: easy-to-read content, understandable and aesthetically pleasing formatting (like quality headers, page breaks, and images), internal and external links, and technical aspects like fast site speed. Google can even interpret positive and negative site experiences, penalizing websites for poor user engagement.

SEO requires times, not money. Unless you’re outsourcing or hiring an SEO expert, incorporating SEO into your marketing strategy is a relatively cheap tactic. Where online advertising charges you per goal conversion as long as it’s running, SEO doesn’t cost a thing to implement, and the effects can last for years. However, producing quality results from an effective SEO strategy takes time and understanding—and since best practices are always changing to adapt to algorithm updates, newer technologies, and user feedback—it’s only worth implementing if you’re willing to stay on top of it (or hire someone to).

We hope we’ve provided a little bit of insight into how SEO can greatly impact the recognition, reputation, and revenue of your business—and how to get started incorporating SEO into your marketing plan. Let us know if you’d like more guidance with online marketing by getting in touch with us via our website contage form!


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


6 Grammar Hacks for Social Media

How important is getting grammar right in social media? Very. That said, I’ve just broken a grammar rule myself with a sentence fragment. Why? There, I did it again. For emphasis. Social media is all about voice. Your voice. That’s why people tune into your blog, subscribe to your Instagram feed, follow your YouTube channel. (Another grammatical error—a comma splice.) Your voice can—and should—be unique, even quirky. It should exude attitude. Your attitude.

Key to having a compelling voice is your ability to use language skillfully. Sometimes that means breaking commonly accepted rules (many of which are just myths—read on). See how I started a sentence with a conjunction (“and”)? Yes, that’s totally cool. Also, it’s my writing style. It is part of what defines my voice as a writer.

Let me now back up and say that if a grammar police squad existed, I’d be an enthusiastic charter member. I’m a stickler about grammar. Grammatical mistakes in social media are terribly off-putting. They imply, at best, sloppiness, and at worst, ignorance. So unless your goal is to create a digital persona who is an ignorant slob, I’d use one of the many free online grammar and spelling checking tools, keep The Elements of Style close to your keyboard, and bookmark Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), the latter of which is going to be your new, bestest, friend if you’re serious about writing well.

 

Social media is all about voice. Your voice. That’s why grammar might get a bit funky. But you can still write well, even on social.

 

Rules that are meant to be broken

Let’s start by doing some myth-busting. Many of the so-called rules are not rules at all, but (probably) well-intentioned guidelines for avoiding common mistakes that were somehow codified into strictures. But there are also some real rules that are breakable, if done intelligently and with intent, to establish your unique voice as a writer. Here’s a partial list. See which ones might help you in your efforts.

 

1. And feel free to start sentences with “and” or “but”

I still have editors who quote this rule-that-is-not-a-rule to me. It drives me crazy. No such grammatical mandate exists. And some of the most beautiful writers in the English language do this all the time. As a case in point, here’s a sentence from that bible of style, by William Strunk and E.B. White:

But [emphasis mine] since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And [emphasis mine] although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.

—The Elements of Style

See? Even the experts do it. Show this sentence to anyone who questions you on this point.

 

2. Passive voice should be used judiciously.

To be sure, you mostly want to use active voice. Verbs are the strongest element in any sentence, and, generally, you want to use the most active verb you can find. She hurried to lock the door is much more urgent than she went to lock the door, and either is preferably to the passive voice version, the door was locked. And we’ve all heard politicians of all stripes attempt to avoid responsibility by using the passive voice: mistakes were made. Oh, really? By whom?

Still, passive voice can have its place. And that was the last time the matter was mentioned is much more compelling than We heard the last of the matter. The passive voice conveys the mystery, the abruptness, of a final piece of information being imparted.

Passive voice can also be used for humor. An absolutely brilliant time was had by all has a dry wit compared to We all had an absolutely brilliant time. The passive version is more sardonic, perhaps sarcastic, certainly it makes us question the sincerity of the phrase. And take Mark Twain’s famous declaration: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Imagine if he said, instead, People are greatly exaggerating the reports of my death. Not the same.

A general rule: use passive voice to place emphasis on what is being acted upon versus what (or who) is acting. For example, her body was lifted from the sea is a better sentence for drawing attention to the body, than, for instance, the sailors lifted her body from the sea, which puts the emphasis on the sailors.

 

3. The rhythm of sentences is important, use comma splices when appropriate

Just tell Charles Dickens not to use comma splices.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ….

This, the opening to Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, shows how beautifully a comma splice can work for you. A common splice is when you omit to use a conjunction like and or but (or a colon or semicolon) when linking two independent clauses together. Why would you want to use a comma splice? Let me give you an example from a classic movie, Ghostbusters. After the team conquers its first ghost, the Bill Murray character shouts, “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” Not one, but two comma splices. Why do this? Correct the grammatical error and you get: We came, we saw, and we kicked its ass. Not the same, is it? A different rhythm, a different effect. (There, I did it again.) A comma splice tends to speed up the action of the sentence—it causes the reader to push the two (or three) clauses closer together to get a more intense effect. Try it, you might like it.

 

4. Sentence fragments. Leverage them. For emphasis.

If you follow the rules of grammar precisely, a sentence should express a complete thought or action. Thus every true sentence, no matter how short, contains a subject and a verb.

A sentence fragment is exactly what it sounds like. It’s incomplete—it doesn’t express a complete thought—or it doesn’t contain both a subject and a verb. Something is missing.

Example of a complete sentence: The house was big, and very scary looking.
Example of a complete sentence, and a sentence fragment: the house was big. And very scary looking.

Why use sentence fragments? Usually, for emphasis. To highlight something important that the reader needs to grasp to get your point. However, overusing fragments can make your writing tiresome to read. So think first, and break this rule with care.

 

5. To boldly go and split infinitives

To boldly go…. We all know the phrase. To not split the infinitive not only seems strange and unnatural to us, it changes the emphasis of the sentence. To go boldly is less emphatic, less strong, less Trek-y.

Even the strictest grammarians agree that you can—indeed, that you should—split infinitives with the goal of making sentences sound more natural. The reason for this turnabout? Language experts analyzed the so-called rule, and found it had no legitimacy in English grammar, but was due to linguists attempting to align English with Latin syntax.

 

6. And try this other trick that people say they will not put up with

Ending a sentence with a proposition. An absolute no-no, right? Wrong. Remarking on this rule, Winston Churchill famously said, This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put. Enough said.

 

Play with language. Know what the rules are, and know that it’s all right to break them—with care and intent.

 

Conclusion: Find your voice

So go ahead. Play with language. Know what the rules are, and know that it’s all right to break them—with care and intent. Identify what your writing goal is, and manipulate grammar to push your readers into a corner where the language forces them to think or feel the way you want them to feel. If that sounds violent, that’s because it is, a little. And manipulative. (Writers are terrible manipulators.) Or you could be a little kinder and call it persuasive writing. So do it. Find your true voice. Your social media fans and followers will rejoice.


ABOUT Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, and taught writing at Stanford for more than 20 years. She is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of four novels, and wrote The Making of a Story, the best-selling textbook on writing published by W.W. Norton. Alice also is also a sought-after content writer, strategist, and story consultant for leading technology firms.


Graphic Design Clickbait and the “New” Helvetica Typeface Refresh

helvetica typeface example

There’s a new Helvetica!

Helvetica’s been redesigned!

Your favorite typeface just became obsolete!

As I’ve touched on in at least one previous post, any time a graphic design story makes the major news outlets, I cheer a little. When Helvetica, one of the world’s most ubiquitous and recognizable typefaces, gets an update– well, it should be big news.

So, while the clickbait headlines screamed about how the Helvetica sky was falling, the truth is a little more complicated.

There is a “new” Helvetica, a redesigned one, but Helvetica as we know it certainly didn’t become obsolete. Rather, Monotype, one of the big players in the type design world, released a new version of the typeface that (most of us) know and love, updating it to become more friendly for digital. The updates were long overdue.

Helvetica, with which most of us interact multiple times a day, has been around since 1957. Created as a neutral, readable and no-nonsense typeface, Helvetica was sort of the typographical embodiment of its nation of origin, Switzerland, when it was released. In the six decades since, it has become the de facto default typeface for much of the world, used in everything from corporate wordmarks to transportation systems.

However, times change and the ways in which type is displayed change, too. While Helvetica has always looked great in larger sizes, it has never really shone in smaller applications. On a subway map or on the side of an airliner, Helvetica is great. For typesetting and modern mobile technology, which requires much smaller font sizing, it doesn’t work so well.

The funny thing is, Helvetica was redesigned for the “digital age” once before: in 1983, with the introduction of Helvetica Neue. Of course, in the early Eighties, designers were concerned primarily with maximizing the performance of low-resolution monitors and printers, not with the readability of small text on mobile apps and wearable electronic appliances. While books and magazines are usually set in nine- or ten-point type, devices like Apple Watches and Fitbits often utilize micro-type, meaning that words on display are set in the four- to- seven- point range. Clearly, if, Helvetica was to keep its position at the top of the type heap, then some modernization was in order.

Which brings us to Helvetica Now, the “new” Helvetica mentioned in all of the recent headlines.

What about Helvetica Now differs from Helvetica? Not much, at first glance. Helvetica Now is still recognizable as Helvetica, as it should be. But look closely, and you’ll see that the letterforms are different. Very different, and size-specific, particularly in the “micro” version, intended for use at small point sizes.

There’s a rounded, fuller appearance of letterforms, across the board. The apertures, the enclosed parts of the letterforms, have been enlarged, so that they don’t close up when shrunk down; a taller, uniform, x-height helps allow for this. Kerning, the space between letters, has been increased, keeping individual characters visually separated. The superscript dots above the lowercase i’s and j’s are larger in size. And, special characters, like ampersands and currency marks, have been simplified.

That’s Helvetica Now in a nutshell. It is not a replacement for Helvetica. It is not a better version of Helvetica, either. It is simply a different one. But, one better suited for the digital realm.

So, keep using the Helvetica (or Helveticas) you already have. They’ll serve you well for years to come. Helvetica is a classic typeface if there ever was one; its value quantified by its continued evolution.

Let’s check in again, in another two or three decades, when the next “new” Helvetica is announced.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.