Hi, and welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. My guest today is Bryan Collins. He was a full-time copywriter at Sage, and now he’s a nonfiction writer, and host and director of Become a Writer Today podcast.
Today, we talk about copywriting, keywords, technology and how all those elements influence content marketing and modern business writing.
In this episode:
- How to strive to be a better copywriter if you cannot afford to hire someone?
- Which website should the small business owners or anybody looking for good copywriters go to?
- How to fit different content formats into your content marketing strategy, and why does it matter?
- Where does SEO fit into the writing process and modern business writing?
- What prep work needs to be done before someone starts writing?
- What is the role of Artificial intelligence in content writing, and what are the experiences with the tools.
- How to create content that will stand out or breakthrough the crowd?
- Which approach is better for writers, focus on one channel or have that omnipresence on multiple channels?
- How well should digital marketers and writers know SEO?
- What are some of the KPIs to measure the success of a copywriter or content?
- How to use lead measure and lag measure to analyze your goals?
Quotes from the episode:
“Even if AI could produce a great article for you, it’s not going to tell you where it fits in the customer journey and all the supplementary content or the call to action. So that’s where hopefully you fit in, or I fit in. ”
“Marrying copywriting with SEO is a match made in heaven because you can see exactly what people are searching for and the real words they use and put that into your copy, which every copywriter should do. ”
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Hi, welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. Today, I want to talk about copywriting and content marketing. We have a very special guest today, Bryan Collins. He was a full-time copywriter at Sage, and now he’s a nonfiction writer and host of the Become a Writer Today podcast. Welcome, Bryan.
Bryan Collins: It’s great to be here, Pam. Thanks for having me on your show. So ever since I was like nine or 10, I wanted to earn a living from writing. And it was because I read this story to BFG by Roald Dahl. When I became a teen, I said to myself, “I need to become a journalist because that’s the best way to earn a living as a writer.” And I studied for a journalism degree in Dublin. Still, I spent more time going to parties than actually learning how to get a job.
Pam Didner: I would do the same if I lived in Dublin.
Bryan Collins: Well, yeah, but it was great fun at the time. But then, when I graduated, to my great surprise, but no one else’s, I found it hard to get work, and I was unemployed on and off for a couple of years. And I nearly gave up on earning a living from writing, and that’s how I kind of indirectly discovered copywriting on content marketing. I was kind of able to, I suppose, reboot my writing career and start earning a living from the written word.
So I got a job as a copywriter for a few publications in Ireland. Then I joined Sage– the British software company that sells accounting software and software for small businesses, about eight or nine years ago. I’d had a great career when Sage, but I had set up a website or a blog on the side called Become a Writer Today. I was publishing informational articles about the craft of writing. Over the course of a few years, what started as a hobby, turned into a side and then a full-time business. Uh, I guess I learned a few things about content marketing and Sage, as well.
So that’s what I’m working on at the moment. I finished up and Sage about nearly a year ago, um; great company to work for, but I was 40, three or four weeks ago, so I wanted to work on my project. Yeah.
Pam Didner: You want to make a change! So, copywriting is hard, and I’m not going to pretend I’m a great copywriter. Do you have any specific tips or tricks–especially for small businesses–that they can afford to hire a professional, a copywriter. Sometimes they have to do stuff independently, or their marketing team needs to write. Do you have any specific tips and tricks that you can share with everybody regarding how to try and strive to be a better copywriter if they cannot afford to hire someone?
Bryan Collins: Yeah, I think there are two parts to your question. One is copywriting doing it yourself if you’re a small business and you’ve no budgets. The other is hiring a copywriter if you have a budget. Copywriting is hard. If you want to learn the basics, unfortunately, there are very few copywriting courses that you can take. There is an online course from the American Writers and Artists Institute. It’s something called the Six-Figure Course in Copywriting. It only costs $500, but it’s excellent. It goes through the ins and outs of copywriting, and it’s where you can learn the basics.
Copywriting means speaking in your customers’ language, using words they use. And at some point, whatever copy you write should have a call to action where you ask for a sale, ask for a subscription, or present an offer. It is a specific discipline. So you know, you need to practice something that you need to measure up real-world analytics about how your actual web copy is performing.
If you have budgets, you can invest in hiring a copywriter. And if you go to hire a copywriter, you should ideally look for somebody who has some experience in copywriting. So they have a portfolio that they can point to. And you should also look for somebody who specializes in your particular niche or niche, as they say in the United States, our industry. So an e-commerce copywriter isn’t very different to somebody who would write a long-form sales page. And that type of copywriter is different to somebody who would write an email funnel.
And secondly, I worked in the B2B industry as a copywriter to write about accounting software and SaaS products. But if somebody asks me to write a copy about health products, I would be a little bit stumped. So you need to figure out what clients your copywriter has worked with. What’s their experience because? That would help them understand your products and services better, which will help them sell your products and services.
Pam Didner: Yeah. Do you have any suggestions about which website the small business owners or anybody looking for good copywriters should go to? I use Upwork, but uh, most of the time, it’s hit and miss to find a good writer.
Bryan Collins: Finding a copywriter can be difficult. You might need to go through a traditional recruitment process, and copywriters often have different jobs. They might be called a content marketer, and copywriting might’ve been something they did for the company. So you would need to look at somebody’s employment experience on LinkedIn. That said, if you wanted to find a freelance copywriter, I would start with looking on jobs boards on the likes of the American Writers and Artists Institutes. You will find US copywriters for hire there. There’s also a great service called Writer Access. Uh, you can find freelance writers on Writer Access. Still, I understand they will also provide copywriters specializing in specific topics. So I would try those three services.
Now you can’t use Upwork, but you’re going to have to go to video interviews. You’re going to have to vet the copywriter because anybody can set up an account in Upwork and call themselves a copywriter. That doesn’t mean they are.
Pam Didner: Understood. So another thing I would like to ask you is from my personal experience of writing for myself. And I started with blog writing. Then, I eventually ventured out to create videos and do a podcast. And I have come to realize the writing, you know, you mentioned about the writing for different industries. The different verticals tend to be slightly different because you need to understand the audience to write something that will resonate with them.
But I have come to realize that different formats also matter. For example, writing for the podcast or even writing for the videos are very different. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Bryan Collins: I was already talking to somebody today about turning content from a podcast into an article. And what a podcaster might do, or at least a new one, is taking the transcript and paste it as an article on waiting for Traffic to arrive.
Pam Didner: I don’t agree with that approach at all.
Bryan Collins: (laughs) It doesn’t work! No, I learned that the hard way, it doesn’t work. A copywriter will do something that a content marketer would also do; they will figure out the topic in advance and then interview you. Like you and I are chatting now. But then, later on, if they have time, budget, and inclination, they will figure out a topic for the article and figure out the search and intent. Perhaps use some keyword research tool and then write an article. Still, they will take extracts from the interview, almost like a journalist and insert quotes to lend credibility to the piece.
Um, so content repurposing is fantastic. I’m all for it. If you can create content on a budget, do it. You still need to consider your audience and whom you’re writing for because somebody reading an email is expecting different types of content, from somebody reading a book to somebody listening to a podcast. So you do need to consider all of those different formats, and it’s hard to do them all well. So pick one or two that align with you and your business goals.
Pam Didner: I 100% agree with you. I think it’s hard. Take the podcast content and try to fit it into a blog post. And the way that I usually do it is there is a nugget. There are some nuggets from the podcast or some key takeaway, and I will use that, but I’m not using the transcript 100%. In a way, you’re still writing like a brand new blog post if you are thinking with your audience in mind.
You mentioned another thing in terms of translating or converting, as an episode of a podcast into a blog post. You need to do some keyword search and do a little bit of SEO. So what is your take in terms of SEO? And that’s one thing, and the second thing is some prep work that needs to be done before someone starts writing, say, a blog post.
Bryan Collins: Marrying copywriting with SEO is a match made in heaven because you can see exactly what people are searching for and the real words they use and put that into your copy, which every copywriter should do. I use a couple of different tools that help me with this. The keyword tool I go to the most is Ahrefs. I think it’s built for people to do like written content.
Pam Didner: I use that, too.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it’s fantastic. And you can also analyze sites by competitors and see what they’re ranking for and reverse engineer their content that that’s helpful. Um, SEMrush is another alternative, but I prefer Ahrefs. So what I’ll do is I’ll prepare a list of keywords for whatever the project is or whatever site I’m working on. Figure out what topic I’m trying to address, and then map out all of the pieces of content that should address the particular topic.
So, for example, if I’m publishing an article about self-publishing a book. I would have articles about the cost of self-publishing, articles about where to find an editor, a book cover designer, and how much you should expect to pay for self-publishing. Then you’ll have a content plan with 10 or 15 articles that you’re going to go ahead and either write yourself if you’ve no budget or that your gonna commission freelance writers for.
Now, if it’s a piece of content that I think will be valuable, I’m going to earn an income from sales or affiliate marketing (that’s how I earn money for the business). I would use a content optimization tool to make sure that I’ve aligned with searcher intent (by search or intent. I mean, what people are looking for and not what I think they’re looking for). So I use Clearscope. Clearscope is my favorite content optimization tool. At the moment, there was a couple of others– Market Muse.
Pam Didner: Is that expensive? Clearscope?
Bryan Collins: I think it’s $99 a month. And for that, you can analyze 50 pieces of content. But I like it because you can create content briefs that you can send to other writers, but you could also optimize your existing content. And you can also use it for competitor research. So it pairs nicely for me, at least with Ahrefs. You don’t need to use it for everything. Still, suppose you have something really valuable for your blog or your business’s site, uh. In that case, it will help you maybe tick a few extra boxes, uh, and potentially fix what you need to do to rank for that topic.
Pam Didner: So these are the two tools you are using, the Ahrefs, and the other one is Clearscope.
Bryan Collins: Those are the two I use, um, you can, you, you can accomplish this with other tools. I also use a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.
Pam Didner: Everybody uses an Excel file. I have a master content list to track the number of videos I create, the number of podcast episodes I create, and the number of blogs I write. Guess what? They are all in an Excel file.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. Yeah. Everything is in Google sheets for me. But my mantra is now because, because the business I run is based on publishing content. Then they monetize it through display advertising. I know if I see that there’s a potential to rank for a topic, I will go ahead and write and commission the article. I don’t expect them all to succeed or rank. But I find that sometimes you can over-procrastinate about a piece of content. Going ahead and creating it will tell you those Google see you as an authority in this topic or something you should move on from.
Pam Didner: Yeah, completely understand. Speaking of the tools, there are many AI-based writing platforms out there, such as Jolie.com, writer.com and many more. Have you tried any kind of AI-based tool? You know, it’s kind of like, uh, you brief the AI, and they will stop writing on your behalf–kind of like the first draft?
Bryan Collins: Yeah. I’ve tested quite a few of them extensively (mostly cause I’m a writing nerd and love software!) There are loads—Word Tune, Writesonic Jarvis – AI, which is great for copywriters, and a few others. And chances are your viewers or listeners have used them because when you’re in Gmail, and it does that weird thing where it auto-completes your sentence, that is AI in action.
Pam Didner: Yes. Even when you’re doing a Google search, and you type something, and Google attempted to complete your sentences or phrase, that’s also, uh, AI.
Bryan Collins: I think what you were asking me a moment ago was, can you get an entire article from AI content? So my opinion is it’s not quite ready for prime time.
So if you’re a content writer and you’re ready to go, you don’t need to worry about being replaced by robots just yet; maybe in 5 years, but not right now. Now, these tools are good for writing meta-descriptions, headlines, or potentially just got in the introduction quite right. You have your keyword in the introduction. If you’re stumped with any of those things, these AI tools will spit out potential introductions on a potential headline that you can then tweak. So there are kind of a writing aid or writing prompt, rather than a replacement for writing.
They are also comparable to commissioning a writer for our three or 4 cents on a budget service like Textbroker. It’s probably comparable to what you would get if you pay 3 or 4 cents per word.
Pam Didner: I hear you. I speak about Artificial Intelligence as one of the keynote topics in front of the B2B marketers or at marketing conferences. And my sentiment is very much similar to yours that AI is not ready for prime time. And what AI can do is help you get, like you said, the keywords, right? Or start with the opening or create a rough draft. However, ultimately the writer or the copywriter still needs to take over and edit. And after all, AI does not understand your audience, and you are the one who understands your audience and your writing objective. And you need to take what they wrote–kind of like a first draft–and you take it and edit and optimize.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it’s a good point about the writing objective. So even if AI could produce a great article for you, it’s not going to tell you where it fits in the customer journey and all the supplementary content or the call to action. So that’s where hopefully you fit in, or I fit in.
Pam Didner: That’s a value add, right? Exactly what we provide to all customers. Another question I have is that everybody’s creating content and so much content out there. Do you have any suggestions on creating content that will stand out or breakthrough with the club?
Bryan Collins: Oh, I love that question. When people ask that question, it’s kind of like, “Am I too late? Have I missed the boat?” (Pam laughs). No, no, you’re not. Well, I would say to somebody who’s listening to this. No, you’re not too late. I was only talking to a writer on Medium this afternoon. So Medium is a platform for writers. That’s also popular—
Pam Didner: I publish articles on Medium, as well.
Bryan Collins: So it’s a good network for writers, but he started on Medium about 20 months ago, and he’s already got 60,000 followers and a couple of million views on his articles. He’s built a consulting business on the back of leads from Medium. And he only started in early 2020. So no, you’re not too late.
There are more and more search terms being discovered every day. More people are coming online every day and using the internet in new ways. Uh, so certainly not too late to create content, but you need to get specific. So you can’t just create a blog–like a YouTuber and just talk about your day. It should be about something relevant to your audience. And that’s relevant to something that you know a little bit about rather than a generalist site that might have worked ten years or 20 years ago. It was not going to work today.
Pam Didner: That I 100% agree with you. When I started writing, I tended to ride just because I wanted to write what I wanted to. That was back in 2011. What I have come to realize after a year of doing that is I need to be incredibly focused. And, uh, mine is really about marketing. So at that time, I was trying to tap into a different marketing topic. Ultimately, my focus becomes 100% B2B marketing or anything B2B marketing-related or sales enablement. And I even narrow that down to pretty much just a sales and marketing alignment, content marketing, and Account-Based Marketing and just be very specific at the time.
But I hear you that, uh, just look at my journey in terms of we’re trying to be very generic or general, and I knew it down over some time. That was my journey.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it sounds like you were. You were ahead of the curve. It took me a while to figure it out. But sometimes, by creating content regularly, you will naturally learn what types of topics you’re comfortable speaking about which align with your business, too
Pam Didner: True. True. True. And another thing I kind of want to share with the audience is, yeah, I’m a consultant myself, and there’s always like the different schools in terms of what channel you should try. I know that there are many people that they only focus on one or two channels. They focus it very, very well.
I agree with that approach, but there’s another approach. Try multiple different channels and then be present on multiple channels. And I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of doing that. Do you have any suggestions for writers? Should I just focus on one channel and do it very well in that channel or have that omnipresence on multiple channels?
Bryan Collins: Uh, it’s hard to do omnipresence. Uh, really, as an old Gary Vaynerchuk joke had a great speech about repurposing, but he’s a whole agency behind them to help. I would say pick one or two channels that align with your content format that you’re comfortable with and that align with wherever your potential customers are. And while you’re building an audience on that channel–so it could be Medium, could be YouTube; it could be Twitter. Twitter is quite popular.
Pam Didner: Or it could be LinkedIn, for that matter.
Bryan Collins: It could be LinkedIn if you’re B2B. Yeah, yeah. But whatever, whatever it is, remember that you don’t own your relationship with your audience there. The platform could change the algorithm as Facebook did with advertising a few years ago. And suddenly, you could have to pay to reach your audience, or you could be kicked off. Uh, your view could drop, which happens to lots of writers.
So always direct people back to your home base, which is your website and your email list. Yeah. Give something away for free. I got them on your email list, and then you can build up a relationship that you can nurture over time.
Pam Didner: Bryan, you hit the core. Your website is your platform, and you own it. And that you actually can control your messaging, control what you want to say, and build your audience on your turf. I 100% agree with you on that one. I love that comment. Thank you for bringing that up and. We talked about SEO and content marketing a little bit earlier. Do you think the digital marketer or writers need to be an SEO expert first to write?
Bryan Collins: Oh, good question. So, so I mean, there are many aspects to SEO. There’s on-page SEO where you’re looking at the headline, subheadline and words on the actual page, but then there’s technical SEO, which I don’t spend as much time on. And then there’s off-page SEO, which I don’t do either.
I mean, if you’re actually in the act of creating content, it’s good to know the basics. You don’t need to become a renowned expert, but if you understand keyword research and how keyword research is different from searcher intent. And suppose you understand how to build topical authority. In that case, that’s usually enough to set you apart from most people creating content in a similar niche. If you’re a copywriter, I mean back to what I said earlier. The copywriter’s goal is always to speak and their customers’ words. SEO is a freeway, so why not take advantage? Um, that said, don’t go down the weeds, you know; sometimes you just need to get on the phone or zoom call and speak to your prospects.
Pam Didner: Understand what SEO can do for you. Understand the customer’s intent, understand how people search. There’s a technical side of SEO: if you are not doing SEO optimization, you don’t have to worry about it; but understand what SEO can do and can help you to optimize your content or the quality of the content you are writing.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. The other takeaway is that SEO tends to be a longer-term play. So it can take many months before you gain traction on a series of articles, which can be difficult in a business environment because you might have to report on something every quarter or every six months. So sometimes you have to sell the fact that “look what we’re doing now might not see results till six months down the road.”
Pam Didner: You tried to get an instant result versus a long play. Yeah. You need to try to find that balance. My last question is, what are some of the KPIs to measure the success of a copywriter or a piece of content?
Bryan Collins: Oh, great question. Uh, when I was at Sage? We used to have a lot of KPIs at the start of my career there. I used to rail against KPIs because they were a constraint on creativity. Now I like KPIs because I think they can help anybody run an online business built around content. So I like to set a lead measure and a lag measure. Firstly, there’s a great book that explains the concept in detail. If we run out of time, it’s called The Four Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey.
Pam Didner: That book is so hard to read is so dry.
Bryan Collins: Just skip to the lead and lag measure of it. (laughs) There’s one section in a book that made an impact on me. So a lead measure is something that you can influence or control directly. For example, the number of articles published this month. In contrast, a lag measure is something you can’t control but typically causes anxiety. So my Traffic or my sales or downloads.
So somebody will say, “Traffic is down. What do we need to do?” And then everybody panics. But what you need to do is look at the lead measure and ask yourself, “how can we turn the lever so that we can publish more optimized content.” And then, later on, that should increase the lag measure. So if you get to two right – if you set yourself an ideal lead measure for a project – that’s something you can influence. And an ideal lag measure – that’s something that serves as a temperature check. Then you should have a system that can help you build a type of content flywheel.
Pam Didner: I like the way you describe it. A secondary KPI is something that you can try to measure the temperature or sentiment, or the direct correlation with your lead measure or your primary KPI.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. So, I mean, you can apply for other things as well. I think you described them as email subscribers. If I wanted to get more email subscribers, I could potentially do more outreach or set up a paid advertising campaign or some other tactic. But if I just looked at my email subscribers and said, “it’s dropping off,” and then I panicked, that’s not helpful. So it’s better to look at something that I can influence the following week.
Pam Didner: Got it. This is excellent, and thank you for sharing many insights, not just on the writing. Still, you are looking at writing in a very holistic way–you know, how SEO plays into it, how technology plays into it, and why you can optimize. We touch on many different tips and tricks that you are sharing with us. Love it. Love it.
So, uh, to wrap this up, I have one question I would like to ask you. So, what is the show that you are binge-watching right now? And would you recommend it?
Bryan Collins: The show I am binge-watching right now is “Succession,” which I think many people are.
Pam Didner: I am watching that, too. Do you know I hate telling you, but I hate every single character?
Bryan Collins: They’re all terrible people. That’s why I like it. (both laugh).
Pam Didner: I’m watching them and watching them. But I do not like any one of those characters. I was like talking to my son, my son got me to watch that show, and I was watching it. And then now I’m on Season 3, Right. And, uh, I was like, “oh my God, why am I watching? I don’t like anyone!”
Bryan Collins: But the writing, the writing is fantastic. And the dialogue, the dialogue is excellent.
Pam Didner: It’s very short, snappy, short, and short. You have to listen and understand what they are trying to tell you. The writing itself doesn’t convey directly how they feel. And it’s that underlying message that you have to think about. That’s what I like about the writing of “Succession.”
Bryan Collins: It also looks great. They’ve invested a lot of money in the actual visual appeal of the show.
Pam Didner: Yeah, the shots they do, the shot is gorgeous, gorgeous, and a lot of times, the way they do the shot is not necessarily directly facing the person who is talking is actually on the side. And also, they pay attention to their surrounding. The way they decorate the room and the office has certain hidden messages they try to convey. The whole production was flawless. Excellent. So that’s a great suggestion. I love it.
Okay. Um, and now the last thing, or last-minute thoughts you want to share with us, like if there’s one thing like for copywriting or even content marketing, that’s not, uh, a person needs to do a must-do, what would that be?
Bryan Collins: If you’re not using content to promote your business, uh, your brand or your company, it’s a fantastic untapped opportunity. It may seem like everyone’s doing it but trust me, they’re not.
Pam Didner: Excellent. Bryn, thank you so much for coming to my show. Again if you like the episode, please subscribe and comment below. Love. Love, love to hear from you.
Bryan Collins: Thanks, Pam. Oh, by the way, before we go. If your listeners are interested in getting some advice about the craft of writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com, and I’ll send you a free book of writing prompts.
And suppose you’re interested in a podcast where I deconstruct the writing processes. In that case, writers can search for becoming a Writer Today on iTunes, and the show should come straight up.
Pam Didner: Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.