Categories
Copywriting

Why I Switched From Copywriting to SEO Consulting?

Ever since I stopped accepting copywriting clients over a decade ago, it’s a question that seems to come up again and again. It's understandable as I was quite prominent in that world throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s.

I really didn’t stop writing copy, but I left the business of copywriting and now focus on SEO, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” — a label my peers often give me, although I never really considered myself to be one.

But the question about my departure has once again resurfaced, particularly after I appeared on a YouTube show talking about the shady side of the world of copywriting. I realize I should probably write something to explain it. So I'm going to answer that question once and for all in here.

To do this, I need to give you some background to put things in context.

If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.

My Copywriting Life in a Nutshell

I got married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter whom I’ve virtually adopted. (She's now in her late thirties and still calls me Dad.)

Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as my alcoholic father abused me when I was young. After my mother left, the state institutionalized him; he had Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But because of my childhood (or so I thought), I had a tremendous fear of rejection. When I learned that I have ADHD at 52, I discovered that a common symptom among people with ADHD is “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (RSD).

It explains the tremendous fear of rejection and my many childhood struggles. So my father wasn’t to blame. Not entirely, anyway. In fact, ADHD is genetic. My father likely had it, and he turned to alcohol to deal with it.

(People with ADHD are highly susceptible to addiction. Luckily, mine is coffee.)

Around the time I got married, I wanted to fight my fears of rejection and dove into sales to fight them. After all, as Emerson said, “Do what you fear and the death of that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!

But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.

Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake; I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”

Back in the 80s, the common practice in the insurance business was selling door to door. I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife grew up in. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.

Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to get leads.

How I Discovered Copywriting

I tried something different. Fueled by anxiety, desperation, or both, I wrote and mailed salesletters offering a free policy audit. Only a few people called to book an appointment with me. But I was ecstatic. I also had an open door to follow-up to see if they received my letter. So no more cold-calling!

The best part was, I also no longer had to face rejection.

That year, I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada. It was short-lived as many salespeople in my company crushed my results later on. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door opened up and success was possible. Plus, copywriting piqued my interest.

But insurance was tough. In the late 80s, there was an increasing outcry against whole life insurance policies as more people switched to term insurance.

So a year later, I took a job as a consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission there, too. But it was a growing industry, and I knew about it as my first wife was a hairdresser.

By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail letters, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper, as was I.

At 22, I made more money than I ever made in my life!

How I Became a Copywriter

I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which became my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is that copywriting wasn’t the only thing I did, and medical doctors would never hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant” back then.)

In the early 90s, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages, and it was becoming increasingly popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages before, this was an easy sell.

So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.

A few years later, I designed my first website in ‘95 and incorporated myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)

I eventually became quite busy as word got around. Other doctors hired me, too, including chiropractors, weightloss doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. I expanded to include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and other service providers. But cosmetic surgeons remained my largest clientele.

Over time, more and more clients hired me to write copy for the web, including landing pages, websites, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.

But there was a problem.

Clients Would Screw Up My Copy

I love copywriting. But I remember clients messing things up.

Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it would look awful! The formatting was completely wrong, the layout was atrocious, and the selection of graphics and images didn't fit what I had in mind.

So naturally, conversions sucked. Particularly with projects that paid me with royalties. I was usually the one to blame, even though I believed my copy was good. But my ADHD and fear of failure compelled me to do something.

That's when I included formatting, web design, even landing page development along with copywriting so that my salesletters would look the way I wanted.

So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”

I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they have a tendency to neglect the sales and creative aspects of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the look-and-feel of the copy as I did on writing it.

I became obsessed with the copy’s performance. For me, getting the right audience to read the copy — one with the right level of awareness and intent — was important. Also, the cosmetics that drive the eyes into the copy, or the copy cosmetics, were just as important as the words themselves.

That's where my work evolved to include other aspects of online marketing.

Enter The World of SEO

I consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of traffic generation, affiliate marketing, email campaign management, and so forth.

Clients increasingly hired me to do SEO (search engine optimization), including SEO copywriting, to help increase their conversions. I also did CRO (conversion rate optimization), which people often refer to as “conversion copywriting.”

So, what does SEO have to do with conversions?

Attracting audiences with the right search intent at the right awareness stage can skyrocket conversion rates. It's about matching the right message with the right market, or “message-to-market match,” as Dan Kennedy would say.

This thinking, along with the way the Internet was evolving, became the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter.” Back in 2005, I knew that this is where Internet marketing and copywriting were heading. It was also the beginning of my disillusionment with the industry. (I'll come back to this.)

In my manifesto, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, behavioral targeting, sales funnels (before funnels were a thing), micro-conversions, etc — things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing — replacing the long-form, direct sales-driven copy.

I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so technology and how marketing was evolving online always fascinated me. Besides writing copy, I also loved developing websites, designing them, doing SEO, and making sure the user experience (UX) was as optimal as it could be.

Then, My World Turned Upside Down

Let me backup a little.

In 2003, as my copywriting career was exploding, I met my second wife who was in the customer support industry. I initially hired her to provide support for my copywriting business. When we realized we shared many of the same clients, we slowly merged our businesses. And eventually, our lives.

But from the news of her cancer diagnosis right before our wedding in 2006 until her passing in early 2015, my wife’s disease grew to become, over the course of our marriage, the center of attention instead of our client work.

I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother had the same disease as my wife (i.e., breast cancer). It gave me a glimpse into what was to come. In other words, the experience showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to prepare and to grieve before I knew I had to.

In 2011, my mother's cancer became terminal, and we set up a hospice in our home. She passed away later that year on the morning after my birthday.

And sure enough, my wife's health took a turn for the worse a year later. Her cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to every major organ.

However, shortly before she passed in early 2015 (in fact, it was just a month prior), my father, while still in the institution, passed away, too. His heart stopped during his sleep. The weakening of the heart muscles is one of the many comorbid issues caused by Korsakov’s disease.

So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.

But it didn't stop there.

My sister who was my only sibling struggled all her life with multiple ailments, including diabetes. My parents' passing, let alone years of my father’s abuse, affected her deeply and I cannot imagine what she went through. In 2017, she, too, passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.

Distaste For The Copywriting Industry

I didn't have the headspace or motivation to return to freelancing. So I took a job in a digital marketing agency as an SEO manager and director of marketing communications. We were a Google Premier Partner agency, and I supervised an amazing team of content writers and web developers.

While grief played a role, another reason I didn't want to go back was that I became increasingly disenchanted with the copywriting business. Specifically, I'm referring to the business of writing copy for the Internet marketing and business opportunity (or “bizopp”) industries.

It started many years before then. But it culminated around the time my wife was undergoing her final chemotherapy treatments for her cancer.

I wrote about the scummy side of the business and the reason I left. But long story short, my late wife and I had to deal with a growing number of clients whose business practices were becoming questionable, unethical, and borderline illegal. Even the FTC sued some of them for deceptive practices.

The reason is, they were selling “business-in-a-box” programs.

It's no different from a chain-letter, envelope-stuffing scheme.

They would sell a course teaching people how to make money by creating a business. Sounds legit at first. But they would use the very course people bought to create a business and make money with. When I learned they included my salesletters with their “businesses,” that's when I decided I had enough.

SEO Consulting for Plastic Surgeons

After a few years and being in a much better place, I got remarried, left the agency world, and started freelancing again. But this time, I was doing more SEO work. Sure, copywriting is still a part of what I do to an extent. But now it's about how it can help attract and convert targeted traffic.

I also returned to my roots by working with plastic and cosmetic surgeons. I did it for several reasons. It's an industry I love and have a lot of experience with.

Creating phenomenal user experiences that lead to sales starts with how qualified the user is. SEO is key for that reason. A user's search intent hugely determines their level of awareness and attention prior to hitting your website.

The quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of your traffic, the quality of your content, and the quality of the user experience.

That's where SEO comes in.

Also, being a geek who loves coding and web design, SEO satisfies my dual nature, i.e., both “sides' of my brain — the creative and analytical aspects of marketing. Today, I do 360-degree SEO audits, with technical SEO (coding and hosting), on-page SEO (HTML and content), and off-page SEO (external signals).

All these components work hand-in-hand.

Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it mostly includes helping my clients generate the right kinds of traffic. In other words, it's about having the right message for the right market — or in this case, the market with the right intent.

Categories
Copywriting

Can Your Prospects Take An Oath?

Preamble: I wrote this article back in 2003 and I rewrote it in early 2005. Back then, it was meant primarily for a copywriting audience. Now that I specialize in SEO, and seeing how the concept of “funnels” is gaining popularity, I took the liberty to slightly update it.

One problem in SEO, copywriting, content, or any kind of communications, is that the audience is not targeted for the message or the message doesn't march the intended audience.

When it comes to SEO, if the content doesn't match the search intent and fails to align with what the user's searching for, the user will bounce back and search engines will conclude that your website doesn't meet the user's needs, which will impact and lower your rankings.

When it comes to copywriting, an untargeted, unqualified prospect won't buy, no matter how good the copy is. If the content is targeted, it can still miss the mark because it doesn't speak to the customer at the stage of awareness at which they happen to be.

It is absolutely essential to ensure that the your content or marketing message appeals to, qualifies, educates, and converts the user. It's about connecting with them at their level of awareness.

What are these “stages of awareness?”

There are four.

I've used these before I ever learned about their existence. Mostly unconsciously through researching a target market. For example, Eugene Schwartz talks about this and at great length in his book, “Breakthrough Advertising.”

Schwartz discusses the various stages of market sophistication, but I prefer to use an acronym so it is easier to remember and follow.

I call it “OATH.” As in, “Is your prospect ready and willing to take an oath?” It's a cool mnemonic to help you remember how aware is your market about the problem, their need for a solution, and of course, your solution specifically.

Here's what I mean.

Depending on what stage of awareness your reader is at (determined by their knowledge of the problem, the solution, and their desire to solve it), the amount of education, credentialization, and persuasion you need to provide will vary.

Maybe they're hurting right now and need a solution fast. Or maybe they're not there yet, which means they may not be aware they have a problem in the first place. Maybe they are aware, but they don't appreciate how big the problem is or might become, and the reasons why they should solve it.

With SEO, this is answered to some degree by the search intent. The way they search Google will say a lot about their awareness level. Your content or sales message should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to the next stage.

I like to look at it this way: how prepared they are to take an OATH? Meaning how confident, ready, willing, and able they are to buy?

The answer is based on any one of those four stages.

“O” is for Oblivious.

At this stage, they're unaware of the problem let alone a need for a solution. They don't know. Or they don't know that they don't know. In the world of marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-unaware.

So in this case, your content needs to educate them about the problem. It's to bring it to the top of their minds. If you hit them too early with your solution, without being aware of the problem in the first place, you're only going to confuse them, push them away, or create unwanted hostility toward you.

Often, this is what happens when your copy is too short or presumptive. Or when your content discusses your solution as if they're already fully aware of it. If they simply have an unmet desire, an unmet desire is also a problem to be solved. But they're still unaware of it.

“A” is for Apathetic.

They know they have a problem but they're indifferent. They don't care, don't care enough, or aren't aware of how important it is (or that it can be solved). In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-aware.

So your content needs to make the problem more real and concrete. Your content must educate them on the seriousness of the problem. It could be about the risks or drawbacks of not solving the problem, since inaction is a potential problem, too.

When you understand and cater to your user's stage of awareness, copywriting won't seem pushy but merely an attempt at preventing procrastination. The more aware they are, the more their inaction is about the need for reassurance than it is about the lack of desire.

“T” is for Thinking.

They know they have a problem and they're thinking about solving it. They're shopping around, considering solutions, and investigating options. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as solution-aware.

So at this stage, when it comes to SEO, your content should take them from thinking about the problem to wanting to solve it. With copywriting, they're considering solutions, so you need to sell them on your solution and why it's better than others.

This is where you have to build value and differentiate yourself. Why is your solution the best solution? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes it better than all other alternatives? An alternative may also be a totally different solution that soothes the same pain.

“H” is for Hurting.

At this stage, they want to solve it. They're convinced they must fix the problem. They're acquainted with all possible solutions and considering your solution specifically. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as product-aware.

So your job is to convince them, reassure them, and provide information that they can use to make a decision and take action. Perhaps it's understanding the risks and guarantees; your expertise and credentials as a medical professional; or social proof with before-and-after case studies.

Perhaps they don't know how or what payment options you offer. Perhaps they have fears you need to assuage first. Maybe they're overwhelmed, skeptical, or suspicious, or they've used other solutions unsuccessfully and are afraid.

At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.

If they're hurting, what do they need to get over the remaining hurdle? What objections or unanswered questions do they have? Your content may need to increase proof, reduce risk, and remove fear.

Often, it's based on the fear of making a bad decision. Your content or copy needs to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your patient at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn what information they need to go ahead, and then you need to give it to them.

In SEO, their search intent is often dictated by their level of awareness. Here are some searches as an example:

  • Oblivious: “hairloss” or “what causes stretch marks”
  • Apathetic: “how to stop hairloss” or “how to get rid of stretch marks”
  • Thinking: “micrograft before and after” or “tummy tucks Chicago”
  • Hurting: “hair transplant pricing” or “book consultation Dr. Smith”

That's the OATH formula in a nutshell.

Bottom line, your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. In other words, they're unaware of the problem, aware but don't care, aware of the various solutions, and finally aware of your solution and ready to solve it.

Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to give your reader, but what kind of information and what kind of offer that will transition them into buying your solution.

It's not about serving content that meets their awareness level. If that was the cause, your patients would only need Wikipedia. It's about meeting them at their stage of awareness and taking them to the next.

Categories
SEO

What is SXO (Search Experience Optimization)?

Search engine optimization (SEO), in the sense most people think about SEO, is becoming less about optimizing for the search engines and more about optimizing the user's search experience (SXO).

It's called “search experience optimization” or SXO.

SXO is not a new concept.

I've said that SEO boils down to creating quality content on a website that delivers a quality user experience. But this is nothing new. It has been a topic of discussion among SEO consultants since the early 2010s.

The issue is, how do you measure quality? Quality is subjective. What you think is “good” may not be good according to your users. Good content goes beyond just matching the user's query. It needs to meet the user's expectations, too.

And that goes beyond SEO.

SEO, in its purest sense, is optimizing your website for the search engines. Meaning, you make sure your website can be found, crawled, indexed, and used. In short, it meets Google's guidelines to be included in its index.

SEO, in the marketing sense (the way most people think of it), is optimizing your content to increase your chances of having your website come up in search results. You do this by creating content around search terms and topics that matches the user's query.

But how well does it match the user's expectations?

That's where SXO comes in.

Your website may be ranking well because you have good content. But it also has to be relevant and valuable to the user. And the more relevant and helpful it is, compared to all other alternatives, the higher you will rank. But high rankings don't always translate into quality traffic.

The way to look at it is, give quality content and a quality user experience (in consuming that content), and you will attract quality traffic. But to get more quality traffic, you need to meet their expectations. And you need to do it better than all other alternatives.

This is where you need to think about how your users search. You need to understand your users, what they're searching for, and how they search.

So good old market research, in other words.

From Google's perspective, these things are determined by a number of different metrics, such as analyzing click behaviors. For example, clickthrough rates, dwell times, pogosticking, “next clicks” (when people bounce back to Google and choose a next listing), and a host of other metrics.

Matching search intent is the key.

Doing so will provide the best search experience to your user. The greater the match, the greater the signals. But it doesn't end there.

A greater user experience affects search experience, too. If your content is top quality and, in essence, presumably satisfies the needs of the searcher, but the user bounces back because the site is unusable, unreadable, or unsafe, it will affect the search experience.

Therefore, the quantity (and quality) of your traffic will increase in proportion to the quality of your content and your user's experience. Again, “quality” here is defined by how well it matches the user's query and their expectations.

So how do you optimize the search experience (SXO)?

First, look to match the search intent and the user's level of awareness. Both are important. In other words, ensure your content responds to the kind of search they're making and meets them at their current stage of awareness. (For more on this, visit my OATH formula on stages of awareness.)

In other words, your content may be educational and the user does an informational search on the topic you're covering. But if your content is intended for a product-aware (hurting) audience when the user is unaware of the problem or the solution (oblivious or apathetic), they'll leave.

Second, make sure the process of finding and consuming that content is smooth, unhindered, and easy. Usability is more than just having a “good” website. User experience (UX) is a major ranking factor and Google is paying more attention to signals than ever before.

In fact, UX signals (like page speed, mobile-centric design, HTTPS security, obtrusive interstitials, safe browsing, etc) are not only going to help SEO, but they will also affect SXO, too.

Google has introduced a new set of UX metrics called Core Web Vitals that you will need to be aware of. Google will soon be implementing a new algorithm called “Page Experience Update,” rolling out in May 2021, that will affect rankings and CTRs across the board.

Google will add warning labels to its search results telling users if the sites have a good or bad SXO page experience.

As you can imagine, people seeing a not-so-good warning beside your link will avoid it or hesitate, even if it's ranking well. So this will eventually affect CTRs, which in turn will affect traffic quality and rankings.

But it can also affect their perception of you.

Think of it another way.

If your website has a bad experience (or a bad experience warning), the traffic you will get may well be perfectly qualified for the content and even for your business. But the bad experience will make them think twice or create a “horn effect” (I call it the ketchup stain) that will impact their perception of you.

In other words, a poor search experience will create cognitive dissonance that will affect their perception that will pervade other areas, including the decision to buy or recommend you. Conversely, a site with a good warning will likely create a more favorable perception.

Here's the best advice I've heard when it comes to SXO:

Aim to end the search.

Doing so takes into account that you have good content on a good website that matches the user's intent and expectations.

But don't just give the user no reason to go back to Google. Give the users a reason to stay, too, which will increase dwell times.

Optimize for the search experience, not just the search engines.

Categories
Copywriting

Helpful Hints for Writing

Preamble: This post was originally written in late 2006. It's my answer to a common question I get quite often. It needed an update, so here it is.


Someone recently asked me this question: “I was wondering, ‘What keeps Michel Fortin writing?' I mean, Michel, what is your 3, 5, or 7-point formula to get an article on paper? What are some of the specific steps you follow?”

1. I Subscribe to Stuffs

I try to stay on top of my industry.

I'm subscribed to many newsletters and blogs, and I read every day. The wonderful byproduct of being immersed in my industry is that something I've read will stir a few ideas in my mind about something worth writing.

Pocket is my best friend. So is my RSS feedreader, Feedly. They have a folder and tag system that I love, which is great for saving and organizing articles.

Not only that, but Feedly's premium version has a built-in machine learning tool called “Leo,” which, based on my reading history and saved articles, will prioritize my feeds so I first read articles I want or prefer. If I don't have much time, at least I get to read as many of the most important ones.

I have feeds filed in several categories, including SEO, PPC, Copywriting, Marketing, WordPress (my preferred CMS), Google (all things Google), and Psychology (including ADHD).

I can also do an external keyword-based blog search so that Feedly finds feeds I might like to follow. Of course, I also have a search based on my name, my clients' names, and any brands I follow.

As for email, I file newsletter issues that I may use in the future and delete the rest as soon as I read them. But nine times out of 10, I will view the online version of the email and save it in Pocket.

In terms of software, I have used Ulysses, Grammarly, and Google Docs. But these days, I write directly into WordPress (Gutenberg). I might also use my text editor, which is UltraEdit for Mac.

Aside from Pocket and Feedly, I also use Google Keep. I used other note-keeping tools like Evernote and OneNote, but I still come back to Keep. It's simple. I also use a few Chrome extensions that add some needed features, like color-coded categories, adding indents, “save to keep,” etc.

The latter is important. If come across an article that has a passage I want to cite or need, rather than saving the whole thing (and forgetting what passage I wanted or why it was important), I select it with my mouse and right-click to save the selection to Google Keep.

2. I Start With The Skeleton

Articles ideas don't have to be new. What's new is my take on it. Something on which I want to opine or express my point of view. So a new article may be as simple as my own way of looking and expressing an existing topic.

I start with an outline, a skeleton article, with a series of bullets to prompt be about things I want to talk about. Sometimes, there are quite a few of them. Other times, there are none at all. I just start with a story or goal.

But if I do start with a skeleton article, I write down bullet points that represent what I want to cover in that section. Basically, they're idea blocks. But they're not written in stone. I prefer to remain flexible since, after I start writing, the flow might take me in a different direction.

The skeleton allows me to see, at a glance, the overall flow. I reorganize them if I feel there's a better structure and organization of ideas. Some points are best mentioned in strategic locations (whether it's storytelling, pacing, or clarity), and the outline allows me to do exactly that, even before I start writing.

I write in two ways:

  1. I start writing and let it go. (Cue Frozen soundtrack.)
  2. I start with the outline and expand each idea block.

The first often occurs when I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write about. Sometimes, I'll start with a personal story — something that happened or came across — that I feel will be a fitting idea to discuss.

Confession: I never put “ideas” aside for future content topics. I know some experts do this, like Jonathan Stark and David C. Baker (but I think David uses a dual approach, like this one).

I only use the articles I save (see previous section) to prompt me. When I get an idea to write something, and it's really good, I try to write it then and there. Largely because of my ADHD, my short-term memory is atrocious. So when I have an idea, if I don't write it the moment I think of it, I'll forget it.

If I'm really pressed for time, I'll save it and make notes. I'll create a new post in WordPress, add the skeleton points I want to cover, and save it as a draft.

But I try to avoid this because, when the idea hits me, I tend to think of a hundred things I want to go over in that article. So even with the notes, I'll forget the bulk or depth of ideas that I wanted to address. I then get frustrated, which impedes my writing.

3. I Put Meat on Them Bones

Writing keywords in bullet form to expand on into full paragraphs is a way to give me a high-level view of the article structure at a glance — much like I do when I create content architectures for SEO purposes.

The bullet points are based on topics I want to cover, but the flow is important to make sure the reader gets the point I'm making. I'm not fabulously skilled at this, but it does help. I also write copy the same way. And essentially, the bullet points often become headers, too.

But bullets point are prompts. Guideposts, not goals. I might change them or go in another direction entirely if I feel there's a better idea or storyline.

I start with a key idea or point, perhaps a lede or hook, but might change this once I expand on the bullets and realize there's a better way to start the article.

I finish with a simple recap, as you may already be aware. But sometimes, it's a key point, an actionable step, a question to ponder, or a cliffhanger (maybe leading to another article).

I temporarily put my “critical editor” hat aside and I just keep writing. It's not easy, but I try to simply let it flow and don't even stop to read what I've written. Once done, I stop, read again and edit for style and grammar — of course, with the kind help of Grammarly or Google's spellchecker.

Sometimes I'll take whole sentences out I feel were just fluff. Other times, I'll add new ones in for more depth. I'll also rewrite passages I feel aren't clear. And I'll cut and paste some paragraphs where I feel they belong best.

In terms of proofreading, I re-read. But when I have a chance, I read the article out loud. I do this because I often miss things that are blatantly obvious. I read like I write. So I will miss things that are easier to spot when I “hear it” instead.

Plus, if I pause, fumble, re-read (because it doesn't sound right) at any point, then I know that I need to rewrite it for clarity.

There you have it.

It's not as magical as some people make it out to be.

Remember to be a sponge in whichever field you're in, and to squeeze the sponge when you need to. Thought leadership comes from having insights, but you can't pull any insights out of thin air.

If you ever feel you have writer's block, it's usually an excuse. It's your inner critic trying to force what you want to say to be perfect. As Dori Clark once said, “It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be good and to be done.”

Once you start, even if you don't know what to say, ideas will start flowing.

But if you feel you truly have nothing to say, then that's a clue that you need to read more, get more information, learn more, subscribe to more stuff, and do more research. Because the sponge, after a while, will become so full that your ideas will be more than flowing, they will be overflowing.

Categories
SEO

How to Create Awareness With Your Content Funnel

In marketing, there are different levels of buyer awareness or “marketing awareness stages.” They go from one end of the spectrum where buyers are unaware of the problem they're experiencing (or will experience), to the other end where they are fully aware and intend to solve that problem.

It is critically important to know and understand this about your market so you may build brand awareness. That's why I created an acronym called OATH, which means the buyers are:

  1. Oblivious about the problem.
  2. Apathetic about the problem (i.e., they're aware but don't care).
  3. Thinking about the problem (i.e., they're considering solutions).
  4. Hurting (i.e., they want the problem solved).

When I teach the OATH formula, I tell my students to think of it as, “How prepared is your market to take an oath?” It's a simple way to remember.

In fact, I use mnemonics often. And since learning that I have ADHD and that it affects short-term memory, I now know why I love using acronyms and mnemonics so much. They're tremendously useful tools.

I came up with the acronym to help me remember. But I got this idea after reading Eugene Schwartz' magnum opus Breakthrough Advertising, in which he discusses the five levels of market sophistication. In short, they are:

  1. The Claim
  2. Amplify The Claim
  3. The Mechanism
  4. Amplify The Mechanism
  5. Market Identification

Here's a summary (also, this video explains it well)…

At the first level, the consumer is completely unaware of the product. So when marketing to them, you're going to be making a claim.

The second level is where they're aware of your claim. But they're also aware of your competitors' claims, too. So now you need to elevate your claim and make it better than the competition.

At the third level, you need to more than just better. You need to differentiate and make your claim stand out. You need to educate your market about your “unique mechanism,” according to Schwartz, or your USP.

Level four is where competitors are all doing the same. Everyone has a USP or unique mechanism. So now your goal is to prove the superiority of your mechanism and elevate it over others.

At the fifth and final level, this where a saturated market becomes skeptical, jaded, and numb. Your goal is to identify with your market, to create relationships with them, so they buy, remain loyal, and even evangelize for you.

These five levels are essentially the stages through which new products and services enter the market and become adopted.

But I prefer to be problem-centric than product-centric.

The reason I specifically created my personal formula was not just for helping me remember but also for helping me strategize how to approach, educate, and persuade audiences based on their awareness stage.

Not to boast (well, maybe I am a little), but I created this formula back when I taught marketing management in college, circa 1999-2000. The concept of “marketing funnels” wasn't as popular back then.

But I can't take credit for the idea. Remember, Schwartz wrote about it in 1966. Some even contend that the AIDA formula predates it when Elias Lewis first mentioned it in 1898 (i.e., Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action).

Whether it's AIDA, sophistication levels, OATH, levels of buyer awareness, or marketing awareness stages, or whether it's marketing funnels, content funnels, customer journeys, or sales pipelines, it's all essentially the same.

You're breaking down the buying journey into distinct stages and moving the buyer through them. It doesn't matter what you call them.

Today, the common marketing lingo, especially in SaaS circles, is “top of funnel” or TOFU (not the soybean curd kind), “middle of funnel” or MOFU, and “bottom of the funnel” or, you guessed it, BOFU.

(I'm French-Canadian. “BOFU” sounds like a clown's name to me.)

I like this explanation a little more because funnel sections often describe the four types of content that will serve as catalysts throughout the buyer's journey.

Before people hit the funnel — let's call them “out of funnel” or OOFU (I'm creative, I know) — they are oblivious, completely unaware of the problem. At TOFU, they are now aware of it. At MOFU, they are aware of the solution, too. And at BOFU, they are now product or service aware.

Therefore, the goal of your content should be to take your audience from being unaware of the problem (i.e., they're oblivious) to being fully aware and in need of the solution (i.e., they're hurting). To take them from unaware, to problem aware, to solution aware, and eventually to product aware.

What does this mean to you?

It means that, when you're creating a content marketing strategy, particularly thought leadership, remember that each piece of content has a goal and serves a purpose, which is to raise awareness and, ultimately, drive actions.

If you have funnelized your marketing, which you should, then you know what content you need. If not, here's an example to give you an idea.

OOFU (Oblivious) Content

This is content that invites your audience to come forward and enter your funnel. They want to know more about the problem they're experiencing.

By now, if they're not aware of the problem (the real problem), it makes no sense to hit them over the head with your solution right away. They're not hurting yet — or better said, they're not aware they're hurting.

For example, if you want to specifically target people with hairloss, saying you're the best surgeon will fall on deaf ears — particularly if they're not interested in doing something about their hairloss. (Remember, hairloss is not the problem.)

When I wrote ads for these doctors, the best headlines were not the ones that said, “we offer advanced hair transplant procedures” or “the most natural-looking results.” The best ones more often than not said, “Do you have hairloss?” Or better yet, “Are you suffering from hairloss?”

As a doctor, I would recommend writing articles about the causes of hairloss and helpful tips on how to treat it — including all the solutions possible. The goal is to get those who are interested to raise their hands and ask for more information (i.e., to enter your funnel).

TOFU (Apathetic) Content

This is content that, once inside your funnel, teaches your audience about why they need to do something about their problem. You're exploring the problem in depth, the risks involved, and the gravity of the problem (or of ignoring it).

You can write an article such as:

  • “10 reasons to consider hair restoration,”
  • “7 factors that make you a candidate for surgery,”
  • “The risks and costs of hair transplant procedures.”

Remember, hairloss is a problem but not the real problem. In this scenario, they've entered your funnel so they've admitted their hairloss bothers them. Outdated procedures with less-than-desirable results are the problem.

The goal is to get them to care about it. It's to take them to the next level where they're aware your solution, which is more advanced, more natural-looking, less risky, etc than the alternatives.

MOFU (Thinking) Content

Your content introduces the solution, makes them aware of the benefits, and motivates them to consider solving their problem.

Essentially, they want to do something. While they're considering the solutions, the goal is to get them to think about your solution. Therefore, your content needs to point out what makes your solution the ideal solution for them.

Using the same example above, you can educate them about your procedure, what makes it better than others on the market, and what are the specific results it produces. This is your “unique mechanism,” a la Schwartz.

For example, if you use powerful microscopes to transplant microscopic follicles instead of traditional, unsightly plugs, this is where you can discuss it and offer more detail in order to differentiate yourself.

BOFU (Hurting) Content

They're hurting and want to solve their problem. So your goal is to move them into action. You want to provide them with enough information to help them decide (e.g., case studies, social proof, ROI, etc).

For example, that doctor can explain pricing, share before-and-after photos, answer objections, describe what to expect, offer financing options, and discuss next steps — such as how to book the surgery.

A final point and a caveat.

In the end, remember that these are just examples and not the example. Plus, these stages are not perfect. The lines between them often blur, and they're not meant to fit people into neat little boxes or put labels on them.

A common objection I get is, “Where does my client fit in?” Or, “What if [this] or [that] puts them in one category when they should be in another?”

The thing to remember is, knowing your audience's different marketing awareness stages does not mean you must define your audience according to one specific stage or to fit them neatly into one stage more than any other.

It's to understand what they need in terms of information to help them get to the next level and eventually solve their problem — and to give it to them.

Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

My last post, where a disgruntled copywriter demanded “the truth” about creating wealth in copywriting, inspired copywriter Andrew Cavanagh to share the story of his beginnings on my forum:

“Here's how I made my first ‘money' in copywriting.”

Then one by one, other copywriters started adding their own. The responses were nothing short of amazing! Many of the stories show that there's indeed hope. They also show that we were all struggling copywriters once, too.

And we didn't all become overnight millionaires with million-dollar clients, as “Chuck,” the disillusioned copywriter, postulated.

I loved it so much that I posted my own story. I've decided to share it with you here. (By the way, the picture below is of me, circa 1991. A lot thinner, with glasses, and a lot more hair!)

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

When I first started out, I was a salesperson. And the worst part was, I loathed cold-calling. Especially since I had this excruciating fear of rejection. I still have it. (If you know me, then you know about the story of my alcoholic father and how my fear was the result.)

Update: I first wrote this article in 2007. Since then, I discovered that I have ADHD and suffer from RSD, or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which explains why I fear rejection so much.

I accidentally stumbled onto copywriting not by chance or by education, but by desperation. You see, I dove into sales in order to fight my fears head-on. I was working on strict commissions at the time as a licensed insurance salesman. I also had a young family to support.

So I thought that the pressure would help kick me into gear. But I was doing so poorly that my family and I had to eat 25-cent ramen noodle packages for months! Eventually, I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 21 years old.

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

The humiliation and the hurt I felt was indescribable. In a matter of days, the car company repossessed my car, the landlord evicted us from our home, and my wife took our daughter and left me. (We eventually divorced.)

I was desperate to make money. So I had to find a way to get people to listen to my presentation. One day, the insurance company (Prudential Canada) requested feedback from sales reps for ideas to improve sales.

I may have feared rejection immensely, but I was always teeming with ideas. I didn't realize it back then, but I was a natural at marketing.

So I sent a suggestion to the company, which was to have a rider that people could add to their life insurance policies, which would allot a portion of their coverage to a charitable organization of their choice.

Prudential loved my idea and launched a new product called (if memory serves) Charity Plus. They sent me a letter to thank me for my “contribution.” I even remember the sales manager reading it out loud to everyone at the next sales meeting. I was blushing with pride. We were both proud.

Excited, I decided to write letters to people within my territory offering them a free presentation to go over this new product with them. It was an open door, if you will. A perfect opportunity to reassess people's policies.

That's when I had a lightbulb moment and realized that this — writing salesletters — was my “way out” of doing cold-call prospecting.

I could mail to anyone asking if they would be willing to set an appointment with me. That way, I no longer had to be rejected. (It didn't work at first. I tried several times and I was about to give up a number of times, too.)

But then, things “clicked.”

I started booking appointments and selling policies. I later became one of the top salespeople for this insurance company for about eight months in a row.

Problem is, I hated my job. I hated it because I had a poor territory (salespeople were assigned territories), and this was back in the old days when insurance agents also had to visit every single client each month to collect premiums.

(My territory was so poor, some paid their premiums with empty beer bottles!)

So I moved on.

Eventually, I found a job as a consultant for a hair restoration company. Some of their services included hair transplants and surgery, with a doctor on staff.

My main job was as a patient advocate, where I consulted clients on the appropriate hair restoration method for them. I was paid a very small base salary but with commissions on any sales I made.

Part of my job, among others (and similar to what I did in the insurance biz), was to help increase appointments of consultations with prospects.

That included writing copy for direct mail pieces, display ads in newspapers (with dense copy), information packages, and even infomercial scripts. Which is why I liked the job. I didn't have to do any prospecting.

You see, the way it works is that people first read the ad or see the infomercial on TV, and then they request a free information kit to be mailed to them. If the client was interested, they would call to book a consultation with me.

During my first year, I noticed something peculiar. Before every consultation, the clinic asked prospects to fill out a form (e.g., asking about their medical history and other forms of hair replacement tried, etc).

If a prospect went ahead and bought, a client file was created. But if they didn't, I would do some phone follow-up. And if that didn't work either, their consult form was simply filed away in a storage box.

One day, I stumbled onto a bunch of these boxes in storage (I think there were 30-40 of them), which contained several years' worth of filled-out consultation forms of clients who never bought.

That's when a lightbulb lit up in my head.

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

I asked my employer to buy a computer. (At the time, the only person with a computer was the accountant!) We hired a data entry clerk from a temp-help agency, and created a database of all these people who didn't take action.

Next, I wrote a direct mail piece, which made a limited-time offer.

The direct mail touted some new hair replacement procedure that looked a lot more natural than its predecessor, as well as new advancements in the field of cosmetic surgery that were introduced since their last consultation.

That's when things started to explode! I don't remember the exact number, but this little direct mail campaign resulted in over a million dollars in sales.

(Keep in mind, the price range for hair restoration solutions ranged anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000, particularly in the case of hair transplants.)

I even remember on the last week of the promotion, there was a lineup outside the waiting room of people wanting to get a consultation before the promotion ended. I was obviously ecstatic. In fact, it was also my highest grossing week in terms of commissions. (It was around $7,000 Canadian.)

Since then, we repeated this feat several times. Many of my dense-copy display ads would get a ton of new clients and patients, and I was doing quite well.

My base salary at the time was $22,000. But I made a lot more than that in commissions. I think it was around $80,000 back in the early 90s.

Now, over the period of a few years, this company grew by leaps and bounds. I would say mostly because of my help. (Admittedly, my employer at the time, who was also my mentor, was a brilliant salesperson. I learned a lot from him.)

As the company grew, opening several franchises across North America, I was tasked with the job of hiring and training salespeople in them, and consulting their owners (including doctors on staff) on how to market themselves.

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

My employer flew me to almost every major city to conduct these trainings.

Here's the problem.

While I'm on the road training other people about marketing and consulting, I wasn't selling. So my income went back down to $22,000. I was getting worried.

He had hired another consultant to take my place, so I couldn't go back to selling. But I was working really hard while the company made a ton of money. “There's got to be something better than this,” I kept saying to myself.

So I approached my employer and asked for a raise. After much back-and-forth over several weeks, one day I was called into the meeting room. The office manager then said to me, “You're doing fine work, Michel.”

“Oh, great,” I said to myself. “I can feel something good is going to happen!”

She said, “I know you've been working hard training all these franchises while not making any commissions like you used to. We want to give you a raise for your hard work and dedication.”

“Your new salary will be increased as of today by…

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

“No, no,” she said, “your new annual salary is now $25,000.”

I was so disappointed. And angry.

Don't forget, those were Canadian dollars (less than $17,000 USD) and nowhere near the $80,000 I made previously. As you can imagine, being partly responsible for their explosive growth, I felt rejected. And hurt.

Not willing to give up, I kept asking. But with every protest I made, they gave me a different reason as to why they couldn't “afford” to raise it more.

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I went freelance, and shortly thereafter created a company called “The Success Doctor.” (I specialized in doctors since I gained a lot of experience in that field. So the name implied “I help doctors become successful.”)

I wasn't doing too bad. But I was still eking out a meager living charging anywhere between $100 to $500 per copywriting project. (My clients at the time were primarily local doctors with small offices.)

But some of them did work really well. My first royalty arrangement was while working for a hair transplant doctor in Toronto. I was getting paid a salary plus commissions plus a percentage of the clinic's profits.

One day, while working for one doctor, a sales rep came to the clinic selling advertising space on this thing called “the world wide web.” Their services included a web page and a listing in their directory.

My curiosity was piqued.

You see, part of my job as a marketing consultant was writing copy in different media to get exposure for my clients. I was a big fan of the yellow pages. So this seemed like a natural complement.

Plus, I've been using BBS services (dialup bulletin boards) since I was 11 years old. So I knew this would be a good medium to advertise in.

Plus, since a lot of people saw our TV infomercials but failed to call for our information kit, it made perfect sense to be in as many places as possible when they finally did decide to do something about their hairloss.

So I created my client's website in 1992.

Over time, I worked with other types of cosmetic surgeons. Then other types of doctors (e.g., dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, etc). Then other types of professionals and service providers.

But as a result of that one sales rep's presentation (which sold me on having a presence on the world wide web), I decided that I should have a website for myself, promoting my freelance work.

So I signed up on this new thing called Geocities back in 1994, and created my first website. It was nothing to sneeze at. It was just a simple, brochure-like web page with contact information. (I later registered “SuccessDoctor.com.”)

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

Years before, however, I wrote a booklet called “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” I used it as a way to get clients to hire me offline — the report was much like a salesletter in disguise. And it worked quite well.

So going online, I decided to digitize my report and offer it for free, especially if people joined my email list. (As far as I can tell, I was one of the first ones to do this way back then. At least in the freelance marketing or copywriting business.)

I started with some article marketing. I would chop my booklet into standalone articles, where the byline promoted the “rest of the articles” (i.e., the booklet).

It worked well. But the day my traffic and business really exploded was when I decided to let other people pass that booklet around. As a result of that little book, my site was bombarded with quote requests.

I was doing some salesletters and web page copy for as little as $300-$2,000 each. Mind you, I also did a lot of free ones at the time only to get my name out there and start building my portfolio. I also bartered a lot.

That's when things started moving very quickly.

It was late 1998, and I made a bartering deal for a well-known marketer. I did his long web copy for just $2,000 in exchange for getting referrals from him and for publishing my articles to his list, which was part of our arrangement.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bottom line, it does take work. And there's no such thing as “overnight riches.” Thinking that this happens when you first start out as a new copywriter is an illusion. It took me the better part of 20 years to get to where I am today.

However, with so much training and information available, it shouldn't take that long for anyone with enough gumption, bouncebackability, and the right attitude to get there.

It may have taken me 20 years. But knowing what I now know, I can safely say that, if I were to lose everything once again, even overnight, I can easily make it all back — and then some — and do it in a lot less time.

To echo something my friend the late, great Gary Halbert once said, “If you're a good copywriter, there's no reason why you should be starving.”

There you have it!

Now let me ask you, what's YOUR story?

Categories
SEO

10 Facts About Marketing Consultant: Michel Fortin

After my article on “Lesson Learned, Lesson Earned,” in which I discussed my history with the Internet marketing industry, some people asked me several questions about my background outside of my career as a marketing consultant. Not the background stuff you'll find on my “About” or “Now” pages. But the stuff people may not know.

I believe I'm an open book. Or I think I am. But I also realized that, even though I've been doing this for 30 years, I get new followers and subscribers all the time who don't know a thing about me.

Coincidentally, too, this morning I received the latest newsletter issue from marketer Louis Grenier that inspired me. It listed 10 facts about him.

Louis is the host of Everyone Hates Marketers podcast, a show which I've listened to for a while. His style is refreshing and authentic, which some might find a tad abrasive. His show teaches real-world, no-nonsense marketing that's not sleazy, loud, or aggressive, or that resorts to using hacks or “secrets.”

That's my kind of marketing.

So I followed his example. Here are 10 facts about the person behind The More Traffic Memo, listed in no particular order.

1. I'm a husband to Barbara, a Canadian-Portuguese immigrant who works as a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at The Ottawa Hospital. Right now, COVID is making her job exceptionally tough and stressful. She inspires me so much.

Michel Fortin and Barbara De Moura wedding, May 20, 2017.
Barbara and Michel, May 20, 2017.

2. I was born and raised in the small Canadian town of Aylmer, Québec. It's now a suburb of Gatineau, which is a city adjacent to our nation's capital of Ottawa. Until the 90s, Aylmer was mostly bilingual (French and English), which is why I speak both fluently.

Recently, I learned Portuguese after meeting my wife so I could recite my vows in her language. (Yes, sounds almost like a scene from Love, Actually.)

3. As a young child in the late 70s, I surfed bulletin boards using an agonizingly slow 300-baud dialup modem. I learned to code and played Scepter of Goth, the first-ever multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG). This is where I fell in love with technology and what would later become the Internet.

4. My first job was working at McDonald's as a teen in the early 80s. My wage was a paltry $2.54/hour (less than two US dollars). But my first “adult” job was selling insurance — the job in which I failed miserably, declared bankruptcy, and then succeeded after I discovered the power of copywriting.

5. I left the insurance business, moved to Ottawa, and became a marketing consultant at a nearby hair restoration clinic. I worked on commission selling hair replacement systems. Not satisfied with the number of leads coming in, I took over the clinic's marketing — including writing their ads, direct mail pieces, and TV commercials, and eventually, their first-ever website, too.

The clinic grew and expanded to include hair transplant surgery. They later opened multiple clinics across Canada and the USA, where I handled the clinic's marketing, copywriting, advertising, and training of their new staff.

6. This is where my marketing career took off. By taking care of my employer's other clinics and their marketing, my sales suffered and, as a result, my income plummeted. So I left and hung my shingle as an independent marketing consultant who specialized in cosmetic surgery.

I launched my first website in 1995. Since I worked mostly with doctors, clinics, and surgeons, I later incorporated as The Success Doctor, Inc., since my goal was to help doctors become successful.

7. How I entered the Internet marketing industry was a bit of a fluke. I wrote a booklet in the early 90s called The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning. By the mid-90s, I split the book into standalone articles, which I offered to a variety of online magazines that wanted to publish them.

The goal was to capture the attention of other doctors, particularly those who were looking to get on this thing called the Internet. But it also captured the attention of a software company that was also publishing its own magazine called The Internet Marketing Chronicles. They hired me as their editor.

8. After writing near-daily editorials for a few years, The Internet Marketing Center owned by the late Corey Rudl acquired the magazine. Luckily, Corey kept me on board as their editor. We had over 120,000 subscribers.

Eventually, Corey flew me to Vancouver to his office where I wrote copy for him, including his sales presentations and “pitch slides” he used when he spoke at Internet marketing seminars. I also ghostwrote his autobiography, “How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps.”

How to Create a Fortune On The Internet in Four Simple Steps - The Autobiography of Corey Rudl
“How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps” by Corey Rudl

9. This led to a stream of work with other Internet marketers, and speaking gigs at marketing and business seminars around the globe. I spoke on stages in front of a few hundred people in New Zealand to about 10,000 at Wembley's Convention Centre in the UK — and everything in between.

During this time, I shared the stage with other well-known marketers and copywriters, including Dan Kennedy, Jay Abraham, Yanik Silver, Gary Halbert, Mark Joyner, Russell Brunson, Ryan Deiss, Mark Victor Hansen, Jay Conrad Levinson, Brendon Burchard, and countless others.

10. Recently, David Garfinkel interviewed me on his Copywriters Podcast, and he asked me this question: “What topic makes your heart beat a tad faster these days?” My answer was SEO. The reason is, as I told him, SEO has grown to a point where it's no different from knowing how to write excellent copy.

Simply know your market and what they want, and just give it to them. That includes content and copy. What kinds of questions are they asking that you can answer? What types of problems do they have that you can solve? Knowing this will improve both your SEO and your conversation rates.

Now it's your turn. What do you do? Comment below.

Categories
Copywriting

Lesson Learned, Lesson Earned

Preamble: today, I'm taking a walk down memory lane, talking about my history and the seedy side of marketing. It's not pretty. I tell this story in large part as a warning and a lesson. If you're OK with that, then join me, will you?


After watching a brilliant video with copywriter Jim Clair opening up about the dark side of copywriting, I had an interesting phone conversation with an indie journalist about the state of the Internet marketing industry.

As you might (or not) know, I was well-steeped in this industry, writing copy for and giving talks at Internet marketing seminars around the world.

Up until I met my (now late) wife in the early 2000s, most of the talks I gave were about copywriting. A few were on marketing. After we met and got married, we spoke together on stage about how to create and run online businesses.

But when my wife got sick with breast cancer, everything took a backseat for obvious reasons. Before she passed, she wrote a scathing exposé on the darker side of the Internet marketing industry, called Internet Marketing Sins.

During the conversation with that journalist, I was reminded by how far we've come in some ways and how we haven't in others. For example, we talked about the evolution of marketing online, and how that evolution brought about a certain schism in this industry. (I'll come back to this later.)

It was also one of the main reasons I wrote my manifesto back in 2005, called The Death of The Salesletter, and also why I eventually left the industry.

Let me back up a little bit.

In my early career, I was working as a marketing consultant and copywriter for cosmetic surgeons and hair transplant doctors. I wrote full-page display ads, created collateral materials, and scripted late-night infomercials.

The infomercial invited viewers to call and request more information. We then mailed a brochure describing the procedure. From those who received one, interested candidates would call back to book an appointment with the doctor to discuss their hairloss and available treatment options.

At the time, I studied all the greats in sales and marketing. I attended day-long seminars, bought courses that came in huge three-ring binders, watched hours of VHS tapes, and listened to countless Nightingale-Conant cassettes. (In fact, I owned so many, I had an entire room with a library filled with tapes.)

I turned my car into a “university on wheels,” as Zig Ziglar would often say. My trunk had at least 10-20 of these tapesets at all times — each set containing anywhere from 12 to 36 cassettes.

I remember attending an all-day seminar in Toronto (back in 1990, I believe), paid for by owner of the clinic who hired me. One of speakers was Dan Kennedy. After that talk, I was hooked. I bought all his stuff, subscribed to his newsletter, and immersed myself in the world of direct marketing.

This helped me to create a late-night infomercial on hair transplants that was so successful, it ran for over a decade. The Internet wasn't around back then (or not well known). But when I decided to create this clinic's first website in 1992, I used the same principles I learned with infomercials.

In short, the Internet was a perfect place for mail-order marketing.

But here's the interesting part.

Those seminars had speakers of all stripes: from motivational speakers and business people to peak performance coaches — including former Presidents, TV celebrities, award-winning athletes, and rockstar CEOs.

But these seminars were mostly pitchfests in disguise.

At the time, I didn't know better. I only later learned that there was a seedy side to the seminar business. It was the kind of seminar where speakers usually sold get-rich-quick courses and bizopp programs from the stage — often promising overnight wealth and success.

These kinds of seminars were big in the 70s and 80s. Many of the speakers were mail-order business opportunity hawkers. They would pitch their Joe Karbo-esque moneymaking offers, often “businesses in a box,” to a crowd of hungry (and often financially hurting) audience members.

Most of them were quasi-Ponzi schemes sold by snake oil salespeople — the kind that promised you could make money buying their courses, which only taught you to basically create the same business they did.

And most of these speakers were affiliates for one another, promoting each other, often to the same group of people. Some were even competitors to each other, too. But that didn't stop them. As my friend Paul Myers often said, “The industry is filled with incestuous cannibals.”

I was young, naive, gullible, and broke — the kind of person that a lot of these seminars preyed on. I even wrote saleletters for some of these seminars.

In the 70s and 80s, seminars like these were mostly about mail-order marketing (and a few on real estate and investing). But by the mid to late 90s, they started to include Internet marketing. It made perfect sense. After all, it's essentially mail-order marketing but in a digital format.

I was invited to speak at one of them on the topic of copywriting. I spoke on stage before, but not at seminars like these. So I gladly accepted.

I always loved teaching. That's why I taught marketing part-time at a local college in the late 90s. And part of me wanted to become a public speaker, too. I even remember buying public speaking courses from the same purveyors I bought marketing courses from.

But I made a mistake. I wasn't aware that I had to pitch something at the end of my talk. Little did I know that I had to sell something. The reason is, the seminar promoter would take a 50% cut of your sales. After all, the seminar promoter paid to pack the seminar room and to process all the speakers' sales.

Obviously, by not making a single sale, I failed miserably. I lost a lot of money for the promoter that day. And I felt absolutely terrible.

Other speakers criticized me, and some even teased me about it for years. I felt utterly dejected and I was also in a lot of pain. That's not an exaggeration. With people with RSD (or rejection-sensitive dysphoria, a common issue among people with ADHD), the pain is very real. It can also be debilitating, too.

I thought that I would never be asked to speak again.

And for years, nobody did ask.

But one day, a few years later, the same seminar promoter took a chance on me. This time, I was determined to prove myself. I hated being chastised, much less ostracised, by my peers. My RSD was begging for peer acceptance.

I did it not for the money but for the attention.

This time, I did exceptionally well. I even broke that entire event's sales record and they christened me as the “top speaker” at the end. My pitch? It was for a copywriting course where I shared videos of me critiquing other people's copy.

The seminar industry was rife with platform pitches (it still is, but it's nowhere near the bubble it was back in the 2000s). I do believe that some speakers sold legitimate courses. But at one point, it seemed as if internet marketing was becoming less about education and more about making money.

In fact, what the speakers were pitching started to look more like packaged business opportunities and get-rich-quick schemes. It was at that point that I grew increasingly disenchanted with the industry as a whole.

More importantly (and disgustingly), many of them preyed on the financially vulnerable and gullible. I've heard stories of people refinancing their homes to be able to buy some of these courses. Ouch.

Some Internet marketers even hired boilerroom-style telemarketers who used high-pressure sales tactics to close deals. I heard stories that some of them made up prices just to fit whatever was left on credit cards in an attempt to squeeze out every single penny they could.

Gross.

And to think that I was part of that circle.

I'm glad that I got out. In fact, my exit was largely precipitated by my wife's cancer, which was a blessing in disguise. When her health took a turn for the worse, we stopped speaking or even attending these seminars.

(It was also around the same time my mother passed away from cancer. We set up a hospice in our home so I could take care of her. She died right in front of me. So did my wife just a few years later. But I digress.)

When we were hearing more and more horror stories of people falling for these hucksters, it made both of us sick, and it wasn't because of the chemotherapy.

Speaking of which, this was also a time when a lot of these snake-oil pushers were hounding my sick, dying wife with their infoproducts touting natural cures and pseudo-scientific bull manure. One even accused me of being a shill for Big Pharma and that I should be ashamed of “killing my wife with chemo.”

This was the impetus that led my wife to write her Internet Marketing Sins report. It made us a lot of enemies, and I remember we weren't being asked to speak anymore — let alone to become an affiliate for other Internet marketers during their big launches. We were perfectly fine with that.

Fast-forward to today.

I watch a lot of videos on marketing. And I'm astounded when I see YouTube preroll ads from marketers who are selling their moneymaking courses. New faces and new pitches, but it's all the same old game.

It's predatory at best and illegal at worst.

Which reminds me, here's what I meant about the schism earlier…

Many of the old Internet marketers who are still around — only a few of them are, and others may have left the industry or gone underground, I really don't know — have pivoted to the SaaS industry, and now sell software or services.

Maybe they've seen the errors of their ways. Maybe they've realized there's more money in selling picks and shovels — i.e., software and services that help build real businesses — rather than snake oil (i.e., hopes and dreams).

I guess that's a good thing.

Personally, here's my take.

I don't believe in teaching someone how to make money. Not directly. And not anymore. Money is a byproduct of running a business, serving a customer, and solving a problem. It's better to sell courses that teach people real skills on how to run and grow a business, or to sell tools and services that help them do so.

To reiterate something my late wife said in Internet Marketing Sins: “Make money at the service of others, not at the expense of others.”

Lesson learned. And lesson earned.

Categories
SEO

Dealing With Negative Reviews: SEO Tips and Action Steps

Reputation management is becoming such an important service that many digital marketers and agencies are offering this singular service. For example, there's Reputation.ca, a Canadian digital marketing agency that specializes in reputation management and SEO services based on it.

They offer negative content suppression services, review management, corporate communications, and internal reputation management (such as managing employee reviews). They even offer services related Wikipedia profiles, libel issues, and crisis management.

But of all the reputation management steps you can take, responding to reviews is the most important. Both good and bad ones.

Negative reviews can influence your customers' decisions and hurt your business. Like it or not, ignoring reviews is the worse thing you can do.

Studies show that customers often view companies more favorably when they respond to reviews. Your responses can even become more influential and impactful than the reviews themselves.

Sadly, however, it's often an ignored or missed opportunity.

Imagine being on page two or three in Google results. As the joke goes, “Google's second page is the best place to hide a dead body.” But imagine being on page one for no reason other than the preponderance of negative reviews. This can be worse.

I've heard one professional say, “Talk good about me or talk bad, but either way, talk about me.” Or, “Love me or hate me, there's no money in the middle.”

That's all well and good, and the purpose of that quote is to understand that you can't please everyone. It's important to stand for something than trying to be milquetoast by trying to appeal to everyone. And you shouldn't.

But the issue is that negative reviews show up as a score (such as a star rating). When your two or three-star review shows up on the first page of Google alongside competitors with four or more star reviews, you are not only losing traction but you're also helping your competitors through the power of contrast.

So the goal is to respond to reviews, and there a few steps you can take to optimize the process.

1. It's all about customer service.

Reviews are often an indication of customer service and support. If your reviews are predominantly bad, you have a support issue. Granted, you need to be offering quality products and services above all. Bad reviews are great feedback and can often tell you what needs fixing.

But how you engage with your clients online says just as much about you and your services than they do about what you offer.

2. Setup Google alerts and other “listening” tools.

Claim your listing on review sites and business directories. This way, you will be notified of any reviews that come in. But reviews can also appear on other, less well-known sites, private blogs, or socia media.

So set up alerts to be notified each and every time someone talks about you. You can get notified when any keyword you specify shows up — including names (yours, your brand, your business, a product or service, staff names etc), your address, your suppliers, and even your competitors.

3. Take note of what clients are saying and want.

Clients are giving you precious feedback. Responding to their reviews is important, but noting what they're saying, educating them if they missed anything (by being genuinely helpful and not snarky, sarcastic, or passive-aggressive), or letting them know how you will act on their feedback.

4. Respond to reviews. All of them.

Thank the reviewer for their review. Even the good ones. Your responsiveness is what makes you look good, and not just what kind of response you give. But with the bad reviews, unless they are defamatory or fake (and even then), be sure to keep a polite and professional stance.

5. Apologize sincerely and sympathize.

Negative reviews will happen from time to time. Because, as I said earlier, you can't please everyone. But be professional, courteous, and helpful in your response. Acknowledge their issue/pain, and let them know you are listening and how you will make it right.

6. Move the conversation offline.

Offer your contact information and the name of the person they can speak with directly (you or a member of your team, preferably someone in management) so they can vent in person, discuss their problem in depth, and refrain from adding more hostility to their already negative review.

7. Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Don't go into detail and drag the conversation further. If you post too much, your reply will be a) overlooked because it's too wordy, b) seen as defensive (or desperate), and c) give the negative reviewer more ammunition they can use against you. Just stick with one short paragraph, no more than five sentences.

8. Use your name in responses to positive reviews.

Using the business name, product name, or service name will give your response to a positive review an extra SEO boost, which will hopefully bring positive reviews up to the top.

For example, you can say, “Thank you for reviewing [business name]. The team here is thrilled to read your feedback, and we're proud to be one of the most helpful [business category] in [city].”

But with negative ones, refrain from using names or keywords. You want to avoid giving the negative review any kind of SEO juice.

9. Add some marketing and ask for action.

You can thank them for their review and offer them a gift for their feedback, such as a free newsletter or a free report. And suggest the next step, such as call, fill out a form, subscribe to a newsletter, or refer friends to your business.

10. Ask for a retraction or update.

If the complaint has been dealt with, and your response was appreciated and positively received, have the reviewer remove, or better yet, revise their reviews. This is not only a desirable outcome, but the response to a negative situation can actually make you look better than a positive review will.

Some final thoughts.

These steps all assume that the reviewer had a legitimate gripe, and their review was not fraudulent, fake, or malicious in any way. Malicious reviews need to be dealt with differently, and each platform has a proper procedure for dealing with these situations.

At the bottom of this article, you can find a step-by-step process and template in dealing with and removing misleading reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook — the three biggest review sites.

In the end, remember that reviews are increasingly being used as decision-making tools when clients and customers are choosing your services.

Taking the time to focus on how you appear, what others say, and how you respond will always work in your favour — or at the very least, it will make you look responsive and much better than if you were to ignore them.