MBE for Grace Cole's Tracy Mort

Huge congratulations to Tracy Mort, managing director of beauty products brand Grace Cole, on being awarded an MBE in this year's New Year's Honours.

I don't expect Tracy has ever heard my name, but I have a personal reason to be delighted for her, as Grace Cole were instrumental in helping me to become better established in the early days of my freelance writing career.

During late 2010, I wrote for Hot Pink Magazine, an online promotional magazine that featured products from the company's Miss Cole brand, alongside topical articles about TV, fashion and other lifestyle topics.

Grace Cole were massively supportive of my writing, and gave me considerable freedom to choose my own topics and tone of voice - something that is almost unheard of now when I produce paid content for clients.

I genuinely believe writing for Grace Cole helped me to establish a portfolio and a reputation in my own right - and I hope that I helped them to sell a few of their products along the way too.

So to Tracy Mort MBE, I say congratulations and thank you - you're a worthy recipient of this recognition, and I wish you every success for the future.

Where have all the writers gone?

Seriously, I'm not claiming the past was perfect or anything, but what the hell is going on these days?

In particular, which muppet was in charge of Children in Need this year? It was a cavalcade of X Factor rejects - they even had one presenting the show towards the end.

And as for the 'anthem' - well, let's compare this year's effort with the still-benchmark triumph from 1989.

"We are the children, we are the meek
We are the voice that is longing to speak
We are the future, we are the seed
If you want to help, help Children in Need."

Now here's the 2012 'anthem' by Girls Aloud:


"Go girls, go go go
We girls gonna rock this show
You boys better know know know
We girls gonna rock this show."

Excellent, a bit of anti-male sentiment and a song that's marginally more shit than the 42-second 'Intro' from their 2005 album Chemistry.

Forgive me for not being inspired to donate (although I did anyway, because I'm not a total wretch).

'SEO Promotion'

I awoke to an interesting item of spam this morning. It wasn't spam in the usual "make your penis four times bigger!" sense of the word, but it was spurious, advertising, and mail, so I suppose it still qualifies.

Interestingly, it was spam advertising SEO services - which seems odd, because if you're good at SEO, you presumably don't need to go spamming people in order to win business.

The email read as follows:


Hope you are doing well.

We are a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) reseller firm with 175+ executives including Google Analytics and Ad words certified professionals based out of National Capital Region in India. we Have completed more than 1000+ successful seo campaigns.

We have a SEO discount offer going for the following package and promote 14 keywords in this Package: -

We are providing below mentioned work per month (proposal):

Monthly Task and responsibilities:

1. On page Optimization.
2. Manual Directory submission = 180
3. Manual Article submission= 80
4. Social bookmarking = 100
5. Press Release submission = 20
6. One way link building = 20
7. blog comment links = 10
8. Search engine Submission = 30
9. Two Article creation of more than 400 words.
10. One press release creation of more than 400 words.
11. One classified Ad creation.
12. Keyword research.
13. Competitor Analysis.
14. Heading tag changes.
15. Alt tag changes.
16. Interlinking wherever required.
17. Keyword density in site content.
18. HTML Site Map.
19. XML site map and Submission in webmaster tool.
20. Classified ad Posting =10

Let me know if you have any queries, I would be glad to assist.

Kind Regards.
Marketing Manager.

There was a name, and a phone number, and a reply address, but no mention of cost in this 'proposal'.

But putting aside the grammar, the thing that jumped out at me was task 7 above - the promise of ten blog comment links per month.

I mean, it comes as no surprise really, but to see blog comment spamming (I definitely wouldn't expect that this offer includes particularly well thought-out, valuable comments) included as a standard part of an ongoing monthly proposal is... well, just a little sad really.

As for 'search engine submission', again, if you're doing SEO right, with search-visible content, you shouldn't really need to artificially submit your pages to the search engines - it's literally a case of 'if you build it, they will come'.

Needless to say, I won't be taking them up on the offer.

Infonesis Issue no.2, December 2012

Each month, Infonesis brings you some of the SEO and ecommerce topics that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.

In this issue:

Ecommerce: 'Not Provided' keywords account for 40% of B2B analytics reports.
Mobile: Google recommends responsive web design for tablet users.
Local: Retailers' own websites are first port of call for coupons.
Broadband: Live working BT broadband connection outpaces hardware.
The Cookie Law Crumbles: Just one in eight UK websites comply with the EU e-Privacy Directive.


Google's decision to move to a secure https connection for logged-in users last year came with one major problem for webmasters and SEO practitioners: keyword analytics.

The move to secure search meant that any logged-in user's queries would appear in analytics reports as 'Not Provided' - and that applies to all analytics platforms, not just Google Analytics.

A November 13th report from Optify, the digital marketing software innovators, revealed the extent to which this has affected e-commerce site analytics, particularly in the B2B sector.

Since last year, 'Not Provided' results have risen 171% in B2B website analytics reports, to account for nearly 40% of all results.

That means keyword analysis gives B2B webmasters and marketing professionals, at best, a three-fifths view of their website's total audience.

Optify found that 81% of B2B companies now see 'Not Provided' in over 30% of their results, while 64% see it in 30-50% of cases.

The analyst now warns that these figures could continue to rise until organic referring queries are almost entirely gone from analytics reports.

"This is yet another example of how the SEO practice is at the mercy of search engines, and we believe it's time for B2B marketers to focus on the data they have for creating a personalised experience for their visitors and leads."

Rob Eleveld
CEO of Optify


In a November 12th post on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google finally laid rest once and for all the argument about how best to serve mobile web users - and particularly those surfing the web via a tablet.

Tablets are a totally new kind of 'screen' and fall frustratingly into the middle-ground between a desktop or laptop computer, and a low-resolution, low-bandwidth smartphone connecting via 3G.

As such, they raise the question: Are you better off serving the full desktop version of your site to tablet-based visitors, or offering them a trimmed-down mobile-specific template instead?

The answer may actually be 'no' in both cases, as Google recommends a third option - responsive web design.

I'm hearing from clients in the web design industry that responsive web design is the best way to go, but that their clients are, in some cases, proving hard to persuade.

But a clear-cut statement from Google is likely to help with the pro-responsive argument.

"Our recommendation for smartphone-optimised sites is to use responsive web design, which means you have one site to serve all devices.

"If your website uses responsive web design as recommended, be sure to test your website on a variety of tablets to make sure it serves them well too.

"Remember, just like for smartphones, there are a variety of device sizes and screen resolutions to test."

Pierre Far and Scott Main
Webmaster Trends Analyst and lead tech writer for developer.android.com
Official Google Webmaster Central Blog
November 12th 2012

What is responsive web design? Well, it's about making the same content appear differently to different users.

You can do this using CSS queries based on the media format of your website visitor's device, in order to shape and display your content in a suitable form.

On a smartphone, for instance, you might adopt a largely text-focused template with small or no sidebars, to make best use of the available screen width when the phone is held upright.

Although tablets come close to the full functionality of a desktop or laptop, you might still consider trimming your site down slightly - partly in case the user is connecting via 3G, but also partly because some rich media formats are not supported by all tablet types.

For more guidance on optimising your site's layout for smartphone devices, visit Google Developer.


You might think that, once a customer is actually in your bricks-and-mortar store, your website has done its job. Think again.

A November 21st Nielsen report notes the importance of retailer websites to shoppers looking for discounts and coupons - and with smartphone web access improving all the time, many of those shoppers could be inside your store when they search for you.

To my mind, this only goes to reinforce the importance of local search - not only for people searching in general for your category of goods or services in your area, but also for people searching specifically for your store.

Whether you're a franchise, part of a chain, or an individual retailer trying to thrive in a competitive market, being discoverable online is as important now as it has ever been.

To be absolutely fair, this research was carried out in the US, where the retail market is a little different, but its lessons are still valid to retailers in the UK, or anywhere else with a mature smartphone market.

The challenge for retail webmasters in the future will be how to make bricks-and-mortar stores discoverable, without compromising on any e-commerce elements that may be incorporated into their websites.

Bridge-the-gap technologies like click-and-collect offer one possibility, which would reasonably help to justify name-dropping specific store locations on a site ostensibly aimed at online shoppers.

"When it comes to seeking out deals, consumers are going to the most convenient, reliable sources.

"This creates an opportunity for retailers and 'daily deal' sites to streamline the process of gathering deals and coupons for users, ultimately increasing website and app traffic to drive sales."

John Burbank
President of Strategic Initiatives, Nielsen


What are the limitations on the speed of a broadband connection? Available bandwidth? Distance to your nearest exchange? The number of simultaneous users?

According to BT, one of its customers is now facing the unusual situation of having a broadband connection so fast, no hardware can operate fast enough to reach its bandwidth limit.

The XGPON (Tens of Gigabits on a Passive Optical Network) connection is a real-world, working 10Gbps broadband connection in place at Arcol UK, a Cornwall-based engineering firm, thanks to a direct fibre link to BT's Truro exchange.

Its bandwidth is greater than the maximum peak load of the entire London 2012 Olympic media network, and significantly, so great that the limiting factor governing line speeds is the physical networking and computing equipment being used on the site.

"This trial shows we are thinking and ready for the future even though there are no current plans to deploy this technology.

"A lot of this project is about future-proofing - making sure that it's not just the fastest speeds today, but that we can continue to be at the cutting edge for five, ten, twenty years."

Ranulf Scarbrough
Programme Director for the Cornwall SuperFast Broadband Programme

The Cookie Law Crumbles

Research from online privacy specialists TRUSTe, published on November 15th, revealed the extent to which European webmasters have failed to comply with the Cookie Law, AKA the EU e-Privacy Directive.

The Directive means that, if your website stores cookies on a visitor's computer, you should inform them when they arrive at your site, and give them the option of leaving, or of turning cookies off, if they choose to do so.

All websites that use cookies should display a clear warning that requires user interaction to hide, with the exception of those where it is reasonable to assume that cookies must be set in order for them to work - such as sites where you are asked to log in, or certain elements of the e-commerce process like shopping baskets and checkout procedures.

Image courtesy of Surian Soosay

Are websites complying with this law? According to TRUSTe, many are not, even though a large proportion of web users know about the new law and want to see it put into effect on a widespread basis.

In a survey encompassing Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, Britons ranked second only to the Netherlands in terms of awareness of the law (N 86%, GB 81%, G 78%, F 59%).

Conversely, France - where the new legislation is least widely known - had the highest level of privacy concerns amongst web users (F 71%, GB 69%, G 62%, N 48%).

And despite the awareness and concern levels among users, most of each country's top 50 websites have failed to implement an adequate cookie warning - rising to all 50 of the biggest sites in France and Germany.

Cookie warning implementation rates:

  • Netherlands - 32%
  • Great Britain - 12%
  • France - 0%
  • Germany - 0%

"The consequences of getting this wrong for businesses are significant, with 36% in France choosing not to visit a company website due to concerns about their privacy online, and 34% in Germany not using a smartphone app due to online privacy concerns.

"Across all four countries, an average of 68% expect companies to comply with the recent EU Cookie Directive, and an average of 41% plan to only visit websites that do.

"With the top 50 websites in France and Germany having taken no action to inform visitors on their home page about cookie use and tracking on these sites, they appear to be out of step with the concerns of their users."

Danilo Labovic
EU managing director for TRUSTe
November 15th 2012

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office has confirmed that it is unlikely to levy financial sanctions against non-compliant sites, and more likely to offer practical help towards compliance.

However, even if you see this as a 'soft touch' approach, you should consider implementing a suitable cookie warning as an indicator of the professionalism of your site, and to assuage any user concerns about privacy.

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Keep On Blogging: Community and Competence as Motivational Factors

Research published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication indicates the importance of audience engagement to help increase senses of community and competence among female bloggers.

Technical: Twitter update JSON method

Twitter have updated the code sequence you'll need to call in order to successfully embed your tweets into your blog sidebar (or anywhere else, for that matter) as HTML you can format using CSS.

Just to be clear, this should not affect anyone using the standard Twitter widget for embedding a user timeline, hashtag or free text search.

But some website owners prefer to format their tweets to match the rest of their website design, and I'm one of them - if you look to the left of this post, you should hopefully see my latest tweets, in the same fonts and colours as the rest of my sidebar.

21st Century Hobo

I'm a digital transient, a binary tramp;
looking for a web page
on which to leave my stamp.

Once I had a running mate,
a computer with a name;
and while the modern day's convenient,
it isn't quite the same.

That permanent companion
is now a motley horde
of gadgets and of gizmos
on which my life is stored.

None of them are 'me',
for none of them is whole.
Each holds but a little piece
of my virtual soul.

I could no more unify
all these digital 'me's
than I could scoop up the windfalls
and reattach them to the trees.

No matter; sites and archives
do not make me 'defined'
- and while I am a geek,
I hope I'm not that kind.

So as I wander from screen to screen
- TV, computer, laptop, phone -
I'm a 21st-century hobo;
a thousand virtual worlds, and none to call home.

Heartbeats in a Lifetime

We don't get any younger,
but the best of us are fools;
living by our wits
and bending all the rules.

We each know what it takes
but not always what we've got;
not always when to act;
not always when to stop.

So sally forth, and rush in
where angels fear to tread,
and celebrate each heartbeat,
'cause one day you'll be dead.

A secret. A sharing. A whisper in the night.
A moment. A heartbeat. I held you tight.
A grip. A grasp. A slip. A gasp.
A time. A chance. One whirling dance.
A flicker-book of images;
staccato memory.
You'll move on, forget me;
a one-man tragedy.

And if it's my voice that wakes you
but I spoke only in your dream,
then know that I hear you too;
even though I'm a lifetime
and three billion heartbeats from you.

Infonesis Issue no.1, November 2012

The web moves pretty fast - if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Here are just a few key stats you may have missed from the past few weeks, giving a glimpse of how things stand right now.

For direct sources on any of the stats given below, click the asterisks after each named reference.


Searches for 'Christmas gifts' and 'Christmas presents' roughly tripled in the UK during October (see Google Trends chart below), as the traditional seasonal rush began in earnest - is your content keyworded for Christmas?

An ICM Research poll* for Retail Week published on October 8th revealed that:

5% of shoppers had already finished their Christmas gift buying;
12% expected to finish in October;
8% did not know when they would finish;
3% did not plan to buy any gifts this year.

That leaves a potential market of 73% of the population still buying gifts in November, due to drop by a further 36 percentage points by the end of the month - are you making the most of the Christmas market while it lasts?

UK relative search volumes in 2012, queries 'Christmas gifts' and 'Christmas presents', via Google Trends


An October 30th report from Strategy Analytics* found that 75% of iPhone users in Western Europe are likely to buy a new phone from Apple when they reach their time to upgrade.

This is down from 88% in 2011, while in the US the proportion has dropped from 93% to 88% in the same period.

Paul Brown, director at Strategy Analytics' User Experience Practice, cited "negative press prompted by a perceived lack of recent innovation by Apple" as a downward influence on loyalty, even among previously very loyal customers.

With Samsung still making strong in-roads into the smartphone market, and Nokia driving hard for success on its upcoming Lumia 820 and 920 models, it's coming to crunch time for Apple.

In this fast-moving smartphone market, are you keeping other platforms in mind when programming your mobile websites, or are you putting all your apples in one basket?


If 75% customer loyalty sounds good to you (and most of us would be happy to see 75% repeat customers in our ecommerce analytics reports), then spare a thought for Scott Forstall.

An October 29th press release from Apple* included the fairly innocuous line: "Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook in the interim."

This relatively simple statement - and it's worth perhaps noting that no other mention of Scott Forstall was made in the 500-word press release - was pounced on by analysts as proof that he had been ousted for refusing to apologise for his involvement in the creation of Apple's in-house iOS Maps, the intended replacement to Google Maps in iOS 6, but which left customers unimpressed.

Wartime black-and-white aerial photographs, apocalyptic-looking 3D mapping glitches and erroneous location pinpoints - not to mention a route-planning tool with no sense of direction - made iOS Maps one of the biggest embarrassments Apple has faced in recent years.

Based on October 29th's news, it seems the only route Scott Forstall will be planning in 2013 will be a one-way route away from Apple.


4G mobile internet launched on October 30th, using the freed-up bandwidth from the demise of analogue television broadcasting (RIP, Ceefax).

Research from network operator EE* found 74% of UK businesses expect to adopt 4G within its first 12 months.

The protocol offers high-speed mobile internet connectivity - although notably, EE's press release did not put a precise figure on the possible top speed.

Just 11 cities had coverage from day one, with five more due to be switched on by Christmas. EE plans to cover a third of the UK population with access to 4G services by the end of the year.

Battersea Power Station pimped for the EE launch event

Smartphone web access has always been a compromise between high-speed, reliable Wi-Fi where available, and slow, buggy 3G where a wireless connection cannot be found.

Could 4G bridge the gap and finally make anywhere, anytime mobile web access a reality?

Falling Star

Finally, the beginning of November brought with it the demise of electricals retailer Comet, after a failed rescue bid by OpCapita.

Back in February, OpCapita's John Clare, former boss of Dixons, revealed his plan to rescue Comet was to "get back to its core proposition"* by pretending the past two decades never happened.

His assertion that Comet's future lay in its past - and a return to its 1980s approach to business, when it was still successful - was bizarrely ridiculed in OpCapita's own press release.

The company quoted Adam Cochrane, retail analyst at UBS, as saying: "Online and the convenience of click-and-collect are the fastest-growing areas of electrical retailing.

"Customers want to order more cheaply and get delivery quicker. Making people choose your internet site will be the key battleground going forwards."

Deloitte were officially appointed as administrators to Comet on November 2nd* and cited poor consumer confidence and a lack of first-time property buyers as the causes for the retailer's demise.

Neville Kahn, joint administrator and restructuring services partner at Deloitte, said: "It has become increasingly difficult for [Comet] to compete with online retailers which don't face the same overheads such as store rents and business rates."

Whether you're a pure-online operator, or have bricks-and-mortar overheads of your own to meet, Comet's tale is an indication that the two worlds of commerce are very much entwined - and you'd better make sure you're equipped to deal with shocks both within the world of ecommerce, and on the high street.

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A Halloween Ode to Fosters Fish & Chips

I was working in the chippie, late one night
when my eyes beheld an eerie sight.
Didsbury residents, forming a queue -
well what else was I supposed to do?

I served them mash.
I served them pie and mash.
(Some pie and mash)
They paid with cards and cash.
(Some pie and mash)
They were gone in a flash.
(Some pie and mash)
I served them pie and mash.

From the south, they came from Northenden;
from the north, they came from Withington.
They came along from West Didsbury
to get some pie and mash for tea.

I served them mash.
I served them pie and mash.
(Some pie and mash)
They paid with cards and cash.
(Some pie and mash)
They were gone in a flash.
(Some pie and mash)
I served them pie and mash.

The staff were having fun.
The evening had just begun.
We had steak pie, for a treat,
or on a budget, simply 'meat'.

The fryers were cooking, we were digging the smell
of fresh-cooked chips that were hotter than hell,
the foil trays were piling up by the door
as the punters bought one pie, then two, three and four.

I served them mash.
I served them pie and mash.
(Some pie and mash)
They paid with cards and cash.
(Some pie and mash)
They were gone in a flash.
(Some pie and mash)
I served them pie and mash.

Out from the back, an urgent shout:
"We need more mash - we're running out!"
But however bad things may have looked
there was plenty of time to get more cooked.

I cooked some mash.
I cooked some pie and mash.
(Some pie and mash)
They paid with cards and cash.
(Some pie and mash)
They were gone in a flash.
(Some pie and mash)
I served them pie and mash.

Now everyone's served, with bellies full
on a midweek feast that's never dull -
you need something tasty and filling to eat
before you hit the streets and cry "Trick or Treat?"

You need some mash.
You need some pie and mash.
(Some pie and mash)
They paid with cards and cash.
(Some pie and mash)
They were gone in a flash.
(Some pie and mash)
I served them pie and mash.

'We are India Base SEO web Development Company'

This morning I received the email below. Would you hire this company to handle your SEO?


Hope you are doing well.

Dear Website Administrator, We are India Base SEO web Development Company.

We provide top 10 ranking on Google, yahoo, msn & Bing for multiple search phrases (keywords) relevant to your products / services?

Are you searching for a method to promote your website or business?

If so, read on to discover a website promotion method that costs virtually nothing to implement.

By the help of Search Engine Optimization, Your business will increase; SEO will get you huge number traffic in just one deal.

Try this it really works! We are Specialize in SEO, SMO, Link Building and Web Development.

We are simple but use powerful - Marketing Strategies for your business, to get more traffic for your website.

If you have any query, we will be more than happy to provide you our quick assistance.


Note: We are not spammers and are against spamming of any kind. If you are not interested
then you can reply with a simple \"NO\",We will never contact you again.

Anti-spam Alternatives to Website Contact Forms

Anyone who's made their first, fledgling forays into web design is likely, at some point, to have gone looking for a good website contact form.

I've used them. If you're a web designer, you've probably at least considered using them. Many businesses, small and large, continue to use them. Which raises one question - why?

To be honest, I think for many newcomers, it's a case of wanting to do what the big boys do. You probably don't really need a contact form but, like Flash intros and animated dropdown menus, you've seen them on other websites and they look sort-of professional.

Rule 1: Don't ever do something purely because other people do it.

OK, so let's say it's about welcoming feedback from your site visitors. You actually care about what they have to say, and want to make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch.

A feedback form makes it easier for people to contact you who don't have a desktop email account - people who might otherwise have to copy and paste your email address into Hotmail, or Gmail, or whatever they're called nowadays (Live Mail and Googlemail? I'm not even sure...).

But what about people who have a desktop email account, who just want to click on a 'mailto' link and have a blank email pop up?

Rule 2: Don't over-complicate things by trying to make them easier.

Finally, perhaps you're worried about spam. You know spammers crawl websites looking for email links and then add them to their lists, so you've got an awesome Java-based feedback form that disguises the destination email address.

This is reasonable - your customers' emails are no use to you if they're lost amongst a sea of spam. But it's not ideal, and here's why:

Rule 3: Don't damage your website's usability or accessibility, purely to combat spam.

Spam is a menace. This is true. But your efforts to overcome it should never be to your own detriment - if, by pre-empting spam, you're making your website harder to use, then you're turning potential lost earnings into guaranteed lost earnings.

It's akin to having a double mastectomy in order to avoid breast cancer later - you may have made the right decision, and you may think it's better to be safe than sorry, but you'll never know if you might have lived a lump-free life anyway.

The Alternative

Erm, I don't have a cure for cancer. But I do have a reasonable alternative to feedback forms, and it comes in two stages.

Firstly, let's assume some of your visitors have web-based email accounts, and an on-page feedback form is easier for them than launching their email site, copying your address over, and manually typing out an email.

Fair enough - give them a feedback form. A spam-proof, prescriptive, here's-what-you-can-tell-us form that will translate their ticks, radio button selections and text into a single email and send it over to you.

Now, let's assume some of your visitors are stubborn, and want to get in touch by email, with the freedom to choose what they type.

Simply create a link using code such as this:

(Try it here: bobpbardsley@gmail.com)

It's a simple piece of code, but the addition of ?subject= to the mailto link lets you specify a subject line - now simply tell your visitors to leave that part intact, and use it to filter incoming mail to that address.

You can easily specify the same subject line for responses via your feedback form, and combine communications via the two methods into a single stream of customer contact.

The Warnings

If you look into the method described above on other websites, you may come across certain warnings, threatening that it will break web browsers.

Well, I've never known it to break Internet Explorer, and I've just tested it in Chrome without any problems. I'd bet on it working just fine in Firefox too, but don't take my word for it - run a couple of tests just to make sure.

Even if it doesn't work for any particular visitor to your site, they'll still have the feedback form there to use if they need to.

The point is, don't tell your visitors you welcome their emails, and then have a website entirely devoid of any visible contact email address - it's misleading and offputting.

If you must focus solely on contact forms, say so on your site - explain that you have a focused customer service department who respond to enquiries in the order they are received, and that using the form enables you to get through as many enquiries as possible in the shortest possible time.

For heaven's sake, don't tell me I can't email you because you're afraid of spam, otherwise what are you trying to protect? Nothing but an empty inbox.

No, it won't do. Ten reasons (and many more) why your copywriter probably isn't on autopilot.

I don't normally do 'riposte' style posts, but this morning I read this post from We All Need Words about why copywriters are often on autopilot.

Now, I'm willing to take it with a pinch of salt, because what they're really talking about - I think - is advertising copy, as opposed to the workhorse, everyday, need-to-fill-the-page copy that many of us provide for web and for print.

It's an important distinction, because in advertising, often you're looking to convey an emotive message in the fewest words possible - a catchy slogan, or a brand message that will stick in the reader's mind.

Contrast that with what I call workhorse copy - technical specifications, instruction manuals, and so on - and there's a clear difference in tone. And between the two extremes, there's a whole spectrum where product descriptions and 'about us' pages can be evocative, but still need to stay fairly restrained in terms of poetry and imagery.

So it's a shame that, from the start, We All Need Words go with a general statement like "much of the blame [for bad writing] has to lie with copywriters themselves. Too many of them have knocked out sloppy words for far too long".

Let's take a look at their ten "provocations" for how to "stop the rot and get out of this rut".

1. Style is a crutch

They argue that style should be stripped back - words should be simple and trick-free, like any great advertisement from the past 50 years.

In principle, it's hard to disagree with that, although I'd say it's always worth remembering the tone of voice of your client's brand - not everything needs to be written in Standard English.

2. "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Again, this point refers to "adding flourishes" to your writing, claiming that this is something copywriters do to show off.

Well no, not really. Many of us have trained for years to be the best writers we can be - I've studied language from its smallest components upwards, and from completed texts backwards into their individual constituent parts.

If it "sounds like writing", that's probably because it's using carefully selected words in a certain order, building meaning and impact as it goes along, and working towards an intended goal - whether to entertain the reader, or to sell something, or for any other purpose.

Rewrite everything that sounds like writing, and you'd be left with something on a linguistic par with The Only Way is Essex.

3. Sometimes commas are in the wrong place. Get over it.

I'm going to print their entire argument on this point in full below. Ready? Here it comes...

"It's easy to fix a stray apostrophe. It's a lot harder to fix a weak idea."

I literally don't know exactly what they mean by that, but I think they're saying that they don't care about punctuating things correctly, as long as you can get the general gist of it.

Now imagine you're paying that person to write for you...

4. Write like you really speak.

Again, there's a bit of confusion here between the defining characteristics of speech and writing.

I mean, like, erm... [pause] when you say things out loud [pause] you don't always know... get it right... exactly right first time. You- you- you make false starts [pause] and um hesitations. And stuff. And it's not gre- not always great.

Let's clear this up for good. A conversational tone is fine. Especially for informal writing, like blog posts, or (heaven forbid) 'chatty' brands. But give some thought to whether or not you're starting to really piss off your target customers, for the sake of indulging your commitment to a conversational tone of voice.

Remember rules 1 and 2 up above - don't use style as a crutch, and don't add unnecessary flourishes to your writing (without good reason, I'd add, as there are always exceptions where a bit of flourish can work wonders).

It's also worth noting the comment "Innocent Drinks (unfairly) get most of the flak for wackaging, the cloying matey tone favoured by banks and fizzy drinks."

I mean, it's easy to defend a brand when they're among your clients.

5. Never trust a writer who says they're a 'storyteller'.

I think I agree in principle with this point, although it's so poorly made that again I'm not 100% sure what they're trying to say.

They argue that "storytelling comes with the job", but I'm still not sure if they think every piece of writing is always a story, or not.

Either way, I think we're in agreement that not every piece of copy needs to 'tell a story' in order to be effective, but given the way they described butter and figs last week, I'm not convinced that We All Need Words really practise what they reach.

6. Say it directly or don't say it at all.

On this point, they ask why banks say "we aim to" and "we believe" instead of simply stating what they are going to do.

Well, sadly, compliance departments the world over will be screaming at your copywriter if they hand over a website full of statements beginning "we will".

You only have to look at any interim financial statement from any major corporation to see a disclaimer against "forward-looking statements", pointing out that the brand can't predict the future, and that you shouldn't invest based on their forecasts.

Good writing should never get mired in legalese, by any means - but nor should it jeopardise the legal standing of its publisher.

7. Clunky segues are a warning sign.


This is the same kind of objection that leads people to say "semicolons are dying out"; in fact, they're not.

Semicolons are much loved among professional and amateur writers alike; they serve a specific function, and they serve it well.

But what do semicolons have to do with anything?

Well, according to We All Need Words, 'clunky segues' mean two unrelated ideas are being forced together.

I disagree (obviously); like a semicolon, a segue sentence of this type is a way of demarcating the division between two distinct but relatable ideas.

They're a nod to the reader - an admission that you're asking for a leap of faith, but only a small one - and like any punctuation (which they're a slightly larger example of, when you're reading aloud) they add a moment's pause, a breathing and thinking space before the text continues into the new idea.

8. The. Lazy. Shortcut.

"Stringing three bland words together with full stops doesn't make a headline."

Erm, yup, can't argue with that one. Whether we're talking about news or advertising, headline laziness is a real bugbear with me too - particularly the way American news outlets use a comma in place of the word 'and'. It's the word 'and', it's hardly gonna bankrupt you paying for the extra ink, is it?

We All Need Words didn't expand on this point beyond the statement quoted above, so there's not much to object to.

9. Microsoft Word gives you verbal diarrhoea.

The point here only makes any sense if you're talking about print, but the authors still include websites in their list of problem areas.

They say that you shouldn't write anything, for anywhere where layout is important, without sketching out your container first.

Now yes, OK, if you need your words to fit into a certain space, you need to know how big that space is. But it's worth remembering that words are not fixed in their dimensions.

Alter the font size, and you change the size of your text - but not your container. Even italicising can make text wider, which caused horizontal scrollbars to appear when they weren't needed in the early days of the web (I know, because I was building websites in the mid to late 1990s).

Nowadays there are different concerns to take into account, particularly online, where the following two rules apply:

a) If your font size is fixed, you know how big your text will be.

Literally, fixing your font size fixes your text size. That means you can write in that font size in Microsoft Word, and know that your text is filling the same amount of space that it will on the website.

You'll still need something to give you an idea of the space you have available to fill, but it can easily be a jpeg mock-up of the page template, and not the finished, working, HTML version.

b) If your website is accessible, your font size is not fixed.

A truly accessible website - and one compliant with modern-day CSS conventions - does not fix font sizes.

This allows visitors with visual impairments to adjust the font size in order to make it larger - and it's worth taking into account when you're designing your site.

It's why fixed-width WordPress templates make me feel a little uneasy, because your visually impaired readers will be left with massive words crammed into the middle 640 pixels of their 2000-pixel-wide flatscreen display, effectively making them read your website as though it was still 1997.

My personal preference for full-width templates with as much space dedicated to the main content as possible stems from this desire not only to cater for visitors with accessibility needs, but to put the main content of my site front and centre for all of my readers.

We All Need Words add that you shouldn't write the Encyclopaedia Britannica when "a few words or an image will do the job better".

Again, it depends on what you're trying to achieve, but if you want your page to have any kind of presence in the search results, you're going to need a decent amount of well-written plain text, until Google make a few more advances in interpreting the content of images.

Seriously, why would you hire a copywriter to suggest an image? We're not photographers. We're not graphic designers. If you want an image to do the job, don't hire someone to write you 500 words.

10. Quoting people. Oh the shame.

We All Need Words evidently are of the opinion that word of mouth is irrelevant, and therefore that there's no point in quoting happy customers on your website, advertisement, brochure or otherwise.

I'd say they're partly right - those trailers for horror movies that consist solely of laughing audience members saying "OMG I was SO frightened!" are cringeworthy for sure (not to mention the fact that 200 people laughing hysterically does little to vouch for the wet-pants-inducing nature of your film).

But sometimes a quote offers an independent voice, a chance to see what somebody really thinks of a product or service before you put your own money into it.

I use testimonials on this site, and they've helped me to secure work. I've given testimonials both as LinkedIn recommendations, and in print in the prospectus for the course I took at University. Sites like Amazon use them too, although you'll see them as customer reviews, rather than as direct quotes.

If your customers are happy - and are willing to go on the record to say so - there is absolutely no reason why you should ever feel any shame about that fact. Just be wary of coming across as smug because of it.

So there we go, all ten points deconstructed and over-analysed. If you've read this far, I'm amazed. In fact, if you've read this far without skipping anything, you should probably hire me to write for you, right?

I've tried to be even-handed in my analysis, because I genuinely do agree with a couple of the points made by We All Need Words, and I hope I've justified myself where I disagree. In places I would have said more, if I was more confident of the point the original authors were trying to make.

To cut a long story short (too late!), the point is this:

Good copywriters have studied and trained for years to develop that autopilot mode that allows them to produce excellent-quality content as second nature, rather than agonising over every word and producing something self-aware and stilted.

If your copywriter can turn around a 500-word project, free from typos, in half an hour, and you're still happy with the result, they probably deserve a pay rise. Don't be too quick to criticise them - you might find they're hard to replace.


So, this morning I received the below enquiry via this blog. Some of it makes sense - some of it - but the rest is a total mystery to me...


I'm an assistant for an entrepreneur who runs a successful direct response company. He's given me the task of finding capable direct response topguns that aren't charging for their fame, but for their profit-pulling skills.

The very first filter is an account of previous results. We can verify references later if we choose to take it further. I am going to need some specific numbers from you attained from your previous projects.

Can you work with me here? You don't need to give me client names but I do need you to give me the numbers you've achieved in your first response to me. He is prepared to hire 3-5 of the very best, so if you know other copywriters at least as good as yourself, do point me towards them also.

We are also endeavoring to make your lives a lot easier by gathering a lot of information that will speed up your research process. This includes text/media ads of competitors, pros/cons of their own products, background information on up to 100 real people that are representatives of the target market, as well as a lot of data and research gathered based on the product itself.


I can't help thinking I'm much more likely to end up with my numbers being included in their 'background information ... of the target market' than I am to make it through to the next 'filter'...

On-Page SEO: The Power of Proximity

If you know me well, you'll know how strongly I believe in the power of on-page SEO over all other forms of optimisation.

Take this blog as an example: I don't run any PPC or banner ad campaigns to promote it, I don't really 'link-build', except for when I guest post for other people, and the only other off-page promotion I do is to tweet out new posts - sometimes.

And yet I rank highly for some terms that aren't even that closely relevant to my role as a freelance writer, such as 'embed twitter hashtag', where I average position 1.4 in the results (which means, 60% of the time, I'm the top result).

So what's going on here? Well, it's simple - my page for embedding a Twitter hashtag in a blog has the words 'embedding', 'twitter' and 'hashtag' in the page title, the headline, and throughout the text.

It's got a clear focus, it's genuinely useful, and the page is updated occasionally when people post comments or questions at the bottom.

This is the power of proximity in on-page SEO - all the right things, in all the right places, on a page you have total control of.

Policing Proximity

In a long-term SEO campaign, control is a key consideration, particularly in the new era of Google Penguin, the recent algorithm update that punishes websites with suspicious-looking patterns of inbound links.

Google have always been supportive of on-page SEO when it doesn't detract from the quality of the content, but artificial inbound linking - such as by paying another webmaster to link to you from every page of their site, or spamming blog comments with links to your own blog - will no longer be accepted.

Before it, the Google Panda update penalised sites with large numbers of non-unique content that had been syndicated or simply copied and pasted from elsewhere, whether with or without the original author's permission.

So how do you recover from either of these updates? Well, in the case of Panda, all the content is on your own website, and you can have it rewritten (by someone like me!) so that it's unique - and, gradually, your search results rankings will begin to recover.

In the case of Penguin, there may be thousands of artificial links to your site all over the internet - tracking them down is a challenge in itself, let alone getting each individual webmaster to remove the links.

Proximity - in the sense that all of your SEO efforts are made on pages controlled by yourself - allows for changes, adaptations to algorithm updates, and flexibility to keep your site on top of the search results, no matter what happens in the future.

Temporal Proximity

Hold tight, because we're about to go fourth-dimensional. Up above we talked about long-term considerations in on-page and off-page SEO, but there are short-term benefits to proximity too, particularly in terms of pages that are published close together.

Your content still needs to be relevant and valuable to the reader, but if you can plan a series of updates around one central topic - without simply repeating yourself day after day - you can quickly build a strong ranking for your target keywords.

I've seen examples of where a client has gone from having no presence for a particularly specific key phrase, to holding eight of the ten front-page positions on Google - and that's without any personalisation or location settings making them appear higher on my screen than they would elsewhere.

Factor in yet another kind of proximity - geographic location - and people with location-based search switched on may see you rank even higher if they're nearby. And if they're far away, with location-based search switched on, there's not much you can do to improve your ranking in their results anyway.

Applying Proximity

The principle behind each of the kinds of proximity outlined above is simple, and always the same: Connections are Good.

The web is all about connections, and while inbound links are nice, they're not as 'connected' as they might seem.

Step outside of the comfort zone of your own website, and you inescapably relinquish some control over your SEO campaign - and that may reap rewards in the short term, but it can only be a bad idea for the long term.

Focus on on-page SEO in a joined-up, 'proximal' way - whether that means posting related pages close together over multiple days, focusing on your local geographic area, or tying together the different opportunities for on-page keyword placement - and your chances of success are greatly increased.

And if you've been hit by any of Google's recent algorithm updates - well, I just hope you're a Panda victim, and haven't been penalised by Penguin.

SEO Alert: Optimise Now for the Christmas Buy Cycle

Today (September 10th, 2012) I'm issuing an SEO alert - because while there are still over 100 days until Christmas, it's time for the Christmas 'buy cycle' to start gearing up.

Sunday (September 16th) will mark exactly 100 days until Christmas, and I think it's worth spending at least the latter half of this month preparing your sites by launching a festive microsite, changing your logo to a snow-capped one and your colour scheme to something icy blue or festive red and green, or simply tossing a few Christmas-themed keywords into your product descriptions.

If you've been following this blog since last year, you may have already seen me discuss the Christmas buy cycle here - but another year's gone by, so it's time to test whether that theory still holds up.

The 2011 Christmas Buy Cycle

First, let's look at the 2011 Google Trends data for searches including the terms 'christmas presents' and 'christmas gifts' conducted in England:

The key characteristics of last year's cycle are as follows:
  • 'christmas presents' received 3/4 as many searches as 'christmas gifts' for the full year - similar to 2010's results
  • October marks the most likely time when both terms will rise above their year-long average (equivalent to '1' on the left-hand scale for 'christmas gifts')
  • search volumes climb rapidly throughout November, but trail off from early December - meaning it pays to get in early with your optimisation
Bagging, Tagging - and Lagging

What gives the Christmas buy cycle its distinctive shape? Well, I believe it's more than just forward planning on the part of shoppers.

Nobody wants their Christmas gifts to arrive late, so you're unlikely to see a high number of people ordering online with only a couple of days left before the big day - which introduces a slight lag between the peak of the cycle, and Christmas itself.

But it's more than that - despite e-commerce itself being instantaneous, you've still got to make sure the relevant products are in stock, package them up, and ship them to your customer. It's this crossover between the virtual and real worlds - when goods come out of that digital shopping basket, and are bagged and tagged for real - that slows the whole process down further.

So what if your products are virtual? What if, say, you sell digital gift cards, which can be sent via email, rather than being bagged and tagged?

The Virtual Christmas Buy Cycle

This time, we're looking at the terms 'amazon gift card' and 'itunes gift card' - and you'll notice the delivery lag has gone from the data.

For the most part, these virtual products continue to gain search share throughout December - they're the modern-day equivalent of petrol-station flowers for last-minute online Christmas gifts.

Remember, this data is for searches conducted in England - so you can no longer dismiss iTunes as a purely American phenomenon. Virtual gift cards are an established form of gift for people in the UK now, especially if they need to send something over a long distance (and particularly if they don't trust the postal service any more).

But again, October is when interest in virtual gift cards begins to rise, and the first time 'amazon gift card', less than a quarter as popular as 'itunes gift card' in the data, scores highly enough to even become visible on the graph.

(On a personal note, I find the difference between the two curious - give somebody an Amazon gift card, and they've got a much wider range to choose from, even including mp3 downloads. Perhaps some of the search traffic can be associated with people giving - or who have in the past given - physical Apple devices as Christmas presents, and know that a gift voucher will complement their earlier gift.)

Any SEO work you do needs time to be crawled and indexed by the search engines, which introduces one final unavoidable lag into the process, bringing the ideal date to begin forwards a little further - and that's why I think the end of September, as the Christmas countdown drops below 100 days and the sun begins to set a little earlier, is the perfect time to make a start on revising your website copy, colour scheme and logos, and generally pitching for that number-one spot in Christmas-related Google searches for your particular product or service.

Get on your buy cycle and ride!

Website News Updates

As a freelance copywriter, I can turn my hand to almost any kind of writing, including some very unusual, specific or technical subjects - but website news updates are a major part of what I do for many of my clients.

They may be small businesses looking to keep their websites up to date, or big agencies who are contracted to provide weekly website updates to their clients; I can work for either, and I can count both kinds of customers among my regular, long-term clients.

Website news updates are a good option if you want to appear to be on top of the changes taking place in your industry - particularly if there are market trends or legislative changes to consider - or simply if you want a more formal alternative to blogging.

Hiring a freelance copywriter like me to provide your content is also a good option - I spent five years working at an online news agency, and while my approach now is very different to the one they used, I can bring my experience dealing with press offices and finding source material for articles into my writing for you, and give you genuine, legitimate news content as a result.

No matter what niche you work in, there is news out there that would make sense to feature on your website, and it's important for search visibility that it's uniquely written for you, and not simply copied and pasted (which can breach copyright laws) or imported via RSS (which, while legal, does not add unique text to your website).

If you're interested in adding website news updates to your site - whether you want weekly articles or just a couple each month, headline or industry news, or news about your own company's achievements - email or tweet me and I'll do my best to help you out.

Even if you don't end up hiring me to provide your content, I'm still happy to share tips and ideas, and I embrace the challenge of working with small businesses on tight marketing budgets, and big brands where the blogging is just one part in a larger campaign, with equal care and commitment.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Timing Sheets

People often ask why I charge based on word count, and not on the time it takes me to actually do the work.

Well, there are plenty of reasons - for a start, charging for content based on quantity just feels right, I still make it as good as I possibly can, but it means if you need lots of content, fast, I can turn it around more quickly for you without being left out of pocket.

But it's also partly because I've worked in an agency environment in the past, and I've seen what happens when profits become linked to time, rather than to the content itself.

Case in point, in one agency I worked at (which will remain nameless) the time taken to produce each page of content was estimated down to the hundredth of a minute - yes, that's 'estimated' to within less than a second, with no margin allowed for error.

While I was in a middle-management role at this agency, they decided to reorganise the way these estimates were calculated, to more accurately reflect the way the agency worked at the time - the existing method had been in place for years and wasn't exactly spot-on, given the way SEO had changed, and so on.

So the managers all got called into a meeting room, where a senior manager had come up from London to guide us through the new system - which, he stressed, was not about saving time, but simply allocated the existing time in new ways.

Each client contract had been transferred to the new system, he explained, with the same amount of time given to them as had previously been the case - the new system was not about saving time.

Oh, and the entire admin time allowed per client (a generous 7.5 minutes per week) had been removed. Any questions?

That's 7.5 minutes per client, in an agency where the typical writer had up to ten clients at any one time. Conservatively, that's 60 minutes per person per week that had simply been wiped off of the perceived workload.

At the time, I had a deputy, four office-based staff and two home-based team members. That's basically a working day per week that had been scrubbed from what my team were perceived as doing.

And that's the problem. Pay me for ten articles, and if it takes me ten hours to find the right source material, that's my problem. Pay me for five hours, and we've got problems.

In real terms, I think we both know I'd end up picking up the slack anyway - but at least when you're paying by the article, as long as they're up to the desired quality, you don't have to take my word for it that they took me two hours, or four hours, or whatever - you've got the content you wanted, at the agreed price, and that's all that really matters.

One more thing - I still freelance for several agencies, and I can honestly say, they're not all crooks! The example above was probably spurred on in part by the onset of the recession, but it's a perfect example of why time alone is a terrible way to assess how much work has been done.

On a slightly related note, this post was inspired in part by the Twitter project Things You Hear In Agencies - follow the hashtag #ThingsYouHearInAgencies or just follow @AgencyQuotes for similar stories in 140 characters or fewer.


With hearts in mouths we cheer, we cheer;
our golden girl, at last, is here.
Beneath the Cauldron's fiery blaze
to fight for us, across two days.

Her seven tasks inspired by old;
these, it is, will choose the gold,
the silver, and the bronze as well;
the winner's name, just time can tell.

And this is her time, this her year
as crowds of people stand and cheer
both in the stadium, and outside,
in pubs and lounges nationwide.

A cheer so loud, it's surely heard
the breadth of Britain on August 3rd
as the Games' most cherished face
joins the line-up for her race.

A leaping blur before our eyes
- at times, it seems, she really flies -
a dozen seconds, a global best,
and once again, our girl can rest.

But not for long - for she must leap;
once more our golden girl digs deep
to leave the ground and jump six feet
- but this time, our girl is beat.

Fifth, but first still, overall;
the trial next, to throw a ball
and once again our girl's unstuck;
down in ninth, and down on luck.

And worse to come, for now we find
the Brit has fallen just behind
and needs to overcome her foe;
three tasks down, with four to go.

Rounding off the day's events,
a flat-out run before the tense
and trembling Olympic crowd;
nervous yes, but no less loud.

Another race, and so we're back
to line up on the running track;
200 metres, and when they stop
our girl is tied, her name joint top.

But overall, she stands alone
- the races run, the throwing thrown.
The high jump bar is packed away
and she's in first, after the first day.

Now Britain's angel of the north
returns once more, on August 4th.
Four events of seven done;
a jump, a throw, another run.

And though she clears 20 feet,
the long jump isn't quite so sweet
as yesterday was on the track;
a Russian, this time, holds her back.

And once the javelins are thrown
the chance, we see, is still not blown;
our girl rises to the test
and though ranked tenth, she throws her best

to lead into the final round;
one final time, the rubber ground
becomes a battlefield again;
all eyes are on our girl, and then

a bang begins this two-lap race
and cameras focus on her face;
and none can doubt her golden thirst
as the Brit sets off in first

and as the starting lap plays out
dare we dream, or is there doubt?
A minute for this frenzied lap;
but for our girl, a closing gap

and then, to everyone's dismay,
the vision falters, fades away;
did she run the lap too fast?
For others catch her; she is passed.

But our girl will not be stripped
of this title; and the script
of her home Olympic story
is to be a tale of glory.

Again she digs - and somewhere deep
she finds the pace she needs to creep
to level terms, and then ahead.
It's time to put this race to bed.

Her seventh task is almost done;
we hold our breath and watch her run.
We stand, we shout: "Come on!" then "Yes!"
And then we weep, with pride for Jess.

London 2012: The End of the Games

The final, fluttering flags are furled and packed away;
the anthems echo out for the final times today.
The tallies and the tables can be written in The Book,
while runners-up can ruminate on Time, and Chance, and Luck.

Four years in the making; a fortnight in the end.
Trials chose the athletes for each nation to send.
Friendly competition chose who would win the gold;
a first chance for the young, a last chance for the old.

And now the time is ticking, and quickly running out.
No more days of planning, and no more days of doubt.
The champions' names decided, and little left to say,
but to make the motions of this last Olympic day.

One final ceremony to end these London Games,
a festival of song; a final flicker of the flame,
before the Cauldron's petals are each taken home
to nations of the world where I may never roam.

We came and we contested, qualified and played;
old heroes were confirmed, new heroes were made.
In four years' time, in Rio, we all will make some more
through friendly competition; in peacetime, not in war.

London's venues now fall mute; silenced, the starter's gun.
And though some days were tense, while other days were fun,
there is just one conclusion - an over-simple one -
we won, Great Britain. We, Great Britain, won.

The Sounds of Silence

Today, despite my usual cynicism, I'm feeling proud to be British. It's Monday, July 30th 2012, and the London 2012 Olympic Games are well underway, and thank god they did a decent job of lighting the cauldron.

While on the surface the Olympics are simply a massive inter-schools sports day, the ethos behind them is much more complex than that, with the chance for the world's best sportsmen and women to transcend the limits of a single human lifespan, and become true legends.

The London 2012 opening ceremony had plenty of that, from the reflective pause near the beginning to remember the victims of both World Wars, to the white-and-gold outfits worn by the torchbearers, which made Sir Steve Redgrave look like one of the elders from Krypton.

And each time one of those life-and-death reflective moments arrived, a haunting whistled tune filled the stadium, and echoed around the television sets of a global viewing audience:

Underworld's 'Caliban's Dream' provided the backing to the cauldron-lighting sequence, an ethereal but slightly less poignant variation on the same whistled theme heard throughout the earlier 'Pandemonium' sequence that had described the Industrial Revolution and the forging of the Olympic rings.

I've always been a sucker for this kind of repeated motif in music - particularly soundtracks - and I think I finally understand what it is that makes them mean so much to me.

As a storyteller, I know the biggest challenge is not telling the story itself, but filling in the blanks - the narrative, the inner monologues that, in the real world, nobody else can hear.

With a storytelling spectacle like the Olympics opening ceremony, that challenge is still greater, as you fight to keep the audience thrilled to the edge of tears for almost four hours.

Programme notes can guide them through the basic structure, and careful prep work can lay the foundations for your story (I doubt I was the only one who associated the sight of the sparks falling from the freshly forged Olympic rings with the back-story of how Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville came into being, created from the final drops of molten metal left behind when the steel for the Olympic stadium was forged).

But these most haunting of musical motifs play a different part in the aural part of storytelling, whether it's the opening ceremony of London 2012, or any other lengthy performance.

They don't just fill in the empty spaces - they are the empty spaces, placeholders that leave the places themselves unfilled.

They are the sounds of silence, the peace found in a reflective moment, when all else is drowned out by the sheer noise of nothing.

They are the inner monologues of each of us when we have no clue what to say - they are each of us rendered speechless, and that, I think, is why these simplest of compositions are so powerful and, like a true Olympic champion, why they stand so tall and so strong amid all of the pomp and circumstance.

How to Recover from Panda Penalties

I'm seeing an increasing number of new clients asking how to recover from Panda penalties they've suffered due to their previous writer or SEO agency's less-than-ideal practices.

The problem is that, as Google's algorithms get more and more complex, it gets harder and harder to find an easy way to cheat them - and even if you do find the right formula, there's no guarantee that you won't be heavily penalised the next time a major update is rolled out.

That's why the best solution for the long-term is simply to focus on good-quality, intelligently (and naturally) keyworded content that adds genuine value to your website.

Building your site with decent content is the simplest answer to how to recover from Panda penalties - but the operative word there is 'decent'.

Gettin' Higgy Wit It

or, If you predict it, it will come

So today (July 4th 2012) it seems like the scientists at CERN have finally found sufficient evidence to confidently say that the Higgs boson exists - although they're being understandably cautious about saying that with 100% certainty.

There's still some months of research ahead to confirm for sure that the particle they believe they have detected is indeed the so-called 'God particle' that allows other elementary particles to have mass, and not just energy (you don't need to understand that part).

One of the most impressive things about this potential discovery is that, like many of the elements on the periodic table, the Higgs boson was predicted long before any hard evidence for its existence was discovered.

And that got me thinking about the nature of eCommerce and online marketing...

One Year of Providence

In a little under two hours, it's June 27th 2012 - my 29th birthday - and I can't help but look back over the past year as one of the most significant of my life.

Around this time in 2011, I handed in my notice to a job I'd been doing for the best part of five years - and one which, at the start, I'd have been happy to stick with for the most part of my career.

Sure, the workload was heavy, even from the outset, when I wrote about eight feature-length items in one unusually heavy week, on top of around 24 normal-length articles a day for clients in industries ranging from online bingo to secure data storage.

But I liked the work - the pace of it, the randomness of the subjects we had to tackle - and it was, after all, achievable.

Flash forwards from 2006 to 2011, and the expected output had climbed to around 30-32 articles - that's four news stories, sourced and researched to fit the client brief, written, edited for publication and uploaded directly to the client's website, in each working hour of the day.

I stuck it out for as long as I could, but in June 2011 I resigned from Adfero DirectNews (you may know them as ContentPlus, NewsReach, or simply under the name 'News Feeds', as they'd just rebranded when I left).

On my 28th birthday, as I recall, I'd booked the day off work. In fact, I had a few days of annual leave to use up, as the end of June was also the end of my holiday year.

I arrived back to find my entire workload had been transferred to other writers. When I asked what I was supposed to do, I was offered the choice of simply leaving the company that same day.

And that's why the beginning of July - and not the end - marks the anniversary of me becoming a freelance copywriter.

It's been an interesting year.

I've worked for friends, acquaintances, ex-teachers and people I've never met - and never will.

I've written online and print copy ranging from ghost-written eBooks that are ostensibly by online marketing experts, to brochures for international brands, to the chattiest of blog posts for online bingo sites - a topic I can't seem to escape but which, luckily, I genuinely love writing about.

I've had clients pay up front, others whose money shows up without fail on the last day of the invoice deadline, and thankfully few late payment issues to contend with.

Most importantly of all, I'm surviving, and thriving, both on the income I'm currently earning, and on my current working conditions.

To those of you who have contributed to my freelancing career so far, I thank you, sincerely. I could not have lasted this long without all of you.

Right now, today, to those of you currently on my books, a specially heartfelt thank you. Your ongoing support means more to me than you would know, and you have given me the ability to turn down work when my instincts say no - perhaps the most significant milestone I have yet reached in this first year.

And to those of you I have not yet met, but who will play a role in my second and future years of freelancing - I look forward to working with you, whoever you may be.

Long may the Phronesis banner fly high, and proudly shall I fly it, in the name of powerful writing, properly informed action, and partnerships that allow us, together, to change our own little corners of the world for the better.

What Does a Copywriter Do?

There's a sense of general discomfort among many copywriters because, frankly, people don't know what we do.

Some writers drop the 'copy' part from their job title because they don't want people to think that we just copy and paste content from one place to another - and if you've ever looked for an original music review, rather than a copied-and-pasted press release from the artist's PR representative, you might be forgiven for thinking that.

Others are unhappy because a lot of the commonly used job titles don't make writing sound like much of an artform; 'copywriter' is all about producing the required word count, 'blogger' is as much about photography, choosing the right subject and promoting it on social networks as it is about writing spot-on copy, and 'wordsmith' just makes us sound like typewriter-monkeys churning out page upon page of adequate text.

I'm currently toying with the title of 'lexician' - a tight and technical approach to constructing pages of text that don't lack the artistry of proper writing, but also combine the essential elements of structure that are needed in either hardcopy marketing materials, or search-visible online articles.

But it's not just the name that matters - it's what we actually do that can leave some would-be clients feeling a little confused. So, here's the breakdown of my usual approach.

Jennie Sawdon reaches North West Wedding Awards 2012 Finals

A huge note of congratulations goes to Jennie Sawdon, the Manchester-based wedding singer who launched her self-produced debut album Fighting the Fairytale in 2010.

Jennie's been a valued friend for some time now, and we've featured her music several times over on Popsiculture, the music blog that I co-author.

So it's great to see her getting the recognition she deserves - this time by reaching the finals of the North West Wedding Awards 2012.

Jennie is shortlisted in the category of Best Entertainment Act in this year's awards, which are run by County Brides magazine.

Voting closes tomorrow (June 7th) and the winners are due to be announced at a gala ceremony to be held on June 23rd at the Midland Hotel.

I really hope Jennie gets the recognition she deserves this year, and can add to her title of Wedding Singer of the Year 2010, as given to her by The Bridal Magazine.

Good luck, Jennie - you deserve it!

A Blog With No Theme

or, How Nickie Refused To Be Typecast

When you're devising a new blog - and that's an entire blog, not just a blog post - there are two extremes to choose from, and a whole spectrum in between.

For many companies, it works best to choose just a couple of very specific topics, and stick to those - giving your blog a clear topic structure, and allowing you to focus on a handful of SEO keywords that you'd like to rank highly for.

But for a personal blog, you're not necessarily so worried about highly competitive keywords and search engine rankings - at least, not at the outset.

Nickie O'Hara is a shining example of how a scatter-gun approach to choosing your blog topics can actually serve as a solid foundation for a highly successful blog.

Her blog, Typecast, has been shortlisted in the finals of the Most Innovative category in the MAD Blog Awards for 2012, as well as a second nomination for Nickie as Most Helpful Blogger.

Typecast is just three years old - and Nickie explains that it did not begin life as a particularly cohesive attempt to create an award-winning blog.

"I started writing my blog in 2009 to document some major life changes and it's grown from there," she says. "My blog doesn't have a theme, which gives me the freedom to write about every subject.

"It's wonderful to know that people enjoy reading what I write, and I'm really excited to have reached the finals of the awards."

Building on Humble Beginnings

In Nickie's case, Typecast is more than her modest description of it - in the space of just a few years, it has grown to offer not only the wide-ranging blog posts that attracted her initial audience, but also several features that are suited to readers who want more structure.

Among other things, she is part of the Blognonymous network, a collective of like-minded bloggers who allow their readers to publish anonymous requests for help - on everything from troubled marriages to suicidal tendencies.

It's a potentially life-saving regular feature that often provides some of the most compelling content, and the liveliest debate, alongside the everyday articles that help to lighten the mood.

Meanwhile, in terms of her 'Most Helpful' nomination, Blognonymous is just one aspect of Nickie's contribution to her readers, which extends across several social networks and an impressively active online and in-person approach to networking in every sense of the word.

You may have seen her asking the questions in the Friday Twiz on Twitter; you may have heard her on her local radio station, talking about her role as a mummy blogger; you may have bumped into her at a blogging conference.

Wherever you've seen or heard her, there's plenty to learn from this seasoned mummy blogger, whose fresh outlook on life pervades her blog posts and continues to attract interest not only from fellow parenting bloggers, but from readers across the internet.

For more about Nickie, visit her blog, I Am Typecast.


If you sometimes feel weak
  because you found The One:
The One whose face you see
  each time you close your eyes;
The One whose voice you hear
  within your thoughts each night;
The One whose touch is
  the one thing to make you feel whole
    - and they were Taken -
  you are not weak.

Dwell not on possibilities,
  on missed proposals and half chances,
    but draw strength in weaker times
      from the love of a friend.

For, Taken or not,
  for better and for worse,
    you are not weak, but lucky;
  for though your timing may have been
    a little off,
  you found The One
    - and that should be enough.

Technical Blogging

Blogging about technical subjects can be a challenge - particularly if your intended audience is not necessarily 'in the know'.

You might understand the intricacies of your topic, but that doesn't make it easy to put them across in words, and being too close to the subject matter can blind you to what's jargon and what's plain English.

However, it's often difficult to find a writer who can understand your industry and who can produce for you a block of text that is:
  • accurate
  • easy to understand
  • search-visible (or marketing-minded, for print publications)
Hire a Genius

The solution is pretty simple - just hire someone who's capable of quickly learning about your product or service, and who can write what you need without confusing your audience.

I've spent my entire life balancing my technical side with my creative side - at college I studied Maths, Physics and English, and at university I passed three semesters of a Physics with Astronomy masters before deciding I couldn't fight my desire to become a writer, and switching to an arts degree.

I'm a certified genius, a member of British Mensa with an IQ in the top 0.5% of the population, and still retain my membership of the Institute of Physics as a science writer.

What this means for you is that, if you're having problems blogging about technical subjects, you can just pay me to do it for you.

What I Can Do

I can write for any format - it doesn't have to be online. I've written print publications about everything from the wholesale wine and spirits trade in Scandinavia, to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.

Do I know all about these industries? No, of course not. But five years as a journalist after I graduated taught me the research skills needed to find out about a subject quickly, and get accurate content written in time for a deadline.

I still apply those skills on a daily basis, blogging across a frankly huge array of different subject areas for businesses and agency clients.

There are very few topics that I haven't at least touched on since 2006, so don't be afraid to ask if you need examples of my past work.

And I typically don't charge for research - if I need to spend longer learning about your industry, that's my problem, so I'd never raise my price because of it, with the rare exception of needing substantial, specific research in order to complete your project.

Still reading? You're probably at least slightly interested in what I can do for you, if so - please get in touch by email or on Twitter, and I'll happily discuss what you need with no obligations.

Penguin-Friendly Web Content

Last time around it was Panda - this time, it's Penguin that's got people panicking.

Google's latest update threatens to remove you from search results (or at least, from the top rankings) if your website content contains too many stuffed-in keywords.

Seriously, if you're worried about being affected by that, you've already missed the point of a decent website.

Starter Blogs for Businesses

It's no easy task to start a business blog, particularly if you have no web design experience. But for many small businesses, blogging is becoming an increasingly useful way to create brand identity, engage with customers and blog readers, and boost the number of inbound links coming into your main website.

Although I'm not a web designer, I have worked with several companies to create a blog presence for them, and I'm always happy to help anyone who's not sure how to start a business blog on a very limited budget.

With that in mind, I've put together my business blog starter pack.

The Phronesis Business Blog Starter Pack

OK, here we go. First, check my pricing page - the one place where I publish my current basic cost per 1,000 words of content.

Now, for the same normal price you'd pay for 1,000 words as an ordinary copywriting customer, I'm offering this to new small business blogging clients:

  • a basic Blogger template and URL
  • 2,000 words of blogging

You can think of that any way you like - half price content and a free blog template, or even cheaper content with a low-cost blog template, or... well, those are the two main interpretations, I guess.

More details below - but if you're interested and can't find the information you need on this page, please ask a question in the comments box below, or contact me via email or Twitter.


The Blogger template I am offering is not entirely custom-made, but I can tweak one of the site's standard themes to match your company's colour scheme and typefaces used on your main website, and add your logo and other graphics.

I'm offering a very low-budget service here, so support is limited, but I will work to provide you with a fully functional blog template that will work perfectly well as a starting point.

What this gives you is a presence on Blogger, a Google-owned blogging platform, with inbound links to your main website, and a place to engage with your customers.

In terms of the content, I will provide you with 2,000 words of blog content as part of the package - you can specify how long you want your blog posts to be, and we can vary the length of each post as needed.

Even if you have no pre-existing SEO strategy, I will repeat key phrases within each post and choose the anchor text of any hyperlinks carefully for maximum SEO impact.

Blog to the Future

What happens when the 2,000 words run out? Well, I can continue to provide you with content at my normal basic rate, depending on your needs.

I will, of course, give you full access to the blog and transfer ownership to you once the invoice for the business blog starter pack is paid, so you can go it alone once the first batch of content is completed if you wish.

This is an unashamedly basic package for small businesses who might not be able to afford a blog presence any other way - I'm genuinely passionate about helping individuals, small e-commerce operations and starter firms to build their brand, so I hope I can help several of you to get started.


This is a cut-price service, and creating your blog template will take me a certain amount of time. If I'm particularly busy with other work, I may be unable to take new orders for business starter blogs, just as I sometimes have to turn down offers of other work - if I'm unable to fit you in, I'll tell you as soon as possible after receiving your enquiry.