January 7, 2013Everything you read on Copyblogger is shit
Update March 2014: Before you read this old post, I’d like to point out that in the last few months the team at Copyblogger has expanded and updated significantly and started posting lots of good, new, relevant content again. The Copyblogger pool is no longer stagnant, it’s been refreshingly refreshed. Nice work, guys!
I’m going to level with you. “Everything you read on Copyblogger is shit” was not the original title of my post. But then I thought I’d take some of Copyblogger’s advice:
“Remember, every element of compelling copy has just one purpose — to get the next sentence read. And then the sentence after that, and so on, all the way down to your call to action. So it’s fairly obvious that if people stop at the headline, you’re already dead in the water.”
Does Copyblogger’s advice sound pat to you? Well, that’s because it is. In fact, it’s part of an 11 part series on pat. Copyblogger’s typical advice is to make headlines irresistible in one of two ways. I’ll give you the TL;DR version:
- Make the headline a question (or an answer) – “Why you should…” “Do key words…?”
- Use a number – “10 sure fire ways to…” “9 proven reasons…”
8 out of 11 of Copyblogger’s series of posts use exactly this method. And even though it’s a fairly old series, 8 / 10 people are probably still using this method today.
You’ll notice it’s not the method I’ve used. But I managed to get your attention. I could have called this post “Why everything you read…” but I didn’t. I simply made a bold, irresistible statement (of opinion). And I made sure it stood out.
Stand out and be counted
A couple of weeks ago, as occasionally happens, I found myself having coffee with a girl. We both have high-stress, client-focused jobs, and spend our lives attached to our phones.
Something urgent came up. She asked me if I knew how to flag an email as “urgent” on the iPhone. I did not.
“Urgent” messages are usually sent by people with a sense of entitlement and they get pushed down, not up, in the queue.
Flag your message as “unimportant”. It’ll be irresistible. What could possibly be so “unimportant” someone actually took time to flag it as such?”
And that, as copywriters, is what we do.
In a crowded world where we’re constantly bombarded with messages vying for our attention, we find ways to make our messages stand out. And if you follow what Copyblogger says, you do not. It’s that simple. Because everyone else is doing the same thing.
It’s not Copyblogger’s fault. It’s yours. You’ve cluster bombed the web — and your readers have gone to ground.
Inevitable plug for my own work coming up
In my book, Think Like a Copywriter, I use the example from the classic Simpsons episode where Mr Burns is about to slaughter a hundred greyhounds to make a fur tuxedo out of them — but he saves the one puppy that stands on its hind legs and barks.
That is what you are trying to do. If you don’t want to be turned into a fur coat, get on your hind legs and bark. Stand up and be counted. Be different. Be the one guy who stands out.
Be different. Ok, but how?
My book is a good start. It teaches you a framework without teaching technique, enabling you to create your own tone of voice. And that’s what makes it different to all the other “101 great sales closes” books you’ll read. The fact that my book is different from what’s come before is what has made it (and, to an extent, me) a success.
But already students have begun reading my book – and even quoting my ideas in their essays. Buyer beware. Everyone who reads my book is familiar with my method. What are you going to do to stand out?
Tom Albrighton recently wrote a truly superb – in fact, stunning – article about why you should write your own blog, and why it should come from the heart. He says:
“Like the rings of a tree, a blog shows where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come. In the early days of this blog, I barely knew what I was writing about, or who for.”
Barely two years ago, when clients came to me for advice on content marketing, I used to recommend they go to Copyblogger. It’s the equivalent of telling people who are hungry to go to McDonalds. You know the formula. Startup? Read Fast Company. Blogger? Copyblogger.
My own personal journey in 2012 was to finally understand that success comes from one thing and one thing alone: standing out from the crowd.
These days, if I see another one of those “10 reasons you must…” “Why you absolutely have to…” posts, I skip over them. Because they’re victims of the “Blogging Human Centipede” problem of regurgitation memorably pointed out by unmemorabletitle.co.uk.
Interestingly, Unmemorable Title has also written about the week he guest posted on Copyblogger — supposedly the most powerful content marketing blog in the world — with surprisingly mediocre results.
I got in touch with Copyblogger last month and offered them a guest post on why readers need to break out of the bubble and start finding their own voices instead of following “expert” advice.
This was their reply:
“Thank you for your interest in guest posting for Copyblogger. Unfortunately we don’t accept unsolicited guest posts at this time. We have a pool of guest writers we work with, and we have a full queue of posts for the site.”
Thanks, guys. You kinda proved my point.
Diversify or die
Copyblogger has been stale for a long time now. What’s the one lesson biology should teach us? Diversity is good.
Closed communities with limited genetic material to draw on become inbred and incestuous. Just look at the royal family — porphyria, haemophilia, even ginger hair.
Only a fool would draw their water from just one well. What happens when that well runs dry?
Copyblogger should take a leaf out of Prince William’s book and look for an injection of fresh blood. You should, too.
Copyblogger’s advice isn’t wrong. It’s just old.
If this seems like a cruel post, that’s because it is. But it’s not aimed at Copyblogger. It’s aimed squarely at you.
The series of articles I’m picking on dates back to 2006. Trouble is, a lot of you are still using those old techniques. Even Copyblogger only uses them half the time. Of course, he’s aware that rules are made to be broken. The trick is to know when a technique becomes old and devalued. Do you?
Copyblogger’s old advice on headlines is a lot like the old advice you used to get on SEO — once everyone’s polluting the internet with it, it doesn’t work any more. These days, I skip those cheesy headlines every time I see them. Because I know the posts will be worth nothing.
The techniques that work these days are offering free downloads (I offer a book and a briefing template — many designers offer free wordpress themes, and so on) and creating original, high quality articles you can’t find anywhere else on the web — like Tom’s post on blogs. In short, stay current. But be yourself.
But don’t take my word for it…
When I was interviewed last year, I was asked what the one piece of advice I would give at a seminar is. This was my reply:
Forget everything you’ve heard. No, seriously. You’ll learn a lot more by doing than by listening. Make your own mistakes. Learn from them.
It’s the only piece of advice I’ll ever give you that I expect you to follow.
And by the way — if anyone wants to guest post on my blog, feel free to give me a call.
Learn. Adapt. Diversify.