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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!

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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.”

- Copyblogger on “magnetic headlines”

Shit happens

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:

  1. Make the headline a question (or an answer) – “Why you should…” “Do key words…?”
  2. 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.

I said:

“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.

…or die.

 

 

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 7th, 2013 at 1:59 am and is filed under Blog, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 comments

  1. Brian Clark says:

    Thanks for the laugh.

  2. Good advice, wrapped in an inflammatory title that’s guaranteed to get clicks? You’ve got this blogging thing down, haven’t you Alastaire? ;)

  3. Amy Fowler says:

    Great article. Though I do think Copyblogger still holds value for some people. Particularly those that are just starting out. I mean, what good is the advice ‘be different’ if they don’t even know what the norm is?

    However I agree, that for most of us, the advice to be different is pretty much all we need to know.

    Thanks for opening my eyes to what a lovely bloke Brian Clarke is too……..

  4. Thanks!

    I don’t think Copyblogger’s so terrible – it’s just still serving hamburgers when so many of us are hungry for steak. Compare any Copyblogger post to Tom’s excellent and heartfelt post on blogging. No competition.

  5. Thanks for the link and kind words.

    As you say, Copyblogger is the Macdonald’s of copywriter blogging. It’s a good place to start if you’re hungry, but it won’t meet all your dietary needs, by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, because of its size and prominence, it does kinda come across as comprehensive/authoritative, whether by accident or design. And because of the other commercial goals that the site has, it has a particular interest in getting traffic from a particular segment of the web (new/aspiring writers), which does affect the sort of content that gets published.

    As you say, the key for new writers is to shop around a bit for their guidance. Blogs, by their nature, will push you in one direction. And, as I noted in my piece, individual posts may set out a particular viewpoint in a very powerful, convincing way that needs to be complemented by a different perspective.

    Often, you’ll find those other perspectives in weird-looking, salty old blogs by copywriters who barely even acknowledge the fact they are copywriters (e.g. http://www.ben-kay.com , http://notvoodoo.blogspot.co.uk, http://bravenewmalden.com). Typically, you will find questions rather than answers; possibilities rather than certainties; obsessions rather than generalities. That might be discomfiting or confusing when you’re starting out, but ultimately it will get you where you need to be a lot quicker.

  6. Thanks Tom, these are some brilliant blogs. I need to start using RSS again instead of getting all my news from Twitter and really “go deep” into some of the better blogs out there.

  7. Matt Davenport says:

    it’s actually two dozen and one greyhounds. the one that stands up, looks ‘like a little rory calhoun’.
    Good points though- so much copy out there is formulaic, boring and tends to put me off reading further.

  8. Worst. Blog post. Ever!

    But seriously, thanks for commenting. Interestingly, while I was doing my research (yes, I do research my posts! :D) I came across this – http://www.stevescottsite.com/blog-headline-swipe-file

    3 years of Copyblogger headlines in a pdf download – this guy is suggesting you actually use them as a “swipe file” to create your own headlines… for me it just drove home the point of how formulaic and boring the site had become.

    There _is_ some good stuff on that site. But as others have pointed out, it shouldn’t be your only — or even your main — course.

  9. Dave Colgate says:

    Possibly the best headline I’ve read for, well, forever. Certainly made me click. I was expecting the article to be an empty and valueless rant at what I deem to be a very valuable and reputable source of information. How wrong was I? Great content that will certainly get me sharing it. In terms of Copyblogger; I still think it’s a great source of content with tons of actionable advice, but I have to admit, you’ve made me think differently about it and prompted my thoughts to swing toward more out-of-the-box thinking rather than consistently coming back to the same old template approach that Copyblogger offers. Going to peruse the rest of your blog now …

  10. SaltyDroid says:

    I think sending noobs to Copyblogger is a terrible idea. Maybe there’s some okay basic info about online copywriting {not my department so I really don’t know} … but there’s also something very dangerous hiding there that far outweighs any possible benefits.

    How was a noob supposed to know how bad it would be to get involved with members of the Internet Marketing “Syndicate” when Copyblogger was pushing them as the holders of secret secrets? Just one example of the many I could name if Clark ever wanted to man-up and have a recorded conversation with me about how badly his actions have harmed society.

    Good post … and headline.

  11. Thanks Salty Droid – Loving the gonzo style!

  12. Tia Dobi says:

    Hello AA ~

    Free downloads… original articles… I’m sure Claude Hopkins would be proud.
    (same as it ever was)

    Hmmm… there’s nothing intersting about this:

    [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.

    Interestingly, ironically, paradoxically…. usually mis-used by pro- and no-pro writers.

    UT wrote about his guest post – so what (yawn).

    Two writers seeing the same thing… natural as a leaf falling from a tree, not interesting.

    If you’re going to invite readers to call you – make the sale easy – include the phone number. (Old and worthwhile advice. Don’t make the prospect work.)

    Now go sell something.

    Peace and profits,

    Tia D.

    P.S. Everything you read on CB is shit… not a bad headline… a statement of opinion and not everything is shit. The Shit That Permeates CopyBlogger
    The Shit Running Through CB Veins… And… CB provides more fodder for and quoted in this article… touting your book… c’mon now… how many ideas are in this one post and what’s ONE takeaway the reader can repeat (memorise and use quickly)? Just one: Everything You Read In Copyblogger Is Shit.

    Got the whole story in the headline.

  13. Tia,

    Thank you for commenting. However, I disagree.

    There are some salient points in your comment that I would like to address:

    1. What does Claude Hopkins have to do with anything?

    2. Some people may find UT’s experience interesting. I did, and it was written in my tone of voice. What’s “interesting’ about it is that writing for Copyblogger doesn’t give you as much attention as most people think. Plenty of people find that fact “interesting”. Including me.

    3. My phone number is already printed on every page of the site. Did it occur to you that “give me a call” was meant more of a rhetorical “hey, I don’t operate a closed shop here” than a physical desire for the thousand or so people who’ve read this post to start bombarding me with calls night and day? I know what a call to action is and when to link it. In this case, it wasn’t appropriate or necessary as the aim was to prove a point, not to maximise response rates.

    4. The language you use “prospect” “sell something” etc is not the way I do business. I prefer to value people as equals, rather than as “prospects”.

    5. I state in the body copy that the headline is a statement of opinion. Why are you trying to tell me something I already know?

    6. Yes, I’m touting my book. Something I openly admit to in the post – several times.

    7. I give the book away for free. Copyblogger charges a great deal of money for a lot of marketing products that have questionable value.

    8. This post makes three arguments about Copyblogger that do not fit in the provocative headline:
    a) the advice is old (would you trust a designer who’s still designing the way he did in 2006?)
    b) too many people use it (leading to both fatigue and the “human centipede” problem mentioned by UT)
    c) Copyblogger isn’t reaching out or listening to people with alternative opinions.

    “Now go and sell something” etc. I find your tone patronising and unpleasant. Of the thousand or so people to pass through my site this week, you are the first person to rub me up the wrong way (both here and on Twitter – where you started insulting me and claiming I was trying to make “a buck” off Copyblogger – before I’d even had time to respond to your comment here). Not cool.

  14. Tia Dobi says:

    Hi,

    You wrote to me on Twitter and I responded.

    Maybe Heather Lloyd can answer your question “What does Claude Hopkins have to do with anything”. (I read her blogpost today and that’s how I found this post… it’s linked within her blog.)

    Reader… prospect… you understand the meaning of the sentence I wrote.

    “Now go sell something” is a line I post out frequently… it’s my way of saying… “Keep going strong.”

    Of… if you don’t want to sell something… then simply don’t. It’s your choice in life what you do and don’t do.

    As I said on Twitter… Blessings!

  15. As you also said on Twitter, “stop trying to make a buck off copyblogger”.

    I didn’t “write to you on Twitter” – _You_ started the conversation there in the most inflammatory, accusatory way possible (before giving me time to respond here) and I responded to your tweet sounding off about my motivations – where you claimed I was “making a buck” off the back of someone else’s work.

    I hope I have proven that was not the intention of this post, and also explained why some of those accusations upset me.

    Yes, I’m trying to “sell” my book on here (and that CTA is linked!) but the book is something I give away for free, because I feel very passionately about the subject. Compare to Copyblogger – who is selling marketing materials for $$$ that I think is an attempt to make “a buck”. And a quick one at that.

    Again, thank you for commenting – I was unaware of your catchphrase, I apologise for taking it to mean something else.

    Hope this reply clears the air, your comments – particularly on Twitter – came off as hostile and I felt the need to defend myself from what I felt were untruthful accusations.

    Alastaire

  16. Thanks for stopping by my post on the subject (http://mkronline.com/2012/10/02/is-copyblogger-media-a-huge-scam/) and sharing your own take.

    It’s good to see I’m not the only one with misgivings about Copyblogger and co. All these bad reviews and negative comments from Brian Clark aren’t helping the situation.

  17. Joan Kearns says:

    Having coffee this a.m. and you guys are putting a smile on my face.

  18. hahahaha! that’s the best laugh i’ve had in a long time … thx alastaire: spot on!

  19. Svetlana says:

    Well, not everything you read on copyblogger is shit. This is exaggerated.

    But, some things are definitely wrong. Copyblogger has become like a cult, and many people blindly follow the advice they read in their articles, whithout even thinking a little bit.

    Beware! Not every advice you read there is suitable for your business. Think first, and then implement it. Do not be a zombi, do not follow blindly any authority!

  20. Dare says:

    Hi Alastaire ,

    The title of this post caught my attention on Google search, hence my reason being here.

    Copyblogger is damn good, I for one do not really believe in the stuff, but its still great for newbies starting out in the blogging world. I simply believe in writing naturally, allowing the ideas to flow seamlessly.

    The major thing and long term strategic format is to carve a niche of style for yourself. Stand different…..that’s all.

    Thanks for sharing

  21. Nicky Willis says:

    Wow!!! Reading lots of blogs on blogs recently and I have to say that I like yours the most. Many other’s appear to be blags rather than blogs and as a noob, it’s so disheartening to discover.

    As for Copyblogger, I took a quick look last week and it seemed to have some useful info there but I mentally filed it in the ‘bored the life out of me’ category. Your blog has sparked an interest in it though and I shall now go back to see if there is anything I can do in the opposite way of course ;)

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