Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Be useful

It's unfortunate that Blogger software doesn't include the capability to categorize blog entries by type (for an example of that, see J. LeRoy's blog or TheZorg, both done with Typepad).

This allows readers to follow not the entire blog but simply the category that interests them. The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out blog entries usually fall into one or two of the following categories:

  • Lifestyle (home, garden, food, travel, shopping, clothes, dining out)
  • Politics and society
  • Technology
  • Cats
  • Writing and communications
  • Local Seattle/Ballard news and events
  • How-to's
  • Personal stories (family, relationships, etc.)

I use free StatCounter software to track traffic to the blog, and it's always a humbling experience to see that the heavy readership is not for my personal rants and raves but for those blog entries with useful information (usually the how-to's). I may fancy myself a writer with "something to say," but what the Internet marketplace tells me is that my value to society is as an explainer who can present information clearly: How to use an ice-cream maker, how to caulk a tub, how to figure out what's wrong with your stove, how to care for a cat with cancer, what new products to use in your garden.

In my non-Mysterious life, I'm currently doing some writing about the direct marketing business, and have subscribed to several newsletters and feeds from direct marketing organizations. Today I came across this article by Nick Usborne on writing effective direct marketing emails. He points out that, even once we excise the industry jargon from our writing, we still end up writing copy that is so bland and, well, expected, that no one listens.

While he doesn't address one of the problems I've often encountered as a copywriter (have to write something that appeals to the marketing department head honcho instead of to the customer), Usborne presents some concrete examples of how to spice up an email. He concludes "Be specific. Be useful. And avoid saying things in the same way you have said them before."

The stats prove him right: Useful is what gets those click-throughs.

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