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Content Writing Hacks: How to Overcome Writer’s Block

This is a guest post from Cory Edwards, a web copy and content writer who works with Spencer Web Design. You can learn more about him at his website, coryedwardswriter.com

How to Overcome Writer's Block

Introduction

If you have an idea you’re trying to get across, a product you want to sell, or a service to explain, you’ll have to put it in writing from time to time. From web copy and content to letters and emails, you have to write in such a way that moves people to take action.

But writing can be painful. Some of the most famous writers who have ever lived — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, and even Charles M. Schultz — have suffered from writer’s block.

In his groundbreaking work on creativity, writer Stephen Pressfield calls the force that works against all forms of creativity “resistance.” How do you fight it and win?

As a professional web content and copywriter, I’ve had days where just getting started on a project brings unreasonable anxiety. One thousand words on Title Insurance? Seven hundred words on Lighting Production? I open up my computer believing I’ll have nothing to say, that I can’t get coherent words on paper, and that I’ll never be able to do it again.

However, I’ve found several tricks to get me going. Time and again, following a simple task list I’ve created, I always find the words I need when I need them.

My hope is these tips will help you if you’re stuck on a project.

Step 1: Do Some Research and Take Notes

Before you start writing web copy or content,  do some writing-related tasks. Research is a great way to get started, especially with all the information you need so readily available on the web.

First, the Keywords Everywhere plugin can help you refine your Google search and your keywords. If you know what your topic is, look for high-volume search terms to focus on.

Then, click on the articles at the top of the search and start reading. Copy stuff you’d like to include in your article. Of course, you’re not planning on plagiarizing, but you’re not writing yet. You’re stocking your mind with ideas you’ll use later.

As you copy and paste your notes from the website into a document, keep links to your original sources, and type out any other ideas that come to mind.

Step 2: Interview an Expert

I love talking to opinionated and smart people! I’ve written articles for lawyers, real estate agents, audio engineers, physical therapists, and many others. My friend Sue Spencer has, as the saying goes, “forgotten more about web design than I’ll ever learn.” A good long talk with a subject-matter expert will fill out your knowledge on a subject long before you ever have to write a word.

When I talk with an expert, I usually just take notes because I’m a fast typist. If you’re not, you can use a journalism tool called TapeACall. Either way, interviewing a subject-matter expert will give you plenty of grist for the mill.

A note of caution: When interviewing an expert or doing research, it’s easy to jump ahead to structuring and writing your article. Don’t worry about structure now. Let the work go where it wants to. Ask questions when you’re confused. Figure out what you can research later. An don’t get nervous! It will all work out in the end.

Step 3: If You’re the Expert, Free Write!

In many cases, you’ll be the person who knows the topic you’re writing about better than anyone else. Set a timer for ten minutes and write down everything you know on the subject as quickly as possible. In this case, you’re merely taking notes for yourself, the same as if you did research or interviewed someone else.

These notes will likely not be readable for anyone else but you. For example, if you were writing this particular article, you might write:

  • Research
  • Notes from others
  • Notes from self
  • TapeACall
  • Free writing

This is not an outline, a finished article, or even something you’ll want to show a friend. These are merely notes you will employ when it’s time to outline and then write.

Step 4: Talk Through the Article with a Believing Mirror

Wherever you are in the process of writing an article, you’ll often find yourself totally stuck. You’ll need to find a person to talk it through with.

But don’t choose just anyone! Often, good friends or family members will be the last people you’ll want to talk to. You’re looking for a “believing mirror,” a term probably coined by creativity guru Julia Cameron. Believing mirrors are insightful and helpful people who know how to give great feedback.

Ask yourself:

  • Who in my life would want to talk about this topic with me?
  • Who believes in me and the work I’m doing?
  • Who will point out my poor logic?
  • Who can tell me when I’ve crossed the line and said something I’ll regret?

A conversation on the topic you’re writing about with a believing mirror can go a long way to helping you get started on a project you’re stuck on.

Step 5: Find a Good Template

In almost every case, the thing that you’re writing has been written before. If you’re writing your company’s about page, for example, you know you can find several other examples of compelling about pages in your industry within seconds. There are probably a couple of articles that provide a template for you as well.

I spent a good part of my career writing songs for others and myself. The first big realization most songwriters have, after quite a bit of struggle, is that songs are written within a few templates (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus). Once a songwriter discovers song form, she doesn’t feel like she’s starting from scratch with each new song.

Find two or three examples of what you’re trying to write. Pick your favorite and steal the outline. Write the outline in a new document.

See? You’re working on the piece you have to write and still haven’t had to do any actual writing! Exciting, huh?

Step 6: Copy and Paste Your Notes into Your Template

The next step is to match the template you created with the notes you took from research, conversation, or your freewriting. Evaluate every note, copy it, then paste it into the place you think it should be in the template.

Voila! You have an outline!

Step 7: Write a Bad First Draft

It’s hard to tell whether the first or the second draft is more painful to write, but they both can require some deep breathing and a lot of patience.

Thankfully, your first draft can be bad. Actually, it’s going to be bad. Unreadable. Something you’d never share with anyone. This is good news because it means the pressure is off! (Read Anne Lamott’s encouragement from her book Bird by Bird, which is a slightly more colorful phrasing of this advice.)

Your first draft can be considerably longer than you need it to be. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to come up with a USP, tag line, or other kinds of short copy. Narrowing down what you’re saying comes in the next step. For now, just get it all out.

Step 8: Read It Back to Yourself

Often, it helps to do this out loud. If you read a sentence that doesn’t work, fix it. There will be a lot of them, but it’s not because you’re a lousy writer. It’s because every first draft needs work. Don’t be afraid of the process: read, fix, read, fix, get coffee, read, fix ….

This can be frustrating, but remember, no one sees the work you’re putting in at this point. No one is judging you. Fix what you can. Even when you’re done, you’re still not going to show this to the whole world. Relax. It’s not going to be perfect yet.

Step 9: Find a Good Editor

I used to bristle at the idea of working with another person. As a “creative,” I hated the idea of having someone critique my work. I told myself that I didn’t want anyone to destroy its purity.

The truth was a lot less attractive: I was afraid of looking bad in front of another person.

A good editor, however, is one of those “believing mirrors” we discussed earlier. He or she gets you, knows what you’re after, and can make suggestions to improve your work. This person, usually not a family member, is someone who either (a) writes a lot or (b) understands the subject.

Editors are your first audience. Because writing copy and content is communicating with other human beings, you must create a feedback loop at some point. It’s best to rely on an editor for this work.

Are You Struggling Writing Content or Copy for Your Site?

It’s the words on the website that sell your product, service, or idea. It’s the words on a website that tell Google what you’re all about. Along with quality web design and graphics, the words you use communicate the quality of your service.

If you’re stuck in the process, Spencer Web Design can help. We work with writers and editors who can either write the content and copy you need or help you edit it. We can serve as a “believing mirror” when you need it.

If you have writer’s block, give us a call or send us an email. We’d love to help!

The Ultimate Guide to Website Maintenance

Is Your Website About to be Hacked?

When someone wants to learn more about you, the service you offer, or the product you create, they Google you. When a prospect finds your site — assuming they can find it — they make judgments about your business based on what they see. And if you’ve been hacked, well … there’s no telling what they’ll see!

Sometimes, they may notice that your site doesn’t look right on their browser. Or they’re using a mobile device and can’t read the font. In an extreme case, maybe a hacker from somewhere in the world targeted your vulnerable site, exposing your clients to identity theft or offensive material. They can embed links to sites you don’t want associated with you or your brand.

While periodic website redesigns are crucial to every business, regular programming updates to your site will go a long way to keeping you looking great in front of your clients and prospects, and much less desirable to hackers who look for holes in outdated programming. It will also keep you looking good to Google, who has the power to make or break a business online if their algorithm doesn’t like what it sees, especially if you’ve been hacked.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to update your site to maximize its potential, protect you from harm, and allow it to shine a light on who you are and what you do.

Your Website Success Plan

Have you ever logged into your WordPress site and seen that you have several updates in your cue? And then, not knowing what to do, you made one of these two potentially fatal mistakes:

  1. Thought, “I’ll deal with that someday,” and then did nothing.
  2. Updated everything as quickly as possible without backing up so you could move on with your day.

If you want to protect the data on your site, you must act. However, don’t start clicking without a solid plan in place.

Step 1: Back up Your Site

At Spencer Web Design, Inc., we like to back up frequently and keep several kinds of backups at our disposal. If you don’t have a service contract with a webmaster, we recommend you do the following:

  1. Keep a pristine copy of your original web design on a hard drive.
  2. Do full backups of the site and files at least once monthly, keeping the last two backups.
  3. Perform daily or weekly database backups, depending on how often you update your content.

If you or your webmaster aren’t already using Google’s  Webmaster Console, consider connecting to it. They’ll often catch when your site has problems or been hacked and notify you, and you can revert quickly to one of your backups before diving in and trying to fix the problem with a professional.

Step 2: Start Updating, but Do It Gradually

When you’re updating your website, especially if it’s been a while, do it incrementally.

  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but start with a backup of your site. As you progress, check your pages after each update and make sure they still display correctly.

 

  1. Update the core programming and check it. If the update is a small change (for example, from 5.2 to 5.3), you can usually update with confidence. If it’s a full version upgrade (i.e., 5.7 to 6.0), we recommend bringing in a professional to perform and test the update.

 

  1. Update your theme or template. As of the publication of this article, WordPress’s core programming update, Gutenberg, has made significant changes to the programming interface by switching to a “block editor.” The new editor may not work with your current theme, especially if it overlays a block editor. Proceed with caution and watch for compatibility fixes.

 

  1. Update your plugins one at a time. If you update several at a time and something breaks, you won’t know which plugin caused the problem.

As you update, be on the lookout for plugins abandoned by their developers. Since third parties develop many WordPress plug-ins, and several are free, make sure they’ve updated in the past couple of months. If they haven’t, you may experience problems either with the security it provides or its compatibility with the core-programming or theme.

Again, we recommend backing up after each programming update. As soon as something doesn’t work, you can revert to a previous backup.

Additionally, as you check each update, make sure to refresh your page, try different browsers, and clear your cache to make sure you’re getting a current and fresh version of your site.

Step 3: Update Your Content to Enhance Your Rankings

The words on your website, whether in the metadata or on the pages themselves, help Google find you. Make sure each page of your website is about one thing. Everything you post should be related to the keyword you’re building the page around, whether it’s a service you offer or idea you’re sharing, even if it’s not a direct correlation.

Though you can update or replace individual pages with better, more targeted copy, Google prefers that you not remove content from your website.

But keep adding content! Use your blog to provide non-salesy information that the kind of people who are interested in your brand will find useful: blog posts related to your product or service, seasonal tips, fun stories about your industry, and case studies.

Step 4: The Surprising Benefit of Social Media Updates

If your website points to a social media site, make sure you’re providing regular updates. Though it’s good marketing — staying top-of-mind and providing useful content — there’s an SEO purpose as well.

Google wants to make sure you’re active if they’re going to send people your way. If you have social sites you’ve decided not to use, but you link to them from your website, remove those links. (Delete your Google+ links today! That service no longer exists.)

Step 5: Consider Hiring a Web Maintenance Service

For many, doing all of this work can be frightening. You need to develop a routine and a plan to keep everything working correctly, but even then, you’re not sure if hitting the “update” button will bring everything crashing down!

At Spencer Web Design, we love maintenance!

First, we spend a lot of time backing up our sites: multiple database backups a week, multiple monthly site backups, and a copy of the original site for all of our clients.

With our Premium Managed WordPress Hosting plan, we take care of all software and plugin updates for you. At least once a month (oftentimes more) we’ll update your site’s programming and plugins, making sure it continues to work optimally. We also “armor-up” with special security software to protect your site from malware and unwanted intrusions.

If you’ve neglected your site and have found yourself in an emergency, we can still help you. But proper maintenance is less expensive. It’s the “ounce of prevention” that prevents the need for that “pound of cure.”

New WordPress Editor Coming Soon!

Old and new WordPress EditorsAfter months in beta testing, it looks like the new WordPress Gutenberg editor is about to be pushed out with the next major release. Not all are happy about the new editor, and we anticipate that a number of sites will break, especially the ones that relied on shortcodes. Not to worry though, you will be able to use a new plugin that essentially locks Gutenberg out and allows you to continue to use the original editor. That should buy you enough time to get your virtual ducks in a row and embrace the new technology. If you run into problems, please give us a call. We can help you navigate the murky Gutenberg waters.

The Importance of Having SSL

Secure HTTPS imageSo let’s start with the basics. What is SSL? SSL stands for Secure Socket Layers. All you really need to know is that having an SSL certificate on your hosting account is what provides the security for your website. If your website is secure, you’ll see a closed green padlock icon in the address bar, and instead of starting with “HTTP” your web address will change to “HTTPS”. (The “S” stands for secure.)

For many years, the only websites that had to be concerned with having an SSL certificate were eCommerce sites or those asking for personal information like your financial information or your social security number. But all of that has changed. Now we have a number of factors that are prompting us to secure ALL websites, not just high-risk sites. And ranking higher with Google is just one of the benefits.

Let’s look at the advantages of having HTTPS:

HTTPS protects your website and any communication between the website and your users’ browsers. So what does that mean? If you have a WordPress site that is not secured with HTTPS, for instance, your username can be intercepted by cyber criminals when you are logging in. That’s half the battle for them. Now they can use your login name along with a bot that tries to guess your password to gain access to your website. Bots don’t eat, sleep or need to take breaks. So if you don’t have additional security on your website that limits failed login attempts, you could be in trouble. Your users could start seeing strange ads, your website might starting linking to all kinds of low quality sites like “imitation Gucci bags” and “cheap Marlborough cigarettes”, or worse yet, your viewers might get their computers infected just by visiting your website. Scary stuff. And definitely not something you want to be responsible for!

But if you have move your site over to HTTPS, all communication between your browser and that website will be secure. No more eavesdropping!

Google and SSL

Google announced a few years ago that they were moving toward having SSL as the standard for all websites. And late in 2017, the Chrome browser started flagging websites that were unencrypted (unsecured). If you have a web form that takes text inputs or have a search bar where text is inserted, or if you have a website that starts with “HTTP” instead of HTTPS, the Google Chrome browser flags your site as being “Not Secure”. Even if you’re not taking payments online, seeing that “Not Secure” message in the address bar isn’t the best user experience to have. It’s hard enough to get people’s attention, now you have something negative that you have to overcome.

By moving to HTTPS you can avoid potential negative impressions and concentrate on your sales/marketing message. The SSL Certificate will help you build trust with your customers and protect the credibility of your brand.  And it also gives you a small boost with Google!  That’s something we all want to take advantage of.

Is a WordPress Website Right for You?

It’s 2017, and consumers are using digital technology more than ever  before. Around 80% of households own at least one smartphone. People are also connecting via laptops, tablets, smartwatches, televisions, and gaming consoles, and more. In this digitally connected world, every business needs an updated, user-friendly, and authentic website to stand out among its competitors. WordPress offers businesses of all sizes the tools to do just that.

How Do Businesses Use WordPress?

WordPress logoMany people associate WordPress with smaller blogs, small business websites, and personal sites. While many smaller organizations can benefit greatly from WordPress, large businesses also use this website creation and design tool to build innovative and beautiful website experiences. Companies including PlayStation, BBC America, Disney, and The New York Times Company all use WordPress to reach their audiences.
As an open source PHP based tool, WordPress offers incredible flexibility for any number of website projects. Today, millions of people use it to build powerful websites, manage content, and build brand equity online.

8 Benefits of Choosing WordPress

In addition to WordPress, businesses can build websites using Joomla, Drupal, or other open source tools designed for web-based projects. While many of these software options offer the same basic functionality, individuals and businesses tend to gravitate to one or the other based on preference and available support. Of all the open source content management systems available today, WordPress consistently rates as the most popular.

Those who prefer WordPress choose the tool because:

  • WordPress is intuitive. WordPress developers offer thousands of themes, widgets, and plugins that do not require any special tech skills to use. With the right combination of features, anyone can update a website to keep it looking fresh and exciting over time. Many businesses rely on outside support to get their websites up and running but bring many daily activities in-house later to save time and money.
  • It is great for SEO. A website is the cornerstone of a brand’s digital presence – it is crucial to online success. To deliver ROI, however, a website needs to gain visibility. Search engine optimization activities help brands stand out in Google and other search engines, and Google notices WordPress sites. If you choose WordPress as a foundation for your web design, you have taken the first step toward better website performance and online visibility.
  • A thriving community supports the WordPress system. Whether you want to dive into online tutorials and build a website yourself or partner with a professional team, you can shape your WordPress journey in a number of ways. Many businesses don’t have the time or the technical background to build a website that prioritizes the user experience and drives customer journeys. These businesses can partner with designers and developers who can take their WordPress website to the next level.
  • It is scalable. Start your business with a WordPress site and continue to use it as you grow. Some individuals use WordPress to build a blog and later expand to share their brand experiences with the world. Build one or a hundred pages without sacrificing website quality or performance. Consider WordPress as all-inclusive web design system.
  • It is fully customizable. Brands don’t have to use WordPress’s preexisting designs or plugins to build a robust and functioning site. The tool gives website owners the flexibility to create a fully customized and unique website. Often, designers use preexisting themes and their own creative portfolios to help site owners visualize color schemes, capabilities, layouts, and multi-media options.
  • It is flexible. Brands can use WordPress to create multi-functional websites. A modern website can do much more than relay company information. Brands can create a seamless online shopping experience, manage memberships or subscriptions, manage appointments, and more with a WordPress-based website. Professionals can use the system to create a modern and interactive portfolio or gallery of their work. Whether you’re showcasing your restaurant’s latest menu items or marketing a new and innovative product, a WordPress site can help you reach your business goals.
  • It is cost-effective. As an open source tool, WordPress is completely free to use. Individuals and businesses can modify the source code as they see fit or use the system in its current format without worrying about additional fees. Businesses that partner with WordPress designers only pay for the professional services and customizations they use, not the tool itself.
  • It is secure. Cybersecurity is a major concern for businesses of all sizes in today’s world. WordPress strives to maintain the security of its system. WordPress represents a secure website option for small business and enterprise websites, and provides site owners with the ability to strengthen security for improved risk management.
  • It is easy to maintain. Create, publish, and schedule future blog and content updates with ease using the user-friendly WordPress platform. Users can even access WordPress from a mobile device. For busy businesses, this level of content update flexibility can keep any marketing or branding campaign on track. Take care of all your website maintenance needs from the WordPress dashboard.

With a WordPress site, businesses can choose their own website hosts. Host your website with any number of professional web hosting companies. Change as needed without sacrificing your website and starting over.

As more brands partner with WordPress for their web designs, the system grows stronger and more user friendly. Today, it offers individuals and designers a range of capabilities and plugins that can transform any basic site into a mobile-friendly, search-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing online destination.

Consider Spencer Web Design for Your WordPress Project

Whether you’re investing your business’s very first website or you need to redesign an under-performing website, WordPress offers everything you need to transform your online presence and build brand equity. At Spencer Web Design, we specialize in WordPress website design projects for businesses of all sizes.

We can help you build a customized and easy-to-use site that your business can use to build and maintain a thriving digital presence. From developing a new design to marketing your business online, Spencer Web Design is a full service digital marketing firm. Contact us today to learn more about how your business can use WordPress to stand out online.