What’s more important for B2B businesses: brand building or lead generation? 

Naturally if you ask a PR agency, they’ll say brand building and if you ask a performance marketing agency, they’ll say the opposite. Some will say you need both, but what does that mean for your marketing plan’s time and budget? What does it look like in terms of ratios? 60:40? 80:20? 50:50?

The answer will depend on many factors: your audience, your market, your growth stage, and the nature of your product or service. If you were looking for exact percentages, I’m afraid you won’t find them here or anywhere else (unless that place is trying to sell you PR or lead generation). 

Instead we’ll give you some food for thought on what your priorities might be. But first, some definitions…

What is lead generation?

We don’t really need to define lead generation, since it’s pretty self explanatory. Lead generation gets you leads.

It’s the world of Google search ads, social media ads, banner ads on websites, landing pages,   – anything that can push people over the line to make a purchase then and there – or at least give some contact details so you can follow up with email campaigns or direct sales outreach later.

It’s also worth talking about growth marketing here. This is a relatively new term that encompasses a data driven, experiment-based, performance model that essentially prioritises lead gen. It experiments to find the optimum spend for different marketing channels, so that new businesses can acquire as many customers as possible for as little cost as possible.

“Ultimately brand building should shift how people think and feel about and towards a brand for the better.”

What is brand building?

Brand building is a bit more nuanced in terms of what it is and does. 

Strictly speaking, anything that your business does to get noticed for the right reasons can be considered brand building. This makes it something that goes beyond the marketing department and into the remit of product design, customer service and even some aspects of HR.

Lead generation and brand building definitely overlap, especially when it comes to content. But there are tactics that lean more towards brand building than led gen, such as:

Ultimately brand building should shift how people think and feel about and towards a brand for the better.

Which one gets results?

It’s pretty easy to measure how effective lead gen or growth marketing tactics are and prove their effectiveness.

You host a webinar and get 100 emails for your sales team to follow up on. You put money behind a LinkedIn campaign and get a dozen demo requests. These numbers can be tied fairly easily to the bottom line.

There’s a catch though – not all leads convert. Many companies throw loads of money at lead gen and see middling results. Either because they don’t get quality leads or they don’t have the content they need to nurture those leads once they get them. So it’s not as simple as more lead gen spend = more sales.

With brand building, attribution is far less obvious though. It’s unlikely that a football-loving Head of Procurement will see your brand’s logo on their team’s strip and immediately feel the urge to do business with you.

But what if your team sponsorship builds a positive feeling towards your brand in that Head of Procurement’s thoughts? And what if later they’re trying to choose between you and a close competitor? It may well be what pushes them over the line. You’ll never be 100% sure though.

The 95-5 rule of B2B marketing

The problem with B2B marketing is that only 5% of your target audience is likely to be actively looking to buy at any given time. The other 95% may well be interested in the future but not yet. This is the 95-5 rule, which came out of a recent study by Professor John Dawes and the B2B Institute.

It’s not like selling haircuts or manicures, where a pay-per-click campaign can quickly redirect someone searching for ‘manicures in Bristol’ to make a booking at your new salon. B2B buying decisions often involve an audience that doesn’t understand what you do, a product that they won’t need for two years, or a service with such a high price tag that people will conduct serious research before they commit to any kind of decision.
That means it’s potentially more important for your B2B marketing activities to build a positive impression of your brand rather than just attempt to generate a lead then and there. That way you’ll be able to engage the 95% as well as the 5%. And done right, you won’t just create a positive impression, you’ll create trust.

FURTHER READING: Reinventing the buyer’s journey: introducing the RH&Co content marketing framework

Long term vs short term marketing

Brand building will introduce you to a wider audience so that when they’re searching for solutions in one-to-five years, you at least make the shortlist. 

But sometimes, you can’t wait that long. You need your product launch in three months time to hit the ground running; you need cash flow to cover the costs of your new hires, or you need to get in front of your early adopters so you can begin to build brand momentum. Here lead generation is your friend.

Once you have that traction, brand building can help sustain it. For many B2B businesses, referral partners are an important source of leads. Brand building fuels the conversation with these key contacts, creating brand advocates from people and businesses that lie outside of your direct target audience. 

Brand building can also increase customer lifetime value. You’re far more likely to renew your contract with your design agency if they’ve just won a prestigious award, for example. You’re also more likely to recommend them to others in your network. 

At Rin Hamburgh & Co, the overwhelming majority of our business comes through referrals, recommendations and ongoing clients. If we turned off all our lead generation taps tomorrow, there might not be much difference. Intriguingly, that’s exactly what happened recently with Uber, Airbnb, P&G, eBay and a whole long list of household names who decided they were through with performance marketing.

Creating a balanced marketing plan

So, back to our original question – how do you decide where to allocate the most time and budget when creating your marketing plan? 

Well, as Peter Drucker said, “Long-term results cannot be achieved by piling short-term results on short-term results.”

If your company is in its early growth stage, you probably need to prioritise short term results so you can get some momentum going, keep the bills paid, and sprint to the next funding round. Lead gen might do you wonders, and stop you from getting distracted by vanity metrics. Your blog can play a vital role in attracting and nurturing those leads too.  

But if your organisation is struggling to qualify leads, catch the attention of bigger clients, or needs to stand out as an authority in your field, you’ll want to focus more on brand building. 

For the best results, try to do both, dialling one or the other up a notch as the needs of the business evolve. Taking the long term view of a brand marketer and combining it with the results-focused mindset of a lead gen marketer plus growth marketing’s experimental approach is a powerful strategy that will take you far.

For more insights into how to split your marketing budget, check out the business benefits of blogging – and how to sell them to your boss.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

As a marketing manager, you know that creating and maintaining a good, effective blog for a business isn’t easy. It takes time, thought, skill and budget. You also know that the business benefits of blogging absolutely outweigh the costs – but getting your boss on board is another matter.

Here’s a refresher to help you state your case – with metrics you can track to help demonstrate the return your blog will be able to generate for the business.

1) Driving traffic to your website

There are many places we can create and host content these days, from social media to publishing platforms like Medium. These all have their advantages but there’s a key problem – you’re not in control of those platforms. As Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, says: “Don’t build your content on rented land.”

Because your blog sits on your website, you’re in control. It also makes it a great tool for attracting visitors. This can be done in different ways (e.g. via search, social media, or direct outreach) and is useful for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the more people you attract to your site, the more people you are likely to convert in some way.

What to track: Look at which page your website visitors land on first. If the percentage arriving through your blog increases, you know it’s doing its job attracting people to your site. You can also set up Google Search Console to show you which blogs are attracting the most visits from different keywords.

2) Improving your website’s SEO

Even if your primary means of attracting people to your blog is via social media, publishing blog content on your website will improve your site’s SEO in a number of ways:

What to track: There are lots of ways to judge how successful your content is for SEO, from where you rank for a given keyword to the volume of organic traffic you get.

3) Creating a source of content for your social media channels

A blog is foundational content, giving you something you can share and repurpose to engage with your audience across your social channels.

Think about this article, for example. It wouldn’t take all that much work to turn it into a series of social posts, each featuring one benefit. This could take the form of a visual carousel on Instagram, for example.

You can draw out and share a single quote or statistic, use the premise of the blog to pose a question for your audience, or link it to a sales message. And you can mix up the formatting too, recording the key message in audio or video form.

What to track: To showcase how your blog supports your social strategy, you could track how much time you spend creating social content, as well as engagement levels.

“Blogging isn’t just about generating lots of attention at the top of the funnel – it’s also about helping to close the deal once your audience is further along their buyer journey.”

4) Converting traffic to leads

According to DemandMetric, companies that blog get an average of 67% more leads than those that don’t. Wherever a particular blog post is positioned in terms of the buyer journey, it can help your audience move one step along with an appropriate call to action.

If your audience is still unclear about their problem – what the RH&Co blogging framework calls ‘in the dark’ – you would start with softer CTAs encouraging them to read another post, sign up to a newsletter or follow you on social media.

Later, you might suggest that they download a piece of even more valuable content in return for their email address. And by the time you get to the ‘almost ready’ stage, you can step your CTA up and recommend that your reader books a demo, contacts your team or buys your product.

What to track: Think about which metrics are most important to you. This could include newsletter sign ups, lead magnet downloads, demos booked and so one.

5) Supporting your sales team

Blogging isn’t just about generating lots of attention at the top of the funnel – it’s also about helping to close the deal once your audience is further along their buyer journey.

Bottom of funnel content includes objection busters and process posts. As an example, we have a post titled How can you blog for my business if you’re not an expert in my subject?. We know this has helped several marketing managers get buy-in from their boss in order to bring us in to work with them.

Bottom of the funnel content can be shared on social media but it’s particularly effective when used proactively by your sales team to help convert leads into sales.

What to track: It’s rare that a blog post will close a deal in isolation so your best bet here is to get qualitative feedback from your sales team. They’ll be able to tell you whether they’re getting good results from the content they’re sharing.

6) Establishing expertise

The best way to convince someone of a business’s expertise is to demonstrate it. A blog is a platform on which to showcase the knowledge your subject matter experts have.

Blogs that help establish expertise include educational and problem-solving ‘how to’ posts – backed by real life examples and insights from subject matter experts that add weight to your writing – and opinion-filled thought leadership. Over time, creating this kind of original blog content will establish your brand’s expert reputation, building trust with your audience.

What to track: This is a much harder one as a) it’s just not that easy to quantify expertise and b) it’s a longer term strategy. Some indicators of expertise, however, could include press coverage, invitations for speaking engagements, and backlinks (which in turn is great for SEO).

7) Attracting talent

This one might not be on your radar but it’s a super powerful benefit, especially in competitive employment markets like tech. 

If you’re on a recruitment drive, your blog can be a great tool for broadcasting your company culture and values – and how they play out in real terms. This not only makes you more attractive to the right people, but can weed out the wrong ones before you get started on the CV sifting.

What to track: This is another tricky one to get definitive numbers for but, if you link culture posts to CTAs directing the reader to a careers page or job advert, you can set click throughs as a KPI. That said, don’t dismiss the qualitative data – several of our clients have had candidates referencing the blogs we’ve created for them in interviews, so listen out for that. 

One final business benefit of blogging

The great thing about blogging is that it has a cumulative effect. It won’t quickly go out of date like a social post, or need to have more money ploughed into it to keep it generating results like PPC. 

Once you’ve pressed publish, it’s there for good. And as you publish your 10th blog, you will still be getting traffic from your first, with no additional effort.

Of course, generating this kind of value does rest on being committed to blogging as a long term strategy. You may get some results from publishing a handful of posts and then stopping but blogging isn’t a quick fix.

Online marketing guru Neil Patel says you need to give it at least 6 to 9 months, while Joe Pulizzi – who founded the Content Marketing Institute – writes in his book, Content Inc, that it’s more like 12 to 18 months.

So when you’re presenting your marketing strategy and looking for sign off on a budget for blogging, be sure to set the right expectations. But have confidence too. Blogging is a hugely powerful tool that will generate demonstrable results in time.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

There comes a time as a business when you look back on your blog and realise that you’ve created an awful lot of content. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of posts. And you find yourself wondering whether you still need them all. Are they relevant? Do people read them? Have they become outdated?

That’s when it’s time to do an audit. A blog audit is a kind of spring clean that allows you to look at what you’ve got, assess it against set criteria, and – in a nutshell – figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and what you can do about it.

Here’s how we go about it.

Step 01: Define your content audit goals

Although there are overlaps between them, there are actually quite distinct reasons why you might be performing a blog audit. 

For example, if you have a very SEO driven strategy then you may want to audit your content against the keywords that are currently important to your business. This should, among other things, identify where you can update posts to help them perform better.

Sustainability is an increasingly important consideration for businesses and content adds a surprising chunk to your carbon footprint. For this reason, you might set a goal of reducing your content by a certain percentage, which means that the goal of your audit is to identify the least useful posts so that they can be culled.

What we’re focusing on in today’s blog, however, is the process we use with our expert-led clients. Their content strategy is usually centred on high quality content that builds authority and supports the customer journey, with SEO playing more of a supporting role.

In this case, the content audit process is more about being able to:

You’ll want to include performance metrics to help you in your assessment. But in this post we’re going to be going beyond that and looking at some of the more subjective factors you need to consider in your decision-making process, especially when it comes to future opportunities.

Ultimately what we’re aiming for is a Keep, Cut, Combine / Correct and Create list that allows us to action our content audit in the most effective way.

“Consider what ‘performing well’ means to you. For example, a bottom of funnel post might not be generating loads of organic search traffic but your sales team might find it invaluable during their nurture, follow up or closing process. ”

Step 02: Work out what you’ve got

Hopefully you have an editorial calendar where you’ve been logging your blog posts as you go. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet of titles and publication dates. If not, you’ll need to start by creating one.

This Hubspot guide goes into details about how to pull page data using a web crawler. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that complex, especially since most of us aren’t dealing with that many thousands of posts. And even if you do automatically generate your starting point, you’ll want to add subjective insights of your own.

If you blog across a number of key categories, make sure you include these details in the log. For example, we write posts about Blogging, Websites, Copywriting, Marketing & Strategy, and Behind The Scenes. 

You might have other labels you want to include in your list too, such as the author of each post or the audience you’re aiming at, if you have distinct ones. For example, if you’re a recruitment agency, you might have client focused posts and candidate focused ones.

Adding these layers of information means you can begin to spot patterns and gaps. If you compare this sort of information to your performance metrics (e.g. visitor numbers, dwell time or conversion), you might notice that you get high traffic to certain blog types, or great engagement and conversions from others.

BUT don’t go overboard on detail here until you’ve had a look at the next step…

Step 03: Time for an initial content prune

The first thing to do once you’ve created your log is to discard any blog posts that simply aren’t necessary anymore, marking them as Cut. Perhaps you no longer offer a service you once used to, so you don’t need any posts that are focused on that particular offering. 

These posts might still be performing well in terms of generating traffic. But if they’re drawing the wrong crowd, then you’re skewing your numbers and clouding the truth of how well your blog is performing. And content pruning can actually be great for your website’s overall SEO, so you won’t lose out.

Before you hit delete though, press pause. The content that you’re ditching may not be worthy of a space on your blog but are there any elements you can salvage? Much like an old dress that can be repurposed into a child’s T-shirt, your soon-to-be-discarded blog might have nuggets you can still use across social media.

This sifting process will take time, it’s true – but less time than it takes to create original content. 

Step 04: Work out which blog posts are not performing

Posts that aren’t performing well can potentially also be added to the Cut list. For many businesses, blog performance will be about organic search traffic. This will require you to consult your analytics to see what’s driving the most visitors, what has the most backlinks and so on.

Social engagement metrics can be helpful here too. For example, thought leadership may not perform well from a search perspective but could generate a huge amount of engagement on LinkedIn or Instagram. Pull this information from Google Analytics and add it to your log.

But remember that it’s not just about quantity, it’s also about quality, so consider what ‘performing well’ means to you. For example, a bottom of funnel post might not be generating loads of organic search traffic but your sales team might find it invaluable during their nurture, follow up or closing process. 

Again, pause before you dismiss a post entirely. Just because it’s not performing well, doesn’t mean it’s terminal. Could the post be nursed back to health? More on this in the next step.

Step 05: Map your content against your customer journey

By now you should have a list of blog posts that are either still relevant and useful or could be with an update. The next step is to identify any gaps you might have, and we’ve found that the best way to do this is to map each post against your customer journey.

The RH&Co content marketing framework is designed to help you do just that and is a tool we use with all of our clients. It looks at key stages in the customer journey from your reader’s perspective, helping you to understand what type of content to produce and what the goal should be.

What you might find when you do this mapping exercise is that you have plenty of top of funnel content but you’re a bit sparse in the middle. Or you’ve got loads of educational middle of funnel content but nothing at the bottom to actually drive conversion or support your sales team.

It’s worth noting that you may need to create a buyer journey for each distinct product or service that you offer. We call these strands of content ‘Buyer journey blog chains’.

As we mentioned above, there may also be some posts that fit well into your customer journey but need work before they can be considered truly valuable. It may be that your audience has shifted so you now want to be talking to HRDs rather than CEOs. Or legislation has changed, making certain references out of date but easily fixable. Mark these as Combine / Correct.

Step 06: Identify and make plans for the gaps

This customer mapping process should highlight which of your current blog posts are serving a valuable purpose and can be labelled Keep. You should also be able to see which need to be Combined or Corrected in order to strengthen them or bring them up to date.

From here you’ll be able to see where your gaps are, giving you an excellent starting point for deciding what topics and titles you can schedule for the future. If there are lots of gaps, plug the most important ones first. This will differ depending on your business and priorities.

A good place to start the prioritisation process is to look back at what’s working and see whether this can be replicated in some way. Which posts drive the highest number of visitors? Which are the strongest when it comes to converting? 

Remember that conversion will mean different things at different stages of the buyer journey – you’re unlikely to get a ‘book demo’ action from a top of funnel post but you might get a sign up for your newsletter.

You can even go as far as finding out what these high performing posts have in common, such as word count or post structure – perhaps your audience is really into long form content or numbered lists of tips. This will give you even more direction when it comes to creating new blog content.

Step 07: Create a maintenance schedule

As you can see, doing a blog audit isn’t a quick or an easy job. So use the experience to create a process you can follow in the future, noting what works and what doesn’t. Then make sure you come back to it from time to time – how often will usually depend on how frequently you’re posting – and do a little refresh.

By keeping on top of your maintenance schedule, you’ll ensure that your blog is always as valuable and effective as it can be. You’ll know what content still needs to be created and you’ll be able to quickly see when anything needs updating.

You’ll also be able to rest easy knowing that the time, effort and budget you’ve dedicated to the blog is well invested and continuing to give you the return on investment you need.

If you’re stuck and need some support to get your back catalogue of blogs in order and create a plan for the future. Get in touch to find out more about our blog auditing services.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

There are many excellent reasons why businesses should add blogging to their marketing mix. But in the end, what you really want from any marketing channel is leads, right? 

Now we’re going to caveat this post by saying something really important: content marketing is about the long game. If you try it out for a month and compare it to, say, paid advertising, that’s a bit of an unfair match.

However, just because blogging leans slightly more towards the brand building side of marketing than the pure growth marketing side, that doesn’t mean it can’t generate leads. If you’re strategic about it.

So here are five strategies to get your blog delivering more leads into your pipeline.

1. Pick that low-hanging fruit

There are a bunch of people out there who want to buy your products, use your services, donate to your cause or in some other way do the thing you want them to do. They just need help to get across the finish line.

Imagine, for example, that you’re the CMO of a rapidly scaling SaaS company. Your platform offers a way to shortcut a key process for your customer – but your competitor is saying the same thing.

That’s where a ‘How we…’ post comes in handy. By giving your audience a glimpse behind the curtain – showing them how your expertise works rather than simply telling them you have it – you earn a greater degree of trust. Trust that makes spending money with you that much easier.

And that’s just one example of a sales-led blog post. You could also write a post that breaks down your approach to pricing and showcases where the value lies for your audience compared to other options on the market. Or you could answer a key objection, like we have in ‘How can you blog for my business if you’re not an expert in my subject?’ 

Sales-driven blog content isn’t about the hard sell. It’s about facilitating great decision making. By the end of a great sales post, you can legitimately suggest that your reader gets in touch, books a demo or even taps ‘buy now’, because you’ve helped them see why that’s the right choice for them.

“Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.”

2. Keep the not-ready-yet audience on your radar

No matter what you’re offering and no matter who you’re offering it to, there’s no way that everyone in your target audience will be ready to buy at the exact moment they read your blog. This is particularly true in B2B marketing where studies show that 95% of your audience is out-of-market.

Your reader might not have the budget right now. Or they might have just bought something similar. Perhaps they need internal sign off, or they just want to think about it a bit more.

But if your blog has engaged them sufficiently, you can capitalise on your success by prompting them to do something.

You might ask them to follow you on social media, for example, or sign up for your newsletter so that you can continue to deliver useful content into their inbox. Or you could sweeten the deal with a lead magnet and create a nurture series to help move the process forward.

This might not be as immediately exciting to you as getting a reader to call your sales team, but by creating a way to stay in touch, you can continue to market to them until they are ready.

Whatever the case, don’t rely on the reader’s initiative. When they’re ready to buy, they probably won’t find their way back to your brand just because they read your blog a year ago. So create a tentative connection now that you can build on later.

3. Create buyer journey blog chains

Imagine your reader is at the very beginning of their buyer journey. They’re in the dark, not knowing they have a problem or, if they do, they’re only vaguely aware of the full extent of that problem or what’s causing it. You can change that. This is where you create content that helps them to explore the problem, validates what they’re feeling and shows them what the real issue is.

They won’t be ready to buy after reading. But they will be able to learn about the various solutions that can tackle their newly defined problem. After which they might be interested in exploring one solution in particular. And once they’ve reached that point, they might want to know the details of what you offer, including your process and pricing.

Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.

In a blog chain, you’ll adjust your CTA as your reader progresses. The earlier posts encourage further reading, lead magnet downloads or newsletter signups, and the later posts can get more sales-led.

4. Combine your blogging efforts with other channels

Good blog content is foundational. It shouldn’t sit on your website in isolation, with the vague hope that people will stumble across it. It needs to work with the other channels you’re investing in – and even feed those channels content.

The best way to get your blog generating leads is to ensure as many people as possible see it. And that means sitting it within a much wider strategy that includes, for example, social media, SEO, paid advertising, PR and so on.

If you’re using more than one marketing partner, make sure there’s enough communication between them. There’s no point having your PR or SEO agency going off in one direction and your blogging agency heading off in another.

Get your sales team involved too so that they make the most of the content you’re producing. It’s far nicer for a prospect to be sent a helpful blog post than to be hassled with a vague and ineffective, “Just wondering whether you need any help with X…”

5. Serve the robots, as well as the humans

If your sales machine relies on a high volume of input then one of the best and cheapest ways to generate the leads you need from your blog is to combine it with a well thought out organic search strategy.

This does not mean that you pick a few low cost, low competition keywords and stuff them willy nilly into a badly thought out post written by a barely literate stranger you found on Fivr. Not unless you’re happy to sacrifice your long term brand image for an initial flurry of visitors that offer nothing more than vanity metrics.

Google and co are likely to become increasingly human in their approach to judging the value of blog content over time, whereas people are unlikely to become more machine-like. So your flesh-and-blood audience still needs to be your first priority.

But there’s no reason why you can’t serve both robot and human. This is how we helped our client Addland generate 150,000 impressions and 7,000 clicks to their website within the first six months after they launched their land buying platform. It’s also why Blueheart’s internal content creator said our approach to SEO optimisation is so hidden that their posts “just feel like solid, well-researched, empathetically-written articles.”

How to build lead generation into your blogging strategy

As with any marketing channel, blogging needs to be a strategic activity with a clear plan that is outlined at the start and checked on regularly. That plan needs to be based on the needs of your audience, it needs to sit within a wider marketing strategy and it needs to have clear goals from the outset.

You’ll need to set your expectations properly too, giving the blog at least 9 months and more likely 12 or even 18 months to deliver regular and reliable leads, especially if you’ve got a long sales cycle.

Blogging isn’t a lead gen silver bullet. In fact we’d argue that there is no such thing. But with the right strategy and a great team to deliver the best quality content, blogging can absolutely generate leads effectively and consistently for any business.

Want to talk lead gen with the blogging experts at RH&Co? Get in touch today.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

Written: April 2022, updated May 2023

Every marketer has their favourite way of describing the stages of the buyer journey. Some stick with E St Elmo Lewis’s original AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Others simplify it to Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Still others prefer an ‘awareness journey’: problem aware, solution aware, most aware and so on.

All are helpful to a degree, especially when planning your broader marketing strategy and channel mix. But if you try to apply them to generating topic ideas for your content marketing plan they’re not always so effective.

That’s why at RH&Co we’ve developed our own framework, based on the process we use to create editorial calendars for our clients. In this post, we’re looking at the five key stages your customer or client is likely to go through and the type of content you should be aiming to create at each one.

Stage 01: In the dark

In stage one, your reader is either not aware of their problem or not clear on their real problem. 

For example, they might not realise that their app’s security is at risk because they haven’t got a maintenance schedule in place. Or they might know that they’re having stomach problems but not realise they have a wheat intolerance.


At this stage your goal needs to be to educate your audience and raise their awareness, identifying and exploring the problem until they’re really clear on what it is. 

This audience type is right at the beginning of their journey, so this is not the time to rush them towards a sale. Instead, get them to the point where they feel confident about researching solutions.


You could start with a piece of content about the wider issues facing your reader’s industry or share your opinion on why a particular problem is worth addressing. 

You could also highlight the warning signs that might indicate a certain problem is looming or challenge them to think about an issue in a new way.

Stage 02: Stuck

Now your audience is clear that there’s a problem – but they have no idea what to do about it. 

In the example above, your reader may be panicking about the security risk facing their new app or feeling relieved that their stomach pain has a genuine source. But how do you improve app security or deal with wheat intolerance?


The goal in this stage should be to add real value, introducing the variety of solutions that are available. It’s important not to focus too heavily on your own solution just yet – sell now and you’ll look self interested rather than genuinely helpful.

Your reader wants the facts laid out for them so that they can make an independent, informed decision about what’s right for them, without feeling pressured.


This is where ‘how to’ content comes into its own. You can keep this content fairly broad, or start to narrow it down a little – although keep some ideas back for the next stage (you’ll see what we mean in a moment).

It’s also helpful to dig beneath the problems your reader is facing and help them understand why they’re having them. After all, it’s hard to fix something if you don’t know what’s causing it. And as humans, we’re naturally curious too.

Stage 03: Searching

Searching is like part two of Stuck. Now the reader is relatively clear on their problem and knows solutions exist. So the next step is for them to work out which of those solutions is best for them.

Is it getting a consultant in, training the in-house team or hiring a new specialist to ensure your app stays on top form? Does it mean cutting out wheat, taking a probiotic supplement or trying reiki?


This is where you start to explore each solution in depth, giving more facts such as advantages and disadvantages of each, and some idea of how to begin making the right choice. 

Again, it’s really important to be honest rather than try to skew the reader towards your own offering. That only leads to unhappy clients and customers. If you’re a poor fit for each other, it’s best get them out of the funnel now so you can concentrate on the better fits.


As we mentioned in the Stuck stage, you can use ‘how to’ content here as well. Only this time it will be more niche, focusing less on ‘how to reduce bloating’, for example, and more on ‘how to choose the right probiotic for wheat intolerance’.

You can also hone your angle to focus specifically on factors that will affect your reader’s choice, such as price, as well as comparing different options like for like.

Stage 04: Almost ready

By now your reader has not only settled on a solution but they’re considering your business – possibly alongside others – in order to make the very best choice.

The non-technical founder who didn’t realise that they had a security risk is now convinced that they do, and that they need a consultant – why should they choose you? Your wheat intolerant buyer is set on taking a probiotic every day but do they get your brand or a cheaper competitor option?


This is where you provide the granular details that allow your reader to make their decision to spend money with you – or at the very least to get in touch to talk to your sales team.

The emotion we want to stimulate now is certainty, and that is best done with facts rather than hype. Although the marketer’s missive is usually ‘benefits over features’, you need to dig into features here.


Content for the ‘almost ready’ stage needs to contain plenty of detail – prices, processes and anything else your reader might want to know about you.

Here you can create objection busting content to support your sales team with the questions and challenges they face most often, and even try to put off anyone who is a poor fit by writing about why they shouldn’t buy your product or use your service.

Stage 05: Onboarding

So far we’ve used marketing within a marketing context and as a support for the sales process. Your reader has made a commitment to buy from you or use your services – but you’re not done yet.

Now we need to look at how content can support the onboarding process so that your customer or client is happy and more likely to stay or buy again.


The goal of onboarding content is to tackle ‘buyer’s remorse’, which can happen after you’ve made a purchase decision. That’s where your new customer or client thinks, “Was this really the right decision?” or “Did I get the best deal?” or even simply “Do I really need this?”

Instead, you want them to feel happy with their decision, not just about the product or service but you as a brand. You want them to feel as taken care of now they’re doing business with you as when you were courting them.


Onboarding content will either make a new customer or client’s experience easier or enhance it in some way.

Going back to our original examples, the firm who has employed a consultancy to address their cyber security concerns might appreciate a guide to how to prepare for their first discovery session. The person looking to take probiotics as a way to support their gut health might also appreciate gut-friendly recipes or a four week meal plan.

Bonus: reputation-building content for any stage

Of course, there is some content that doesn’t quite fit neatly into any of these stages but is very much worth including because it can be enormously effective.

We call this reputation-building content and it can engage people wherever they are on their journey or even if they’re not in the market for what you’re selling at all. 


As the name suggests, reputation-building content is all about establishing your brand’s reputation, for example as a thought leader, innovator or expert voice.

By doing this, you create a secure brand position that will pay dividends when people do begin their buyer journey, and you’ll also build connections within your industry and with the wider public.


This is the most difficult type of content for your competitors to copy because it is based on your unique IP, experience or perspective as a business.

It can include opinions and angles on current topics, use case studies to demonstrate real life examples, and give glimpses behind the scenes into your culture, values and ways of working.

How to use the RH&Co content framework

In an ideal world, you would fill every stage of your content framework with well researched, highly valuable and engaging copy – preferably with a strand for each separate product or service you offer, or each industry vertical or client persona group you serve.

The reality is that you’ll need to start somewhere, so think about your main challenges and the quick wins you want to gain.

Perhaps your sales team needs a boost with bottom of funnel ‘almost ready’ content. Or maybe you’re working with an SEO strategist and want to catch people’s attention while they’re (quite literally) in the searching phase.

If you’re an expert-led business – in other words, your goal is to position your brand as an authority in a given subject area – then you need to start working on that reputation-building content.

We’ll be writing more about how to put our framework into practice in due course but in the meantime, if you’d like to talk about getting our support to create your content strategy, get in touch.

There are numerous occasions in business where persuasion is needed, the most obvious of which is in the marketing and sales process. Persuasive writing is therefore an essential skill for marketers and salespeople. But it can be a tricky thing to get right. And getting it wrong can be damaging to your brand.

Luckily, persuasive writing is something that can be learned – in fact, it’s something we offer training in. Here’s a starting point with techniques, tips and real life examples that showcase how it can be done to great effect.

First things first: what persuasive writing isn’t

We need to start by making one point really clear. Persuasion is not the same as manipulation or coercion. This isn’t about tricking people into believing something that isn’t true or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

In marketing and sales, your goal should always be to help your customer or client make the best decision for them. This article assumes that you’re a good fit for your audience – you just need to get their attention and help them to understand why so they can, ultimately, act on it.

If we’re all agreed on that, it’s time to look at how.

Persuasion is about people and psychology

Whether you’re trying to persuade a child to tidy up their room or a procurement lead to add you to a preferred supplier list, persuasion is all about psychology. Which is why it’s essential to start by learning about the people you’re trying to persuade.

What motivates them? What are they struggling with? What are their goals? What are their constraints? If you don’t get these basics right, you can craft the most articulate argument in the world and it’s going to fall on deaf ears.

Offer a better version of the future

Once you know what your audience is struggling with or aiming for, you can begin to shape your persuasive argument to address this.

For example, let’s say you have a new HR tech product that makes the staff review process simpler and more efficient. Rather than jumping straight on the various impressive features your product has, paint a picture for your end user.

Help them to imagine what it would be like to spend less time doing face to face reviews. Or to have a happier and more effective team. Ultimately, you want to be able to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”

Persuasion is about stimulating the right emotion

Understanding what a better version of the future looks like for your customer or client is a really useful starting point. Now you have to communicate that message to your audience using words that will engage them, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to use emotion.

In his book, Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen talks about three main categories of emotion we can use to persuade people.

Have a look at any given website, advert, flyer or other piece of copy designed to persuade, and you should be able to work out what emotion the copywriter was trying to illicit when they wrote the copy.

Here are a few examples of using emotion as a persuasive technique in website copy we’ve written for our clients:

Petals at Bibendum | pride

This copy we wrote for Petals at Bibendum is designed to appeal to high end customers who have the budget and desire to spend several hundred pounds on flowers without thinking too much about it. The words create a sense that there is an exclusive club and subtly asks whether they belong to that club. In doing so, it appeals to the sense of pride that this audience group would no doubt have about their good taste.

AppLaunch | calm

Developing an app might feel like a stressful, complicated process. The team at AppLaunch wanted to reassure their clients that it didn’t have to be that way. This section of copy encapsulates the simplicity of the process and is designed to create a feeling of calm in the reader, causing them to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stylemongers of Bristol | curiosity

Curiosity has got a bad reputation thanks to clickbait headlines that try to hack it in a manipulative way. But appealing to curiosity can be both authentic and very effective, as shown on this sales page we wrote for Stylemongers of Bristol.

Rather than jumping straight into an explanation of what the box contains and why it’s so valuable, the words we use stimulate the reader to use their imagination. Only then do we go into what’s actually in the kit.

Show, don’t tell

If we’d just described the Stylemongers of Bristol kit as a ‘designer in a box’ without adding more detail, the reader would have been left thinking, “Yes, but what actually is it?”

People make decisions with hearts and minds, so once you’ve used emotion to get their attention, make sure you offer something more substantial too.

And be sure you can prove it. Showing is a far more effective way of persuading someone than telling.

So don’t tell me you’re ‘passionate’ about using local produce at your restaurant – show me what percentage of your ingredients are sourced within a 20 mile radius. Don’t tell me your team building exercises improves staff morale – show me a customer testimonial to prove it or a reputable study that backs your techniques.

Other persuasive writing techniques

We’ve already talked about how emotion is a powerful persuasive technique. Here are a few others to try.


Human beings have always loved stories and they can be used in a number of ways in a persuasive context. For example, case studies are a great way of using client success stories to help persuade your audience by providing social proof. And charities often use stories to persuade people to donate by showcasing real life people who have benefitted from their work.

Your brand story might also be important. You’d think that people would choose a soft drink based on how it tastes, for example. But we know that for Lovely Drinks, their homemade, Somerset roots are integral to their brand and why people choose them, which is why we highlighted this in their website copy.

The power of three

There’s something about trios that just work, so long as you don’t overuse them. Whether it’s three words or three sentences, now you know that this is a persuasive writing technique, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. It’s popular in speech writing in particular. And remember ‘Hands, Face, Space’?

We used the power of three on the PlanIt Future website below to build emotion. The first sentence lays out a challenge creating tension. The second builds on it, escalating the tension. Then the third comes in and provides a solution, creating a sense of relief.

Personalised pronouns

Using personalised pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘you’ establishes a more personalised relationship with your audience. And relationship is essential for persuasion, as we’ll come onto in a moment.

We played on this persuasive technique when we wrote the Engineered Arts website. The line “Humans, check this out” as well as the personalised pronouns further enhanced the sense of conversation between brand and reader.

Imagine how different this paragraph would have felt if we’d written, “Engineered Arts has found a way to create robots that mimic people.”

Imperative sentences

An imperative sentence doesn’t have a subject. Instead it begins with a verb. Imperative sentences are also known as command sentences, and they are ideal for persuading people to act. This is why calls to action (CTAs) are usually imperative sentences.

Here’s a good example from Garrett Creative where we used a double CTA, both using imperative sentences, to create options for visitors at different stages of their customer journey.

Building relationships – the importance of timing

Last but not least, persuasion isn’t just about what words you use. It’s also about when you use them. Because if you go in too hard, too early, you’re going to come across like a pushy car salesman.

The most effective persuasion comes from a foundation of relationship. We’re not enormous fans of Gary V’s ‘Jab, jab, jab, right hook’ analogy as we’d rather not paint marketing and sales as a violent sport! But the principle is sound. It’s all about adding value for your audience and earning your right to ask for what you want.

You also need to know where your customer is on their journey. If they’re only just figuring out that they have a problem, don’t jump straight in and try to shove your solution down their throat.

Help them explore the problem and understand it fully, perhaps with a blog post, video or webinar. Showcase the broad types of solution available and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Maybe now they’re ready to give you their email in return for a useful download.

The more complex, important or expensive a buy decision is, the longer it’s likely to take. Which means you might need to adjust your perception of persuasion as a ‘get them over the line’ approach.

Persuasive writing can have an instant effect, of course – we’ve all bought something on a whim because we were hooked by a clever advert from a brand we’ve never heard of. The important thing is to understand where that’s possible and plan for the times when it isn’t.

If you know your audience and what they’re looking for, if you speak to both their heart and their head, and if you let them come to you in their time, you’ll have far more success than if you resort to being pushy.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to run a copywriting agency? We asked RH&Co founder Rin to give us an insight into a typical day, with all its ups, downs and unexpected turns, plus what she does to try and keep it all on track.

One of the things I crave most in my life is variety. That’s why I started my career as a journalist. I loved arriving at my desk each morning, not knowing whether I was going to be interviewing a celebrity, covering a local court case or heading down the motorway to cover the opening of a new arts centre.

My job isn’t quite as exciting these days but there’s still a fun mix of activities in any given week as an agency owner. Here’s what life usually looks like for me on an average day – whatever one of those is!

Getting prepared for the day

My alarm usually goes off anywhere between 6:30 and 7am, depending on how much quiet time I want before the kids get up. If I’m being good, I’ll choose the earlier option and make sure to get some journaling, reading or meditation time in before everyone else is awake.

Then it’s time for the madness that is getting everyone fed and dressed and ready for the day. If you’ve ever had to watch a six-year-old eat a bowl of dry Cheerios one at a time when you’re on the clock, you’ll understand why meditation is such a good idea.

By 8:30am my children have headed off to school with my partner – I am inordinately grateful for his flexible freelance schedule, which means he can do more than his fair share of childcare and home management while I work full time.

This first half hour at my desk is dedicated to checking my emails and getting my tasks sorted out for the day. I use Trello to organise my to-do list and have a Default Diary spreadsheet that allows me to view my whole month in one go. It’s colour coded so I can instantly see what proportion of each week is dedicated to strategy, meetings, client delivery and so on.

If this all sounds very organised, don’t be fooled. I’m naturally very creative and reactive and not at all organised, so I’ve had to work incredibly hard to create systems that keep me efficient and effective.

Internal meetings and looking after the team

In 2021, the RH&Co team grew from 5 to 9 people. As a result – and because we’re still operating remotely for the moment – it became necessary for us to put some sort of structure in place that would allow me to catch up with everyone regularly. 

We’ve always had a weekly team meeting on a Monday but we now also have various departmental meetings on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, depending on what’s needed. This means I always know what’s happening with our finances, our client projects, our own marketing and our writers, even if I’m not directly involved with those things myself.

My fellow director Liz and I also use 15 minute ‘LIONs’ meetings (something we learned from Action Coach) to keep in touch with individual team members each week. As well as going through what happened Last week, any Issues, Opportunities and what they’re up to Next week, it’s good to just have that bit of face to face time and connect as human beings.

Client delivery – working in the business

The holy grail for business owners is to step out of ‘doing the do’ and focus entirely on strategy and leadership. I’ve certainly been shifting the balance over the last couple of years but it’s not quite time for me to down tools just yet.

My role still includes a fair amount of consultancy and training work, covering brand voice and messaging as well as content strategy. I’m also RH&Co’s floating jack of all trades, so at any given time I might get called in to take a briefing if an account manager is ill, for example, or edit a piece of work if our senior copywriter and editor has too much on his plate.

At the moment I’m working on creating a training programme for one of our clients, to help around 60 individuals in their marketing and commissioning teams improve their persuasive writing skills. It’s always tricky trying to work out what level to pitch things at, as there will be a range of experience levels and I want to ensure everyone stays engaged throughout.

Taking a break – the importance of lunch time

I’ll admit, I’m not always very good at taking a proper lunch break. If it weren’t for my other half very kindly making me something to eat, I’d probably forget half the time. But my schedule has an hour blocked out for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30pm – 30 minutes to relax and eat, and 30 minutes to learn something.

I’ve doubled down on my efforts to stick to this schedule recently because I know how beneficial it is to inject some rest and inspiration into the middle of my day. Whether I’m reading a personal or professional development book, watching a Ted talk or listening to a podcast (one of my favourites is 2Bobs with David C Baker and Blair Enns), I always find I start my afternoon feeling genuinely refreshed.

I’ve just finished reading The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel, am almost done with Agencynomics by Spencer Gallagher & Pete Hoole and am just starting The Future Starts Here: An Optimistic Guide to What Comes Next by John Higgs. If you have any recommendations, hit me up on LinkedIn.

Sales and strategy afternoons

Afternoons are usually set aside for dealing with two of my most important tasks as an agency owner: Sales and Strategy. 

I still find it quite strange to describe myself as a sales person, because I’m really not at all what you’d typically expect if you watch something like The Apprentice (or Only Fools And Horses!). 

The way I look at it, we offer a service that many businesses genuinely need. During a sales call, my job is to find out what their challenge is and whether we can help them within their timeframe and budget. It’s not about trying to convince anyone to spend money on something they don’t need.

Strategy is my catch all phrase for all of the ‘on the business’ work I do, and it’s probably the bit I find most challenging and most fun, depending on how it’s going. It can cover anything from reviewing our marketing or pricing strategy to putting together ideas for how to develop our client management team or expand our writing team.

Recently I spent several days creating the RH&Co ‘blogging playbook’, a 7,500 word document that brings together everything I have learned about blogging over my years as a journalist and copywriter. Right now it’s an internal tool but I suspect it will end up becoming part of a book one day.

When it all goes wrong

Of course, my Default Diary can only ever be a goal to aim for. Inevitably things come up that threaten to derail my carefully constructed plans and sometimes there’s no way around them. If a big new client wants to talk about a lucrative new contract at a moment’s notice, I’m hardly going to refuse. Likewise if one of the team has a problem, I’ll always make myself available to talk.

And let’s not pretend that I’m always as self disciplined as I should be. The worst days are usually the ones where I let the ‘urgent’ jobs get in the way of the important ones, or when social media, email and general faffing about keeps me from doing what I actually need to do.

I can be a terrible procrastinator, especially when a job feels a bit scary or I don’t quite know where to start, and my big goal for this year is to get better at ‘eating the frogs’ and prioritising ‘deep work’ (if you haven’t read them, I highly recommend Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy and Deep Work by Cal Newport).

Shutting off for the day

When I first started my business I was a single mum with 9-month-old twins working part time in whatever blocks of time I could find – when I had childcare, when the babies napped or in the evenings – pretty much seven days a week.

Today I work full time but am very strict about finishing at 5pm so that, even though I can’t pick them up from school, I can sit with my girls while they have their dinner and find out how their day went and then get them ready for bed.

I try to finish up any meetings by 4:30pm so I have that final half hour to check any last emails and tie up loose ends. When I do, I find I can switch off more easily and I’m far less likely to wake up in the night thinking, “Did I actually do X?”

Being an agency owner is something that happened almost by accident, without me really knowing what I was getting into. But I have to admit, I really enjoy it. Every day is different and, although it’s not without its stress, it is satisfying to be in charge of my own destiny.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

Writing website copy might seem like a relatively straightforward task to the untrained eye. It’s just writing the words that go on your website, right? Except it really isn’t.

Perhaps more so than any other type of copy a business might need, website copy is a multifaceted beast that demands more than the ability to string a sentence together.

In this blog post, we’re looking at the three essential pillars that make up good website copy, and the skills that are needed to create it.

1) Messaging: what is your value proposition?

Before you can start writing website copy, you need to know what you’re saying. Ok, that might sound a little obvious but what we mean is this: what is the one thing you want your audience to take from your website?

Let’s assume they’re not especially sold on the idea of working with or buying from you just yet. They’re having a browse, checking you out to see whether or not they’re interested. They’re going to give you 10-15 seconds tops and then they’re outta there.

What is the one hook that will keep them reading? What makes you different from your competitors? How are you going to benefit them? In other words, what’s your value proposition?

How to construct your website’s core messaging

Here’s the (very) simple version. Firstly you have to understand who you are and what you have to offer, especially anything you do differently. Then you have to understand your audience and what they need, especially any problems or ambitions they have.

Then look at where those two things overlap.

The result won’t always look the same. Core messaging isn’t a cut and dried concept. Sometimes it’s about the strapline. Other times it’s about a value proposition statement. More often it’s a sort of underlying idea that isn’t necessarily articulated directly in one central place but informs everything about your website copy.

For example, we recently worked alongside London branding and design agency Mammal on a project for reusable nappy brand TotsBots

Their core message centred around the idea that you don’t need to go fully reusable because using just one reusable nappy each day makes a huge difference to the environment. We referenced this in numerous places around the site.

A secondary message was that reusables don’t have to be as complex as you might think, and we worked hard to use language that was clear and honest throughout the site.

These messaging pillars both promoted TotsBots’ sustainable agenda and also spoke to the needs of their audience: busy parents who want to be more environmentally friendly but don’t necessarily have time to go all in and might be worried it’s all too much effort.

2) Structure: deciding what information goes where

Once you know the headlines, you need to start thinking about how you’re going to construct your website. This is where design and copywriting overlap with each other, and with UX and SEO too. 

What should your overall site map look like? Will you have one services page that lists your three main services, for example, or will you have one page for each service? Or do you need to break those even further down to capture specific niche SEO keywords and phrases?

On your home page, are you going to separate your audience by product or service type or by user group? Will you have a carousel of testimonials or panels highlighting case studies that visitors can click through to read?
You also need to think about things like where your call to action (CTA) buttons go as well as what they say, how many paragraphs of text a panel can comfortably hold, whether you need to separate those paragraphs out into individual boxes and a whole host of other things.

“Brand voice is not as easy as saying “We want to sound friendly but professional.” There are many factors to take into account and they’re often fairly subjective.”

What comes first, words or layout?

This is a really interesting question and there isn’t a straightforward answer. 

Sometimes our website copywriting clients will have already worked with a strategic website developer to create a sitemap and perhaps even a series of page wireframes filled with lorem ipsum. This ‘dummy copy’ gives an idea of what a page will look like once it’s done without anything having been written.

In cases like this, our job is that bit easier as we have signposts for where each element of the core information will go and can concentrate on getting the wording right (see stage three, below).

But other times a client approaches us for help with messaging and copy before they’ve made a start on the site’s wireframe and layout. In this case, before we can start working on the wording, we need to help them decide what goes where.

That’s why at RH&Co we’ve developed a way of marking up our copy with design guidelines to help the client and their designer or developer make sense of the words as we envisage them on the page. 

The reality is that most projects are a mix of the two, with designer / developer and writer going back and forth to ensure the final website meets the client’s requirements by serving the visitor best.

3) Language: what is your tone of voice?

The first two pillars take a lot of work because they’re deeply strategic. But even once these have been signed off, choosing the right words to communicate your core messaging across your website’s fledgling structure takes a lot of thought.

Brand voice is not as easy as saying “We want to sound friendly but professional.” There are many factors to take into account and they’re often fairly subjective.

For example, you might want your brand to sound friendly, but what does that actually look like? Are you going to be chatty? Warm? Funny? Irreverent? Let’s say you mean chatty – chatty like who? Like a businessman being chatty with colleagues or a teenager being chatty on Snapchat?

Choosing the right language can be an incredibly granular exercise. There is a subtle difference between the words ‘simple’, ‘straightforward’ and ‘easy’, for example, and you change the personality of each by adding a qualifier like ‘super’, ‘ultra’ or ‘extremely’. So ‘super simple’ has that chatty, warm, probably B2C feel whereas extremely straightforward is that little bit more formal, possibly businesslike and suited to a B2B brand.

Going back to the Tots Bots example, we spend a fair amount of time deciding which synonyms of ‘baby’ would be appropriate for the brand. You’ll see that we decided ‘little one’ was fine but you won’t see ‘cherub’ or ‘angel’ anywhere on the site as they’re too cutesy, while ‘infant’ feels too medical.

Creating brand voice guidelines

If you have brand tone of voice guidelines, the copy creation stage of website copywriting is greatly simplified.

Brand voice guidelines usually touch on elements such as a brand’s personality and values. They might talk about the target audience and their relationship to the brand. And they might include well known examples of people who the brand voice draws on.

Most importantly, they’ll have real life examples of the way the brand voice should sound – and often how it shouldn’t. These ‘do this, not that’ copy examples are invaluable because they provide a clear, black and white marker on which to anchor what ‘chatty’ or ‘formal’ or ‘funky’ actually looks like.

Without brand voice guidelines, your website copywriter will need to use their first draft – based on everything they’ve learned from the briefing – to create their best interpretation of your brand voice in your first draft website copy.

From there, you’ll need to provide very clear and specific feedback about what aspects of the language aren’t working. General statements like ‘it feels too old fashioned’ are helpful only to a point. Your writer will need to know which words and phrases you think create that impression, as well as any that you think are closer to the mark.

Should you write your own website copy or outsource?

Unless you have an experienced website copywriter on your team, we would always recommend getting an expert involved. This could be a freelance copywriter, a copywriting agency like us, or your web developer might have the right skills in house to support you.

As you’ll have seen from the rest of this blog post, writing website copy is much more complex than simply writing in an articulate way. And we haven’t even mentioned the art of persuasive writing and the science of reading online.

If you are considering getting support to write your website copy, make sure you spend plenty of time thinking through the different elements above – messaging, structure and language – so you’ll be prepared to give accurate answers during your briefing session.

It might feel like a lot of effort but if you get this right, everything else – all of your written comms, content and marketing materials – will be that much easier to produce and, ultimately, be more effective.

If you would like to talk about your brand voice, messaging or website copy, drop us a line on talktous@rin-hamburgh.co.uk and we’d be very happy to chat about how we can support you.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

Isn’t the quality of writing subjective? Why should I care about the personality of my copywriter? Our #EditorInResidence, Sam Whitlock, reflects on what he’s learned from coaching writers this year. 

I used to spend most of my time writing. These days, I spend almost as much time reading the work of others and talking to them about it. 2021 was a year of putting down the pen and learning to coach university students, mentor interns and teach RH&Co’s small team of trusted freelance writers.

 Somehow a lecturer and a friend also duped me into marking a mega drop of university coursework. And sometimes I can still feel the headache. But hey, that’s how I get my kicks – and at least I learned a few things along the way.

1. Writing is a science

When I told people I was handing out marks to student writers, some people asked, “But how do you do that? Writing is so subjective, isn’t it?” 

Well, after placing a grade on 40ish student writer submissions, I passed them over to a second marker. They proceeded to give them the same marks, give or take a point or two. We had our own preferences but the margins weren’t wide at all.

While writing leaves room for subjectivity, it’s not merely a matter of opinion. Disagree? Let me point you to my friend: neuroscience. 

Our brains chemically respond more to some sentences more than others. Is the writing short, clean and clear? Good, you’ll create processing fluency. Does it have a strong rhythm and cadence? You’ll hear it even if you’re not reading it aloud. Does it pick a route using an audience’s existing frames of reference? Your cognitive shortcuts will give the reader less time to get bored and look away. 

One of the most rewarding tricks is surprise. To create it properly you need to subtly subvert a person’s existing frame of reference (sometimes called a schema). Twist too far and you’ll miss the point. Play off the reader’s expectations just right and you’ll release dopamine, shift neocortical patterns and even reinforce long-term memory. 

It’s like magic, except it’s science – and an art. Some of the best copywriters I’ve coached are more instinctive about these things but they’re still able to pull a new animal out of the hat every time. 

“The best writers I’ve coached haven’t just been able to write like you. They’re able to draw on their understanding of adjacent industries, ask the right questions and begin to think like you too. ”

2. Not every ghostwriter is invisible

 No matter what brand they’re writing for, every writer I’ve worked with leaves their own fingerprints on the page – but some know how to press more lightly than others.

There are a lot of good writers that have a go-to formula for sentence composition. And they’ll use it every time, regardless of context. You’ll see the same turn of phrase, the same writing rhythm or the same metaphors creep into their work, regardless of whether they’re selling flower arrangements or HR consultancy.

But some writers are natural ghosts. I’ve seen them adapt their voice to sound just like the director general of the National Trust. Or shapeshift into the guise of a certain consultant. Or evoke the distinct personality of a founder. Just as a voice actor can play the role of Mrs Doubtfire, these writers can fade into the background almost anywhere – perhaps advising you on your housework, or maybe on your career in law.


3. Not every copywriter needs to be invisible

Not every brand has a distinct personality yet. A company might be at an early growth stage, or they might just never have locked in their brand tone of voice guidelines. Or they might have adopted a generic businessy voice that doesn’t actually resonate with their target audience. 

It’s here that you want more than an absence of writer fingerprints.

Some of my favourite experiences are when a writer passes me work that snaps me out of my reverie, inspires me or even makes me laugh out loud. And it’s because they’re using what in rhetoric is called using ethos to create a sense of arête – a relatability or likeability.

In other words, they’re using their own voice to turn up the heat on a company’s personality. And they warm me to a brand I felt previously indifferent towards, along with the target audience of the piece. So while not every ghostwriter is invisible, not every copywriter needs to be.

4. Good writing is easy; good thinking is hard 

 Shifting gears, I’ve noticed that sometimes a writer’s best quality isn’t their writing. Good writers can often get away with relying on rhetorical devices, deft turns of phrase and an instinctive grasp of tone of voice. But when you’re dealing with expert-led businesses, that’s often not enough.  

The best writers I’ve coached haven’t just been able to write like you. They’re able to draw on their understanding of adjacent industries, ask the right questions and begin to think like you too. Sure, they might not understand the intricacies of data science until you tell them. But with just enough explanation, they can create new roads between the expertise you have and the issues your audience cares about.

As we’ve written about before, outsourcing your blog to the right people doesn’t just help establish your expertise, it builds it. You’re not just inviting someone to get words down on a page and out into the world. You’re inviting an outside perspective to help you join the dots in new ways – and articulate your expertise in ways that will be convincing, refreshing and even exciting to readers. It’s fair to say that you’re not just buying words.

5. You can teach people how to write 

Honestly, I’m pretty hot on this one. Sure, not everyone who undertakes a writing course is going to turn out the winner of the next Man Booker Prize. But a solid routine of learning, writing, receiving feedback and writing again will elevate anyone’s words to another level. 

One of the best moments I had this year was when a writer, who was always clear and concise, learned how to leave some personality on the page. A second was when a writer abandoned cliche descriptions of an Italian city for their own original ideas. A third was when a writer drew on what they’d learned about UX design and began to invent knockout one-liners about a highly technical product.

You can’t hack expert copywriting. While some people instinctively know their way around a good sentence, it still takes years to learn to make writing (and the thinking behind it) land with audiences every time. 

But it can be taught. I’ve seen it. The best writers aren’t usually born that way, they’re the ones who have learned the most from the editors, clients and readers they work with. Even as an editor, I still have an editor. And I wouldn’t trust my own words if I didn’t.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up

Whatever copywriting project you’re embarking on – whether it’s website copy, a chunky white paper or a series of expert led blog posts – there will come a point when you need give your copywriter feedback. 

You might think that in a perfect world you’d be happy with each and every word they presents in their first draft, but the reality is that the chances of this are practically zero – especially if you’re at the beginning of your working relationship. It may be the copy needs just a few tweaks that are easy enough to make, or there might be broader issues around messaging, structure or tone that you’re not 100% happy with.

So how do you give feedback in a way that will ensure that your second draft copy is that much closer to what you’re looking for? Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from a writer’s perspective.

Remember that we’re not taking it personally

This is a really important point to start with. A lot of people find giving feedback uncomfortable, as it feels like they’re being critical and that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. But as copywriters we expect to get guidance from our clients in terms of what’s working for them and what isn’t.

After all, writing is as much an art as a science. There’s an element of subjectivity, and what works for one person won’t always work for another. Our perceptions of what constitutes “formal” or “humorous” or “disruptive” might be different from yours.

So try to take the emotion out of it and simply be as clear as possible about what you do and don’t like so that the next draft is better. That said, positive framing is always nicer to receive than blunt negativity! Try “need something less technical here” instead of “this is way too complicated”.

“From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.”

Does it meet the brief?

Having said that you should be clear about what you do and don’t like, the main thing to consider is how well the copy meets the brief. After all, you’re not the target reader and part of why you’ve hired a copywriter or copywriting agency is to bring an outside perspective.

For example, you may have asked for a technically complex piece that still needs to be accessible to a non-technical audience. In which case, don’t be surprised if the copy is simplified and not as nuanced as you – the expert – understand it to be.

Of course, creating a good, detailed brief is part of what your copywriter or agency should be able to help you with. Ideally, work on it collaboratively and sign it off before any writing work starts so everyone is on the same page as to what good should look like.

Be realistic about what’s possible

From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.

Imagine, for example, you’re the marketing manager and your company’s subject matter expert isn’t available to come to the briefing and input their insights. Naturally your copywriter is going to have a hard time creating a unique piece of thought leadership content.

The same is true if you haven’t yet clarified your thoughts about the value proposition of your product or service. Your copywriter is going to struggle to articulate them in your first draft copy without first doing some messaging work with you.

Feeding back on messaging, structure and tone

There are three overarching elements that you can consider as you put together your feedback notes or prepare for a feedback session. By understanding the differences, you can be that bit more accurate about which elements you need your copywriter to work on.

First, messaging. If you had to summarise the point of your blog post in a few words, what would it be? What’s the key takeaway you want people to get from your website copy? If these aren’t correct, then nothing else will be so it’s important to get them right – ideally before the writing even starts.

Structure is about how the key elements of your copy are laid out. This might be the order that you tackle your main points in a blog post, the way you segment your services on your website home page, or simply how copy-heavy different elements of your white paper are.

Finally, tone is about the actual words used and the impression they give about the brand’s personality, levels of formality and so on. It’s whether you’re asking people to ‘check out our sizzling deals’ or ‘take a look at our exclusive offers’, for example.

Broad vs detailed feedback and how to deliver it

There are two general types of feedback. Broad feedback might be your overarching thought about, for example, the angle of your blog post not quite being right. Perhaps the copywriter has taken one point that you made in the briefing and built too heavily on it, skewing the overall feel of the piece.

In this case, a conversation might be the easiest way to give your amends. It’ll mean they can ask more probing questions to get to the bottom of why the first draft isn’t quite working.

But sometimes broad feedback isn’t helpful. If you think the tone is “too formal”, for example, it’s helpful to highlight words and phrases in the copy that demonstrate this, making notes in the document. As we’ve said, your understanding of what formal looks like might be different to your copywriter’s.

The practicalities – tracked changes and comments

When it comes to adding feedback into a first draft copy document, there are two different options, which we’d suggest using together. This applies for any text based document, whether you’re using Google Docs (as we do) or Word or something else.

The first is the comments function. This allows you to highlight a sentence or paragraph and say something like “too wordy” or “can we give an example here?” without having to do any rewriting. Remember that you’re paying your copywriter for a reason, so don’t do more work than you have to.

If you do want to tweak any wording yourself, use the ‘tracked changes’ function – in Google Docs this would be editing in ‘suggestion mode’. This gives your copywriter a chance to check the changes for errors and will also help them learn about your preferred style. This is particularly important if you’re building an ongoing relationship.

And if you are entering into a longer term relationship with a copywriter or copywriting agency, then highlighting what you like – as well as what you don’t – is very useful too.

Signing off your copy

Most copywriters and copywriting agencies will build in a couple of amends stages into each project as standard, depending on the size, complexity and importance of a project. By being as clear and as detailed as you can in the first round of amends, you should find that by the second round you’re down to much more minor tweaks.

If your copy is being designed in some way – for example, if you’ve commissioned a website or brochure – you might want to ask your copywriter to give the content a final once over at the design proof stage. This allows them to catch any errors that might have crept in and potentially help you adjust the length of the copy to fit the design, if that’s needed.

Once you’re completely satisfied with your copy, it’s time to sign it off officially. After this point, if you need any further changes, this will generally be seen as an additional job.

If you’re happy with how your project has gone, don’t forget to tell your copywriter or agency. It’s always nice to get positive feedback! But more importantly, they should be making notes about all the feedback they’ve received so that next time you need some support, they’ll be ready to go. The first draft of your future projects should need far less in the way of amends than the original copy did.

Your monthly dose of copywriting, marketing and business advice…

Subscribe to the Right Words to make sure you never miss an issue and get access to exclusive content from the RH&Co team.

Sign me up