You need to personalise the content on your website, in your emails and anywhere else you create content for the web.
Your voice comes across in your written content almost as much as it does in your spoken content.
If you’ve ever read a completely sanitised statement from a big company or government department, you’ll already know corporate speak and you’ll know it’s been written, sanitised, kind-of approved and then the whole piece has gone through the process again until it’s completely devoid of any personality.
Your content should be the opposite of that!
Your personality should shine through so that even if someone never met you in person, they’d feel as though they’d met you and had a long, deep, conversation with you.
There are various ways to personalise the content you create. Some are easier than others and some will depend on you, your own personality and how much time you’re able to spend.
- 1 Create Your Own Content from Scratch
- 2 Employ a Writer to Create Your Content
- 3 Use Software to “Write” Your Content
- 4 Then Personalise Your Content
- 5 Read through your finished content
Create Your Own Content from Scratch
This is often the hardest kind of content to write, especially when you’re just starting out.
You have all sorts of signals buzzing through your head, questioning whether you’re worthy enough to write about the subject in the first place and – if you do – whether anyone will read what you say and listen to it.
If you’re just starting out in your niche, that’s a good question to have running through your mind.
You may need to do some homework before you commit anything to being written down.
There are lots of topics I’d have to do a lot of homework on before I wrote anything about them but my personal preference is to keep with things I know unless I’m on a quest to expand my knowledge in a new direction.
Since no-one knows everything (especially not the people who try to give that impression) then you’ll be in the same position.
But even if you know your subject reasonably well, you may need to “mug up” on the particular topic you want to write about.
If it’s been a while since you last read anything about the topic, things may have changed. That doesn’t just apply to current things – we’re finding out more every day, even about events that took place tens, hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
For instance, historians are still finding out things about Tutankhamun and his reign ended over 3,000 years ago.
Continental drift was only suggested just over a hundred years ago and only proved in the 1950’s and 60’s, so effectively it has only come to be generally accepted during my lifetime.
Other things are still in a state of flux.
So it’s worth spending a little bit of time doing a quick search to check that the information you’re about to write is correct.
That’s a good thing to do anyway – it’s not uncommon for our memories to play tricks on us – as it’s a lot easier to do a quick check before you hit “publish” than it is to get emails correcting you.
Creating my own content from scratch (blank screen) is my personal favourite method – I’ve gone into a lot more depth about that on this page – but I know a lot of people are filled with dread with that approach.
Employ a Writer to Create Your Content
Writers are a bit like the cliche of starving artists – they’re almost everywhere.
Whether or not their writing is any good is another matter of course.
You can use freelance sites to find writers or you can go to specialist sites like iWriter and Textbroker where you can specify the topic (keywords), writing style, article length and use price as a guideline for the quality you’re hoping to get back.
Employing a freelance writer is a common way to get personalised content for your website.
I’ve been doing it for more years than I care to remember – there’s only so many hours a day I can spend writing. Plus in my early days on the web I wasn’t as confident about creating my own content as I am now, so it was a useful way to get over that fear.
Whether the writers I’ve employed knew much about the subjects I asked them to write about, I’m not certain but my guess is probably not much.
That’s the issue with using a piece of freelance writing “as is” without taking the time to personalise it.
If you’ve ever read a newspaper article about a topic you know about personally, you’ll know this happens even with professional writers.
Years ago, I went to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall to see a performance by the composer (not the runner) David Bedford.
It was an excellent concert including Mike Oldfield as one of the guest performers.
But the review in The Times newspaper the following day was basically a (poor) re-write of the concert programme.
That review would have been passed via at least a sub-editor and, given how long ago the concerty took place, probably an editor as well.
But it was still just a re-write – I knew that because I’d been at the performance and had bought and read the (now long lost) programme.
Anyone who hadn’t been there would have thought the review was an original work.
The same kind of thing happens, especially as most of the printed press is cutting expenses due to declining circulations and revenue.
The main point to take away from this is that if whoever wrote the article doesn’t know much about the subject – which is probably the case more often than not with most of the cheaper content you’re likely to buy – then that will show though in what they write.
In turn, that will trigger small (or maybe big) warning bells in the mind of the reader.
If you’ve ever read or watched something and had a nagging doubt running through your mind, it’s probably because you know more about the subject that the person who’s trying to talk to you about it.
That affects response.
As does vague writing – the kind of generic content that could almost be about any topic you care to think about.
Plenty of examples of that on sites like EzineArticles – take this sentence from a travel article for instance: “The blue water of the sea, golden sand and the sunshine”.
That could apply to almost any seaside town with a beach in summer.
It’s typical of the filler content that you’ll get from the various article mills that are available.
That’s not particularly a criticism of article mills – they are the modern day equivalent of the industrial revolution where almost identical quality products were churned out in large quantities.
To a large extent, it’s a case of you get what you pay for,
Some sites even acknowledge that.
I was recently thinking about getting a press release written and one of the sites I found had two levels of service. One that included up to 45 minutes of research and one that was almost double the price that included “unlimited” research.
Writers are the same.
If you use a content mill there’s a good chance you’ll get relatively generic content, albeit content that will pass a Copyscape test, that is fairly bland and devoid of personality.
If you use a freelance site then you’ll almost certainly spend more time choosing the writer but you should be able to find someone who knows a bit about the subject or is prepared to do the necessary research,
Of course, it will probably cost more than the basic level on iWriter (currently $7.50 for 1,000 words at the lowest level) but maybe not as much as the top echelon there which would cost $64.75 for the same length article.
That’s quite a variance – almost nine times as much for the same amount of words.
Personally if I was spending that amount on an article I’d be using a freelance site where I had a lot more interaction with the writer but since it’s on offer I guess some people use that option.
The thing with content mills is that most of the time you can’t (or don’t) choose the writer.
Sure, there is an option to invite specific writers to your project and that could be worth investigating if you get enough articles written that you’ve had the chance to evaluate enough writers.
But my guess is that most people don’t do that.
Partly because the articles you do get written on iWriter are pretty much “luck of the draw” as to who you get.
In my experience, any article projects I’ve posted on iWriter get snapped up within minutes. So unless a particular writer is online at the precise moment I post the project and isn’t writing a different article, they’ll probably never see it.
The time you post a content creation project will affect the geographic location of the writers – if I post in the morning, UK time, there’s a good chance that I’ll get someone from India because it’s their afternoon. If I post at a different time then there’s a good chance I’d get a different mix of locations (including any nocturnal writers in India).
I’m not singling out India here – it’s just that I’ve used a lot of freelancers from there as the time difference versus the UK is workable. I’m awake fairly early and am available until well past the time most of them are asleep. In contrast with, say, Australia where it’s almost guaranteed that either the freelancer or myself won’t be awake.
If you’re using a freelance site, it’s well worth taking this into account.
In my experience, the logic Tim Ferris uses in 4 Hour Work Week doesn’t necessarily work in the real world unless you’ve got an experienced team working for you, managing the freelancers.
Which means you’ll need to decide on an approach – article mills or freelance sites.
Getting Good Content from Article Mills
I class sites such as iWriter and Textbroker as article mills.
Most of the time, you’ll get someone who can string together words well enough for the article to be unique and kind-of about the keyword phrase you hoped it would be about.
If you hit lucky, the writer will know a bit about the subject.
Quite a few of my sites are in the self-help niche and the new-age concepts involved also fit well with the outlook of a lot of Indians (plus a lot of Californians!), so I tend to post during their waking hours to increase my chance of getting a better quality article.
If your niche is more Westernised then I’d suggest that you experiment to find the best time to get decent writers or a site like Get Articles Done that historically has used writers from the USA (it’s been a long time since I used them so you’ll need to check whether this is still the case).
There’s no guarantee that you’ll find a good writer at a specific time of day or specific day of week but it’s definitely worth testing.
You need to remember that the success of getting your article written depends on a lot of factors, not just the person writing your content.
The keywords you choose are critical.
If they’re too vague then your article is guaranteed to be vague.
If I asked you to write 500 or 1,000 words and just gave you the keyword “content” then you wouldn’t really know what I wanted you to write about and you could write almost anything.
The beauty of the English language is that single words can have multiple meanings.
In this particular case, “content” could refer to website content (the subject of this post) but equally it could mean that someone was happy and contented or satisfied. Or it could be interpreted as the contents of a box – it’s not unheard of for words to get mangled or lost in translation.
I’d suggest that you should give your article writers a keyword phrase rather than single words.
Then explain further what you want them to write about…
Even with a multi-word keyword phrase it’s possible to get different interpretations.
Sites like iWriter give you plenty of space to really spell out what you’d like the writer to write.
That’s easier if you’re just using one keyword phrase or a handful of them but it can work for longer lists if your instructions are good enough.
Incidentally, my personal preference is to get one article written at a time.
It’s tempting to come up with a list of 5 or 10 keyword phrases that you’d like and maybe you can deal with that. But I’ve found that my personal preference is to have just one article written at a time rather than use one and have 4 or more articles taunting me with voices in my head saying “you haven’t used me yet”. I’ve done that and regretted it on more than one occasion and at the time of writing this post I’ve got 6 articles in my “to use” queue that seemed a good idea at the time but I haven’t used yet.
Using PLR (private label rights) for Content
PLR (private label rights) articles are everywhere.
As with everything else on the web, quality varies.
If you’re thinking of buying one of the pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap bundles with thousands of articles (I just spotted one of Fiverr with 26,000 “high quality” articles for $5 then there’s a good chance you’ll get garbage.
There might be one or two decent articles in there but you’d spend countless hours trying to find them.
And they’ll have been used “as is” anywhere and everywhere so you’d have to completely re-write them.
Maybe that size of article bundle would be good for keyword suggestions – if they were categorised well (that’s quite a big “if”) then you could possibly combine a handful of titles into the subtitles on a brand new article you wrote or had written.
But I’ve personally never had much luck with the multi-thousand article packs – yes, I did buy some when I was a novice as the sales pages are often very well written and plausible.
Then there are the smaller packs.
At the tme of writing, Fiverr has a pack of 125 articles on beer, 850 self help ebooks and articles, 300 ebooks and videos on health & fitness plus a bundle of 25 articles on camping.
That’s just scratching the surface and there’s a better chance that the quality will be higher on the smaller bundles. Either that or – if you’re cynical – just a small extract from one of the multi-thousand packs.
Sites like PLR Mini Mart are good because Tiffany Lambert (the owner and writer) has been in the market a long time and has a reputation to protect. So the quality will be higher than the average PLR pack.
But wherever you get PLR from you’ll still need to rewrite the content because even if it won’t be used on the web (maybe you’re using it for an autoresponder series) it won’t be in your voice.
There are people out there who will rewrite PLR. Including Fiverr and iWriter.
Tellingly, it’s more expensive on Fiverr to get an article re-written than it is to get it written freshly from scratch. Partly because they don’t let their entry level writers bid for rewriting projects.
That observation should tell you quite a bit about the complexity of rewriting PLR. Maybe because they’ve figured out that if you want an article rewritten it probably wasn’t overly good in the first place.
But if you’re happy rewriting other people’s words and making them coherent, readable and in your voice then PLR is certainly a place you could start.
Incidentally, EzineArticles have traditionally held a very low opinion of PLR – probably because it’s been used to try to get articles published – that they won’t even link to sites that mention PLR visibly. Back when I was still submitting articles to them, I had one rejected unless I changed a feature article on this site. From memory, their power to send traffic was on the wane at that stage so I think I chose to use the article elsewhere rather than remove a post from my own site – I can’t be certain – but the memory of the rejection email has stuck with me.
Use Software to “Write” Your Content
This isn’t going to be a particularly long section as I’m not a fan of article writing software.
It is improving – there was a case recently where a piece of artificial intelligence software co-wrote a short novel and it got past the first stage of a literary contest. So the “intelligence” is starting to happen.
But don’t expect the same kind of results from most software out there.
Typically the software available re-writes an article (hopefully better quality than the sub-one-cent PLR) by “spinning” it.
Most of the time, even if it’s not garbage in it’s definitely garbage out.
The only software I’m aware of that creates better than average software and that could pass for human written is a solution called WordAi.
I’ve not tested it personally – spinning articles really isn’t my style – but I’m on a forum that’s run by the developer, I’ve read the logic behind how it learns and I’ve read reports from people who use the software. Everything sounds positive so if you’re looking to use software to “write” your content, it could be worth investigating if you’re in need of sufficient quantities to justify the price tag. Good programming from an intelligent programmer doesn’t come cheap.
Then Personalise Your Content
When I have an article written for me, I treat it as very much the first draft.
Depending on the eventual site and purpose of the content, I’ll spend anything from a minute or so upwards on it.
So if the content is to appear as a guest post then there’s a good chance I won’t spend too much time on it unless it’s going to end up on a high quality site (in which case I’d probably write the article from scratch).
But if the content is going to end up on a site that real people will read and potentially buy one or more of the products I’m suggesting then it’s time to personalise it.
Most of the time, I split out paragraphs from articles I’ve had written.
As you can see from this site, I don’t follow regular rules on paragraphs and often they’re only one or two sentences long. I’ve been doing that as long as I can remember and got “told off” at school for it.
But extra white space is something we’ve become more and more used to. This approach helps with that.
If you get hold of a book from 100 years ago (plenty available free online) you’ll notice that the pages are quite densely packed.
Indents at the start of paragraphs are about as much “white space” as you get.
That stems from the fact that the whole printing process was relatively expensive, so including extra white space just to make the book easier to read wasn’t a priority.
Contrast that with most modern books where white space is used quite liberally and you’ll notice a big difference.
Online, the difference is even more noticeable: a wall of text usually means “hit the back button fast”.
Various studies have shown that we find it less easy to read on screen – reading speeds are slower and it’s not as easy to keep track. Maybe because there are a lot of distractions on a regular web page. I don’t use much in the way of eye candy on this site (a deliberate choice) but most sites have images, videos, adverts and all sorts of other distractions.
If you were confronted by a long screen of text for the main article, you’d probably ignore it.
So – to the indignation of English teachers everywhere – I split up the paragraphs in almost any article I use.
When I do that, I read through the sentence(s) in the paragraph and decide whether they’re OK or need tidying.
In the process, I usually expand the article a lot.
Normally it’s not the done thing to reveal your niche (on the basis that other people will attempt to copy you and some of them will do that better than you do) but I’m going to show you what I’ve done with a few excerpts from an iWriter article. I’ll run the risk that someone will figure out the site I’m using – at the moment, that’s a low risk for me because it’s been on the back burner for about 5 years and is getting near enough zero traffic.
The article I got back started like this:
“It may seem impossible to write a novel in 30 days but that is not the case. Below is information on how to write a novel in 30 days.”
Which is a fairly typical, fairly bland, start and is quite normal for a bought-in article, especially at the lower price levels.
I quite liked the first sentence (on checking now, it turns out the article has been lifted almost verbatim from a number of EzineArticles articles.
That’s awkward – and has changed how I’m going to write the rest of this post…
Eek – the article I paid for was compiled from 3 other articles
EzineArticles used to disallow most robots from crawling their site – that’s been the case as long as I can remember, mainly because they don’t want their site to be ripped off.
They let Google, Bing and the other major robots in.
But they used to ban a lot of the others – I’ve just checked and that’s actually no longer the case but it does mean that some robots will have got used to the idea and won’t crawl it anyway. There also used to be other behind-the-scenes things to stop their site being ripped off and those are probably still in place.
Which makes checking for plaigiarism awkward.
Copyscape certainly doesn’t find any instances of the three x 400 word articles that made up the final 1,200 word article I paid for being used elsewhere but searching Google for a few of the phrases meant I could find them easily.
I’ve sent my findings to iWriter support and hopefully they’ll figure out a way to trap for that in future.
I’ve paid for the article as I had no reason to suppose that it wasn’t OK. My past experience with iWriter has been that their checking works well.
Fortunately, I’ve changed a lot of the (compiled) article and expanded it from around 1,200 words to around 2,600 words.
So even though it was ripped off I think it will be OK to leave on my site.
Incidentally, this kind of checking is almost impossible to do before accepting an article – to protect writers from being ripped off by buyers, you can’t copy and paste from the preview screen so any checking has to be done by typing in phrases manually and life’s too short to do that.
OK, back to personalising the article…
I kept the first sentence in place (and checking the phrase in quotes I now find that Google has found that exact same sentence in 51 places on the web so the original article has probably been copied, which is within EzineArticles terms).
Then I changed the second sentence a lot – basically re-writing it because “below is information” isn’t something I’d write, even though Google has found around 373,000 instances of that phrase being used.
To me, it doesn’t “sound” right. I tend to read my words in my head – it’s less public than reading them out loud – and tend to go by whether or not the structure sounds OK.
For me, that’s more important than correct grammar.
My writing style is a lot closer to a conversation I’d be having with you face-to-face, minus the umms and errs and your side of the conversation of course.
You should develop your own style and go with that.
With some authors – especially those who use this approach – I feel as though I know them almost as much as if I’d met them in person and had a conversation with them.
The closer you can get to that approach, the better.
Sure, some readers won’t like your style. That’s fine – you can’t please everyone.
But those readers who do like your style will come back for more.
And the closer you can get to an individual style, the better.
So, going back to my approach with the article:
- Break up the paragraphs, even if you’d have been splattered with red ink if you’d done that at school
- Read the article as you go and modify each and every place where it’s not in your voice. That could be swapping the occasional word, it could be changing the grammar. Do whatever works best for you.
- Expand on the ideas in the original article. Most PLR and article mill articles are fairly bland and nowhere near as informative as they should be. I do my best to change the ideas from bland to personalised. So for content creation I’ll often talk about staring at a blank screen, procrastinating by re-checking Facebook and all the other things I know I do and other people do in order to avoid actually writing words.
- Add in points where they’ve been missed. I didn’t know when I planned to write this page that I’d be addng a whole section about how a sneaky writer had basically combined three articles into one. But even if that hadn’t been the case, providing you know your subject, there are almost always things that spring to mind as you edit the article. Add those in. Maybe as a bullet pointed list. Maybe as an extra sentence or two. Maybe a whole sub-section. Whatever suits the extra point you’ve now decided to make.
- Generally polish the article. You’ll probably never write the “perfect” piece of content, partly because there seem to be lots of different definitions of perfect. But the aim is to get an article that’s above average and then press the Publish button.
- Don’t be a complete perfectionist. Perfectionists tend to wait until everything is as perfect as it can possibly be. They use their perfectionism as an excuse not to publish their work but to leave it in draft mode for longer than even a civil servant would be comfortable with. Publish and be damned! The web isn’t print or carved in stone – you can always amend an article or even delete it if you decide that’s what you want to do. But if it’s not published, you won’t get any return on your effort.
That’s basically the whole process.
The beauty of tackling an article sentence by sentence is that it’s not too overwhelming.
Sure, the complete article may have tens or hundreds of sentences and probably has hundreds or thousands of words. But all you’re concentraing on at any given stage is something that would be a very short Facebook post or maybe even fit into a Tweet.
Then making sure that those snippets of the article gel together.
Read through your finished content
This is something I don’t do as often as I should. Mainly because I’ve been writing web and other content for most of my life so my process is to read as I type and (contrary to my advice of not editing as you write) doing any editing as I go.
But that’s not the approach you should take unless it’s one that sits comfortably with you.
Ideally, take a break before this stage.
Do something else to give your mind a rest.
That can be for an hour or so. Or it can be overnight.
Don’t leave it much longer than that or you’ll run the risk of the draft staying forever as a draft.
Then come back and read your close-to-finished piece of content.
If you’ve not done this often, read it out loud.
Because reading something out loud sounds a lot different from reading it in your head.
Wherever you stumble or find something difficult to read, that’s where you need to do some editing until it’s more fluent.
Don’t be hypercritical – if you can give yourself a high enough score (say 7/10 or better) then it’s good enough to publish.
You’ll get better the more you do. Or you’ll decide this really isn’t for you and will go down a different route to get content for your site.
Edit as much as necessary without doing a complete re-write (you’ve already done that).
Then – when you’re happy enough – press publish.
Tweet about your new piece of content, post about it on Facebook & LinkedIn and maybe even Google+.
Be proud of yourself.
And then start the process all over again.
Because one piece of content isn’t enough to make much of a difference to anything. But lots of pieces – added reasonably regularly – do make a difference and that’s the aim.