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Google ranking on facts, not links? You’d better audit your fact checking!

April 17th, 2015 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

If you’ve been reading about Knowledge-Based Trust (also called the “Truth Algorithm”), you know that Google has looked into ranking websites based on the factual information it contains, either instead of – or more likely in addition to – rewarding sites with quality links pointing to the site. Google engineers published a paper about this technology on February 12, 2015.

According to Search Engine Journal, which quotes New Scientist, Google would assign trust scores to a web page based on the accuracy of the facts it contains. Then, it would rank pages based upon their factual reliability. And, while this isn’t good news for companies and websites willing to tilt the truth in the pursuit of sales, it’s excellent news from a journalistic perspective.

For journalists, fact checking is nothing new

Fact checking has always been a crucial element in journalism; the recent scandal with Rolling Stones illustrates what happens when a publication decides that a story is “too good to double-check.” But, it never hurts to have a refresher – or a new point of view about what’s important in fact checking. So we took a look around the web to see what we could share.

Many of the sites mention the basics – to always double check dates, dollar figures, the spelling of proper nouns (whether people or locations) and so forth. Make sure that any mathematical calculations are correct, that people’s ages are accurate and so forth. Making mistakes in these areas can damage your credibility, even if you get the rest of the piece right.

The process of fact checking describes it succinctly. “If you are writing for publication or academic purposes, you will want to do the final step of recording what you find. If you are fact checking for your own edification, this step may not be important to you.

  1. Read the material.
  2. Read the material a second time, marking passages for checking.
  3. Write down the claims to check and list keywords and potential resources to research.
  4. Do the research.
  5. Record results including the source.”

We recommend that you read the entire article for tips on how, more specifically, you should check facts.

Helpful tips

At, we found more good tips, including:

  • “If the story refers to a number of items within the story (15 steps to better health, 10 reasons to use an iPad), count the items.”
  • “If a story refers to someone as ‘the late,’ make sure the person is dead. Also, if a story refers to someone you remember as having died, check it.”
  • “If a story refers to a direction, check it. That may mean getting out a map and looking at the direction.”

If you’re writing for a site that reports breaking news, you want to break it first – but you also want to share it correctly. One easy way to get tripped up, especially when in a hurry, is to misinterpret or otherwise misreport statistics – and in today’s data journalism world, stats are frequently a key portion of the story. offers three useful tools to efficiently check data before publishing. One recommended resource is The Data Journalism Handbook, available for free online.

And, if you’re writing about politics – or even referencing political events in your writing – it can be doubly challenging to get to the facts. Much of what you read contains bias, whether subtly or openly. To fact check this material, consider, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception in U.S. politics.”

Not sure if you’re falling victim to an Internet hoax in your content? Check, and/or

What if you publish incorrect information?

Even the best writers, editors and fact checkers make mistakes. In print, you will sometimes see corrections published (often in small print in hard-to-find places); when you make an error online, it can be tempting to just fix it and hope that nobody has noticed. And, sometimes, you can get away with it (which still doesn’t mean it’s the right procedure!). In reality, of course, writers and publishers often find out about an error when someone else points it out.

When that happens, here is advice from the Digital Media Library Project that distinguishes between the terms “correction” and “retraction,” plus some basic advice about potential liability when inaccurate information is published:

“While the terms correction and retraction are sometimes used interchangeably, in general, a correction alerts your audience to factual errors that do not take away from your main point, while a retraction informs your audience of factual errors that impact the main point of the statements.

“Your willingness to correct past errors in your work will provide several benefits. First, it will make your work more accurate and reliable. This will increase your credibility, influence, and (hopefully) your page views.

“Second, it will likely diminish your liability for defamation and other potential legal claims. Keep in mind that correcting or retracting something you’ve previously published won’t not necessarily mean that you will escape liability. Although a retraction might satisfy the person making the request, in some cases the requester may still sue you for defamation.”

Fortunately, most errors aren’t serious enough in nature to lead to a defamation suit – but it’s good practice to check your facts as if it might, to keep your standards at the highest professional level.

What questions do you have about fact checking? What experiences can you share? Leave a comment below!

News about journalism and content marketing: what’s the ideal mix?

April 6th, 2015 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Boy, were we happy to read “How Hiring a Journalist Can Improve Your Content Marketing” by Robert McGuire (March 31, 2015) on the Content Marketing Institute website. We’ve been advocating the use of professional journalism techniques in content marketing since at least 2013 and it is wonderful validation to read this recommendation on a well-respected high-profile site.

McGuire says that, “The world is full of snappy writers who can garner traffic, clicks, and ‘likes’ that give a short-term lift to your promotion. But it’s getting noisy out there. Successful content marketing has to make a lasting impression and provide something authentic to your customers to create a real return on your marketing investment.”

He also lists key reasons why journalistic techniques are essential to compete in today’s crowded Internet. Journalists:

  • Find the unexplored angle on a familiar subject
  • Develop good questions
  • Gather information from high-quality sources
  • Synthesize the information into a highly valuable, reader-focused piece

We’ve been promoting journalism in content marketing since at least 2013 on our blog – and we talked about it internally even earlier than that.

Seek authoritative sources

McGuire points out a journalist’s ability to seek out sources of authority. Here are some of the times that we’ve provided resources to help in that quest.

In October 2013, we published Trusted sources: how to select the best interviews for your article or blog post. In this post, we shared – among other things – how to:

  • educate yourself before interviewing someone
  • find the right people to interview
  • distinguish your interviewee’s opinion from factual information provided

In February 2014, in Catch 22: expert sources or engagement first?, we offered more tips on using expert quotes effectively – and how to get the experts to provide you with these quotes without having to work so hard. Tips are also provided about how to use the same expert in multiple ways.

In May 2014, we talked about ways to find and use both primary and secondary sources in our post, Subject matter experts: how to find and choose expert sources.  This post includes more tips on vetting your experts to get the best information possible for your content.

By June 2014, we’d gotten feedback from some people who were afraid to conduct interviews. And, since many interviews are handled over the phone, rather than in person, we shared strategies in our post, Creating content that Google rewards – without (too much) phone anxiety. (I talk about one especially scary phone interview of my own!)

Embrace feedback – and, as McGuire says, check the ego at the door

McGuire writes the following (bolding his): “Reporters expect what they thought was an excellent article to be reviewed and edited by several other people before it is published.”

And, again, we totally agree that this trait of journalists will serve a company well when creating online content. In fact, being open to feedback, and knowing how to offer useful feedback, was the focus of some of our blogging in 2014.

In March 2014, we shared How to be open to receiving quality writing critiques, including on how to find the right critique partner and how to avoid being defensive when given feedback you don’t necessarily want to hear. And, when you find the right critique partner, that person is a keeper!

We also blogged about How to critique writing effectively that month, covering topics such as how to determine if you’re the right critique partner for another writer, how to effectively critique – and knowing when to push and when to back off.

In the same vein, we asked accomplished writers to share stories of their writing mentors in Celebrating writing mentorsand to help prevent the NEED for as much editing, we’ve provided proofreading tips (Proofreading tips: excellent ways to find mistakes inn copyFebruary 2014) and a behind-the-scenes chat with K.D. Sullivan, CEO of Untreed Reads Publishing (February 2014).

Highlighting a few more posts

We’d like to mention just three more related posts that we’ve written over the past year:

Here is the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics:

  • Seek truth and report it
  • Minimize harm
  • Act independently
  • Be accountable and transparent

For more detail, look at the bullet points under each main item in the code of ethics.

What journalism-related topics would you like covered in this blog? How can we help with your copy? Let us know in the comments below!

Bolster your holiday Internet marketing strategy with effective PPC marketing.

September 30th, 2014 by Phil Segal

PPC marketing strategy: Incorporating paid search into your holiday Internet marketing strategy

As an online marketer, the holiday shopping season seems to start earlier each year; that’s because, in many respects, it does. Advertisers push the bar by offering sales and other promotions earlier and earlier every year. For all practical purposes, you should consider November 1st the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and you should have your PPC marketing strategy planned well in advance.

Interest in ‘Black Friday Deals’ for the past 3 years:

Christmas Holiday Shopping

C = 2013
B = 2012
A = 2011

Key Christmas holiday shopping dates

Mark your calendar for these vital online shopping dates:

Veteran’s Day Weekend
Nov. 8 – Nov. 10, 2014 – Many retailers kick off the holiday sales push over Veteran’s Day weekend by offering a variety of discounts on Christmas gift products.

Nov. 27, 2014 – Christmas holiday shopping is about the only thing we do as well as eating on Thanksgiving weekend; perhaps the sheer volume of food consumed makes television, napping and online shopping the only viable options.

Black Friday
Nov. 28, 2014 – The Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year. Ensure that you are price competitive or have some other compelling offer to lure open-walleted shoppers like zombies to brains.

Cyber Monday
Dec. 1, 2014 – The online counterpart to Black Friday, Cyber Monday generates more revenue for retailers with each passing year, and is absolutely vital to your PPC marketing strategy.

Green Monday
Dec. 8, 2014 – coined by eBay to describe its best sales day in December, Green Monday is traditionally the 2nd Monday of December. Be unabashedly greedy with high bids and deep discounts for effective pay per click on this day.

Free Shipping Day
Dec. 18, 2014 – a one-day event when thousands of merchants offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve

How important is free shipping to your holiday Internet marketing strategy?

Paramount. There have been countless studies done that indicate the undeniable psychological impact of free shipping – even when the consumer ends up paying more in total for their items! – so I won’t beat a dead horse. If there is any way you can viably integrate free shipping into your holiday pay per click marketing offering, do so, and advertise it blatantly in every way you have available.

We hope this has been a helpful guide to bolstering your PPC holiday Internet marketing strategy. If you need help this holiday season, reach out to a seasoned pay per click marketing manager at The Search Guru today!

Try these free writing tools to improve your blogging

August 27th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Improve blogging with these free writing tools

Free Images

Make your blog posts more appealing by including eye-catching images. If you don’t have much of a budget, use Google to find royalty-free ones (but we advise further copyright verification).

1)   Search on Google images for what you need (let’s say, a happy writer):

Happy Writers

2)   Choose advanced search from the gear icon in the upper right:

Advanced Search

3)   Scroll down until you see the usage rights scrollbar and then choose “free to use or share, even commercially” or “free to use, share or modify, even commercially.”

Usage Rights

4)   In theory, these are free images (no 100% guarantees, though):

Free Images

Cut the flab

Plenty of free writing tools rate the effectiveness of a piece of writing but I’ve recently found one that I really like at You can copy and paste anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words into a box and then click “Run the test!”

The tool then provides automated feedback on these categories:

  • Overall
  • Verbs
  • Nouns
  • Prepositions
  • Adjectives/adverbs
  • It, this, that, there

Each will be rated as one of these:

  • Lean
  • Fit & trim
  • Needs toning
  • Flabby
  • Heart attack territory

Your goal: to have your text rated as lean or fit & trim. Our post’s text is rated as follows:

  • Overall: lean
  • Verbs: lean
  • Nouns: lean
  • Prepositions: lean
  • Adjectives/adverbs: lean
  • It, this, that, there: fit & trim


Writer's Diet

Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

Although the tool’s title sounds a bit flabby, the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer is kind of cool. You enter a headline of up to 20 words and then select, from a scrollbar, the intended industry of your audience. You’ll receive a rating, plus whether the type of headline is:

  • Intellectual
  • Empathetic
  • Spiritual

Here are results for our blog post:

  • Rating of 57.14%
  • Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have a rating of 30-40%
  • The most gifted copywriters will have a rating of 50-75%
  • This headline appeals equally to people’s spiritual and intellectual spheres


Advanced Marketing Institute

Which free writing tools do you recommend? Leave a comment below. 

Value content quality over quantity: experts share why

August 13th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Rare consensus: content quality over quantity

Quality rules!

We’ve all heard some version of this old joke: put ten experts in a room and you’ll get eleven different points of view. And, it’s largely true – in part because each human being has his or her own perspective. It’s also true because, in today’s noisy online world, having a different viewpoint can bring you much-wanted attention.

So consensus . . . it really gets our attention.  

We’ve noticed strong consensus on one particular issue, and that’s choosing quality over quantity when creating content. What’s interesting is that this consensus is built across disciplines as we’ll demonstrate below.

Let’s hear from HubSpot

Hubspot, a well-known inbound marketing platform, published the following advice (with the bolding appearing in their text): “Don’t dilute your high-quality content with mediocre or low-quality content. The consequence for doing so is the cheapening of your audience’s overall perception of your content and, thus, your brand. And who wants that?” (Content Quantity Diminishes Quality [Research] by Pamela Vaughan)

This isn’t simply Pamela’s – or HubSpot’s – opinion. Instead, it’s a conclusion based on studies that show how “coupling a high quality item with a low quality item diminishes the perception of both items’ overall quality.” This text is also bolded by HubSpot, which shows how important this concept is to the inbound marketing giant.

And, while we’ve known for years that Google holistically discounts sites that contain low quality content, these studies show that the human brain does, as well.

A blunter perspective

Content marketer Cairbre Sugrue from the United Kingdom says the following in his article, Content Spoils Broth: Quality Not Quantity: “Hastily crafted content with weak messages and little meat on the bone will inevitably end up dumped on the waste pile.

“I would go further and say that the content-marketing hype cycle is firmly wallowing in its own ‘trough of disillusionment’, because this obsession with content has clouded the true value of digital engagement. This is driving targeted – and therefore more efficient – engagements with customers that will ultimately increase customer intimacy and drive sales.

“At the heart of a successful strategy must be this focus on quality.”

From a public relations standpoint

Ragini Bhalla, a former journalist, shares the secret to PR success in her article, Don’t Bully Your Content Into Favoring Quantity Over Quality. Her perspective reads as follows: “So what is the secret to PR success? As Henry Ford once said, ‘Quality means doing it right when nobody else is looking.’ In today’s competitive marketplace, a brand’s PR success can live and die by its ability to tell and build its stories through content that is smart, authentic, compelling, useful, informative and engaging.”

Socially speaking

In the latter part of 2013, LinkedIn invited influential people to comment on the biggest trend for 2014. Tara Hunt, social digital leader at MSLGROUP, titled her perspective Big Idea 2014: Content Shifts to Quality Over Quantity.

Although it’s somewhat shocking to think that this could be considered a new idea in 2014, we agree wholeheartedly with Tara’s point of view. Part of it reads like this: “From my experience, there is a still a lack of understanding that goes into the creation and production of content…especially content that goes beyond the pushing of ad messaging through various social channels. The questions are too often, ‘How many posts on how many channels will I get for $x?’ and ‘How many fans can you get us?’ Companies are still viewing social media as outbound channels to acquire eyeballs and push messages and, therefore, attaching traditional notions of ROI to it. I look at this and think, ‘This relationship won’t end well.’”

Visual perspective

Finally, we want to share what Issie Lapowsky says in Upworthy Gets Smart About Quality Over Quantity: “the insanely fast-growing purveyor of inspiring video content wrote that it was taking a new approach to gauging success, one that’s based not on unique visitors, page views, or time on the site, but user engagement. They’re calling this metric ‘attention minutes.’”

And what captures our attention in a video clip – or in any other form of content – is not how many pieces exist, but the quality of the content that we’re looking at right now.

Question for readers

What do you think? Is there a case to be made that quantity is more important than quality? Or can we finally put this issue to rest? Leave a comment below. 

How effective listening skills are at the core of SEO

August 5th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Effective listening skills are at the core of SEO

Listening is the core of SEO

“I make progress by having people around me who are smarter than I am and listening to them. And I assume that everyone is smarter about something than I am.” Henry J. Kaiser

Listening served Kaiser well. He became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding (Kaiser Shipyards, Kaiser Steel and Kaiser Aluminum). He also created Kaiser Permanente to provide health care benefits to his workers and formed two auto companies that focused on safe design.

He also:

  • Became involved in the construction of civic centers and dams
  • Initiated the Kaiser Family Foundation to help solve tough health care issues in a non-partisan way
  • Kaiser listened well, no doubt. All too often, though, we listen for what we expect to hear, rather than hearing what is actually being said. All too often, we’re formulating our replies when we should be seeking to understand another point of view.

    And, who can educate you the most about what your business needs? According to John F. Smith, former CEO and president of General Motors, the answer is your customers: “We listened to what our customers wanted and acted on what they said. Good things happen when you pay attention.”

    Here are eight ways that listening is at the core of SEO:

    Listening tips for SEOs

    1)   You can listen to how your clients and prospects talk about issues that your products and/or services can solve through:

    1. Keyword research
    2. Keywords used to find your site
    3. Questions/comments (email, social media, in person)

    2)   Use a good portion of your copywriting time to address the issues being raised – by answering the questions actually being asked along with any deeper questions that you can discern. Remember that “the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” (Peter Drucker, a consultant who contributed greatly to the formation of the modern business corporation).

    3)   Carefully read the comments made on your blog and provide a personalized answer to each person until you have so many that you need to be more selective. Which posts generate comments and which ones don’t?

    4)   Listen to what’s being said about your company online and then respond appropriately. You can monitor these comments by setting up Google alerts, Twitter searches and more.

    5)   Set up A/B and/or multivariate testing on your site, and then experiment with different messages, images and so forth. You can listen in on your visitors’ preferences by seeing how successful each message mix is.

    6)   Site visitors send messages, loud and clear, by how long they stay on your site, how many pages they view, how quickly they leave your site and so forth. So, view your Google Analytics data often – with an open mind and listening ear. Leave your preconceived notions behind.

    7)   What are people saying about your company or your content on social media sites? How often are they sharing your content? What types of content performs the best? What doesn’t resonate?

    8)   Survey your customers and prospects, using tools such as SurveyMonkey. Ask targeted questions, make sure you have a statistically significant sampling – and then heed what is said.

    Note: if you’re not hearing negative messaging about your company on your blog, in social media or the search engine results pages, that’s good. But, are you hearing any positive messages – or is the reality that people aren’t talking about your company at all?

    If the silence is deafening, then you’ll need to step up your content creation and promotion, along with your interaction with social media fans and followers.

    Listening test

    “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” Doug Larson

    How good of a listener are you? Take this listening test for some interesting insights. What can you do to improve this crucial skill? Also discover why clarity is at the heart of SEO.

    What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

    Discover the ideal length for your online content

    July 26th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Schizophrenic advice about the length of online content

    Ideal Content Length

    We often get asked, “How long should my blog post or article be? What’s the best length?” There is, however, no magic number. Instead, it should be as long as necessary to provide the quality needed in today’s competitive online world.

    With online content, here’s the reality: you need to make the call about optimal length by taking into account what Google rewards, how people read in 2014 and how people are consuming (or not consuming) content on your site.

    Here you’ll find:

    • Five advantages of writing longer content
    • Five advantages of writing shorter content
    • Ten recommendations on how to walk the content length tightrope
    • What to do when you’re between a rock and hard place

    Five advantages of writing longer online content

    1)   Because of all of the online competition and noise, it’s virtually impossible to dash off a quick piece that’s better than what’s currently available online.

    2)   In August 2013, Google began rewarding and highlighting in-depth content, each of which is typically 2,000 to 5,000 words in length.

    3)   These highlighted in-depth pieces are not being pushed down the search engine results pages as Google adjusts rankings. Instead, they remain on page one.

    4)   Google spiders read text, not images; so, even though images are great, text is crucial.

    5)   Google rewards sites where visitors have longer on-page time and lower bounce rates, something you can achieve with engaging longer content.

    Five advantages of writing shorter content

    I’m so overwhelmed!

    1)   People are skimming and scanning content now more than ever before.

    2)   People are clicking off content faster than ever before, reading only 20 to 28% of a post.

    3)   When content is longer, it’s easier for readers to lose sight of the main point.

    4)   You can often write more posts in the same amount of time that it takes to write one longer post. More posts help to feed into Google’s need for fresh content.

    5)   Shorter content is easier to consume and therefore may be read by a greater number of people.

    Ten Recommendations

    1)   Do not sacrifice quality simply for the sake of shortening content. However, write the quality material in the most succinct way possible.

    2)   Structure your content so that it’s easy to scan.

    3)   Use clear headings and subheadings.

    4)   Use bullet points and numbered lists whenever relevant/possible.

    5)   Add eye-catching images, charts and graphics. Original is best.

    6)   Include useful authoritative outbound links whenever they would help your readers. Avoid putting them early in the post; instead, give your readers time to become engaged in your copy before linking out.

    7)   When adding external links, make sure that the linked-to webpage opens in another window so that readers can easily return to your post.

    8)   Monitor the success of each post in Google Analytics to see which posts are most popular. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

    9)   Monitor the social sharing of each post. Does a certain length seem more appealing to your readers?

    10)               Consider finding skilled beta readers who will review your posts before they are lived. Did a post drag somewhere? Do some cutting. Did the post have information gaps? Fill them in.

    Rock and a hard place

    Sometimes one of the suggestions given above will conflict with another. Given the two realities (Google rewarding longer content with online visitors increasingly scanning and skimming), there is no perfect answer – but here is a useful way to balance the two:

    1)   Write engaging and relevant content to captivate readers and entice them to read the entire blog post.

    2)   Put attention-catching material near the top and fill in with supplementary info later on; that way, people who want more info can choose to read on while those who are skimmers can still get the best of what you offer.

    3)   Follow the ten recommendations listed above whenever you can.

    4)   If there is an ethical reason why you need to break a recommendation – say, to provide a link early in a piece to avoid appearing to take credit for someone else’s idea – ethics wins, every time.

    5)   If breaking one of these recommended rules hurts the clarity of the piece, then choose clarity.

    How do you determine the best length for a blog post of article? Leave a comment below. 

    12 ways that clarity is the heart of SEO

    July 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    12 Ways that Clarity is the Heart of SEO

    Heart of SEO: Clarity

    1)   Before you ever begin to “SEO” your site, you will need a crystal clear business plan and set of business goals. While search engine optimization can help your site gain visibility and traffic, it can’t create a business for you.

    2)   Ensure that your site has logical structure and navigation paths. This makes it easier for prospects and customers to find what they need – and earns you thumbs up from Google.

    3)   Make sure that you use the most relevant terms and structure for your URLs.

    4)   Place right-sized content on the right pages. For example, if you sell widgets, gidgets and gadgets:

    1. Your home page should include high-level content about all three products
    2. Individual category pages should provide high-level content about that particular category of products; for example, your widget category page should provide high-level content about that type of product and link to gidgets and gadgets category pages (each of which also has relevant high-level content and logical internal links)
    3. Individual widget pages should describe what’s unique about a particular widget and make it easy for prospects to find other widgets that they might like as much or better; likewise for each individual gidget and gadget product page

    5)   Content should contain keywords used by prospects. Yes, this attracts targeted search engine traffic, which is great – but, more importantly, you’re speaking in the language of the people that you want to communicate with and please.

    6)   Highlight your products and services in the best way possible while still being 100% truthful. In other words, belief-proof your content.

    7)   In most instances, avoid jargon. Jargon is typically so vague that it adds nothing to a conversation and can confuse prospects. (Here is one exception to that rule.)

    8)   Use A/B or multivariate testing to make sure that you’re providing the best conversion pathways; in other words, clear away conversion roadblocks.

    9)   Set up appropriate KPIs in your analytics program so that you can clearly see what strategies are working for your site – and which ones aren’t.

    10)               Offer multiple methods for prospects to contact you so that you can answer their questions and clear up any confusion or misconceptions.

    11)               Craft succinct targeted title tags.

    12)               Create compelling and clickable meta description tags.

    How else is clarity the heart of SEO? Leave a comment below. 

    Transformational case study examples: use the magic of “because”

    July 15th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Transform case studies with the magic of “because”

    Moment of transformation

    Let’s say that I’m writing for a health and fitness blog with this audience: women who want to start working out but need motivation.

    I therefore decide to share the following experience: When I was in high school, our gym teacher told us to jog through nearby neighborhoods for 30 minutes. My friend and I, though, had a better idea. We trotted half a block to her house and then drank lemonade on her front porch, timing it so that we returned to the school at the right moment, slightly out of breath. A few years later, though, I realized that exercise was important and I found out that I actually enjoyed jogging.

    So, how’s that for a testimonial? Non-exercising women could relate to the lemonade strategy and would be encouraged that all was not hopeless.

    Well, you could use it. But, it’s not ideal. In this anecdote:

    • Two things happened:
      • In high school, I didn’t exercise
      • As an adult, I do
      • But these two things are not directly related

    What if the scenario had been different?

    Let’s say that:

    • When I got back to school that day, my teacher somehow knew that we’d spent our jogging time sipping cool drinks.
    • He told us that missing one day of exercise certainly wouldn’t hurt but added that regular exercise helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
    • I inwardly rolled my eyes and headed home.
    • When I got home, I saw an ambulance in my neighbor’s driveway.
    • Overweight, he’d just suffered a heart attack – and didn’t survive.
    • At that moment, I totally got what my gym teacher was trying to tell me.
    • So I committed to a regular workout program.

    In other words, I started to exercise regularly because of what had happened that day and I continue to enjoy a healthy lifestyle today.

    So, because of those events:

    • I changed in a fundamental way.
    • I had an epiphany.
    • I had a transformational moment.

    And that is the core of the most compelling case studies: capturing the precise moment of transformation, the moment when the light bulb finally turns on.

    Starting en media res

    Fiction writers are often told to start their stories “en media res,” meaning “in the midst of things.” In other words, start the novel or short story:

    • with the moment that your main character empties his mailbox and hears a package tick suspiciously
    • when a woman slams the door in the face of a sheepish-looking male, shouting, “I told you I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior anymore!”
    • when a woman looks at the results of her pregnancy test and bursts into tears

    In each of these cases, we don’t need to know someone’s life history to know that something is wrong, just like you didn’t need to hear my life’s story from birth on to know that, pre-lemonade day, I didn’t have the best attitude about exercise. A well-told story can start en media res and readers can catch on quickly without extraneous details.

    Using en media res in case studies

    Using techniques in case studies

    If you’re a bank wanting to encourage more savings, you could share the story of the woman who looked stunned at a cash register. Her credit card was denied and she had no other way to buy her son presents for Christmas.

    Let this woman share how this disaster caused her to rethink her spending habits and begin to budget her money. You could start your case study at the cash-register moment, without needing to share unnecessary back matter.

    But where do I get all of this material?

    Through case study research, which is nowhere near as complicated as you might imagine.

    You need to talk to your customers. Lots of them. The reality is that not every customer you chat with will have a life experience that translates well into a case study. But, if you talk with enough customers; if you talk with them often enough; and if you truly listen to what they have to say, then the cream will rise to the top.


    1)   Talk to customers – lots of them – often.

    2)   Train yourself to become attuned to listen to stories that will translate well into the best case studies.

    3)   When writing up a case study, share the event that leads to an epiphany that causes a shift in how someone thinks or lives.

    4)   Capture that moment of transformation.

    5)   When done well:

    • You can start en media res
    • You won’t even need to suggest products and/or services in your copy because the point is clearly made through storytelling

    And that’s the real beauty of case studies. Presented well, THEY make the case for products and services, which makes for very compelling marketing, indeed.

    Have you tried this type of case study research and writing? How did it work for you? Please leave a comment below.

    StoryBranding takes a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

    July 9th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

    StoryBranding: a fresh look at brand marketing strategies

    What brand marketing strategy should your company use?

    If, in 1891, you were suffering from a “bilious” or “nervous” disorder, apparently all you needed to do was take Beecham’s Pills, the “most marvelous antidote yet discovered.” In fact, it would also take care of your weak stomach, sick headache, impaired digestion, constipation and disordered liver. Wow. What a deal!

    Better yet, this miracle cure was “sold by all druggists” (which makes you wonder why they included a mailing address at the bottom of the ad to purchase the pills “if your druggist does not keep them” but, oh well). Or you could choose to take William Radam’s “Microbe Killer” that would “Cure All Diseases” with its formulation of sulfuric acid and red wine – a liquid that, taken in large enough quantities, was quite poisonous. Besides that, it just plain didn’t work.

    Fast forward to the mid-20th century when advertising was, in theory, much better regulated and, hopefully, more well-thought out. However, when looking at that era’s ads, you’ll see:

    • Camels cigarettes boasting that more doctors smoke their brand than any other
    • Babies sealed in clear plastic with the phrase “The Best Things in Life Come in Cellophane” embossed over their images
    • A wife being unreservedly spanked by her husband because she’d bought “flat, stale coffee” rather than Chase Sanborn

    It’s no wonder that marketing can feel . . . sometimes dishonest, sometimes desperate and sometimes downright sleazy in its attempts to grab the customer’s attention and get the almighty dollar. That’s why it was so refreshing to find an e-book titled StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through The Power of Story by Jim Signorelli that suggests a much better approach.

    I have to admit that, when I first saw this book, I was skeptical. I’ve read so many books/e-books/articles/blog posts/white papers/whatever on content creation and seen so many shady and/or distasteful marketing tactics that I didn’t really expect a fresh and straightforward perspective – but I was quickly proven wrong. Read the rest of this entry »