The importance of pulling the plug

While fresh out of uni and only just embarking on my first ‘proper job’, I’m already becoming acquainted with the onset of fatigue that comes with working in an online environment. If you work in the field I’m sure you’ll know the feeling – staring at a computer screen all day is bound to leave your brain at least a little frazzled.

If you’re in the office now I’m sure you can glance around and pick up on the tell-tale signs. The getting up to make that umpteenth cup of tea. The compulsive hitting of refresh on Gmail and Tweetdeck on the off chance that something has happened in the last two minuets. The surreptitious checking of Facebook when you think no one’s watching. Did you know that low productivity directly correlates with the level of mush your brain has been reduced to due to over-exposure to the Internet? Fact.

Not that there’s any respite from the toxic and hazardous reach of the Internet. Thanks to the latest technological revolution there is virtually no escape from the Web – the latest figures show that the number of Internet users worldwide has risen from a paltry 360,985,492 to 2,405,518,376 since the year 2000. That’s over a third of the earth’s population.

While this growing migration online has had a huge impact on many of our working lives, revolutionising industries left right and centre, worse still is its effect on our personal time. I bet you couldn’t look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never been the even a little bit addicted to your smart phone at one point or another, the insatiable Internet fiend inside you ever hungry for the latest meme or cat video (the beauty of the Internet being there is always something you haven’t seen yet).

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

So we’re online at work. And let’s face it, we’re always online at home. So when do we get to unwind properly? It seems we can’t enjoy anything – lunch, the theatre, a holiday – without constantly letting our hundreds of vague online acquaintances know HOW MUCH FUN WE ARE HAVING. LOOK. (The upshot of this of course being serious life envy – ‘why aren’t I in Corfu?’)

Even on my recent holiday it seemed impossible to simply switch off and experience my time there through anything other than an iPhone lens.

Maybe Dave is dead?

After 8 hours on a plane flying to America, we’re all suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms. You need us to keep our phones turned off so we don’t disrupt the plane’s equipment? Screw the plane – I need to Instagram this stunning picture I took of the sun setting on the clouds as we flew over Sweden, and Twitter is currently being deprived of my witty commentary on airline food. #whatISthedeal?

#flying

#flying

As soon as we landed, the screech of the tyres on the runway was met almost immediately by the sound of two hundred iPhones booting up. But what were we really bothered about? It’s not like anything exciting is happening – like Dave getting engaged.

Saying that… what if he is? Him and Katie have been pretty good lately. Or what if he died? Is Dave dead? Dave is definitely dead. People will never forgive me if I miss the funeral.

I wonder if Helen’s had her baby yet?

And so on.

Before we know it, the holiday’s over and we’re back at Manchester Airport feeling like we’d never left. A huge waste of time.

Cut the wire

Once a year at Copify, IMAP is disabled, smart phone is confiscated and your laptop is locked in the office safe (I’m not sure where the safe is, but I’ve been told there is one).

We not only unplug, but we cut the wire completely. You have taken the red pill and are out of the matrix.

You’re then sent away and left to your own devices for two weeks. Cold turkey.

When you work in a small team and the “brain frazzle” happens at regular intervals, unplugging once in a while to maintain long term productivity is wise. For your health, it’s vital. Think of it as a cleansing detox – for your mind.

The first two days are hard. You may never know the latest news on the royal baby. How can you fully appreciate your lunch without anyone else admiring it? Your normally over-active brain is now forced to think about things that don’t fit in to 140 characters. Can I really do this? Will my fingers stop fidgeting?

Frankie says relax

After a week of craving, your brain is close to full reset. As a test, try and do some simple arithmetic in your head, or count the number of people you’ve actually spoken to in person that day. Feels good, huh?

Unplugging can seem scary, impossible even. But give it a go, and take comfort in the fact soon you’ll be back in the office, three monitors blazing, obsessively bashing the “Get Mail” button and dominating Candy Crush in your lunch break.

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 12.18.36

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Now it’s easy to create the perfect copywriting brief

We’ve just rolled out a new change that is going to make life for our customers a whole lot easier. In doing so, we’ve removed yet another barrier to creating great content.

We’ve taken our experience of processing over 10,000 content orders to bring you bespoke briefing templates for each different type of content. These can be completed in less than a minute and will save you the time and effort of having to write a brief from scratch.

Background

Previously briefs were entered into a simple text box. This was fine, but we found that some customers would miss out relevant, or in many cases essential information, which meant that writers often struggled to create copy that matched their requirements.

We have completely re-engineered the briefing process from the ground up, creating a bespoke template with different variables for each type of content.

Step 1 - choose your content type
Step 1 – choose your content type

Types of content

Blog posts & articles – The key variable in an article or blog post brief is whether it is a branded or a generic piece. This will resolve issues with clients being unable to publish copy as it has mentioned a competitor brand.

If the copy is to be branded, the writers will be asked not to mention any competitors. Also important is discovering what the purpose of the post is (inform, persuade or entertain) this will have a bearing on the type of language used.

Press releases – There are 3 key variables that have often been missing from press release briefs – the name of the client, what the subject of the release is, and a quote from a company spokesperson. We now gather all of this information at point of order. If you don’t have a quote prepared, don’t worry, the brief will ask the writer to create this on your behalf.

Web page content – USPs (Unique Selling Points) and calls to action are the 2 key ingredients in a successful web page. By providing these you can ensure that you receive copy that is not only compelling and informative, but also drives leads and sales.

Reviews – Reviews can be specified as either from a professional or a customer perspective and either positive or negative in tone. It’s also useful to provide a link to the product or service.

Product descriptions – Lots of people are frantically rewriting product descriptions as a result of Google algorithm updates. The key variables for success here are the site that the description is to be placed on (this will give the writer steer in terms of style and tone of voice) and also the USPs (not only of the product itself, but also the site, e.g. next day delivery, free returns etc.)

Bespoke briefing template for each content type
Bespoke briefing template for each content type

Once you have completed your briefing form, you will be presented with the brief that has been created on your behalf. This can be edited by clicking in the form.

The finished brief, based on your selections
The finished brief, based on your selections

Additional information

If you need to provide additional information such as word documents, PDFs or spreadsheets, these can still be attached. Each briefing template also contains a text box which you can use to communicate anything else that you think is relevant.

 

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We ♥ IE6

We’re constantly deploying new features to Copify.

Some are small updates that users are unlikely to notice. Others, where changes to the user interface are involved, require a bit more care and attention to make sure things are hunky-dory when it comes to cross-browser compatibility.

Let’s face it – the Internet is a mess. There are so many different browsers and devices, ensuring that your web-app works on all of them can be a bit of a minefield.

Thankfully, most modern browsers play nice, and all render HTML & CSS pretty much the same way.

Oh wait, no. They don’t. Do they, Bill?

Many agencies and web developers have fought hard for a long time to “convert” as many people as possible away from Internet Explorer, and with recent stats on browser usage it looks like it’s not all been in vain.

However, we still have a significant number of visitors using older versions of Internet Explorer (mainly IE6 and IE7) causing us headaches. One of the biggest headaches is testing.

If you’re on a Mac, or running Windows 7, you can’t just download IE6 and see how your site looks. You’re going to need XP.

In this post I’m going to show you how we use a virtual machine to test these older pesky browsers.

All you need is Windows 7 and a few gig disk space going spare.

Ready? You were born ready!

Windows Virtual PC

Head over to Microsoft’s website and download Windows Virtual PC. You don’t need “XP mode” so you can skip this if you like, just make sure that you select the correct version of Virtual PC for your machine and operating system.

Make sure you get the correct version 32bit V 64bit

Once the download has finished, have a bash at installing. You’ll figure it out.

Windows Virtual PC VHD

Next, you need to download the Windows Virtual disk image to run.

I need to test IE6 and IE7 on Windows XP so I download the package called “Windows_XP_IE6.exe”.

Take the mouse in your hand and click the thing that says “Download”

The disk image comes with Windows XP and IE6, and also the installation files for IE7.

However, once you’ve installed IE7 you can’t run IE6 again. So make a copy of the first image, rename it and use this for IE7.

Make a copy if you need to use both IE6 and IE7 regularly

Fire up Windows Virtual PC

First off, select which image you want to run.

Right click on the Windows XP VMC and enter “Settings“. From here you can choose which image to use. Change the setting for “Hard Disk 1” and browse for your disk image.

Choose which disk image to run

Login issue

As with many Microsoft products, there is some kind of annoying, inexplicable problem with its use. In this case, it’s the fact you are presented with an impenetrable login form.

To get round this, choose “Disable Integration Features”. No idea what this does, but it gets you to login screen that works!

Disable this to get to the normal login

You can now login with the username “IE User” and the password “Password1“.

Password is case sensitive! Bless.

IE6

You’ve now traveled back in time and are about to experience the wonders of 1990’s web browsing. I suggest playing some classic Nineties pop tunes  while you test to get the the full effect.

OK let’s Brogram this Mother until all the horribleness is gone. Done? Great!

Probably losing £££s because of this, but it’s too funny to care

We’ve made our fixes to ensure IE6 users get the best browsing experience, and we’re now ready to do the same for IE7.

IE7

If you never wish to use IE6 ever again in your life (highly likely) then just run the IE7 install.

Unfortunately for me I may have to revisit good ol’ IE6, so I just reconfigure Virtual Machine to use the image copy I made earlier. I’ve renamed them so I know which is which.

Choose the IE7 image this time

Again, work your magic and fix all the nasty codez with some CSS hacks.

If like us, you’re using Git (What? You’re not using Git? Why not?) this is a good time to commit your changes and wave and scream at your boss, hinting you’ve made your website look great for pensioners and public sector workers across the country.

Commit your changes. Feels good.

Having problems following this guide? Tweet now or forever hold your forever hold your peace.

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Debunking the myths about ‘content mills’

The best of times, the worst of times for copywriters
The best of times, the worst of times for copywriters

I’ve worked in the copywriting industry for a little over 5 years now. I’ve been a staffer at several online marketing agencies, a freelance copywriter, a contractor, and in my last full-time role, the SEO content guy for a retailer. I’ve earned very good rates and I’ve also earned peanuts. I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two along the way…

These days, when I’m not badger baiting or seal clubbing, I help to run what is known by some people as a ‘content mill’.

What is a ‘content mill’?

Coming From The Mill - L.S Lowry
Coming From The Mill – L.S Lowry

The term ‘content mill’ was originally used to describe companies like Demand Media, who churn out high volumes of content based on common search engine queries such as: “How do I tie my shoelaces?” These pages are monetised by Google Adsense and other forms of advertising.

We’re not a publisher of this type of content, or a supplier for that matter, but somehow we managed to get tarred with the same brush.

Content mills polarise opinion. Some people love them, others, like the newly-formed Professional Copywriters’ Network, think that they’re exploitative and even immoral. I’m hopefully going to debunk some of the myths that surround them.

There isn’t a need for content mills

Been scraping? You will get Googlewhacked
Been scraping? You will get Googlewhacked

Take the following scenario – you run an ecommerce business selling central heating systems. Because you’ve nicked all of the copy on your pages from your manufacturer’s websites you’ve been Googlewhacked. Your site isn’t getting any traffic, which means you aren’t making any money, so you need to get tens of thousands of product descriptions on your site re-written, and you need it done yesterday.

So where do you go? If you talk to a freelance copywriter, they’ll probably tell you that they might be able to start in a few weeks and it will take about 7 years for them to complete the lot.

You might go to a traditional copywriting agency, but even if they’ve got an in-house team of let’s say more than 10 (unlikely) it will take them several months to complete, and at an hourly rate of £100 it’ll cost you more than your annual turnover. You’re going to have to shift a lot of boilers to see any ROI.

Thanks to Uncle Google, we are getting loads of requests like this at the moment and as far as I can see, content mills are the only businesses that are able to service them.

Content mills are cheap

Copify is cheap in comparison to the rate card championed by the Professional Copywriters’ Network, but then these prices have been drawn up by people who are living in a dream world.

Hands up if you think this is reasonable. Anybody?
Hands up if you think this is reasonable. Anybody?

When deciding on our prices we examined the marketplace to come up with rates that would allow us to pay our writers a fair amount and make a decent profit margin, without (and this is the key) being prohibitively expensive for our customers.

We’re not the cheapest content mill around, nor the most expensive. In this list, compiled by Tom Critchlow, we are classed as ‘mid-range.’ Tom is head of search marketing at Distilled, one of the most respected SEO agencies in the world, so I think this speaks volumes about attitudes within the industry towards pricing.

The ‘per word’ model doesn’t work

Some copywriters argue that charging per word is wrong, but they’re not looking at it from a client’s perspective. There is a good reason why we chose this model, and it’s because our customers like to know what they are getting up front. They aren’t willing to pay for an indeterminate amount of words.

A lot of our customers, particularly in the SEO community, like to stick rigidly to a certain number of words on a page as they belief that this will help them to rank higher. It’s a simple principle, lots of words = lots of information = better content. As with ‘keyword density’, I believe that this is hokum, but I’m more than happy to service the demand. Who am I to tell them that they are wrong? If you want to run a successful business, you have to live by the principle that the customer is ALWAYS right.

Content mills produce low quality content

Member of the Professional Copywriters' Network?

Lots of people have claimed that content mills produce inferior, shoddyor low quality content, but I’m yet to read a negative review from someone who is completely impartial on the subject.

Our neighbours at NuBlue completed a comprehensive review of copy delivered by us, other content mills and a freelance copywriter. If you read this, you’ll see that it’s pretty objective, but of course being in the same building as us, certain people raised questions about conflicts of interest.

So we conducted a blind test on our own blog and the consensus was that the £15 Copify-written piece was better than than the £150 piece from a freelance copywriter.

Copywriting agencies aren’t bothered by content mills

Bothered?
Bothered?

The Professional Copywriters’ Network claims that they ‘aren’t too bothered‘ about content mills, which I’d believe, had the founders not spent the last 2 years trolling us and then launching a site to deal with the threat.

A lady who runs a well-known copywriting agency in London recently told me that she was ‘horrified’ by our business, and she’s right to be. The last time I saw a quote from her firm, it was for twice as much as the nearest competitor (we’re talking six figures here). Guess who won the contract?

 

‘Professional’ copywriters don’t work for content mills

We’ve got just over 300 writers, among them qualified journalists, marketing professionals, novelists and graduates of prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Several of them are even members of the Professional Copywriters’ Network 🙂

Most of our writers use the site to supplement their income from full time jobs or other copywriting projects. Why do they work for us?

  • They don’t have to prospect or pitch for work.
  • Jobs are there for them if and when they want them.
  • They don’t have to send out invoices that never get paid.

They’re happy, we’re happy, our customers are happy.

meetings are toxic
Meetings are toxic

You need to have meetings

If you want some copy, give a copywriter a brief detailing your requirements. This should include guidelines on the audience, purpose and style of the piece. The more detail you can provide, the better the outcome.

You don’t need to have a meeting. Some copywriters will tell you that you do, but bear in mind that they are probably billing you for the time.

Content mills exploit copywriters

Like most copywriters, I didn’t grow up with dreams of writing about laminate flooring or central heating, copywriting was something I fell into. I wanted to be a journalist, but I hadn’t bargained on how competitive it would be. When I graduated from University I begged the editor of my local rag to let me do some work experience, I even wrote a piece that they published, but they still wouldn’t let me. So I became a copywriter instead, but I still had to work for nothing for several months before I got my first paid gig.

Michael O'Leary
“If this is such a Siberian salt mine and I am such an ogre, then why are they still working?

Copify gives talented graduates the opportunity to build a portfolio and gain some valuable experience. They get paid to do it. 5 years ago, I’d have given my left arm for that sort of opportunity. We’re also giving established writers the chance to earn money by writing as and when they need it.

We have never claimed that we are offering people a living wage, but I can tell you that we have several writers who have regularly withdrawn a 4 figure sum from the site in a month. That’s a healthy contribution to anybody’s income.

Yes we take a cut, and yes we make a profit, but we’re not exactly dot com millionaires.

being cynical is easy
Being cynical is easy

It’s easy to be cynical about it, but I don’t see the founders of the Professional Copywriters’ Network doing anything to really help anybody but themselves.

Getting real

The demand for content mills reflects the priorities of our customers, namely cost, speed and scale. Usually in that order. If you don’t listen to your customers you will struggle at the best of times, but in a recession, you will die.

I think our argument can be summed up neatly by a conversation I had with a potential client a few weeks ago. He needed thousands of pages of duplicate content rewriting as soon as possible. We quoted for the work but we were turned down in favour of another supplier who agreed to take on the job for a quarter of our price. That’s £0.0075 (three quarters of a penny) per word. You guessed it, he sells boilers. I wished him good luck and told him that if he ever wanted to do it properly, he knew where to find me.

For what it’s worth, I really like the concept of the Professional Copywriters’ Network. The copywriter in me is rooting for them, but until they get real about pricing and the state of the market, I can’t see them doing much more than massaging their own egos.

Copify has been trading for just over 2 and a half years now. In that time we have supplied over 3.2 million words of copy to over 300 customers. Surely we must be doing something right?

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