Archive for January, 2017

The Powerful Mental Weapon That’s Being Used on You Right Now

by John Hargrave on 01/30/2017

There is a powerful weapon that Russia and the United States have been using against each other for decades. It is powerful because it works not by force or firepower, but on the mind.

It’s a weapon that’s been used on you over the last few months, without your knowledge. Even today, it is working on you, and you have little chance of resisting, without knowing what it is.

Before I reveal that secret weapon, I want to talk about a powerful counter-weapon, which is called a “free press.” The free press neutralizes this secret weapon by using a set of core values:

Accuracy: Ethical journalists provide well-researched, fact-based information. They do not work off gossip, hearsay, or political spin.

Independence: Ethical journalists are free from outside influence. They cannot be “bought.” (For a terrific example, watch the movie Spotlight.)

Impartiality: Ethical journalists must stay impartial. They must report on all sides of a story: one of the easiest ways you can check a story for bias.

Humanity: Ethical journalists have the power to disrupt human lives, so they treat subjects with respect and dignity.

Accountability: Ethical journalists are ultimately responsible for the quality and accuracy of the work they produce.

Trust in these values is important, for the same reason that trust in our medical system is important. Here’s an example.

The Sketchy Hospital

Let’s say you get wheeled into the emergency room of your local hospital with a mysterious pain in your abdomen, but you’re not entirely sure the doctors are trustworthy.

First, you’ve heard rumors that a few of the doctors sell organs on the side. That can’t possibly be true, you thought at the time, but now that they’re poking at your abdomen, you think, but maybe it is.

bad doctor

“Hi everybody!”

Now you start to view every doctor with suspicion. Is that male doctor with the earrings just a new breed of hipster physician, or did he just walk in off the street? That mysterious smell in the emergency room – is it embalming fluid? You see two nurses giving each other money: an organ payoff?

Imagine the doctors eventually conclude that you have appendicitis, and will need emergency surgery. Now you’re really freaked out. No time for a second opinion. Will you wake up in a bathtub of ice with your kidney removed?

You literally don’t know if they’re operating in your best interest.

The trust we place in the medical system is similar to the trust we place in the press. Without trust, the system collapses: we’re never sure if news stories or true, or rumor, or paid for by wealthy billionaires.

The flip side is that we can’t believe everything we read. Ethical journalists make mistakes, just as doctors make mistakes. But trust in the overall motives of the press – that they’re out to help us, not to harvest our kidneys – is important.

Imagine a world where you were never sure whether a news story was real, or paid for by the government. You would eventually learn to distrust everything you heard, because even good news would sound like political spin.

Because you wouldn’t know whom to believe, you’d become skeptical about everything, and this skepticism would eventually harden into cynicism and apathy. It would be like living with the searing abdominal pain, instead of risking your organs being harvested.

This is the kind of thinking we must resist.

The Weapon of Dezinformatsiya

For nearly a century, world superpowers have used a weapon called disinformation, or to be more blunt, “spreading lies.” [Read the Wikipedia entry here.]

The lies have to seem credible, so they are often mixed with the truth. For example, in the 1980s, Russia spread the lie that the United States invented AIDS. Once you get the idea in your head, it sticks. Even if you believe, that can’t possibly be true, a part of you thinks, but maybe it is. (It isn’t.)

Lies also spread like AIDS, except even more dangerously, because they spread in the mind. When you’re exposed to a lie, you’re at risk for “catching it.” The only vaccine is the truth, but some people are resistant to the truth, for reasons that remain a mystery to scientists.

A fascinating article in The New York Times tells how Russia has become the world leader in disinformation, using social media and fake news sites. While the United States has spread its share of whoppers, the Russians have the most powerful disinformation military in the world.

It is not a stretch to believe that Russia bought the most recent U.S. election: not through actual vote-rigging, but by pouring in so much misinformation that we didn’t know whom to believe. Ask yourself:

• Do I trust our politicians?
• Do I trust everything I read online?
• Do I find that I am more and more skeptical about news stories?
• Do I feel like I don’t know whom to believe?

If the answers are yes, the weapon of dezinformatsiya could be working on you right now. Here’s how you can resist it.

Lies Matter

We resist disinformation by resisting the idea of “alternative facts.” There is still “truth” and there are still “lies.” Lies matter.

We resist disinformation by speaking the truth. I run a media company, but we are all the media, if we blog or post or tweet.

We resist disinformation by holding ourselves to the same values as ethical journalists. Even if you’re just sharing a news story or posting a corporate blog, ask yourself:

• Is it accurate?
• Is it independent and impartial?
• Am I respecting the humanity of others?
• Am I ultimately accountable for what I’m saying?

The wars of today are being fought not with bodies and battlefields, but in our minds. Resist disinformation. Believe in a free press. Be part of that free press. This is how we win the war.

John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower.

To learn how Media Shower can help you nail your content marketing strategy this year, request a free content marketing assessment.

 

Top 10 Article Writing Services: iWriter Reviewed

by Laura College on 01/27/2017

Who doesn’t want to publish great content? It’s the perfect vehicle for getting noticed online, and informative articles serve as content’s backbone. When you need an article writing service to produce those articles, you can choose from many different companies.

To help you make an informed decision, we ranked the top 10 article writing services on the market today. We’re also creating in-depth reviews of each service so you can better understand what you should expect.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at iWriter, the number nine choice on our list.

iWriter Pros

You’ll notice right away that getting started at iWriter doesn’t take much time and effort. You simply create an account, request an order for an article, and wait to receive the completed article. You can either choose a writer from the pool or allow iWriter to assign one for you.

You’ll pay anywhere from $0.008 to $0.065 per word for an iWriter article. While this might seem like a great deal when you’re on a budget, it’s on the low end for freelance writers. This means that content quality might fall below your standards.

However, if you find a writer you like, you can continue to request articles from him or her. The company seems to focus on SEO-heavy articles around particular keywords, though you can specify what you want included in the article during the request phase. Additionally, you’re not obligated to pay for content that you don’t want to purchase.

iWriter Cons

We’re not enthusiastic about the deliverables from iWriter. These days, articles must contain dynamic content, from images and videos to screenshots and outbound and inbound links. iWriter delivers none of those things; you receive your article in text-only format, with no links, photographs, or other extras.

This pales in comparison to some of the top article writing services available, such as Media Shower. If you want to remain competitive in the online marketing sphere, you might want to look elsewhere for articles. Alternatively, you’ll have to add extras like links and photos yourself, which takes time.

What Customers Say About iWriter

Online reviews for iWriter prove extremely mixed. Some clients apparently love the service, while others warn potential customers away.

On SiteJabber.com, for instance, John S. calls iWriter a “[v]ery good service.” He goes on to say, “I order all my articles from here now and they all get done very quickly (usually no more than a day) and are totally unique! Great content for my website.”

By contrast, Tiffany Lambert of TiffanyDow.com reports that she didn’t receive unique content at all. In her review, she states that “[Her] main issue with being a buyer was that [her] content failed [C]opyscape.”

Other reviewers state that article quality can be hit or miss, even when ordering from the same writer. You only know the writer’s ranking in the system, so a new writer with no experience could offer excellent content, but an established writer who has pleased hundreds of non-picky customers might produce substandard articles.

If you’re looking for a more consistent article writing service, give Media Shower a try. We’re dedicated to providing the highest quality articles, which are all written by professional freelancers and edited by experts. Request a free content marketing assessment to learn how we can better help you with your article writing needs.

Why “Westworld” is the Future of Entertainment Content

by John Hargrave on 01/25/2017

I have been hooked on the HBO series Westworld. And in one important way, I hope it represents the future of the media.

Westworld tells the story of a futuristic theme park, populated with robots who look exactly like humans. The park is a throwback to the old West, like Frontierland at Walt Disney World, except that you can go on story quests like finding gold or robbing a train.

Along the way, you can get in “real” gunfights and hook up with “real” characters, but with none of the real-world consequences, because they’re robots. The park, then, caters to the most primal human desires – and since it’s HBO, there’s plenty of sex and violence to cater to ours.

The other half of Westworld takes place behind the scenes, exploring the inner politics of Delos, the company that runs the park. Founded by an enigmatic genius, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, we learn that the robots are gradually gaining consciousness – that is, becoming aware of themselves as robots.

On several levels, the show is a mind-bender. Written by Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote such trippy movies as Interstellar and Memento, it literally causes you to question your reality. As you watch the series, it is impossible not to ask metaphysical questions like:

  • Why do I think my reality is real?
  • Is there a programmer who created me?
  • Do I have a free will, or does it only seem that way?
  • Do I need to “wake up”?
  • How would I behave in a simulated environment with no consequences?

Of all the many story threads in this complicated tapestry, my favorite is about Maeve, the robot that achieves something like full consciousness of her situation. She learns how to “break out” of the Western-style theme park, into the R&D labs of Delos, and there she hacks her own programming.

Westworld has a magnificent, upward-sweeping story arc. While some characters undoubtedly fall into greater and greater moral ruin, the story of robots achieving human consciousness is one of the biggest issues of our day. With true artificial intelligence only a few years away, this is a question we need to urgently consider: what happens when the machines become smarter than humans? How will we respond?

Westworld is one of the only media outlets anywhere considering the implications of AI, alerting us to wake up and think about what’s coming. In that respect, it’s not only a show about the future of entertainment, it is the future of entertainment.

Westworld vs. Breaking Bad

Compare Westworld with another recent critically-acclaimed series, Breaking Bad.

If you haven’t seen it (I haven’t), Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer. Worried that he will leave his family alone and unsupported, he and one of his students convert an old RV into a meth lab and begin manufacturing drugs. Even when the cancer appears to go into remission, he continues his downward slide into becoming a drug lord.

Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, wanted to create a show where the main character is not gradually redeemed to good, but is gradually corrupted to evil. Gilligan’s one-sentence pitch to Hollywood execs: “This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

I never watched Breaking Bad, even with all its Emmys, even with my friends recommending it, because there are 62 episodes, and I didn’t want to spend 62 hours of my life in a slow downward spiral. Sixty-two hours draining me of energy, when I could invest it in things that charge me up.

There are many who disagree with me. Christianity Today made a surprising argument for watching the show, claiming that it highlights the importance of moral choices. “The story is a five season … argument whose conclusion is that you, viewer, also have a choice, in what to watch, or say, in how to treat people, in who to be.”

Studies show, however, that what we watch on TV colors how we see the world. If we watch crime shows, we perceive the world as more criminal. If we watch a lot of news, we perceive the world as more dangerous. I’ll let Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, explain to Rolling Stone how it affected him:

It started to affect my outlook on life. You start to see the world as Walter White sees the world, and Walt’s world is a dark place of suspicion and paranoia. You’re driving in a parking garage and thinking, “Jeez, there’s someone waiting to kill me.” There were times when I thought, “Boy, wouldn’t it be a blessing to have a character in my head who was good and true and honest?”

Whenever I get a recommendation on a new series from a friend, I ask, “If I invest a huge chunk of my free time into this show, am I going to feel energized and inspired? Or am I going to feel worn down and tired?” They like this question, because it rhymes.

In other words, I want positive story arcs. Surely Vince Gilligan can make a great show called Breaking Good.

The Future of Entertainment

I’ve been blogging about a new role for the media, where the goal is to move humanity forward. The entertainment industry is such a large part of the media that we need a new vision for the future of entertainment.

  • It will inspire. Imagine a future that shows the best of humanity, even in difficult times (think shows like Parks and Recreation and Community, movies like Rocky or The Shawshank Redemption.)
  • It will challenge. Imagine a future in which violent sports are considered taboo, and strategy games are humanity’s obsession, where we favor brains over brutality. (The Super Bowl becomes the Strategy Bowl.)
  • It will educate. Imagine a future where we have more entertainment that “sticks with you,” that causes you to view the world in a different way. (Think The Matrix or Pay It Forward.)

If this sounds really boring, then you’re not using your imagination. “Entertainment” is the opposite of “boring.” The entertainment industry has some of the most creative and brilliant people on the planet, and they can find a way to make anything awesome. (Remember that we have entire cable channels dedicated to history and cooking.)

If you blog, post or tweet anything entertaining, you’re part of the entertainment industry, too. Even if you’re just sharing a funny photo or video, or posting something humorous to your corporate blog, people are consuming the content you put out there, like food. Is it junk food, or something nutritious?

Together, let’s make content that entertains us while it trains us. Which people will like, because it rhymes.

 

John Hargrave is CEO of Media Shower, the leading content marketing company. Click here to try us for free.

What Can a Journalist-Turned-Marketing Writer Teach You About Content?

by Chris Martin on 01/23/2017

Matt Brennan

Matt Brennan is a Chicago-area marketing writer and the author of Write Right – Sell Now: How to Create Content That Will Grow Your Business. We had the opportunity to sit down with Matt to hear his thoughts about the state of content marketing, the importance of storytelling, and the advantages of various types of web content.

Tell us a bit about your background. How difficult was it to make the transition from journalist to marketing writer?

I wouldn’t say the process was difficult, but it is ongoing as the trends continue to change.

I worked in newspapers for several years before transitioning into a freelance career as a marketing copywriter. In my time as a journalist, I was lucky enough to be published in places like Boys’ Life, the Chicago Sun-Times, and several local newspapers and magazines.

But as you’re probably aware, there’s a sharp decline in newspaper journalism, and the traditional institutions just aren’t what they used to be. As that struggle unfolded, there were fewer reporters covering the news, and businesses and organizations began to take more control of their message. The same storytelling skills used in journalism are a critical part of blogging and online marketing. It seemed like a pretty natural transition for someone with my skill set.

I’ve read a lot of great books, articles, and blogs to educate myself on the marketing aspects of what I do. I’ve read some of the classics like David Ogilvy, and some of the modern voices like Jon Morrow, Brian Clark, and Chris Brogan. This helped immensely in filling in some of the blanks. I also picked up a web design certificate from a local community college that gave me a better full understanding of the online marketing process.

Since you focus heavily on storytelling in your marketing writing, could you tell us how you go about finding the “story” in what may appear to be a dull topic?

A lot of times, businesses don’t fully appreciate the knowledge that comes with their skill set. They view industry information as “common knowledge” and think that other people must know it, too. In other words, they may assume (often incorrectly) that what they know will be boring to the reader. Finding the “story” or an interesting angle involves being able to see things as your customer sees them. It takes being in touch with your audience.

There are a few different ways to accomplish this. You can ask your customers directly what kind of information they are looking for, either through a survey or in person. You can do keyword research to find the words and phrases that are receiving a lot of search volume. That usually indicates a demand. You can use your blog to answer the most frequently asked customer questions. All of these approaches will help ensure a built-in audience for your content. This is always a good place to start.

Sometimes, it might take tweaking the angle of your story or writing a more enticing headline to appeal to your readers. Take a look at your content that has done well, and try to duplicate those techniques.

What types of marketing writing “stories” tend to be well-received by readers of a blog, newsletter, or press release?

There are any number of directions you can go on all these mediums, and a lot is going to depend on the type of business you run and your audience. All that being said, here are a few observations:

The right story might go over well in all of those places. For example, if you have an employee celebrating their 50-year anniversary, this could be a human interest piece that would go over well in all three of those formats.

Customer success stories can also go over well in blogs or newsletters. How-tos are a great blog category, because you’re putting valuable information out there and helping your business in the search engines at the same time. The key thing is to keep experimenting and find the types of posts that will resonate with your audience.

Are press releases effective and appropriate for a company even if there is no “big company” news to report?

The answer to this question can vary from industry to industry and by your intended use for the press release. If you are in a business-to-customer industry, such as physical fitness where people are soaking up the latest trends, more press releases could be helpful.

For instance, it may help to be putting out releases with your local papers about ways to take off the weight in the new year, or ways to stick to your workout routine as you travel. There’s no real news there, but there would be a high level of interest. Maybe your release plants the seed for a feature story, and they use you as the source. I’ve seen businesses with a newsroom section on their site, and these kinds of helpful, valuable stories can definitely play a part.

If someone were to say to you, “I don’t see a value in producing a newsletter – it’s just already-written blog content pasted together and reformatted,” how might you respond?

A newsletter is a good way to reach your audience right in their inbox, which is hugely valuable. You also get the opportunity to grow your email list, which is important. It gives your audience a chance to see helpful content they may have missed.

Email marketing (which a newsletter is a big part of), has the highest level of customer acquisition and retention rates in marketing, according to emarketer.com. This is a great way to grow your audience and provide value while increasing your business’s sales.

Given the importance of copy editing, could you provide us with one copy editing “trick” that can help spot errors or make a piece of copy read better?

The best trick I’ve found is to read your work out loud. It’s a great way to focus on the rhythm of a piece and find errors that you may otherwise miss.

As you edit your work, think of yourself as a detective. Go through and fix anything you may find wrong with the piece, and see what you can do to tighten a sentence or make it better. That’s usually a good way to find a deeper level of concentration sentence by sentence. It’s also good to keep your full focus in what you’re doing for as long as you can. If you’re distracted every 30 seconds by Facebook or email, it’s harder to get any writing or editing done.

Don’t be afraid to look something up that looks suspicious. An AP Stylebook or even Google can help.

When you create marketing content for social media, how does it differ from the blog content you might produce for the same company?

Generally speaking, the blog post would be longer and more in depth. But both places would carry the same tone and voice of the company. Social might be a fun place to share pictures or quick updates. A blog is good for a more in-depth look or a topic with more mileage.

In the future, what types of marketing writing will be more in demand?

As far as written content, I see blogging and email marketing remaining significantly important. Blogs will remain significant because the website will continue to be the hub for the company’s marketing efforts. Blogs offer so many search engine benefits and also create an all-inclusive tool to assist potential customers with learning about your business and your industry. Finally, emails will remain important because it’s a good way to reach your audience in a personalized manner. People also tend to buy more from email.

Experiencing “blogger’s block?” Get three free content ideas for your blog today!

Top 10 Article Writing Services: SEO Article Writing Pros Reviewed

by Laura College on 01/20/2017

When you need a professional to write an article for yourself or your business, you want the best quality at a reasonable price. However, finding this needle in a haystack can prove overwhelming, which is why we’ve reviewed the top 10 article writing services. We want you to make an informed decision about your needs, whether you’re looking for a 500-word blog post or a 5,000-word e-book.

Today we’re taking a closer look at number eight on our list: SEO Article Writing Pros. While the company name lacks creativity, it deserves its spot because of decent reviews from past clients and because of its commitment to quality.

Pros of SEO Article Writing Pros

seo article writing pros
There are a few reasons to use SEO Article Writing Pros for your articles.

This is strictly an article writing service, which means that it doesn’t handle other facets of content marketing, such as distribution, promotion, or collaboration. Based on information from the corporate website, SEO Article Writing Pros hires only in-house writers and editors, which means that you should expect consistent quality.

SEO Article Writing Pros offers free revisions on every article you order. If you’re not satisfied, just provide your criticism and wait for the team to revise their work. Additionally, each article is 100 percent unique, so don’t worry about getting a spun article that might damage your reputation and your search engine ranking.

Cons of SEO Article Writing Pros

seo article writing pros
Transparency proves troublesome with SEO Article Writing Pros.

When you visit this company’s website, you learn what they do — write articles and other content for customers — but that’s about it. SEO Article Writing Pros doesn’t disclose any case studies or explain how they hire their writers and editors. Furthermore, the company doesn’t have a blog of its own, which isn’t particularly inspiring if you’re looking for blog writers.

We’re not impressed with the ordering process, either. You fill out a brief form on the company’s homepage. The form asks for the “# Of Articles/Posts/Pages,” the “word count per item” in increments of 100 and the total word count. You’re then asked to choose between standard, premium, and copywriting levels of quality. You’ll pay between $0.04 and $0.08 cents per word, and the number of free revisions varies depending on how much you’re willing to pay.

Since the company doesn’t explain the differences between those three levels — other than cost and revision count — potential customers might feel wary about selecting this article writing service.

What Customers Say About SEO Article Writing Pros

Very few reviews of this company exist on the Internet. In a thread at WarriorForum.com, one member says, “I tried SEO article writing pros, but the keyword density was over the top and so much that I think the search engines would penalize it.” Another user, however, comments that “I have used SEO Article Writing Pros on numerous occasions for different website topics. They have over-delivered for me. On the rare times that they had overloaded the keywords, they fixed it the same day.”

If you want to give SEO Article Writing Pros a try, we recommend ordering just one short article so you can gauge the quality and the experience. However, companies that want to hire a more transparent article writing service should consider Media Shower instead. We’re open and honest about our content generation process, and we’re always available to answer your questions. To learn more, contact us about your article writing needs.

“Apathy is the Enemy” – Fashion Copywriter Camilla Peffer Explains How to Keep Your Copy Fresh

by Chris Martin on 01/18/2017

Camilla Peffer is a fashion copywriter from Melbourne who writes for businesses all over the world. Camilla recently took some time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts with us about writing for the fashion industry and how freelance writers must adapt to succeed in today’s dynamic marketplace.

Tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to become a freelance copywriter?

I’d always known that I wanted to be a writer because I’ve always loved telling stories. In fact, when I was 6, my teacher accused me of plagiarism when I wrote and submitted a novella as a class assignment. From 1st grade detention to journalism school through to today as a copywriter for some big-name Australian brands, storytelling is still my passion. And SEO copywriting is one of the most challenging and fun ways to do it!

Since you do a lot of work for fashion and lifestyle websites and companies, could you tell us how writing content for this market differs from other industries and topics?

Fashion brands are on such a tight turnaround, particularly high street brands. Because of this, you have to be incredibly sensitive to the timely nature of their industry. Clients need copy ASAP; and as their chosen copywriter, you need to adapt quickly.

As for tone and style, fashion and lifestyle brands understand that customers don’t seek to merely own more stuff to clog their Instagram feeds with. They want an experience that stirs their emotions. Good copywriting alongside strong and compelling imagery should create a story for the customer where she is the heroine stepping into an ideal lifestyle through the power those clothes give her.

Since there is no shortage of fashion and lifestyle companies out there, how can you help a specific website or retailer stand out from the crowd?

By creating a strong tone of voice that resonates with that brand’s ideal customer.

One brand that does this particularly well is Nasty Gal. Their tone of voice seeks to empower, entertain, and engage their ideal customer through a cheeky, irreverent style that never holds back. Whether that’s through an email subject line, a blog post, or a simple product description, Nasty Gal has an incredibly consistent tone of voice that no doubt took a considerable amount of time to develop and implement.

It really is the key to getting your ideal customer to sit up and pay attention to you, because shoes and skirts won’t sell themselves.

You mention on your website that “apathy is the enemy” when it comes to copywriting. How do you keep your copy fresh and new?

One way I consistently ensure my copy is fresh is by staying on top of consumer trends and also paying attention to UX. The way we use websites and consume media is always changing. For example, three years ago it was a huge trend to ask a question in email subject lines and use first name personalization. Today, such techniques are outdated and don’t work because customers see through marketing tricks easily.

My philosophy is to stay on top of consumer trends, and of course, keep reading. Read everything. It inspires you.

When you market your skills as a copywriter, what have generally been the most successful methods or channels for you?

Getting on top of my SEO, hands-down. I get 80% of my clients through Google and was #1 in Melbourne for “Melbourne copywriter” for quite some time. I’m now at #2, but I’m working my way up!

Also, keeping your clients happy and fulfilling their needs. There is no better or smarter marketing than a happy client!

How is writing for social media different from writing web copy, articles, or blog posts?

It depends on which social media platform we’re talking about! Each social media platform has a different audience with different needs. In a nutshell, I consider social media almost a form of micro-blogging, so you want to stir some emotions in a super powerful and potent way. Social media is where you spark interest, whereas a website or blog post is where people go to get more information.

How do you demonstrate to clients that your copywriting efforts are working?

One easy way to stay on top of your results is by getting an SEO audit of your website. Once you’ve launched your new website, give it three months to see where you could further improve. Then, you can think about tweaking headlines and metadata.

How do you foresee the market for freelance copywriters like yourself changing or evolving in the future?

Copywriters need to wear multiple hats and expand their skill sets beyond the written word. They need to think about the bigger picture and how their words fit within a larger story – that larger story being the whole marketing mix. That’s why I don’t just offer a content writing service. I offer a suite of SEO services, along with content marketing and social media strategies. It’s important to be diverse because the market is always changing – and so should you.

Concerned that your blog or website content isn’t as good as it could be? Request a free content marketing assessment today!

Why You Should Treat Your Customers Like They’re Five Years Old

by John Hargrave on 01/16/2017

One of my favorite websites is the Reddit forum called Explain Like I’m Five, abbreviated “ELI5.” This is where smart people explain complicated topics, like string theory and international politics, as if you were five years old.

Here are a few of the top-rated explanations on ELI5. I apologize in advance for taking up the next hour of your time.

Note that the winning answers aren’t using baby words or talking down to us; they’re simply explaining these topics in a way that a layperson can understand.

The thing about Explaining Like I’m Five is that it’s actually far more difficult than Explaining Like I Should Understand This Stuff. Distilling a complex political or scientific subject down to its essence, so that it can be understood by folks without advanced degrees, takes a skill that most “experts” don’t have.

But it’s a skill that we need now more than ever. Here’s why.

 

Simplifying is Difficult

At our content marketing company Media Shower, the first thing we do with a new customer is write about their business in plain English: we ELI5. When a customer sells hardware for data lakes, or software for medical coding, it can be quite difficult to explain the business in plain English.

This is why so many business websites leave you scratching your head about what the heck the company actually does. They’re stuffed with industry jargon, or even terms they’ve made up themselves. It might make sense to employees, but to an outsider they may as well be manufacturing potions for wizards.

One of our mantras at Media Shower is, “Simplifying is Difficult.” It’s far more difficult to make things simple and clear than it is to muddle and confuse. It’s easy to throw stuff in; it’s harder to leave stuff out. It’s easier to write a paragraph of nonsense than a laser-crisp sentence of clarity.

Simplifying is about what you leave out. In the case of ELI5, you have to leave a lot of stuff out, including the nuance and detail. Sometimes we cynically call this “dumbing it down,” but I see it as the opposite. Boiling it down helps us to understand the basics; only then can we appreciate the details.

We can’t understand the pros and cons of the Trans-Pacific Partnership until we actually understand why the heck it was created in the first place. Then we can make a decision as to its strengths and weaknesses, without all the political rhetoric clouding our vision.

As the world grows in complexity, things are ever more difficult to understand, but our need to understand them is ever greater. They affect our lives in ways that are far more profound than the latest celebrity gossip, which is why we need the media to focus less on Eli Manning, and more on ELI5.

 

How the Media Can ELI5

In an earlier post, I talked about a new role for the media, one in which we use the news to move humanity forward.

Imagine a newscast that gives you context. When reporting on the latest peace talk in the Middle East, they start off with a quick reminder of the history of Israel and Palestine, perhaps done with Lego figures or simple animation. Wouldn’t this be better than assuming everyone understands what’s going on?

Imagine a newspaper with callouts. When reporting on the economic situation in Greece, it explains the backstory under the headline “Grecian Formula.” Wouldn’t this be better than assuming we are all up to date on the Greek economy?

This vision requires a new type of journalist. It needs talented writers who understand difficult topics well enough to simplify them. It needs writers who are skilled at making analogies (as in the example of Fat Albert and black holes). And it needs writers who are funny.

In fact, this could be an interesting project for Comedy Central, which has already redefined news with The Daily Show. But here we’re talking about real news, delivered with the right measure of entertainment so that it sinks in.

I still learned more about the legislative process from Schoolhouse Rock! than I did from years of civics classes:

And I learned more about the dangers of executive orders from this video than I did from years of reading The New York Times:

Explaining How to Fry Eggs

I’m sure you’ve seen “Featured Snippets” in Google, which are the quick-reference guides that pop up when you search something like “How to Fry an Egg”:

Now, frying an egg is the simplest thing in the world. Any cooking site worth its salt (heh) would assume its readers know how to heat up some oil in a pan and crack eggs. But every month, 25,000 people search for “how to fry an egg.” (I checked.)

Increasingly, Google rewards “fried egg” behavior with a Featured Snippet, because that quick step-by-step guide is really all you need to know. Voice activated AI services like Alexa Echo and Google Home are all about the quick, simple explanation. (“Alexa, who sang Schoolhouse Rock?”)

By educating the public with simple, plain-English explanations of current events, any media outlet can become that Featured Snippet authority. (Let’s call it the “fried egg approach.”)

That’s what we’re doing at Media Shower. Our content is regularly winning the Featured Snippet position in Google for our customers – a position that guarantees not only a flood of website traffic, but also makes them the foremost authority on that topic.

And there is still so much room for improvement with Featured Snippets, as you can see in the biased results for “what is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” Reddit’s ELI5 explanation is better.

If your business publishes online, if you write a personal blog, if you post or tweet, you’re part of the media. You have the ability – and the responsibility – to educate the world.

Teach us how to fry an egg. Explain like we’re five. That’s not dumbing it down; that’s smartening us up.

 

If you’re interested in your own Featured Snippet position, request a content marketing assessment from Media Shower.

Top 10 Article Writing Services: Zerys Reviewed

by Laura College on 01/13/2017

Article writers provide you with content for your blog, website, or other publication, but you might not want to sift through the thousands of individual writers who market their services online. That’s why we’ve ranked the top 10 article writing services. Now we’re providing an in-depth review of each, and today we’re zeroing in on Zerys, our pick for 7th best article writing service.

Pros of Zerys

zerys
You’ll like Zerys’ easy-to-use system.

Each writer on the Zerys platform receives a star rating between one and five. The more stars a writer has, the better his or her work quality. Of course, your definition of quality and someone else’s may vary, so you might have to work with multiple writers before you find one who fits your needs.

HubSpot recommends using Zerys’ SmartPost system to offer your first few assignments on the platform’s job board. That way, you get to know multiple writers and better understand how the system works.

While work quality can vary, Zerys doesn’t demand payment unless clients express satisfaction with the work. If you receive an article that doesn’t meet your standards, you can reject it outright and offer it to another writer.

Additionally, rates are typically low at Zerys. Writers command between $0.01 and $0.50 per word, though choosing a writer whose rates fall at the lower end of the spectrum can result in poor deliverables. You’re better off paying more for high-quality articles.

Cons of Zerys

zerys content
Want edited content? Expect to pay extra.

Zerys is the very definition of an article writing service. It connects writers with potential customers and allows them to communicate via the platform’s messaging software. You don’t get any extras unless you pay extra for them.

If you want your article edited by a professional, for instance, Zerys will charge an additional fee. The company will also offer other services, such as posting and distribution, but those services aren’t built into the article price. If you want full-service content marketing, you’ll want to inquire about White Glove service.

What Customers Say About Zerys

The internet is littered with mixed reviews on Zerys. Matthew Bivens of 98ToGo says that his company uses Zerys often, but notes that “Searching for new writers can be a tedious process. Because there are so many writers with so many different areas of expertise, finding the perfect writer can take some time.” However, he praises this article writing service’s “new Z3 platform” and its “superb” customer service. He also likes the company’s “editorial calendar feature.”

Meanwhile, Pandia gives Zerys four stars out of five, criticizing its “[e]xpensive special writers,” but commenting favorably on its “Strict deadlines for timely delivery, free content planning tools, interactive planner, variety of contents, pricing as per writer’s quality, marketing and SEO consulting for free, auto publishing to CMS, decline without a pay, pro team building, agency and SEO platform, revision request, [and] 24×7 support.

If you’re looking for an article writing service that combines other services into the article price, such as editing and distribution, we’re happy to talk with you about Media Shower’s services. We also hand-pick our writers for each project to ensure the best possible quality. Get three free content ideas to see just how seriously we take our customers’ satisfaction.

Expert Advice: How to Get the Most Out of WordPress

by Chris Martin on 01/11/2017

David Aguilera is one of the co-founders of Nelio Software, a Barcelona-based company focused on offering WordPress-related services such as content marketing and split tests. We had a chance to sit down with David to hear about the recent improvements and advancements of WordPress and to learn some tips on how to create a successful blog.

Tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to co-found a WordPress technology company?

Four years ago, while I was finishing my Ph.D. in Computer Science and thinking about what to do next, I thought that creating my own company along with some of my university colleagues would be an interesting challenge. Given our profile, we obviously wanted to create something related to software development.

The range of possibilities was huge, but there were a few requirements we wanted to meet: we wanted to use free software, have a strong community behind the platform of choice, build services that could scale up quickly, and have a customer base in a growing market. WordPress is the perfect platform since it satisfies all these needs – it runs 25% of all the blogs, it’s a well-established open-source software, and it has a friendly and welcoming community behind it. So here we are!

What are some of the latest features, functions, and add-ons to WordPress that you’re really excited about?

As a developer, I’m very interested in the new REST API. It’s been one of the hottest topics lately, and it’s finally part of the core. I’m quite sure it’ll revolutionize WordPress both from the inside and the outside. On the one hand, developers will be able to create faster and more robust applications on top of WordPress, while using it as a mere back-end to store data. Prototyping and building large projects will be easier, which will make WordPress even more popular than it is today. On the other hand, it’ll also allow the implementation of new interfaces for making the interaction between WordPress and its users more effective. One example of this is the new user interface available in WordPress.com, Calypso – a beautiful, fast, responsive, and modern dashboard for managing multiple WordPress installations.

As a user, I’m very excited about internationalization and improvements on the UX; both facets play an important role in really democratizing publishing and making it accessible to everybody. But don’t take my word for it; during the State of the Word 2015, Matt (the creator of WordPress) said the future of WordPress is in expanding to more languages/locales.

When you speak with members of the WordPress community, what are the issues and problems that are most frequently discussed?

From my experience, members of the community usually have a lot of tech-related questions, especially when they’re new to WordPress. These include what hosting provider they should use, how to change/customize themes, which plugin is better for a certain functionality, and so on. Luckily, WordPress and its ecosystem are evolving fast and the onboarding experience has improved a lot. Users can now have their own WordPress blog up and running in just a few clicks.

What is the most common mistake you see WordPress users making?

Giving up. Did you know that 95% of all blogs die before they turn one year old? That happens because their owners and authors simply give up. They don’t meet their expectations, they’re overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes, they don’t know how to do things properly. That’s what we as WordPress developers and evangelists should be focusing on: we need to help our users to keep going!

What are some areas of a company’s website that are the best-suited for A/B testing?

A/B testing (also known as split testing) is a marketing technique aimed at improving the conversions of your website. Given a certain page on your website (which we call version A), you create a variation with some changes on it (version B) using a split testing tool. Once the variation is ready, you start the test and both variations (A and B) are published. While the test is running, the split testing tool will split your visitors randomly so that half of them see version A and the rest see version B. The tool will monitor the conversion rates of each variation; and after a while, it will tell you which version (if any) performed best.

Consider this example: you have a website where you sell a product and only 1 out of 100 visitors ends up buying it. Is there anything you can do so that 5 out of 100 buy it? Of course there is! You basically need to change the website somehow (use different images, write different copy, apply different layouts, etc.) so that the new site sells more than the previous one (i.e. converts better). But that’s easier said than done, though.

Based on our experience, the areas that are best-suited for A/B testing are landing pages. They’re the first page most of your visitors will see, and it’s very important that it’s engaging enough to make your visitors want to keep browsing your site. Besides, split tests need a lot of traffic to be statistically significant, which means that pages with higher traffic rates are better-suited for testing. Other pages in your sales funnel should also be tested. Since they’re part of the selling process, they should be tested and optimized.

When using an editorial calendar to organize and schedule content, what are some important things to consider?

An editorial calendar is a simple resource that helps you organize your blog’s upcoming posts, along with all their associated tasks and promotion activities. If you want to effectively use your editorial calendar and improve your blog’s performance, follow these steps:

  • Generate ideas. Make sure you decide beforehand the topics you’ll be covering in your blog. This will help you in the subsequent tasks.
  • Schedule posts. Decide the concrete posts you’ll write and the exact dates you’ll publish them. Specific deadlines will help you stick to your
  • Be realistic. If you have a lot of ideas, it’s easy to fill the calendar with tons of posts. But remember: you’ll have to write them! Choose quality over quantity – don’t write a lot of crappy posts, but instead concentrate on fewer, high-quality articles!
  • Save time for promotion. Writing content is very important, but so is promoting it. To reach broader audiences, you need to continuously promote your posts on social media; so try to fill your calendar with social messages and marketing activities too.

How can rescheduling an already-published blog post actually boost traffic to a site?

I’d never recommend a user to reschedule an already-published blog post. However, they can promote it again on social media so that it drives new traffic to their blog. Or even better, they can rewrite the post entirely with up-to-date information and increase the chances of getting more traffic.

What do you think is in store for the future of WordPress? Will other blogging platforms emerge to compete with (or overtake) WordPress in terms of popularity?

I think we’ll see WordPress used as a headless CMS combined with different front ends powering different platforms. New blogging platforms might emerge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them used WordPress as their back-end.

No one can guarantee WordPress will keep its market share, but so far it has, and for good reason: its community is very active and takes special care of its users. As long as we focus on the needs of our users, help them solve their problems, concentrate on internationalization, and reduce their pain points, WordPress will be safe.

Stumped about what to put in your blog? Get three free content ideas today!

Content Marketers: We Are All the Media

by John Hargrave on 01/09/2017

Dimitri (not his real name) is not your typical teenager. He’s a go-getter who rakes in thousands of dollars per month with his successful web business. Considering that Dimitri lives in Macedonia, where the average wage is about $400 per month, he’s a wildly successful entrepreneur.

There’s only one problem: Dimitri makes his money spreading fake news.

Dimitri, and other teenagers like him, run political websites designed to look like well-known news outlets, publishing made-up stories and distributing them through social media. These stories, with headlines like “Obama Refuses to Leave Office,” or “Trump to Deport All Refugees,” generate enough ad revenue to make Dimitri a wealthy young man.

Much has been made in recent weeks about the rise of “fake news,” and how it impacted the 2016 U.S. political election. Social media made it easy to amplify unfounded rumors. Traditional media outlets sometimes picked up hoax stories. And ambitious high schoolers like Dimitri posted articles that they made up during biology class.

There’s only one problem with this storyline: it assumes that “real news” and “fake news” are completely separate, as if news stories are either black or white. But today there are more shades of grey than Mark Zuckerberg’s wardrobe. Here’s why.

 

The Imaginary Line in the Sand

We’ve created an imaginary line in the sand, with “real news” on one side and “fake news” on the other. But what about left-leaning media outlets (like Mother Jones) and right-leaning media outlets (like Fox News)? What about blog posts? Opinionated tweets?

The chart at the top of the article shows Google News stories on two critical issues of our time: Trump’s feud with Rosie O’Donnell vs. Trump’s pick for Secretary of Treasury. The Treasury secretary will make real-world decisions that will affect the global economy for generations to come. Yet there are over 30 times more news stories about Trump and Rosie O’Donnell.

At one time, the media was necessary to know what was going on in the world. Before the Internet, how could you possibly find out what was happening in Washington, Moscow, or Beijing? The media told us what was going on, and we trusted them implicitly. When the great Walter Cronkite ended every newscast with his signature tagline, “That’s the way it is,” well, that’s the way things were.

With the rise of cable news, the goal was to get more eyeballs, and keep them glued for longer. It’s hard to fill a 24-hour news channel, because there’s really not that much news. The media gradually got more sensational, so no matter when you tuned into CNN, it looked like something important was happening.

The job of the Secretary of Treasury is boring and difficult to understand; a feud with a comedian is much more entertaining. But which one is real news, and which one is fake?

It’s time to redefine the role of the media.

 

Moving Humanity Forward

We no longer need the media to spread information. We have too much information. Now that every smartphone is a broadcasting station, and every Twitter user a field reporter, we no longer need multiple news outlets telling us what’s happening. This is why it’s so hard for newspapers to stay in business: we’re not willing to pay for content when it’s all free online.

I propose that the new goal of today’s media should be to move humanity forward. This was the original promise of the media: to inform and educate the public, for the greater good. Today, this means focusing on three things:

  • Education: Most of us have only a surface understanding of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or how the U.S. really stands with China. The media could devote itself to simple, plain-English explanations of important issues that the average citizen could understand.
  • Inspiration: The rise of TED Talks show that people want to be inspired with good ideas. Why not devote the time spent covering arson and murder cases to covering innovative technologies, companies, and ideas? Rather than reporting on the negative, why not inspire with the positive?
  • Entertainment: Whether we want to admit it, we do want our news to be entertaining (which is why every major newspaper has a section devoted to it). News is boring. Why not hire newspeople specifically designed to entertain (like Dave Barry or the late Andy Rooney)?

There is value, of course, in true investigative reporting. When real journalists uncover scandal and corruption, that is a public good. But local stories, sports scores, weather: that’s just filler. You can get it all online, and usually without all the ads for the local Toyota dealer.

To move humanity forward is a far greater public good. The media has the biggest and loudest megaphone, and can use it most effectively. In an age where we don’t know what’s real and what’s fake, that is the best role for the media today.

I run a media company that does content marketing for businesses around the globe. Every one of our clients is a publisher, which means they’re in the media business, too. You are the media, if you blog or post or tweet. We are all the media, and we all have its power. Let’s use it wisely.

John Hargrave is CEO of Media Shower, the leading content marketing company. Click here to try us for free.

Image courtesy Michał Szymeczko via Flickr.