Article marketing is popular at the moment, and the basic idea is sound. You write articles that are useful and interesting, host them on sites like ezinearticles, and with all the trust and authority you generate, you’ll have more customers than you can handle pushing and shoving a path to your door.
Well, it sort of works like that. That flood of customers takes some time to generate. Remember that, especially online, we’re operating in a world of almost disabling clutter. It takes repetition and consistency to hold people’s attention. Once you have that attention, you can gain permission to start telling the story about what you do and why it’s valuable.
There’s another factor at work, though.
Most article marketing is terrible
It’s actually kind of scary how bad most articles are that use this strategy. Most of them reveal a writer with minimal education. The ones that sound like they’re written by a non-native speaker are actually a little better than the ones that stumble along with clumsy word choice, basic grammatical problems, awkward construction, and that good old standby, bad spelling. And that’s after a reputable site like ezinearticles has kicked out all the spam and patent garbage.
(Is there some nationwide lack of spell check tools? Are we suffering from a spell check shortage? Even if there’s no online tool created for you, is it really that hard to copy something into a word processing program and look for squiggly red lines?)
Learning to write is like learning to play piano
I try not to get annoyed when I hear people say, "I’m going to take a workshop so I can learn copywriting." It’s a lot easier to write copy than it is to fly the space shuttle or perform surgery. But there are a lot of factors to balance, and a couple of hundred things you need to learn to do well. There are mechanical aspects and storytelling aspects, rules of thumb and knowing when to ignore them, tone and voice and connotation.
I’m not saying you can’t do it. You can certainly do it. Just like you can certainly learn to play the piano. You might even learn how to play the piano well enough that someone would pay you to do it. But no one thinks a weekend workshop or $17 eBook is going to teach them everything they need to know about playing the piano.
Some people are exceptionally talented. I happen to remember Mr. Jalopy (over at Hoopty Rides) from another online hangout, quite a few years ago. He had one of the strongest natural writing voices I’ve ever seen. Sometimes he fluffs a comma or misspells something. You know what? If you’re Mr. Jalopy, no one cares.
But if you’re not a brilliant natural writer with an intensely sharp point of view and strong writing voice, you probably will need to study and practice quite a bit.
Good articles stand out
There is one nice thing about all of this. If you can write a good article (it does not have to be a great article), it will stand out. Going back to Godin’s The Dip, the fact that it’s hard makes it more valuable once you learn to do it. And yes, I’d say that almost anyone willing to work at it can write a good article. You might need someone else to look it over and fix a few problems (especially if you’re writing English as a second language—idiom is tricky). But you probably know someone who can do that for you.
(As a side point, yes, I can help you with that, and feel free to email me if you want to set something up. But this isn’t actually a shill for my services. If you’re aiming for a competent article that’s clear and avoids major errors, you’ll probably do just fine with a college student.)
So why do people hire professional writers and copyeditors?
Mr. Jalopy works partly because he’s so interested in his subject that you can’t help but go along with him. Professional writers can do that—they can make you give a damn about things you never thought about before.
Clarity and correct English are important, but there are other qualities that make for strong writing that starts to build relationships.
- Professional writing tells a story (stories are actually about more than writing, but that’s another post).
- It positions you (positively, we hope) in contrast to others in your field.
- It creates an emotional response.
- It makes a promise about who you are and what you have to contribute.
- It sets expectations correctly.
- It creates opportunities for delight.
- It means more than is said on the surface.
- It whets the appetite.
Should you use professional writing in article marketing? Good, competent articles might do the trick for you, especially if you have something that’s intrinsically interesting to write about. Great articles will take you to a different level altogether. They’ll start to tell a compelling story about who you are. They’ll begin to create your brand (if you’ll forgive the despised marketing term).
You’re the only one who knows if that’s what you’re ready to do.