Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

by Ann Handley

Everybody Writes is a catchy title, although a more accurate one would be Writing Tips for Content Marketing.

Here’s the secret formula: “The multiplication signs are important, because if the value of any one of these things (Utility, Inspiration, or Empathy) is zero, then the sum of your content is a big fat zero, too… Utility x Inspiration x Empathy = Quality Content.” I think she means product—not sum—but I like the idea.

Handley offers advice from her experience in journalism. “No one will ever complain that you’ve made things too simple to understand. Of course, simple does not equal dumbed down. Another gem from my journalism professors: Assume the reader knows nothing. But don’t assume the reader is stupid.”

The author quotes William Strunk and E.B. White’s book The Elements of Style:   “Write in a way that comes naturally… Prefer the standard to the offbeat.”  Nevertheless, her favorite word seems to be grok.

  • “The challenge has shifted: we now grok the notion of content as a cornerstone of an online presence.”
  • “Some people are naturally empathic. They easily understand another’s point of view, and they immediately grok what another might be feeling in any scenario.”
  • “I’m tempted to insert something here about how stories have a remarkable capacity to stir our souls, to connect us, to shape a kind of shared experience… Increasingly, the best marketing has also grokked that, and so in the past few years we’ve seen an abundance of inspired brand storytelling.”
  • “Start by grokking a few characteristics of a compelling story.”
  • “I like brand journalist mostly as shorthand: it’s easy for companies and others to grok the meaning at a glance.”

For a chapter on copyright, fair use, and attribution, the author interviewed attorney Kerry O’Shea Gargone. “I like a final point of advice Kerry shared as an aside: Don’t be an asshat. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you? Asshat. Taking credit for someone else’s work? Definitely asshat. Entire sites are devoted to hating on people who have plagiarized or stolen other people’s copyrighted works. You don’t want to end up on one of them!”

Handley writes in a colloquial style: “Credit the original source (not the secondary)… Do her a solid.” Thankfully, I don’t recall anyone I know ever using this slang phrase. It evokes an image of potty training.

Part V addresses specific types of content, such as blog posts, email, Facebook posts, and tweets. Handley writes, “I’d say this section represents the block and tackle of marketing: if you get these right, you’re winning. But I’m terrible at sports, so I’m a little insecure about that metaphor.” Then why use it?

The book includes research by Andy Crestodina on the optimal length for various types of content to maximize search ranking, open rates, views, and shares. For example, “the ideal length for a Facebook post is between 100 and 140 characters—or about the same length as a tweet… ‘Length isn’t the only factor, or even the most important factor,’ Andy wrote. ‘Images, on the other hand, are important, because Facebook posts with graphics get four times as much response as posts without.’”

“More than almost any other social media platform, Twitter is intended for conversation and banter—often with strangers. That means tweets work best as a dialogue, because dialogue establishes rapport and encourages interaction… So write every tweet as you would speak it… to your girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, dog, cat, goldfish swimming in its fishbowl—or whoever [sic] you can imagine in the room with you.” Or whomever.

The author shares many interesting online resources in the book. Google Trends allows you to see what others have been searching for over time, graph how often a term has been searched for via Google, and point where those searchers are located. You can also browse searches by date or see the top searches in various categories via its Top Charts tab. Its Explore tab lets you see how a search term has trended over time and the direction it’s trended in.” The final chapter contains dozens of URLs for various resources such as infographics, research and knowledge management tools, writing and editing tools, style guides, productivity tools, blog idea generators, and searchable photo databases.

The author is chief content officer of MarketingProfs. The 74 chapters feel like a collection of recycled blog posts.

Handley, Ann. Everybody Writes: Your Go-to Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014. Buy from Amazon.com

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