Monday, July 16, 2018

How to Write a Case Study: Bookmarkable Guide & Template

Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a struggle. Before you can even begin to expect to earn their business, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver on what your product or service promises.

Writing a case study is a great way to do that.

Sure, you could say that you're great at X, or that you're way ahead of the competition when it comes to Y. But at the end of the day, what you really need to win new business is cold, hard proof.

One of the best ways to prove your worth is through a compelling case study.

What Is a Case Study?

A case study examines a person's or business's specific challenge or goal, and how they solved for it. Case studies can vary greatly in length and focus on a number of details related to the initial challenge and applied solution.

In professional settings, it's common for a case study to tell the story of a successful business partnership between a vendor and a client.

Whether it's a brief snapshot of your client's health since working with you, or a long success story of the client's growth, your case study will measure this success using metrics that are agreed upon by the client you're featuring. Perhaps the success you're highlighting is in the number of leads your client generated, customers closed, or revenue gained. Any one of these key performance indicators (KPIs) are examples of your company's services in action.

When done correctly, these examples of your work can chronicle the positive impact your business has on existing or previous customers. New Call-to-action

To help you arm your prospects with information they can trust, we've put together a step-by-step guide on how to create effective case studies for your business -- as well as free case study templates for creating your own.

Want to learn as you write your case study? Listen to an audio summary of this post below.

Case Study Templates

How to Write a Business Case Study

1. Determine the case study's objective and format.

All business case studies are designed to demonstrate the value of your services, but they can focus on several different client objectives and take a few different forms.

Your first step when writing a case study is to determine the objective or goal of the subject you're featuring, and the format in which you'll create the case study. In other words, what will the client have succeeded in doing by the end of the piece? How will you tell this story?

Possible Case Study Objectives

The client objective you focus on will depend on what you want to prove to your future customers as a result of publishing this case study.

Your case study can focus on one of the following client objectives:

  • Complying with government regulation
  • Lowering business costs
  • Becoming profitable
  • Generating more leads
  • Closing on more customers
  • Generating more revenue
  • Expanding into a new market
  • Becoming more sustainable or energy-efficient

Possible Case Study Formats

Case studies don't have to be simple, written one-pagers. Using different media in your case study can allow you to promote your final piece on different channels. For example, while a written case study might just live on your website and get featured in a Facebook post, you can post an infographic case study on Pinterest, and a video case study on your YouTube channel.

Here are some different case study formats to consider:

Written Case Study

Consider writing this case study in the form of an ebook and converting it to a downloadable PDF. Then, gate the PDF behind a landing page and form for readers to fill out before downloading the piece, allowing this case study to generate leads for your business.

Video Case Study

Plan on meeting with the client and shooting an interview. Seeing the subject, in person, talk about the service you provided them can go a long way in the eyes of your potential customers.

Infographic Case Study

Use the long, vertical format of an infographic to tell your success story from top to bottom. As you progress down the infographic, emphasize major KPIs using bigger text and charts that show the successes your client has had since working with you.

Podcast Case Study

Podcasts are a platform for you to have a candid conversation with your client. This type of case study can sound more real and human to your audience -- they'll know the partnership between you and your client was a genuine success.

2. Find the right case study candidate.

Writing about your previous projects requires more than picking a client and telling a story. You need permission, quotes, and a plan. To start, here are a few things to look for in potential candidates.

Product Knowledge

It helps to select a customer who's well-versed in the logistics of your product or service. That way, he or she can better speak to the value of what you offer in a way that makes sense for future customers.

Remarkable Results

Clients that have seen the best results are going to make the strongest case studies. If their own businesses have seen an exemplary ROI from your product or service, they're more likely to convey the enthusiasm that you want prospects to feel, too.

One part of this step is to choose clients who have experienced unexpected success from your product or service. When you've provided non-traditional customers -- in industries that you don't usually work with, for example -- with positive results, it can help to remove doubts from prospects.

Recognizable Names

While small companies can have powerful stories, bigger or more notable brands tend to lend credibility to your own -- in some cases, having brand recognition can lead to 24.4X as much growth as companies without it.

Switchers

Customers that came to you after working with a competitor help highlight your competitive advantage, and might even sway decisions in your favor.

3. Reach out to your chosen subject.

To get the right case study candidate on board, you have to set the stage for clear and open communication. That means outlining expectations and a timeline right away -- not having those is one of the biggest culprits in delayed case study creation.

It's helpful to know what you'll need from your chosen subject, like permission to use any brand names and share the project information publicly. Kick off the process with an email that runs through exactly what they can expect from you, as well as what is expected of them. To give you an idea of what that might look like, check out this sample email:

Case study permission email template for sending to a client or subject

You might be wondering, "What's a Case Study Release Form?" or, "What's a Success Story Letter?" Let's break those down.

Case Study Release Form

This document can vary, depending on factors like the size of your business, the nature of your work, and what you intend to do with the case studies once they are completed. That said, you should typically aim to include the following in the Case Study Release Form:

  • A clear explanation of why you are creating this case study and how it will be used.
  • A statement defining the information and potentially trademarked information you expect to include about the company -- things like names, logos, job titles, and pictures.
  • An explanation of what you expect from the participant, beyond the completion of the case study. For example, is this customer willing to act as a reference or share feedback, and do you have permission to pass contact information along for these purposes?
  • A note about compensation.

Success Story Letter

As noted in the sample email, this document serves as an outline for the entire case study process. Other than a brief explanation of how the customer will benefit from case study participation, you'll want to be sure to define the following steps in the Success Story Letter.

The Acceptance

First, you'll need to receive internal approval from the company's marketing team. Once approved, the Release Form should be signed and returned to you. It's also a good time to determine a timeline that meets the needs and capabilities of both teams.

The Questionnaire

To ensure that you have a productive interview -- which is one of the best ways to collect information for the case study -- you'll want to ask the participant to complete a questionnaire prior to this conversation. That will provide your team with the necessary foundation to organize the interview, and get the most out of it.

The Interview

Once the questionnaire is completed, someone on your team should reach out to the participant to schedule a 30- to 60-minute interview, which should include a series of custom questions related to the customer's experience with your product or service.

The Draft Review

After the case study is composed, you'll want to send a draft to the customer, allowing an opportunity to give you feedback and edits.

The Final Approval

Once any necessary edits are completed, send a revised copy of the case study to the customer for final approval.

Once the case study goes live -- on your website or elsewhere -- it's best to contact the customer with a link to the page where the case study lives. Don't be afraid to ask your participants to share these links with their own networks, as it not only demonstrates your ability to deliver positive results, but their impressive growth, as well.

4. Ensure you're asking the right questions.

Before you execute the questionnaire and actual interview, make sure you're setting yourself up for success. A strong case study results from being prepared to ask the right questions. What do those look like? Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • What are your goals?
  • What challenges were you experiencing prior to purchasing our product or service?
  • What made our product or service stand out against our competitors?
  • What did your decision-making process look like?
  • How have you benefited from using our product or service? (Where applicable, always ask for data.)

Keep in mind that the questionnaire is designed to help you gain insights into what sort of strong, success-focused questions to ask during the actual interview. And once you get to that stage, we recommend that you follow the "Golden Rule of Interviewing." Sounds fancy, right? It's actually quite simple -- ask open-ended questions.

If you're looking to craft a compelling story, "yes" or "no" answers won't provide the details you need. Focus on questions that invite elaboration, such as, "Can you describe ...?" or, "Tell me about ..."

In terms of the interview structure, we recommend categorizing the questions and flow into six specific sections. Combined, they'll allow you to gather enough information to put together a rich, comprehensive study.

The Customer's Business

The goal of this section is to generate a better understanding of the company's current challenges and goals, and how they fit into the landscape of their industry. Sample questions might include:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • What are some of the objectives of your department at this time?

The Need for a Solution

In order to tell a compelling story, you need context. That helps match the customer's need with your solution. Sample questions might include:

  • What challenges and objectives led you to look for a solution?
  • What might have happened if you did not identify a solution?
  • Did you explore other solutions prior to this that did not work out? If so, what happened?

The Decision Process

Exploring how the customer arrived at the decision to work with you helps to guide potential customers through their own decision-making processes. Sample questions might include:

  • How did you hear about our product or service?
  • Who was involved in the selection process?
  • What was most important to you when evaluating your options?

The Implementation

The focus here should be placed on the customer's experience during the onboarding process. Sample questions might include:

  • How long did it take to get up and running?
  • Did that meet your expectations?
  • Who was involved in the process?

The Solution in Action

The goal of this section is to better understand how the customer is using your product or service. Sample questions might include:

  • Is there a particular aspect of the product or service that you rely on most?
  • Who is using the product or service?

The Results

In this section, you want to uncover impressive measurable outcomes -- the more numbers, the better. Sample questions might include:

  • How is the product or service helping you save time and increase productivity?
  • In what ways does that enhance your competitive advantage?
  • How much have you increased metrics X, Y, and Z?

5. Lay out your case study outline.

When it comes time to take all of the information you've collected and actually turn it into something, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Where should you start? What should you include? What's the best way to structure it?

To help you get a handle on this step, it's important to first understand that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the ways you can present a case study. They can be very visual, which you'll see in some of the examples we've included below, and can sometimes be communicated mostly through video or photos, with a bit of accompanying text.

Whether your case study is primarily written or visual, we recommend focusing on the seven-part outline, below. Note: Even if you do elect to use a visual case study, it should still include all of this information, but presented in its intended format.

  1. Title: Keep it short. Focus on highlighting the most compelling accomplishment.
  2. Executive Summary: A 2-4 sentence summary of the entire story. You'll want to follow it with 2-3 bullet points that display metrics showcasing success.
  3. About the Subject: An introduction to the person or company you served, which can be pulled from a LinkedIn Business profile or client website.
  4. Challenges and Objectives: A 2-3 paragraph description of the customer's challenges, prior to using your product or service. This section should also include the goals or objectives the customer set out to achieve.
  5. Your method: A 2-3 paragraph section that describes how your product or service provided a solution to their problem.
  6. Results: A 2-3 paragraph testimonial that proves how your product or service specifically benefited the person or company, and helped achieve its goals. Include numbers to quantify your contributions.
  7. Supporting Visuals or Quotes: Pick one or two powerful quotes that you would feature at the bottom of the sections above, as well as a visual that supports the story you are telling.

To help you visualize this case study outline, check out this case study template, which can also be downloaded here.

Case study template with sample outline

Case study template with sample outline 2

When laying out your case study, focus on conveying the information you've gathered in the most clear and concise way possible. Make it easy to scan and comprehend, and be sure to provide an attractive call-to-action at the bottom -- that should provide readers an opportunity to learn more about your product or service.

6. Publish and promote your case study.

Once you've completed your case study, it's time to publish and promote it. Some case study formats have pretty obvious promotional outlets -- a video case study can go on YouTube, just as an infographic case study can go on Pinterest.

But there are still other ways to publish and promote your case study. Here are a couple of ideas:

Gated Behind a Blog Post

As stated earlier in this article, written case studies make terrific lead-generators if you convert them into a downloadable format, like a PDF. To generate leads from your case study, consider writing a blog post that tells an abbreviated story of your client's success and asking readers to fill out a form with their name and email address if they'd like to read the rest in your PDF.

Then, promote this blog post on social media, through a Facebook post or a tweet.

Published as a Page on Your Website

As a growing business, you might need to display your case study out in the open to gain the trust of your target audience.

Rather than gating it behind a landing page, publish your case study to its own page on your website, and direct people here from your homepage with a "Case Studies" or "Testimonials" button along your homepage's top navigation bar.

Business Case Study Examples

You drove the results, made the connect, set the expectations, used the questionnaire to conduct a successful interview, and boiled down your findings into a compelling story. And after all of that, you're left with a little piece of sales enabling gold -- a case study.

To show you what a well-executed final product looks like, have a look at some of these marketing case study examples.

1. "New England Journal of Medicine," by Corey McPherson Nash

Case study example on New England Journal of Medicine, by Corey McPherson Nash

When branding and design studio Corey McPherson Nash showcases its work, it makes sense for it to be visual -- after all, that's what they do. So in building the case study for the studio's work on the New England Journal of Medicine's integrated advertising campaign -- a project that included the goal of promoting the client's digital presence -- Corey McPherson Nash showed its audience what it did, rather than purely telling it.

Notice that the case study does include some light written copy -- which includes the major points we've suggested -- but really lets the visuals do the talking, allowing users to really absorb the studio's services.

2. "Shopify Uses HubSpot CRM to Transform High Volume Sales Organization," by HubSpot

Case study example on Shopify, by HubSpot

What's interesting about this case study is the way it leads with the customer. That reflects a major HubSpot credo, which is to always solve for the customer first. The copy leads with a brief description of why Shopify uses HubSpot, and is accompanied by a short video and some basic statistics on the company.

Notice that this case study uses mixed-media. Yes, there is a short video, but it's elaborated upon in the additional text on the page. So while your case studies can use one or the other, don't be afraid to combine written copy with visuals to emphasize the project's success.

3. "Designing the Future of Urban Farming," by IDEO

Case study example on INFARM, by IDEO

Here's a design company that knows how to lead with simplicity in its case studies. As soon as the visitor arrives at the page, he or she is greeted with a big, bold photo, and two very simple columns of text -- "The Challenge" and "The Outcome."

Immediately, IDEO has communicated two of the case study's major pillars. And while that's great -- the company created a solution for vertical farming startup INFARM's challenge -- it doesn't stop there. As the user scrolls down, those pillars are elaborated upon with comprehensive (but not overwhelming) copy that outlines what that process looked like, replete with quotes and additional visuals.

4. "Secure Wi-Fi Wins Big for Tournament," by WatchGuard

Then, there are the cases when visuals can tell almost the entire story -- when executed correctly. Network security provider WatchGuard is able to do that through this video, which tells the story of how its services enhanced the attendee and vendor experience at the Windmill Ultimate Frisbee tournament.

Showcase Your Work

You work hard at what you do. Now, it's time to show it to the world -- and, perhaps more important, to potential customers.

But before you show off the projects that make you the proudest, make sure you follow the important steps that will help ensure that work is effectively communicated, and leaves all parties feeling good about it.

case study creation kit - guide + template

free case study template and guide

12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team

If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the people in the room. Like, the actual number of people in the room.

That's my first tip for you: Follow the "pizza rule" for brainstorming. If you're unfamiliar with the "pizza rule," it's the idea that if you have more people in a room than you could feed with a pizza, there are too many people in that room to hold a productive meeting.

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The same rule goes for a brainstorming session: If you've got a dozen people sitting around a table, expect a really long list of truly mediocre ideas.

So, what else can you do other than bribe a group of two to six people with pizza to unearth good ideas? So glad you asked.

12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas

1) Invite a diverse group of people.

If your team works on all of the same projects together, goes to team meetings together, sits next to each other in the office, and hangs out in the same group chats all day ... well, needless to say, the ideas will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

Instead, invite new people from other teams to your brainstorms -- people with different skill sets and experiences to help get you out of your rut and see things in a new way. It'll give you that great mix of new perspectives and contextual knowledge that'll help you land on ideas that are both original and doable.

2) Keep the meeting to 22(ish) minutes.

Nicole Steinbok advocates this technique, and it's one I've used with positive results. (I usually round up to 30 minutes, but what's a few minutes among friends?) It works particularly well for people like myself that thrive under the threat of a deadline.

In my experience, having a limited amount of time to brainstorm only works if all participants are actually ready for the meeting. (More on that in a minute.) But two other tenets Steinbok harps on are a no-laptop rule, and a no off-topic-banter rule. While some might disagree with the latter, I have found that aggressive time constraints help keep people on task and delivering their best ideas as a result.

3) Provide context and goals well before the meeting.

"Well before the meeting" doesn't mean that morning. Offer any pertinent information at least two business days in advance so people have a fighting chance at actually being prepared for the brainstorm.

In addition to providing any reading materials or contextual information that help set up the reason for the brainstorm (and explicitly asking that they read it, too), describe what the ideal outcome of the meeting looks like. This will help people come into the meeting understanding the scope of what you're all trying to do. I think you'll find this helps you avoid wasting time catching everyone up so you can get to the brainstorm right away.

If necessary, run your meeting like Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and dedicate 30 minutes specifically to quietly reading in a group to bring everyone together -- especially if they won't have time to read before the meeting.

4) Ask people to come prepared with some ideas.

Often, great ideas don't show themselves when you ask them to. They pop up on the train, in the shower, while you're watching TV ... basically any time you're not actually trying to come up with the idea.

This is one reason why it's good to provide a few days of lead-time before your meeting, but it's also why you might want to explicitly ask people to think of some ideas beforehand. With this approach, you might find that you start the meeting off with pretty strong ideas from the get-go, and the group can add to and modify them to make them even stronger. In fact, this hybrid brainstorming approach was found to be more effective in a University of Pennsylvania study.

Frankly, I've also found that when everyone comes in cold turkey, the brainstorm often ends with a long list of very uninspired ideas. At the very least, whoever runs the brainstorm should come with a few ideas to kick off the brainstorm and give an indication of what a good idea looks like.

5) Say "no" to the bad ideas. Fast.

It might be brainstorm heresy to recommend people squash bad ideas, but I've seen one too many brainstorms go astray because people are too scared to say "no." This is particularly important if you're trying to run a quick brainstorm session.

Yes, there's a fine line: Squashing bad ideas could lead people to fear speaking up, missing out on good ideas as a result. But if you're giving every idea equal due regardless of merit, then you get off-track real fast and end up down a bad idea rabbit hole.

Better brainstorms that yield better ideas leave time to nurture the strongest inclinations.

On that note ...

6) Foster an environment where bad ideas are okay.

Yes, you should call out bad ideas. But you should also make it okay that people had them. Call out your own ideas, in fact. If people can speak freely, but not feel stupid for doing so, you'll get more ideas out -- which makes it more likely you'll land on a good one.

7) Lean into constraints.

If you have every resource and opportunity in the world, creativity will naturally stifle. Lay out the constraints you're working within in terms of goals and resources for executing any idea you come up with. Then, try to see those as opportunities for creativity instead of roadblocks that make it impossible to come up with a good idea.

8) Lean into silence.

Anyone in sales already knows: Silence is power. In a brainstorm, silences are times when people get thinking done -- either about their own ideas, or how to build on the last idea that came up.

And hey, it might also encourage more people to speak up with an idea, just out of their hatred of uncomfortable silences.

9) Lean into failure ... outside of the brainstorm.

If you have a team where taking smart risks -- regardless of outcome -- is rewarded, people will have a better sense of what ideas are worth pursuing and what's worth passing on. Because, you know, they do it a lot and get a second sense for these things.

If experimentation is a part of your team culture, that'll manifest itself in better ideas than if your team is stuck in stasis. You'll have better brainstorms where creative and smart, yet risky ideas come out.

10) Be prepared to ditch the meeting altogether.

Sometimes in-person meetings aren't the right format for unearthing good ideas. Certain brainstorms can be better performed digitally.

For example, we often resort to Google Docs or Slack for brainstorms when curating blog post or title ideas across a large group of people. There's really no need to pull everyone away from their work to participate in a brainstorm like that -- and the benefit is that people can participate on their own time, when they're ready and eager to contribute ideas, not when the meeting happens to occur.

11) Provide a place for anonymous submissions.

For some people, the "right" format might be an anonymous submission. Provide a place for anonymous idea submission both before and after the meeting. People might have some ideas that they're reticent to bring up in front of the group. It'd be a shame to miss out on those ideas due to shyness, discomfort, or simply a preference for writing out ideas instead of speaking about them. This is easy to set up through a Google form.

12) Be prepared to pursue absolutely nothing that came out of that brainstorm.

Don't feel like you have to choose and pursue an idea just because you had a brainstorm. If the brainstorm didn't yield any good ideas, that's fine. It wasn't a waste of time. But you will waste your time if you pursue an idea that isn't worth doing. Moving forward with the lesser of all evils is still ... evil.

Instead, do some reflection on your own about why the ideas aren't ready to see the light of day, and see if any are worth more thought before ditching them. Perhaps you'll get another group of people in a room to iterate on them -- or even the same group once they've had some distance from the ideas. Now that ideas have started flowing, you might find a second round of brainstorming yields something even better.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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How to Write Compelling Copy: 7 Tips for Writing Content That Converts

Copy is writing that sells, so by definition, it has to be compelling.

Does your copy also have to be concise? Yes. Does it have to be clear? Absolutely. Brevity and clarity will ensure that your message is digestible, which is important if you want your words to be read and understood with ease. That said, the clearest, most concise copy ever written is still a bust if it doesn’t compel its readers to act.

Compelling copy fascinates its target audience and drives them to pull the trigger on a CTA. It does this by capturing their attention, unearthing a pain they're desperate to assuage, and presenting a mutually valuable, solution-driven call-to-action.

If your goal is to write clear, concise copy, then you can train yourself to do that. Just follow a few guidelines and, of course, practice. But if you want to write compelling copy, then you have to do a lot of research and even more critical thinking.

Let’s break it down ...

How to Write Compelling Copy

Before you start that next sales email or landing page, try some of the tips below. Working through them will take some time and thought, but the effort will be worth it when you walk away knowing exactly how to frame your message to achieve the best response.

1) Get to know your target prospect.

The most effective fishermen vary their bait depending on the fish they aim to catch. They know that bass, for example, go after earthworms. Carp love corn. Crappie respond well to rubber lures. Fishermen also adjust their technique depending on the time of day, the water conditions, and the season. They soak up as much information as possible about the fish and it’s environment, ultimately using their learnings to attract and, hopefully, hook.

As it happens, marketers operate similarly, learning as much as they can about their target prospects before casting them their message. Doing so makes it easier to highlight irresistible benefits throughout their copy. Benefits that relieve ultra-specific pain points, making the offer all the more compelling to the right audience.

To accurately and efficiently isolate your target prospect's problems (which will illuminate the benefits most fascinating to them) start by answering a series of questions about their personal background, their company and the position they hold, and their challenges, goals, and shopping preferences. In other words, create a buyer persona. As a result, you’ll amass an abundance of invaluable information that you can then use to attract attention and inspire action.

2) Exploit the psychology of exclusivity.

If you want more buzz than you can handle, make your prospects feel special. Tell them they’ve been “hand-selected” or “randomly picked” to receive your offer. Isolate them ... but in a good way. Make them feel important. People love feeling important.

In fact, self-esteem, or how we view ourselves, is near the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That’s how important feeling important is to people. It’s a need marketers have been exploiting for decades …

In an article for Fast Company, Robert Rosenthal points us to this U.S. Marines tagline: “The Few. The Proud.” And this American Express tagline: “Membership has its privileges.”

The folks at Google played the exclusivity card, too, creating a frenzy when they launched a soft beta of Google+ and invited only a select few users to create a profile. Google’s marketing team wasn't trying to be mean, they were trying to create desire (that compels) out of thin air. And they succeeded. Psychology’s good for that.

3) Make it emotional.

When it comes to converting a prospect, the features of your product or service will only get you so far. Why? Because features appeal to your prospect’s logical brain. And purchases aren’t driven by logic. They hinge on emotion, which explains why good commercials make us want to laugh or cry or pick up the phone to call home.

For example, Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign was so powerful and thought provoking that it went viral before such a thing even existed. The campaign has been active for over a decade, resonating with millions of women who were left feeling empowered by its message: you are not defined by your makeup.

Dove_Real_Beauty.png

Image Credit: Ad Fuel

That sentiment created countless emotional moments. Those emotions, then, were what drove Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to its celebrated (and well-deserved) success.

(And when those moments weren’t compelling people to reach for Dove soap, they were driving a new social perspective, which is an entirely separate accomplishment.)

4) Draw analogies and metaphors.

A confusing or dull message is rarely compelling, mainly because people don’t pay much attention to what they don’t perceive to be valuable. If you think about it, most things in life boil down to value. It’s a potent human driver. Therefore, as a copywriter, your job is to first and foremost figure out the value in what you’re selling and then put it into clear, concise, and compelling words.

The latter is almost always harder to do. And if you’re new to copywriting, it could feel almost impossible, like trying to thread a needle while wearing hockey gloves. That’s where analogies and metaphors can lend a hand. They’re especially effective at putting concepts into perspective.

Here are a few examples of metaphorical taglines from The Houston Chronicle:

  • Tropicana: “Your Daily Ray of Sunshine.”
  • Werther’s Original Popcorn: “It’s What Comfort Tastes Like.”
  • Burger King: “Subservient Chicken.”

See how these brands combine two starkly different concepts to tell a story or create an image? You can do that in your copy, too. As long as your juxtaposition makes sense -- as long as it connects the dots and isn’t trite -- you’re likely doing your reader a favor by helping them experience your offer in a fresh, descriptive, and interesting way.

5) Avoid weasel words.

Weasel words are used by people who want their statements to maintain some plausible deniability. Politicians trying to avoid making any definitive comments, for instance, would use weasel words. Copywriters use them a lot, too, especially if their product’s promise is weak or loose. For example:

  • “Viva Hand Cream fights dryness.” (i.e., you might not win.)
  • Reduce hair loss with Thick & Lush!” (i.e., you won’t cure it.)
  • “Rent from as little as…” (i.e., you’re probably going to spend more.)

These words are named after weasels because of the way the little guys eat their eggs: puncturing a small hole and sucking out the contents, leaving the egg appearing intact but, nevertheless, very much empty. Ever held an empty egg? It’s fragile and delicate, right? Given the slightest bit of pressure, if feels like it would collapse.

Is that how you want your copy to come across? Weak and listless, like ants floating in a puddle? Of course not. So avoid the weasel words when you can. Your writing will be stronger, more authoritative, and more compelling for it.

6) Create urgency.

The more relaxed and comfortable we are physically, the less eager we are to move. Nobody plops down in their favorite La-Z-Boy, puts their feet up, cracks a beer, and thinks, I can’t wait to get up. No. People don’t like moving when they’re in a comfy position.

Same goes for people in a comfortable state of mind. Therefore, if your copy leaves readers with the impression that your offer will always be there, patiently waiting for them to pull the trigger, they may use that as a justification to not convert on your call-to-action. They’ll sleep on it, consider their options, and weigh the pros and cons. And after all that, they may very well do nothing at all because you gave them the chance to talk themselves out of it.

Next time, create some urgency. Set a deadline, using time-sensitive language like “This offer ends tomorrow,” or “Last chance,” or “These savings won’t last forever.” You can also play the scarcity card, reminding them that “There are only a few seats left” or that “Supplies are limited.”

The point is to make your prospects feel uneasy about waiting. Strange as it sounds, the more uncomfortable they are, the more likely it is they’ll be compelled to act.

7) Tailor your CTA.

When you want more brown rice at Chipotle, just ask.

When you want a five and five singles back instead of a ten, go ahead and ask.

When you look at them and everything turns to color and you want to spend your life with them, ask. Ask them to take that next step with you, and maybe they’ll smile and say “yes.” Hopefully, they do.

But you gotta ask. Whether you’re at Chipotle, in line at the grocery store, or in love, if you want something, typically, you have to ask for it. Why would copy be any different? That’s why a CTA, or a call-to-action, is one of the most compelling elements your copy can possess -- as long as it’s well-executed.

In other words, don’t settle for the standard “Click now” copy every time. Instead, strive to make your CTAs simple and potent; creative and forthright. Most importantly, make sure to play to your audience. For example:

  • If you’re going after an experimental SaaS audience,
    then give them a “Start your free trial now” CTA.

  • If you know your target persona to be curious and discovery-oriented,
    then give them a “See how it works” CTA.

Click here to dive deeper into these and 14 other call-to-action formulas that make people want to click.

Now, are you going to compel everyone?

You won’t. Not even close. But don’t let that bother you. Copywriting, like any craft, is honed over time. So keep failing. Keep stubbing your toes on the hurdles. That’s natural.

What isn’t natural is writing effective copy that converts. That’s where these tips and techniques can help. Practice them and, over time, you’ll steadily compel more people to take action more often. Until one day, these techniques will become part of you, engrained in your skillset.

And then you’ll be dangerous on cue.

master blogging - free hubspot academy class

Why I Spent $500,000 Buying a Blog That Generates No Revenue

neil patel
(If you are wondering, the image of me above was taken when I used to work at KISSmetrics with Hiten Shah… I used to have hair)

In early January 2017, I purchased the KISSmetrics website for $500,000.

If you go to the site, you’ll notice that it forwards here to NeilPatel.com (which I will get into later in the post).

The $500,000 didn’t get me the company, KISSmetrics, or any of the revenue streams. The parent company, Space Pencil, is continually improving and developing the product.

And on top of that, there are restrictions. I can’t just pop up a competing company or any company on the KISSmetrics site.

So why did they sell me the domain? And why would I pay $500,000 for it?

I can’t fully answer why they sold it, but I do know a lot of their customers came from word of mouth, conferences, paid ads, and other forms of marketing that didn’t include SEO or content marketing.

For that reason, the domain probably wasn’t as valuable to them as it was to me. And of course, who wouldn’t want extra cash?

I’m assuming they are very calculated because they are an analytics company, so they probably ran the numbers on how much revenue the inbound traffic was generating them and came to the conclusion that the $500,000 price tag seemed worth it.

Now, before I get into why I spent $500,000 on the domain, let me first break down my thought process as I am buying out a lot of properties in the marketing space (more to be announced in the future).

Why am I buying sites that aren’t generating revenue?

This wasn’t the first or the last site that I’ll buy in the space.

I recently blogged about how I bought Ubersuggest. And it wasn’t generating a single dollar in revenue.

Well technically, there were ads on the site, but I quickly killed those off.

And eventually, I ported it over to NeilPatel.com.

When I am looking at sites to buy, I am only looking for 1 thing… traffic. And of course, the quality (and relevancy) of that traffic.

See, I already have a revenue stream, which is my ad agency, Neil Patel Digital.

So, my goal is to find as many sites that have a similar traffic profile to NeilPatel.com and leverage them to drive my agency more leads.

How do you know you won’t lose money?

I don’t!

This approach doesn’t guarantee I’ll make more money.

I look at the business as tons of tiny experiments. You don’t build a huge business through one simple marketing strategy or tactic.

You have to combine a lot of little things to get your desired outcome.

And sometimes you’ll make mistakes along the way that will cost you money, which is fine. You have to keep one thing in mind… without testing, you won’t be big.

With my ad agency, we tend to mainly have U.S. clients. Yes, we serve other regions as well… for example, we have an ad agency in Brazil.

neil patel brazil

But I myself mainly focus on driving traffic to the U.S. ad agency, and the other teams just replicate as I don’t speak Portuguese, German, or any of the required languages for the other regions we are in.

So, when I buy companies, I look for traffic that is ideally in the U.S.

Sure, the ad agency can work with companies in Australia, Canada, and even the United Kingdom, but it’s tough.

There’s a huge difference in currency between Australia and the U.S. and the same goes for Canada.

And with the U.K. there is a 5 to 8-hour time zone difference, which makes it a bit more difficult to communicate with clients.

That’s why when I buy a site, I’m ideally looking for U.S. traffic.

When I bought Ubersuggest it had very little U.S. traffic. Indonesia and India were the two most popular regions.

But I bought it because I knew I could build a much better tool and over time grow the U.S. traffic by doing a few email blasts, getting on Product Hunt, and by creating some press.

And I have…

ubersuggest traffic

As you can see from the screenshot above, U.S. is the most popular region followed by India and Brazil.

Over time it shouldn’t be too difficult to 3 or even 4x that number as long as I release more features.

Now, my costs on Ubersuggest have gotten into the 6 figures per month, and I am not generating any income from it.

There is no guarantee that it will generate any revenue, but I have a pretty effective sales funnel, which I will share later in the post. Because of that sales funnel my risk with Ubersuggest is pretty low.

As long as I can grow the traffic enough, I should be able to monetize.

What about KISSmetrics?

As for KISSmetrics, I mainly bought the domain for the blog traffic.

During its peak it was generating 1,260,681 unique visitors per month:

kissmetrics peak

By the time I bought the blog, traffic had dropped to 805,042 unique visitors per month:

kissmetrics purchase

That’s a 36% drop in traffic. Ouch!

And then to make matters worse, I decided that I wanted to cut the traffic even more.

There were so many articles on KISSmetrics that were outdated and irrelevant, so I had no choice but to cut them.

For example, there were articles about Vine (which Twitter purchased and killed), Google Website Optimizer (no longer exists), Mob Wars (a Facebook game that no longer exists)… and the list goes on and on.

In addition to that, I knew that I could never monetize irrelevant traffic. Yes, more traffic is good, but only as long as it is relevant.

I instantly cut the KISSmetrics blog in half by “deleting” over 1,024 blog posts. Now, I didn’t just delete them, I made sure I added 301 redirects to the most relevant pages here on NeilPatel.com.

Once I did that, my traffic dropped again. I was now sitting at 585,783 unique visitors a month.

kissmetrics drop

It sucks, but it had to be done. The last thing I wanted to do was spend time and money maintaining old blog posts that would never drive a dollar in revenue.

I knew that if someone was going to come to my blog to research Vine, there was little to no chance that the person would convert into a 6-figure consulting contract.

After I pruned and cropped the KISSmetrics blog, I naturally followed the same path of Ubersuggest and merged it in to NeilPatel.com.

The merge

The KISSmetrics merge was a bit more complicated than Ubersuggest.

With Ubersuggest, I didn’t have a keyword research tool on NeilPatel.com, so all I had to do was slap on a new design, add a feature or two, and port it over.

With KISSmetrics, a lot of the content was similar to NeilPatel.com. For the ones that were similar, I kept the NeilPatel.com version considering this blog generates more traffic than the KISSmetrics one.

As for all of the content that was unique and different, I ended up moving it over and applying 301 redirects.

If I decided to skip the pruning and cropping stage that I described above, the KISSmetrics blog would have had more traffic. And when I merged it in with NeilPatel.com I would have done even better.

But in marketing you can can’t focus on vanity metrics like how many more unique visitors you are getting per month. You need to keep your eye on the prize.

And for me, that’s leads.

The more leads I generate for my ad agency, the more likely I’ll increase my revenue.

Here’s my lead count for the weeks prior to the KISSmetrics merge:

hubspot leads

When looking at the table above, keep in mind it shows leads from the U.S. only.

The KISSmetrics blog was merged on the 25th. When you add up all of the numbers from the previous week, there were 469 leads in total, of which 61 were marketing qualified leads.

That means there were 61 leads that the sales reps were able to contact as the vast majority of leads are companies that are too small for us to service.

When you look at the week of the 25th, there were a total of 621 leads. 92 where marketing qualified leads.

Just from that one acquisition, I was able to grow my marketing qualified leads by 50.8%. đŸ™‚

I know what you are thinking though. The week after the 25th (7/2) the leads tanked again. Well, you have to keep in mind that the table only shows leads from the U.S. and during that week there was a national holiday, the 4th of July. So, leads were expected to be low.

But still, even with the holiday, we generated 496 leads, 68 of which where marketing qualified. We still generated more marketing qualified leads than when we didn’t have the KISSmetrics traffic.

The early results show that this is going to work out (or so I hope). If you ever want to consider buying up sites that aren’t generating revenue, you need to know your numbers like the back of your hand.

My sales funnel

Some of you are probably wondering how I promote my agency from this site. As I mentioned earlier, I will share my funnel and stats with you.

The way I monetize the traffic is by collecting leads (and my sales reps turn those leads into customers).

On the homepage, you will see a URL box.

neil patel homepage

Once you enter a URL, we do a quick analysis (it’s not 100% accurate all of the time).

neil patel analysis

And then we show you how many technical SEO errors you have and collect your information (this is how you become a lead).

lead form

And assuming we think you are a good fit, you see a screen that allows you to schedule a call (less than 18% of the leads see this).

schedule call

From there someone on my team will do a discovery call with you. Assuming things go well, a few of us internally review everything to double check we can really help, we then create projections and a presentation, and then we pitch you for your money (in exchange for services of course).

That’s the funnel on NeilPatel.com in a nutshell… It’s pretty fine-tuned as well. For example, when someone books a call, we send them text reminders using Twilio to show up to the call as we know this increase the odds of you getting on the phone.

We even do subtle things like asking for your “work email” on the lead form. We know that 9 out 10 leads that give us a Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, or any other non-work email are typically not qualified.

And it doesn’t stop there… there are lead forms all over NeilPatel.com for this same funnel.

If you are reading a blog post like this, you’ll see a bar at the top that looks something like:

exit popup

Or if you are about to exit, you will see an exit popup that looks like:

exit popup

You’ll even see a thank you page that promotes my ad agency once you opt-in:

video thanks

And if I don’t convince you to reach out to us for marketing help right then and there, you’ll also receive an email or two from me about my ad agency.

As you can see, I’ve fine-tuned my site for conversions. So much so, that every 1,000 unique visitors from the U.S. turns into 4.4 leads. And although that may not seem high, keep in mind that my goal isn’t to get as many leads as possible, I’m optimizing for quality over quantity as I don’t want to waste my sales reps time.

For example, I had 2 reps that had a closing ratio of 50% last month. That means for every 2 deals they pitched, 1 would sign up for a 6-figure contract, which is an extremely high closing ratio. Hence, I am trying to focus on quality so everyone in sales can get to 50%, as it makes the business more efficient and profitable.

The last thing you want to do is pay a sales rep tons of money to talk to 50 people to only find 1 qualified lead. That hurts both you and your sales reps.

Conclusion

The strategy I am using to buy websites may seem risky, but I know my numbers like the back of my hand. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem crazy, but to me, it is super logic.

And the reason I buy sites for their traffic is that I already have a working business model. So, buying sites based on their traffic is much cheaper than buying sites for their revenue. In addition to that, my return on investment is much larger.

For example, if I wanted to buy KISSmetrics (the whole business), I would have to spend millions and millions of dollars.

I’m looking for deals, it’s how you grow faster without having to raise venture capital.

When you use this strategy, there is no guarantee you will make a return on your investment, but if you spend time understanding the numbers you can reduce your risk.

I knew that going into this KISSmetrics deal that I will generate at least an extra $500,000 in profit from this one acquisition. Realistically it should be much more than that as the additional leads seem to be of the same quality, and the numbers are penciling out for it to add well into the millions in revenue per year.

But before you pull the trigger and buy up a few sites in your space, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t buy sites that rely on 1 traffic source – you don’t want to buy sites that only have Facebook traffic. Or even Google traffic. Ideally, any site you buy should have multiple traffic sources (other than paid ads) as it will reduce your risk in case they lose their traffic from a specific channel.
  2. Buy old sites – sites that are less than 3 years old are risky. Their numbers fluctuate more than older sites.
  3. Spend time understanding the audience – run surveys, dive deep into Google Analytics… do whatever you can to ensure that the site you are buying has an audience that is similar to your current business.
  4. Be patient and look for deals – I hit up hundreds of sites every month. Some people hate my emails and won’t give me the time of day. That’s ok. I’m a big believer and continually pushing forward until I find the right deal. I won’t spend money just because I am getting antsy.
  5. Get creative – a lot of people think their site is worth more than it really is. Try to explain to them what it is really worth using data. I also structure deals in unique ways, such as I gave KISSmetrics up to 6 months before they had to transition to a new domain (and to some extent they are still allowed to use the existing domain for their client login area). You can even work out payment plans, seller based financing, or equity deals… you just have to think outside the box.

So, what do you think about my acquisition strategy? Are you going to try it out?

The post Why I Spent $500,000 Buying a Blog That Generates No Revenue appeared first on Neil Patel.

Why So Much Mid- and Bottom-Funnel Content Doesn’t Work — and What We Can Do About It

Recently, I was working on a story about a wave of new technology that could help publishers fight back against Facebook. I spent hours scouring the web for product videos about these new tools because I trust jargony brand press releases about as much as I trust Roseanne Barr to take over my Twitter account. I wanted to see the products in action.

But for many of the tools, finding a decent product video was hard. Way too hard. They either didn't exist or were generic animated explainers. (You know what I’m talking about. There’s always a waving cartoon white guy with an oddly-shaped head with a voice-over that sounds like the history teacher who put you to sleep every day in 11th grade.)

Unfortunately, this is something I see time and time again as a content strategist. The product video—arguably the most impactful piece of content a brand can create—ends up a total afterthought.

Silo Syndrome

Naturally, I started wondering why so many brands fail to invest in decent product videos. Content investment has been on the rise for years. You think it’d be priority No. 1.

The truth, however, is that content marketing had an awkward adolescence, one that’s left it with some identity issues. For no good reason, marketers have come to think of “content marketing” as articles, white papers, webinars, infographics, “snackable social videos” (groan), and not much else.

As a result, the talented content creators inside many companies get siloed into a content marketing group shut off from the rest of the organization. Product marketing and sales enablement materials are off-limits, guarded by rival marketing teams. While the content at the top of the funnel begins to resemble the work of a modern media company, mid- and bottom-funnel content still looks like it was created in 2002. (And in some cases, I’ve discovered, it was created in 2002.)

The product video problem, in fact, is just a symptom of a larger issue—up until now, most companies have thought about content marketing all wrong.

The End of Content Marketing as We Know It

This year, Gartner released its first magic quadrant for content marketing platforms. It also predicted that “content marketing” as a term will be dead in three years—”because all content will be marketed as a way of attracting attention-limited audiences.”

This is right on … because it was the whole idea behind content marketing in the first place. Content marketing first took off in 2012. By then, it’d become clear that consumers were spending less time paying attention to traditional advertising because of the rapid proliferation of smartphones and streaming. Publishers, desperate to stay afloat, choked webpages with display units, until display had begun to feel less like a channel and more like one of the 10 plagues.

Then, along came content marketing, which posed a simple solution: What if brands just told stories that people wanted to watch, hear and read?

The early, inspiring examples that made Ad Age headlines were all top-of-funnel plays. Red Bull became a major sports media company, GE turned its image around with awesome science and engineering reporting, and American Express created a popular blog for small-business owners.

And so, companies created content marketing groups to give this new movement a try. But many never seriously tried to integrate great content into the rest of their marketing organization.

But the impetus for content marketing was never just a top-of-funnel problem. Great content is meant to grab people’s attention and change the way they think about a brand throughout the customer journey. No one wins when you show up as your cool, fun, best self on the first date, but then devolve into a boring egomaniac wearing a baggy funeral suit by the third.

Ultimately, bad product videos are more than bad product videos. They’re a sign that we need to evolve from content marketing to “marketing with content”—to putting systems in place that ensure every piece of marketing collateral a company creates is as captivating, helpful and on-brand. When that happens, content delivers real business results, building deeper relationships with customers, persuading them to think differently, and solving the problems it was meant to solve.

And if you’re looking for a jumping off point to spark change and prove your point? Well, the product video is a great place to start.

21 Incredible Geometric Patterns Perfect for Your Next Design

There’s a certain psychology to shapes.

The square, for instance, evokes feelings of stability and formality -- which makes sense, when we think about popular square-shaped items in our lives (houses, tables, computer screens). We often see this shape in logos when reliability is a critical component, like for Microsoft or American Express.

The triangle, meanwhile, can suggest action (road signs, mountains), but might also appear balanced and solid (Egyptian pyramids). We see this shape in logos when mobility is a necessary factor, like for Delta or Adidas.

A geometric pattern repeats or re-aligns shapes to create movement and freshness in a design. Knowing the importance of shapes to create meaning, it makes sense for businesses to consider using geometric patterns to inspire their audience.

Download 195+ visual marketing design templates to use for social media posts, infographics, and more. 

Here, we’ve compiled some of the sleekest and most innovative geometric patterns businesses are using today. If you’re looking for inspiration for your next redesign, look no further.

1. Gallery and Co. Branding by Foreign Policy.

2. Sorry Colour by Alex Lorenzo.

3. NICFI by Tank Design, Daniel Brox Nordmo, and Ina Brantenberg.

4. Arq by Stitch Design Co.

5. BBC artwork by Liam Brazier.

6. Flock Cafe by Kilo Studio.

7. Ruiseñor by Yeye Design.

8. CareerTrackers by Garbett.

9. The Swap Show by Foreign Policy.

10. Dance Ink by Pentagram.

11. Gulf Air by Saffron Consultants.

12. Business Cards by Lucie Mcilroy.

13. Andrés Sandoval by A Practice for Everyday Life.

14. Dan Pearson Studio by Spin.

15. Beau Cacao by SocioDesign.

16. Comedy Feast by Only.

17. ICP by Aris Zenone.

18. Utrecht by Total Identity Group.

19. St. Erhard by Bedow.

20. Les Vitrines by Des Signes.

21. Moimio by Helen & Co.

 
Ready to use of these designs on your next project? Download our collection of more than 195 design templates for visual content creation below.
 
download 195+ free design templates