Years ago, I used to be a journalist. Feel free to boo and hiss. I did the pre-entry college training, worked as an apprentice with a newspaper group in Greater Manchester and have a certificate to wave to prove it all.
For a while I flirted with other roles. Then as the new millennium dawned with a flurry of fireworks, it was time to take up the mighty pen once more to earn a crust as a freelance copywrter.
Except that in the intervening years, quite a few things had changed. I'd thought I was pretty up to the mark being able to bash an electric typewriter at top speed. Suddenly it was all computers, and I'd never even switched one on. And there was this new phenomenon – electronic mail. I felt a bit like Catweazle, being suddenly catapulted into the future.
It seemed that every day brought now challenges. Learning curve? It sometimes felt like trying to cycle up Everest with a flat tyre. Luckily I had good friends, and colleagues who became great friends, who held my hand, calmed me down, and translated my computer's hissy fits into manageable setbacks for me.
Never dull, always exciting, usually pressurised, I found the work fascinating. One day I might be writing about nature and the environment, my main interests. Another day I would be flirting with fashion, only glad clients couldn't see my normal grunge army attire as I wrote about their glamorous glad-rags.
A year or so ago Sarah asked me to do some Article Marketing for her. I nonchalantly agreed, and once I'd scoured Google to find out what the Dickens it was, I made an uplifting discovery. I already knew exactly how to do it. It's just another name for journalism. Just another way of saying write a piece that reads well and informs the reader without preaching or talking down to them.
Getting the keywords right
There are a couple of 21st century extras to bear in mind. Like keywords. Everyone writing online content these days knows what they are, and knows all the tools to help you pick the best. But the trick is not to come up with keywords you'd search on yourself to find your article.
You have to put yourself into the shoes of Joe Public, or, if you've ever studied law, the man on the Clapham omnibus. And the words they'll pick may often be much simpler and more basic than you might think.
The rest of it is just a carbon copy of what we were taught at college by a bearded lecturer whom we nick-named Captain Bird's Eye. Pick an intro or teaser that will grab the reader's attention immediately. Lead into an article that delivers on the promise. Finish with something that will stick in their mind, amusing, poignant, pithy, according to the article.
Always check your speling
Keep sentences short for easy reading. Don't rely on a spell checker to correct your mistakes and make sure the grammar's correct. Don't try to be clever, and certainly don't be patronising.
Pick a headline that's concise and goes with the article. If you promise Ten Top Tips, give them ten, not nine. Read the rules of the site you're submitting to carefully, to see if they want, for example, two spaces after a full stop, unusual for those used to writing advertising copy.
Don't feel compelled to write to the upper word count limit. If you've said all you have to say in 300 words, it's pointless and will irritate the reader if you're determined to stretch your word count into four figures.
Remember that it's a lot more subtle than direct mail. You can't hammer your reader on the head with “buy now – stocks are limited” messages. You have to woo them softly and make them want to click on those tantalising links at the end of your honeyed words.
So there you have it. The mysteries of Article Marketing unravelled. It's just good old fashioned, but never out of fashion, journalism.
Now you too can become an Expert Author like I am – apparently!