The 3 Kinds of Writing That Builds a Business

Copyblogger Media is a company that was built on two blog posts per week.

In the early days it was just Brian, and those two posts. Week in and week out.

A lot has happened since then, but the basic structure of how this business is marketed remains.

The writer runs this show.

The writer should run yours too.

I asked Sonia Simone to come around and tell us how she approaches the three basic types of articles we use to build and grow Copyblogger Media.

You can use this same structure for almost any online marketing you do.

It ain’t easy, but you might be surprised at just how simple it really is …

In this episode Sonia Simone and I discuss:

  • Why you shouldn’t “monetize” your blog
  • How to write the 3 types of blog posts that build a business
  • The foundation of Copyblogger Media’s marketing plan
  • How the legendary “AIDA” formula will change your writing life
  • What teaching can do for your bottom line
  • Why direct response copywriting is still crucial

Hit the flash player below to listen now:


[episode_ad] [episode_transcript]Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.


Robert Bruce: This is Internet Marketing for Smart People radio. I’m Robert Bruce and I am here once again with Sonia Simone, the Chief Marketing Officer of Copyblogger Media. How was Australia? Are you even awake; do you know where you are right now?

Sonia Simone: I am now the Chief Jetlag Officer; that is my new official title. Australia was fabulous. It was really excellent. I spoke at Darren Rowse’s Problogger event. It was terrific. So many awesome people, but yes, I had about 45 hours of travel time between the time I left and the time I got back and I’m still trying to figure out how to catch up those two days of missing sleep.

Robert: So you were gone for about a week total, which means you were actually in Australia working, doing this conference for about what, eight hours? The rest of it was just travel time?

Sonia: Exactly. The rest of it I was sitting in an airport or on a very, very tiny airplane.

Robert: As many Copyblogger readers know, Sonia,the writer runs this show, right?

Sonia: Absolutely.

Robert: Yeah, that’s a mantra that’s stuck and it’s stuck mainly because this media driven world that we live in is driven, at its foundation, by words. And way before Copyblogger was a company, it was a simple blog and Brian Clark was banging out the foundation of the things that we talk about day in and day out and you shortly thereafter joined him.

But we both know that the writer often works too hard at her keyboard and Sonia, you are a pro at this stuff. You’re the Chief Marketing Officer of Copyblogger Media; Chief Jetlag Officer now, the Senior Editor of, and a writer. You’ve written hundreds of articles, promotions, and pages of copy over the last decade and I’ve got one simple question for you.

And that is how do you approach this work that you do; this writing work specifically? And I’ve identified three very basic forms of writing that we all do around here and that any business with a blog or website supporting it should really focus on. And I just want to know how you approach working on each of these three types of writing?

But before we get into what those three are let’s touch briefly on a legendary writing formula called AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. This formula, this old copywriting formula, is legendary for a reason.

The legendary copywriting formula AIDA

Sonia: Yeah, we’ll do the 30,000 foot view and it would actually be a cool thing to talk about in another show. This is a formula that they used to use for direct mail pieces, so the kind of junk mail you would get – that’s the non technical term – if you were going to buy a book from Rodale Press about growing better lilacs or if you were going to buy a newsletter from the financial industry about how to pick better stocks.

And it used to be used in the advertisement itself. It was also used in a magazine ad that you might see or a newspaper ad. Now we spread it out a little bit, so in the social media content marketing environment we move the pieces around a little bit; we’ve got a little more room to play.

So essentially, the super, super high level view is attention – if you can’t get the prospect’s attention you can’t do anything else. So the first thing you have to do is get your voice heard in the huge, monster sea of clutter.

And you keep seeing these statistics about how many advertising messages we’re all exposed to during the day and I think it’s up to about four billion and seven. It’s like they’re going to be transmitting ads into our dreams any minute now.

Ads are on everything. So how do we get our ad, as it were, in front of people so they actually see it, because we block out ads. Everybody listening to this knows; you go to a blog and they’ve got ads in the right hand side and you don’t even see them. You don’t need an ad blocker, your brain filters them.

So how do you get attention?

Once you have attention you have to get the person interested, so okay you’ve caught their attention, that’s an instant in time.

How do you get them interested in a more ongoing way?

Capture their attention and hold onto it for a little while.

Interest will mature into a desire for the product or service that you sell or the idea that you sell or the political candidate that you’re trying to promote, so sell can be seen in a larger context there.

And then how do you get them to actually do it?

How do you get them to go from “that would be interesting” to, as they say, taking the credit card out of the wallet, registering to vote, e-mailing all their friends, whatever it is, whatever action you want them to take. So that’s AIDA in a nutshell.

Robert: Yeah, and like you said before this is old school, direct response, hard core, copywriting kind of formula. But I’m going to link up to something that Brian wrote a couple years ago about this, and the headline for this post was Introducing the AIDA formula for blogging.

And it’s a little bit of a tweak based on what you just said in this age that we’re living in, a more conversational age. These principles still apply, but the thing is that this is really a simple formula that a business can follow online for almost all of their communications that go out.

And using this template really – again, we’ll do a whole show about this because it’s very, very important – but using this template, a lot of this stuff can seem to write itself. Have you found that to be true?

Sonia: I think it’s a lot easier to get the writing done when you know what it’s supposed to do for you. I think that’s why writing an outline helps so much to crack through writer’s block. Because when you have some structure in place and you know what elements of the structure need to be fleshed in, it’s just much easier than staring at that completely blank page.

And you mentioned writers working so hard – I think writers work too hard, because they’re not working on the right things, so they go down blind alleys and they spend lots of time writing material that’s not doing anything to get them the result they want.

If you’re a novelist, to some degree that’s just how it is. You have to suck it up. But even a novelist has a structure that can really help you write something that communicates what you want to communicate.

So I’m a big believer in structure, especially if you’re writing to support your business. You have to have some structure; you have to know what the piece is supposed to do for you or else you’re going to spend all kinds of time racing up over hill and over dale, putting out all kinds of words and 90% of those words are not going to do anything to build your business, it’s just too much work.

How to write the 3 types of blog posts that build a business

Robert: Okay, let’s get into these three basic forms of writing that we do day in and day out on Copyblogger and again, the reason we’re bringing these up is that we’re staying at the 30,000 foot view here, but this is a great kind of formula, almost a template, for any business that wants to do content marketing – these three types of articles, posts, and pieces.

The three that I’ve identified Sonia are we do teaching articles, we do promotional articles, and then more direct response type copywriting pieces, which are the sales pages and the copywriting we do for all the products.

So let’s go through each one of these and again, the simple question I have for you is how do you approach this? We had talked briefly about some productivity tips before this recording, and not so much a productivity thing, but how you tend to structure each of these three types of articles so that people have that skeleton that they can hang on their own stuff.

So number one, teaching article – how do you approach a teaching article, what are the things you’re looking for when you sit down to write something like this?

What teaching can do for your bottom line

Sonia: The first thing you need to know when you’re writing a teaching article is, that’s what content marketing is, teaching. And we actually have a whole course on this called Teaching Sells that we’re going to be launching in a couple of weeks, actually.

We open it up once a year to new students because content marketing really is about teaching your prospects, teaching people who might become customers, how to get what they want. And so I approach the teaching article; there are sort of two prongs to it.

The first prong to my approach for the teaching article is I need to know what my customer needs to learn before she’s ready to make a purchase. One of the big, big purposes of the teaching article for me is to overcome an objection to purchase.

So every once in a while on Copyblogger we’ll run a piece that’s kind of inspirational about how to improve your entrepreneurial mindset and kind of get over the cubicle mind that I think is a very unnatural state of being, and how to rediscover your inner entrepreneur.

So even those kind of inspirational articles are actually teaching articles; it’s teaching people how to change their mindset in a more productive way to have better results.

The first thing I want to think about again, I want to think about how this piece moves my business forward. The first thing I need to know is what does my customer not know today that she needs to learn in order to become a paying customer? What’s standing in her path?

Is she afraid she can’t do it? Does she not have the technological skills, does she not know what tools she needs so she’s feeling overwhelmed? Does she not have confidence in herself in some certain arena? So I need to know what’s standing between her and making a purchase.

And then the other kind of teaching article that we do is simply a relationship builder or a rapport builder; it’s the I in that formula, AIDA, it’s the interest. It’s teaching my customer stuff that she wants to use to make her business work better, in my case.

So if you have a weight loss site or a parenting site, your people want to know different things while they interact with you. But what does your customer need to know to make the purchase and what does your customer want to know in order to just have a better life in terms of the topic that you teach?

So you need to start from that. You need to know what your outcome is. In the Teaching Sells course we say what are the benefits of knowledge? What benefit does the customer get once you’ve done this teaching? And if you work back from that and you say, “Okay, what’s the benefit of knowledge?”

One of the things we teach in Teaching Sells, and I actually try to do this with all my content, is I start with the benefit of knowledge. What does the reader gain when she’s given me 10 minutes of her time, which is a lot to ask, and some attention and some thought? If she’s willing to give that to me, what does she get out of it? And if you start by identifying that, then you work back.

Now, for teaching content on a blog, you want to keep it short. You want to keep it snappy. You want to break it down and atomize it into the smallest little tiniest piece you can because if you give a 26 hour tutorial in a blog post, it’s kind of cool but it’s not…

Robert: Is anybody going to read it?

Sonia: Yeah, you’re asking a lot. You need to remember, what we’re talking about here is free content and what people are looking for with free content is digestible, quick, easy.

We ought to link to a great article that Pam Wilson did for us about eight ways to make your copy more readable.

So just the way it’s formatted on the page, user friendly, lots of subheads, short paragraphs; make it easy for people, make it digestible, make it appealing and teach them one little tiny thing that makes their lives better in some way. And sometimes making their life better is just about not being bored today; that works, too.

Robert: Yeah, and one thing I should have been clear about going into this is also dictated by a very clear editorial schedule and plan that we have. We’re not going to get into that right now, but we’ve chosen a handful of things that narrow the focus of everything that goes on that site.

If I came to you, Sonia, and I wanted to do a series of blog posts about how awesome I think The Incredible Hulk is, you probably wouldn’t return the e-mail for one thing, but obviously that’s a blown out, obvious kind of example. But all of these teaching articles and the structure that Sonia’s just kind of laid out is also driven by a very specific editorial schedule that we’ve determined.

Sonia: Yeah, and that’s good for a couple of things. First of all, it’s good for your “brand.” You do have a brand whether you know it or not, and if you consistently offer people information on the same general topic, that helps people understand where to put you in their brain, in their memory, and if you talk about anything and everything unless you have a real strong voice, and that’s the unifying thread, you’re going to lose people because they’re just not sure what to expect.

And the other thing is, it helps from a search engine optimization perspective. Google would rather serve up pages from a site that’s tightly focused around certain key concepts, and relevant key concepts.

So if you’re doing recipes along with weight loss – okay, that makes sense. If you’re doing recipes along with auto repair, that is a disconnect. Those are not related topics and it’ll be harder for Google to know what kind of pages to serve up for keyword searches. So it is useful for search engine optimization, but more important than that it’s useful for letting your audience know who you are, what you do, how you help; all that good stuff.

Why promotional articles should also teach

Robert: Promotional article – Sonia, what is a promotional article and how do you approach writing it?

Sonia: I’ll give you my approach, and it’s probably not everybody’s approach but it works pretty well for me. A promotional article would be a blog post or an e-mail message that would lead to an offer for one of our products or an offer to sign up for our e-mail list.

And the way that this has actually worked best for me is because we have products that are related to what we write about and we write about things on a consistent basis. For me, the best promotional articles, I get to the end of a teaching article and I say, “You know, the logical next step for the customer is to look into the product; the paid product or the e-mail newsletter.”

So, for example, I wrote a post about the dust up that Gary Vaynerchuk created when he said 99% of all social media experts are clowns. And I sort of wasn’t happy with the way that I saw people approaching it and I had a point of view that I wanted to get across and so I wrote about it, kind of after the dust up had settled a little bit because I kind of had some final thoughts.

At the end of that, I thought, “Well, you know the logical next step is for people to sign up for the Internet Marketing for Smart People list .” But it wasn’t conceived of as a promotion, it was conceived of as a reaction and then at the end, the most logical thing I could tell people to do was to sign up for the list.

And if you can swing that, I think those are the best promotional posts. They’re just something that you’re actually already interested in; they have a teaching angle already. So the post itself is inherently valuable because it teaches and then just the thing that makes sense. It’s very logical and natural; the very logical next step is to go into the promotion.

And sometimes you know you need to get a promotion out and you write a promotion and you think about the benefits and all that good stuff, but if you can frame it as a teaching article it’ll be easier to write, it’ll go down better with your readers, and I’ve found they work very well.

Robert: Yeah, and a lot of people have trouble with this; either they’re scared of it or you get complaints from your readers when a promotional post goes out. And we’re going to touch on this in the tip of the week at the end of the show here, but these are very important because unless you are just writing for the wind, for exposure, these are a large part of what directly grows and supports your business, right?

Sonia: Yeah, absolutely. And this is how you go from having a blog to having a business. You have to make offers for some kind of product. It might be your product, it might be a product that you represent on an affiliate basis, so you recommend the product, and you get a commission.

In our world we think of information as the product, so a course, an e-book, something like that. But it could be baby clothes if you’re a parenting blogger. It could be supplements; supplements are tricky because they’re highly regulated, but if you play by the rules there’s no reason not to talk about them, especially if you find them valuable.

So Tim Ferriss has on his blog links to supplements. Now, I don’t know if those are affiliate links or not so it doesn’t matter, but it’s very natural for him to talk about supplements and then it’s like, “If you’re sold on the benefits, here’s a link to how to go get some.”

Why direct response copywriting and landing pages are crucial

Robert: And the last type of writing that we do a lot of is related to the promotional article, but it’s more directly so to speak, the direct response copywriting piece. You’ll see this is sales pages; you’ll see this on product pages, the copy that is on those product pages and so on.

Sonia: Yeah, so what we’re talking about is what’s called a landing page. All a landing page is, is where you send traffic to a page that translates the interested person into somebody who’s taken action. So again, signed up for your e-mail newsletter or register to vote or buy the products or whatever it might be.

These are really important if you’re going to turn your content world – your blog, your social media presence – into a business. They’re also the way you measure the huge question right now, which is social media ROI.

How do I know my social media has any ROI? Well, you know because you take social media, you send people to landing pages, and then you measure how well it converts. How many people go from Twitter to my e-mail list? How many people go from Twitter to my sales page and actually make a purchase? You can measure that.

So you’re not going to do these probably unless – you could, and it would be interesting – but you’re probably not going to write one of these every week. You’ll write one of these for every 50 pieces of content you write. But of course, this is the tricky part.

This is the important part. Everything you’ve done has kind of softened up for the sale and gotten people ready, but this is the part where you have a yes or a no.

You have a sale or you don’t have a sale.

So they take more thought, they take more time. I won’t make this a total pitch fest, but we do have a product that goes into both creating the page, like actually making a piece of web code that will make a page on your website.

But it also walks you through step by step how to do it; how to create different kinds of landing pages. It’s called Premise and the reason we created that product is because this is such an important part of the business for so many people, and it’s very easy to get wrong.

The most important things to keep in mind are you need to make sure it’s really easy for that buyer to pick out exactly what they get out of taking the action. I’m just going to go ahead and call it a sale and we’ll know that that could mean different things.

What they get out of buying the product, what do they get at the end? They don’t really care about what the product does. Chris Garrett has a great example from our recent trip. He said,

I don’t want plane tickets to Australia. I don’t like being on an airplane for 15 hours at a time. What I want is to be in Australia. That’s what I get out of it. What I have to do to get there is I have to buy a plane ticket and I have to go sit on a plane for a really long time and eat a lot of not that great airline food and talk to the very, very nice flight attendants on Quantas Airlines.

That is not a promotion; they’re just nice. So what does your customer get out of it when they do what you want them to do? Make sure that’s clear, make sure the page is very clear, and make sure there are no distractions.

I saw a landing page this morning, and this very, very nice young man has Adsense links at the top of his sales page. Why on earth would you send traffic away for a penny for an ad click when you’re trying to sell them a $20.00 product? Don’t do that.

Robert: Yeah, you want to strip it all the way.

Sonia: All the way – clean, clean, clean. So make sure it’s clean, make sure the person knows what to do, make sure they know what to do next. I have a copywriting checklist that I used for these and it’s one of the things that I talk about in the Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter , is how do you construct these babies?

Again, it’s minutes to learn and a lifetime to master just like Chess or Go or Checkers, whatever. You’ll always be a student and you’ll always be making it better, but there are some things that you can do right up front to give yourself your best shot.

Because for most of us, our business kind of thrives or dies based on how good these are. How good these are, and then how well we’ve warmed up the sale. So if you’re really good at warming up your customers, your sales page can just have kind of, “Here’s what you get out of it, here’s what to do next” and it’ll work okay. But you can always make it work better.

Robert: You know what’s really warm? Really hot, actually. It’s the Internet Marketing for Smart People e-mail course. This is the premiere online marketing course delivered straight to your e-mail inbox. And Sonia, you put this course together. Who did you write it for and what can people that go through it expect to get out of it?

Get the essential roadmap to online marketing results

Sonia: I very much wrote this course for readers that I talk to every day; the lovely, lovely people who I talked to at this Problogger event in Australia, people I run into at conferences – it’s people who know that they need to figure out this marketing thing, and they might even have been doing a lot of reading.

They might have been doing a lot of reading on Copyblogger and other sites like Problogger, but they don’t get it. It’s like IKEA, right? They have a box of stuff and the screws and the pieces of wood are lying all over the floor and they don’t have the thing that tells them how to put it together.

So for me, this was the thing that tells you how to put all these little pieces together and if you don’t happen to know about one or two little pieces, I want to make sure that you have all of the parts in the box.

So that’s really all it is. There are all three little pieces. None of them is rocket science, but sometimes figuring out how they all link together is a little tricky. And so, I tried to give you a roadmap for putting it all together and starting to see some results. It’s not an MBA in marketing. It’s the kind of essentials that you need to know to start making things work, and then you have something to work from.

Robert: It’s the best of Copyblogger wrapped up into 20 nice little digital packages for you, delivered to your inbox. You just head over to, drop your e-mail address into the little box you’ll see there, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Okay Sonia, are you ready for the tip of the week?

Sonia: I’m so ready, yes.

The number one secret about monetizing your blog

Robert: I want to know how to monetize my blog. Tell me how.

Sonia: Absolutely. This was the number one question at Darren’s event, which is why it was kind of on the top of my mind. And the number one way to monetize your blog; the secret, the top secret ninja master tool to monetize your blog…

Robert: My fingers are over the keyboard right now.

Sonia: That’s right; get ready.

Blogs don’t make any money, businesses make money.

As soon as you stop thinking about how do I use my blog and try and figure out a way I can staple something onto it to make some money with, you’ll start to actually make some money; as soon as you start thinking of it as a business first. And a blog is a tool you use that supports your business.

And this is true even if your blog makes most of its revenue from advertising and you’d like to keep going. As soon as you start thinking of it as a business, you’ll start seeing business results. It’s a funny thing and it’s not about using a different widget on your blog or a different tool or a different technique. It’s about thinking of it as a business first.

I have a business to serve this kind of customer and help them out is a certain way and I have some possibilities for products and services that I could start talking about. As soon as you think of it as a business first and a blog as a tool that supports the business, you’ll start seeing opportunities and techniques that you weren’t seeing before because you thought of yourself as a blogger.

So don’t think of yourself as a blogger, think of yourself as a business owner who uses a blog.

Robert: Thank you once again to everybody listening out there. If you like what you hear on this show please remember to head over to iTunes and leave a comment or a rating for us there. It’s the best way to spread this show around and help us along.

Ms. Simone, you are an American original. Thank you.

Sonia: Well my goodness, thank you.


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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.