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Recently I was tasked with finding keywords for a client who wishes to somehow guarantee that their ads won’t show up in a search for words that begin with the same letters as their brand keywords, but rather will show up once an entire search query is complete.

For example, if we pretend my client sells petfood – which they don’t – they want to target negative keywords such as petro canada or petforest. So that someone looking for the Petro Canada wiki page won’t see an extremely quick petfood ad flashed before their eyes before they finish typing.

I would like to go on record as calling this a bad idea. It’s more than just cost – PPC is organized so you don’t pay for impressions – it’s the basic philosophy. Trying to counteract Google Instant is akin to pushing on the ocean. You can try if you want to, and you might even build some neat stuff if you put brains and dollars towards it. But the tide eventually will rise and if you’re standing on dry ground when it does, you’ll go under very quickly.

By that overly nautical metaphor, I mean that if a business is truly concerned that their niche market is not best served by loads of irrelevant impressions, which can happen with Google Instant, the answer is not to pay a writer to cast a wide net of negative keywords. The way to get your specific, mad-for-you, experts and evangelists who already want more is to understand that search is social.

If you have a relentless, rabid customer base who absolutely needs to know the next time you come out with a product, get in touch with them. It works way better than telling Google to run your ads, but not really.

One of my favourite companies hosts a forum in which new products are announced internally at various stages of incubation. I find out about it via their emails to me. Other clients of mine make use of Facebook to discuss imminent product releases and to get feedback on new initiatives. Just look at the Gap and how that all went down. You can host a microsite for beta-testing if that’s your type of product, you can gauge reactions on your twitterfeed, host a live chat – an event that you can easily promote with PPC ads – and don’t forget the power of texting. You can even buy ads in online games if you want to.

These and lots of other options are readily available for companies of any size who want to address their current customers and who want to attract new ones. In the case of my petfood company, their best bet is to use promoted videos with a chat feature. Why? Because their customers buy, use and review their product on YouTube and they WANT to talk about it with one another. Going this route would take the dollars put into me developing ways to say No to Google and put it towards saying Yes to their existing customers, with the added bonus that they’ll then tell others about it.

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Everyone knows it, right? We’re taught how to write properly in elementary school, we’re expected to develop skills in essay writing during high-school and if/when we hit university, there are whole seminars, library programs, tutorials and websites made available to ensure that we know how to communicate via the written word.

So if good writing matters so much, what does it mean when spelling and grammar errors show up on major blogs and websites? It’s rare that I come across them on writer’s websites, but the times I find errors on sites written by editors, publishers, journalists and indeed marketing professionals takes my breath away. Everyone has different skill levels, of course, but if the co-author the CMA guide to email marketing ( who also works for a major publisher) writes the phrase “more stronger” on the blog of the Canadian Marketing Association, I have to wonder whether he takes me seriously as a customer.

Given this very disappointing reality, I’d like to offer these few tips on reaching your blog/forum/social media audience in a way that is concise, believable and most importantly, a way that does not insult anyone’s intelligence.

1. Write a draft.

A draft for a blog post? These things are supposed to be informal.

They certainly are, but not to the point of being incoherent. If your blog is private and only for certain eyes, do what you wish to reach that audience. But if you’re trying to convince others to agree with you, write out a brief outline and short draft of what you want to say before you say it.

This is particularly important for beliefs about which you are passionate. It’s so easy to get up on the soapbox about your cause, your news item, your brand, whatever. But having strong feelings on a subject doesn’t mean you get to leave coherence at the door. Plus, no-one will agree with an hysteric. Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s true.

I’m a stream-of-consciousness-writer.

No, you’re not.

2. Decide on a format

It’s perfectly normal to identify phrases and spellings differently depending on whether you’re used to Canadian, American, British, Australian or any other myriad dialects of proper English. Just don’t throw them all in a pot and expect your phrases and words to make sense. If you want to plough a field, you can’t also pick a favorite; for that you need to plow a field. Make your matches and keep it consistent, otherwise you’ll end up with an audience looking up what a gaol is when they could instead be swayed by your savvy arguments about prisons.

3. Use an electronic tool.

We’re talking about electronic media here, so even if you prefer a pen or stylus, transfer your thoughts to a word processing program before you release it into the big, wide world. Blogging, emailing and even some social media platforms support spelling and grammar checking as you write. Because of this, there is simply no excuse for poor grammar and spelling errors to appear online. Many mistakes can be found instantaneously.

These programs don’t understand what I’m writing

Fair enough. Many of them are imperfect and will find fault with something that’s actually correct. You can make use of the integrated dictionaries, grammar and dictionary websites and even online writing labs to be sure of yourself. If you write for an audience that uses lots of jargon for example, you can assume that your readers understand acronyms and short-hand. Getting used to looking for errors and checking twice to see if your sentence makes sense is an invaluable skill in the altogether literate world of online publishing.

4. Read it out loud

You might feel silly doing this, but reading aloud is one of the easiest ways to find common errors. The eye deliberately “corrects” errors when you read silently so that you can make sense of the whole phrase. Reading aloud forces your brain to convert text to speech, which even the most sophisticated computers still can’t do regularly or with inflection. Make your mind pick up on everything. You might feel self-concious, but your writing will be taken far more seriously than the next blog over (so to speak) that contains mistakes.

I assume if you’ve read this far that you realize why grammar matters. There are nitpickers and bored/ocd editors out there who go nuts for grammar on an almost unhealthy scale. These people are not my audience. You guys know that when you send out a message, you want the response and comments and share messages to be about how much you’ve opened their eyes about your cause/brand/product/event/neat thing you care about. If the comments and messages are about how ridiculous your wording is, or how you can’t use a spell-checker, your point is totally lost even if it’s a world-changing idea.

Language is a tool with which to remake reality. So make your reality about your passion, not your poor communication skills.

This blog is mine. Don’t blame. Don’t copy.

All opinions and posts on this blog are my own and not those of my employer, friends, family or people I might just have met who seem really cool; or even my pets, who have no choice but to agree with me anyway. You can tell these opinions are mine because this is my blog.
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