As part of the USGBC marketing and communications team, our design team works on many kinds of projects, from brand identity to article images to print collateral. Not content to rest on their current expertise, they are constantly seeking out what’s new in the design world and incorporating ideas from the wider world into their projects.
Here’s a quick roundup of some of the websites where they find inspiration:
Annie Patton, Director, Creative Services
- I like Fast Co. Design. They send out a daily newsletter focused on articles relating to design and business. They cover lots of different topics and industries, which gives me the opportunity to look at our work from a different perspective.
Amy Civetti, Art Director
- Brand New is a division of UnderConsideration, chronicling and providing opinions on corporate and brand identity work. The reason I love the “reviewed” section of the blog is that they cover current design trends and show what the updates look like. It’s a really great way for me to stay up to date on other branding out there that I may not otherwise be exposed to.
- Resource Cards is a growing list of free resources that help creatives with their next project. I love this because it pools tons of resources into a really easy-to-use page. I have a few go-to free sites in my brain, but when I am struggling to find something, I know I can go to resourcecards.com and find some alternatives!
Nia Lindsey, Senior Graphic Designer
- When creating new brand identities, developing the color palette is my favorite part. I love that Coolors presents the colors full width, with most of the necessary color values calculated.
- Mattson Creative‘s design blog is, hands down, one of my favorite design studios. Every post inspires me to find unconventional ways to innovate and perfect my craft. They recently completed Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary identity, and it is amazing! #goals
In a time when a lot of content marketing is done on the internet, writers and editors must consider the specific needs of readers who are accessing their articles online. Here are my top three tips for how to reach them with clear headlines:
1. Keep titles as short as you can.
Writing for a print layout gives you the luxury of being creative and clever with your titles, such as by using metaphors, imagery and colloquial turns of phrase. This often manifests as what I call “university press style”—a general phrase followed by further context.
Example: “Playing with fire: Global climate change and the catastrophic rise in forest fires in the American west”
However, writing articles for the web means your title needs to be concise. It will be squeezed into preview boxes in social media and into modules on webpages. If the title is too long, the whole line won’t appear. This limitation can be good, though—it forces you to focus on the main point of your article.
Edited version: “Study shows climate change worsens forest fires”
Titles must often fit within modules on a website layout.
2. Make titles describe what the article is actually about.
Making your title clearly reflect the subject of the article works on two levels. One, readers who are scrolling through content on their mobile devices or scanning a list of recent articles in an email digest are able to quickly see what content is available and to click on what’s relevant to them. Two, it’s good for SEO. Organic search terms will be reflective of readers’ keywords or questions, which tend to be very straightforward.
Be specific, and be factual, to reflect the news content or product you are writing about.
Example: “Leading with a sustainability mindset brings it all together”
Edited version: “Mayor of Anytown adds LEED certification to 2018 building code”
3. Use a number—listicles really do work.
The stats don’t lie. Our analytics have shown that readers love to click on pieces that break down a topic with a number, through titles similar to these: “Top 10 States for LEED,” “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels,” “3 reasons to earn your LEED Green Associate credential.”
You don’t want to do this for every article, of course, and you must deliver on your title’s promise, not make it mere clickbait. But it’s a good idea to use numbers where appropriate in your content marketing, along with other terms that trigger the same sense of “this sounds easy!” For example, “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels” could also be “How to install solar panels on your home” or “Simple steps to solar panel installation.” People google “how…” more than just about any other term. It’s all about making your content relevant to the reader.
Content marketing encompasses a range of formats: articles, blogs, infographics, videos and social media posts. What they all share is a goal to increase engagement or drive sales of a particular service, product or publication through providing information or storytelling that is compelling for the reader.
At USGBC, I work on the article component, creating and editing website content that shares information about our products, such as LEED. In 2016, we published over a thousand articles. We have a lot of brands and stakeholders, so we have a lot of content—and it needs to be prepared quickly. Here are the main four things I do to shape an article:
1) Highlight the goal.
When writing an article, make your headline and your call to action obvious. For example, our LEED Link series promotes products that our website users are already searching for and reading about. In bite-sized amounts, the articles share some of the details users need and ends with a button that leads them to further resources or products.
Even when an article highlights an individual or event, not a product, tie it back implicitly to why the reader should care. A simple example: “LEED credential holders make an impact as Pros, Fellows and Faculty” could have been titled “Meet our top LEED Pros, Fellows and Faculty,” emphasizing the personal. But readers may not know these influencers. What they are interested in is how they themselves can make a difference through attaining LEED credentials. Through that framing, they are more likely to click on the examples of the people who have attained this goal, as well as the ultimate call to action.
2) Keep it short, and break up the text.
Your customers are busy people, and they appreciate articles that get to the point. At USGBC, we recommend 300–500 words for most pieces. Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print, and the skills we learned in school about long-form writing need to be adapted to the digital world.
Add subheads and bulleted lists as ways to break up your text and allow customers to scan for the information they need.
3) Use images, graphics and interactive content.
Use a feature image or header that expresses your article goal simply and appealingly. Embed photos, quizzes, maps or infographics, as in our article on LEED-certified hospitality destinations, to further draw the reader in and make your topic more concrete and resonant.
One of our most successful posts each year is the Top 10 States for LEED, which includes an infographic breaking down the hard numbers and highlighting each state’s achievements.
4) Show how the customer belongs.
Whatever kind of business you have, your customers are part of a community that shares a common goal. At USGBC, the common goal is global sustainability and health through high-performing green buildings. Most of our articles recognize that sense of being part of something larger than ourselves and encouraging greater involvement.
This can be done in a playful way, as with our test-your-expertise quiz on green building, or a more serious way, as in our article on how building to LEED standards combats climate change. As you create your content, think about ways you can add a sense of community to your marketing in an organic way.
Last week, I joined over 3,500 other content marketing professionals in Cleveland, Ohio, for Content Marketing World. This annual event features so many experts on different aspects of content marketing strategy that it was hard to choose just one session for each time slot. Each speaker brought a special way of looking at content challenges in today’s fast-paced world.
At some types of conferences, learning is about absorbing factual information—but at CMWorld, it was more about absorbing new ideas. For me, one anecdote could start a whole train of thought on how to creatively engage with customers. Although stats, ROI techniques and other concrete tips were plentiful, the real takeaways from Cleveland were the fresh ways to look at the content we generate at USGBC®.
Here are just a few of the quotes that started me thinking:
“Be part of the info your audience actually wants to consume.”
According to author and speaker Andrew Davis, there are 347 blog posts published every single second. As marketers, we often think that more is better and keep throwing the same message at our audience. But being bombarded with information only makes people numb to it. Davis encourages companies to raise themselves above this content flood by offering customers original, engaging content they don’t even realize they need—but once they see it, they’re hooked. They will be eager to subscribe and will anticipate seeing this content on a regular basis.
Davis’s example was “FishTales,” a 16-second video series on Instagram billed as “The Shortest Cooking Show in the World.” A fish business that had been floundering (sorry, couldn’t resist) took off in a big way through this creative format. It led to a longer-format show on YouTube and, in turn, high demand for Bart van Olphen’s sustainably caught seafood.
“Narrow the focus and go big.”
Workfront’s Heather Hurst, like many of the experts at CMWorld, encouraged us to stop trying to be everything to everyone. Any organization will benefit from zeroing in on what it does best and what its core customer base wants.
Her analogy was the emergence of food trucks, a specialization success story. Food trucks have changed the game for downtown lunch spots the way that Uber has changed the game for taxis. Flexible and mobile, food trucks are popular for their convenience, fun factor and highly specialized focus. In Hurst’s scenario, “going big” was a corn dog truck toting a gigantic corn dog on top. In D.C., I’ve seen trucks dealing in tater tots, Asian-fusion tacos and waffles. Whatever your specialty, hone it, refine it and show it off! You do it better than anyone else, and people will follow you for it.
“There are infinite creative possibilities, so use data to reduce options to ones that have a high probability of success.”
TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett shared a lot of colorful anecdotes about creativity and the perception that successful media arises from sheer inspiration. But usually, it doesn’t—it’s the product of a system. Without a system, the number of possible ways to approach making content can result in our creating hit-or-miss, ineffective pieces.
According to Gannett, gathering user data narrows the options to a manageable set of proven formulas. If you believe, as about 60 percent of marketers do, that your content is not generally effective, then it’s especially important to track what kinds of content are successful and focus on repeating those formulas. He refers to this as “intentional creativity.” If you know what works, make more of that.
“The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”
If your goal is to increase your organic search traffic, advises Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, there are several concrete steps you can take. You can eliminate duplicate content by deleting or combining articles so that similar content items do not compete with one another. You can freshen up existing articles by updating the content and tweaking titles to reflect more current industry terms.
Another way to increase SEO rankings is to add semantic keywords and synonyms. Kuenn suggests that your rankings will improve if you are seen as an authoritative industry voice—search engines read content with a variety of related phrases and industry terms as being more high-quality content. His example was a passage containing the word “TV show” in several places, which he then reworked to include the phrases “episode,” “pilot,” “series,” and other related phrases. Focus on adding synonyms that make sense for your industry and its customer searches.
As I mull over these and more tips from the conference, I’ll be thinking about new ways that USGBC can serve its audience with content they need and content they want. Is there something you’d like to see more of in our green building content? Leave your ideas in the comments below.
Grammar. The word can bring back unpleasant memories of your middle school English teacher. And where you work, there is likely at least one communications professional whose job it is to edit customer-facing content. But in 2016, people in every industry find themselves writing content without sending it to someone else first—whether it’s for a tweet, a blog or a conference presentation. Here is a quick refresher on common grammar mistakes, to help you sound like the polished professional you are.
- Their, they’re and there. Autocorrect can sometimes trip you up with these. Using the wrong version, just like using it’s when you mean its, can damage your credibility instantly in the eyes of your reader. Their is a possessive: “The volunteers planted their vegetables in the community garden.” They’re is a contraction of they and are: “They’re planning to raise carrots and peas.” And there refers to the location: “The seed packets are over there.”
- Every day and everyday. Every day is used to refer to something happening each day: “I ride my bike to work every day.” Everyday is a word that describes something you use often: “I wear an everyday cycling outfit, nothing special.”
- Principal and principle. A principal is a person, such as the highest-ranking official, or the main component of something: “Saving energy was the principal reason for installing solar panels.” A principle is a moral belief or fundamental law: “The principle of living with a small footprint informed all her decisions.”
- Which and that. How you use these depends on the sentence structure. Which is for saying something about your subject that isn’t crucial to the main message of the sentence. For example, “Paint recycling, which is catching on in the D.C. area, will be easier next month with the arrival of a paint collection location.” That is for restricting the meaning to a particular category: “Paint cans that are empty go into this bin.” For a more thorough explanation, check out Grammar Girl’s post on the subject.
- Grammar Girl: Mignon Fogarty’s “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” answer typical questions about all things grammar and usage. She also has a regular podcast.
- The Elements of Style: Strunk and White’s classic book has been helping writers with their craft since 1920. Its humorous tone and brevity make it a surprisingly engaging read.
- The Oatmeal has some hilarious cartoons illustrating grammar concepts. Try this one on the proper use of apostrophes.