A Man of His Word...or 500

By Randall Gerber

Writer – Winner - 2014 Best ROI healthcare blog - Carolinas Healthcare PR and Marketing Society

CEO, The Gerber Group

Today, creativity is just the start of good writing.

When I talk with college students about writing, my advice is simple: the hardest part of writing…getting your butt in the chair.

Admittedly, good writing requires more than that. Thinking through your idea before you sit down. Allowing your brain to think about an idea while you sleep is one technique I use. Walking the dog is another method. While your pooch smells the roses (or other dog’s pee), let your mind mull. Finally, on a day when my mind has more trouble starting that an automobile in a Minnesota winter, I try cream-filled Kristy Kreme doughnuts. Mmmmm, sugar. Write fast. That sugar high won’t last long.

Just last week, after receiving a 2 p.m. phone call from a client, we worked on a news release for 3 hours. But I felt there was a key missing that I couldn’t find. So, I tucked it away in my brain. In the shower the next morning, the exact sentence – word for word – came into my head.

Yet these days, when many of us are writing on health care for the Internet – blogs, content marketing, websites – it takes more than a good idea presented clearly to garner readers. It takes more than writing FOR the reader – knowing what will catch their attention, what will they understand, what will I need to explain.

Today’s writers have three ultimate editors – Mr. Google, Miss Yahoo, and Ms. Bing. When 75% of Internet users search the web for health information, the major search engines and their behind-the-curtain Wizards of Oz largely control who will see (and ultimately read) our writing.

They’re fickle, always changing their minds (aka their search algorithms) about what they like and how much they like. “But last week I was in the top five organic search listings. Today I’m on Page 2?!”

They say they’ll make our writing easier to find if we just cross their palms with a little Pay-Per-Click cash. Or a few geotargeted Facebook Ads.

Even with all these new requirements, writing that grabs requires the same components: a good beginning, middle and end. Tell them that you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.

Oh, yes, and keep it to about 500 words, certainly no more than 600. It also helps if we have a catchy title. Onethat is less than 72 spaces and carries the key SEO terms. It’s also advisable to use key search terms in the body of the article – but not too often. The Wizards of Oz don’t like that.

In some ways, it’s the flip side of those college days when we padded our papers to ensure 10-pages or 2,000 words. As today’s healthcare writers, we must take complex topics – endometriosis, pelvic prolapse, atrial fibrillation, lung cancer treatment – and craft an educational, informative blog article in fewer words than yesteryear’s Reader’s Digest articles.

As for me. I like it. I cut my teeth writing a 3-minute radio newscast every half-hour. Or crafting today’s hottest breaking news into a 90-second piece for the 6 p.m. news

Writing for today’s health care consumer is challenging. And that’s what I like about it. Whoops!  More than 500 words – time to take the dog out and plan another blog.