Three years ago, if you had asked me what a swipe file is, I probably would have replied with something like this:
"Umm...does it have something to do with stealing?"
Swipe files aren't stealing. In fact, they're not even borrowing.
Christopher Penn defines a swipe file as being "a collection of stuff that has worked, arranged in such a way to inspire you and give you future ideas." Sounds simple enough, right? Actually, we put together swipe files all the time without knowing it.
Brides put together binders full of pictures and wedding planning articles. Interior designers create mood boards. If you've ever used Polyvore or a similar site, you've (in a way) made a swipe file. By putting together resources that spark new ideas, you're doing yourself a favor in the long run. No marketer, copywriter, or creative professional can go through his or her career without getting stuck. It just happens. We're human and when the idea well runs dry, we have a tendency to give up.
The importance of a swipe file isn't its size or its diversity of material. It's the swipe file's ability to help you through creative roadblocks.
As SEO copywriters and marketers, we can keep a swipe file filled with headlines, social media campaigns, blog posts, landing pages, lead generation techniques, calls to action...if it helps you write great copy, include it there. It's that simple.
In terms of putting together your own swipe file, there are many tools that you can use. Personally, here's what I use or have used to put together my own collection of inspiration:
- If you already use other Google Tools, this is a great way to keep everything together.
Google Docs can be filled with text documents, images, mind maps, spreadsheets, and other catalogs of information that can be easily accessed when you're already logged into Gmail/Google+/Google Calendar.
If you're an internet marketer and spend quite a bit of time logged into Google accounts for keyword research, YouTube posting, or otherwise, definitely consider taking advantage of Google Docs to store your best ideas.
- This app is awesome. Evernote is a free tool that you can use on your computer, phone, iPad, etc. to capture, organize, and search through things that have inspired you. You can upload photos, text, spreadsheets, lists, and even "clip" things you come across online. Case studies, articles, landing pages, graphics...they all can be stored in Evernote and organized into folders. It's like writing down idea bursts (or the things you know you'll forget) without the scrap paper.
- When I'm at my computer and I'm working on something completely different but absolutely NEED to write something down, I open a notepad file. There are countless notepad files saved on my desktop with file names like, "Blog Post Ideas", "Quotes I Really Like", and "Landing Page Examples". It's easy to come across something good unexpectedly, so I usually keep a Notepad file open at all times.
- I'm a sucker for good outdoor advertising. If I see an ad that I enjoy, I take a picture of it with my phone and then send it to my inbox to reference later. Sometimes, I'll just keep it on my phone and reference it when I'm working on something else. Either way, it works when I need to "clip" something that isn't easily clippable. I've also been known to talk to myself in public, er, use the voice recorder.
- It's a complete disaster (I save everything), but my inbox is probably the swipe file tool I use the most. Whenever I get a blog post topic idea or find an amazing website example, I add it to an email and save it to drafts. Or I send it to myself if I want to take action on it quickly. I use Gmail primarily, so once it's in my drafts or inbox, I label it to know exactly what's in it. Then, when I need to find it later on, all I have to do is search or look for the right label.
- I keep a small notebook in my purse for the moments when I'm not connected in some way. If I'm enjoying a quiet day away from my computer (OK, I still check my phone a hundred times), I'll use a trusty notebook to jot down examples of good work that I come across. If the notebook has a pocket, it gets filled with clippings of from brochures, direct mail, and magazines.
My Social Networks
- When I tweet, share, like, or +1 something, it's because it works. I can look back through my social network profiles to see what updates I've made to find articles, blog posts, or infographics that I know are interesting. Not to mention, many of the people I follow are also examples of what works.
Let's be honest here. I'm a bad organizer when it comes to online files. It's always been difficult for me to muster up the motivation to organize my countless "clippings" into categories that make sense (see this post by Christopher Penn). I'd really like to get better about it, but for today, what I'm doing works for me. These tools are always accessible to me and I like how easy they are to use, but I know there are a TON of other tools out there that you can use to put together your own swipe file.
Speaking of swipe files, what tools do you use to put one together?
Mandy Boyle is the Director of Internet Marketing at Net Driven. She is also a published freelance writer and co-founder of NEPA BlogCon. She enjoys theater, not taking herself seriously, and adventurous eating.