Archive for June, 2012
Friday, June 29th, 2012
Some research says that web surfers actually read less than 18% of any given page. While this is sure to be a distressing fact for the writer who slaved over each and every words remember that if you want to hold your reader’s attention you may need to get down to a more personal level. While this technique is not applicable in every situation or for every subject, there are many instances when your writing should include at least a hint of your own personality. As with most writing you will do, before you begin you should have a good idea of who will read your words—the targeted audience.
Who are You Writing For?
You should have a good understanding of how serious your venue is, whether it is a blog or a website, and whether you are working with a highly technical subject or one that is familiar to most people. Whatever you are writing about, you are essentially telling a story and communicating with others. In order to make your readers want to read much more than 18% of your story, remember that human beings want to connect with others and relate to the quandaries of other human beings. So, just how personal should you get with your readers, particularly if you are not writing a blog for yourself, but writing for others as a profession.
What are You Comfortable Sharing?
Ask yourself first just what level of information you are comfortable sharing with readers and what part of yourself you would never, under any circumstances, share with others. Then try sprinkling in a few personal details in your next writing assignment—not much, just enough to make it real for your readers. You want your readers to connect with you, the writer, on a personal level and to identify with you so bring them into the story as soon as you can. If, by the end of your story you feel a little raw and exposed, sleep on the story before it is published. Distance will allow you to edit the details that were making you uncomfortable while leaving in those which make it a good story.
Personal Details in a Blog
Blog content is different from website content in that people expect a blog to be much more personal and to contain details of another’s life. Blogs are actually meant to represent people and create human connections. As human beings we hardly stay on topic all the time, and a blog is no different. While probably none of your blog followers care what you ate for lunch, they do want to know the author’s likes, dreams, opinions, dislikes and passions. In order to communicate those things, you have no choice but to get a bit personal. Most all of us respond more positively to a story in which we are led to see things in a personal, individual manner. Remember—human beings even make purchasing decisions based largely on emotions. Of course there may be a rational decision regarding the purchase made initially but in the end our primary response to a sale pitch will come from a personal place.
Think about what others like about you and try adding some of that specific personality trait into your future writing—you will be glad you did!
Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Content marketing is the latest buzzword in the Internet world and is basically a marketing technique which centers around the creation and distribution of relevant, valuable content to engage a specific target audience. Of course the ultimate goal or objective is ensuring—through the content—that target audience takes action which is profitable in some way to the website owner. On the surface you are simply presenting information that increases the knowledge of your readers rather than overtly offering up a sales pitch for products or services. The underlying belief of content strategy is that when companies bypass the standard hard-sell lines and deliver consistent, ongoing, respected content to their readers, those same readers will respond with their business and their loyalty.
The Inception of Content Marketing
Content marketing was a response to consumers who were jaded and had shut themselves off from traditional marketing techniques. Those who study such behaviors realized that magazine advertising is largely skipped over, and many American families now own a DVR for no other reason than to be able to skip annoying commercials. When it soaked in that traditional advertising was becoming less effective by the day, experts from around the world concluded that content marketing is truly the wave of the future. That being said, content marketing is useless and impossible without the benefit of great content.
Without Great Content There is No Content Marketing
If the content being presented is not informative, relevant and valuable, then content marketing will never be successful. Great content forces human beings to look at their world in a different way, to think and, in the end, to behave differently. One study shows that over 3/4ths of those who are in charge of making company decisions would rather get the information and knowledge they need to make those decisions through a series of engaging articles rather than through a blatant advertisement. Many companies engage their readers through a newsletter, e-mail updates or blog writing and all of these are part and parcel of content marketing.
A Plan for Great Content
While we are all aware of the necessity of posting often, that content must be high-quality or it would be better not to post it at all. When looking at content for a specific website, the question must be asked as to whether that content fully engages the target audience. Is it inviting and above all, is it relevant? Is the content valuable to the reader whether through entertainment, inspiration or information? The value of content is much easier to gauge than the value of a link in that when great content is posted onto a website the site owner soon knows how many links that content generated, how many “likes” it received on Facebook, how many referral visits it produced and how much search traffic it created through which keywords.
More and more companies are realizing they need more than copywriters—they need writers who can infuse heart and soul into their content, making it ready to take its place in the content marketing strategy. Great content should never be taken lightly as it is crucial to the success of any website or blog.
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
Here’s a news flash that most writers will surely find distressing—web readers usually actually read less than a third of the content of any given page. Whether this is because the reader actually found what he was looking for by the time he had read that amount or because he realized this was not the information he was after is unclear. Or, a third choice could be that the information the reader is looking for was hidden behind loads of extraneous text which the reader had neither the time nor the inclination to sift through. People come to a website with a specific goal in mind and if they are unable to find the answer to their question they will hit the back button in the mere flash of a second.
Meeting Your Readers’ Needs
If you want to meet your reader’s needs, then no matter what subject you are writing about must be presented in the most efficient manner possible, and the old adage about less being more is true nowhere as much as on the web. Text that is rich with flowery or complicated words not only breaks your reader’s concentration—as they try to figure out what each words means—it also takes the attention away from the subject and puts it onto the words. Plain language encompasses and entire style of writing which allows the target audience to understand quickly and easily the first time they read a passage.
Organization is Key
Plain language is always well-organized as well as sharp and succinct. Think about having a conversation with a friend then eliminate anything which wouldn’t be part of that conversation. Writers who have spent many years writing prose may have the most difficult time with this advice, but remember—you are not banned from using any but the simplest words, so long as you ensure they are also familiar words to your readers. This means that you must know who your audience is. If you are writing for yourself in the form of a blog or on your own website, it is likely that you do know who your audience is. If you are writing for others, determining your target audience takes a bit more work. You may need to thoroughly dissect the site you are writing for in order to determine what the basic education level, work environment and level of technical expertise is regarding your subject.
How Important Is Plain Writing?
Plain writing is so important to reader comprehension that federal agencies are actually required—under the Plain Writing Act of 2010—to write their white papers, documents and websites in plain language that most all readers will comprehend. This particular law also requires that employees who will be engaged in writing will receive training on writing plainly. Suppose you have written your content using the plainest language possible. What else can you do to ensure your content is read?
Begin with the shortest, most concise statement you can possibly make about your subject. Make this statement both informative and immediately intriguing or engaging. Seconds are crucial here, so ensure this first statement is pure magic. Assuming you achieved that first goal, next make your page highly scannable with headlines for each paragraph chunk which makes a promise—and a paragraph that delivers. Provide clear links, use bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate and stay with short sentences. Finally, even if you are fairly certain you have a good handle on who your readers are, don’t ever assume they have specific knowledge of a subject or have read related pages. Write in such a way that each page will stand on its own, and write in plain, simple language.
Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
While great content is a critical factor in the success of a website presentation and whether the reader can successfully interact with that content are also high on the list. People, at heart, are rather superficial, and whether we want to admit it or not we respond to appearances. Those appearances impact our feelings, our perceptions and our choices, and the appearance of any given website can impact whether people will trust that website and, by extension, the business.
Even with stellar content, if the presentation and appearance don’t mesh, people will spend less time reading the content, may assume the company is amateurish, and could even question the company’s ability to produce what it is promising. Website owners should always guard against a cheap or amateurish-appearing site unless they want the first impression of their readers to be a negative one. The company website represents the organization’s brand, giving an immediate impression of credibility and professionalism.
Great Content May Never Be Read Without Great Presentation
In order to ensure readers actually make it to the engaging, compelling and informative content, the website must be presented in a clean, well-organized manner with a clearly presented logo or brand. Navigation should be clear and simple, guiding visitors to the parts of the website the owner deems most important. Communication with visitors can be accomplished through imagery and visual cues, guiding readers to the meat of the site—the content. Within the content links can direct readers to related articles or background information or, if writing for a blog, the writer can link to earlier posts the reader might find equally relevant.
Web Writing Goals
The web writer must consider all the contexts in which their words may be found, hence the importance of titles. Content must be broken down into chunks of text with section headings which allows readers to quickly find the information they are looking for. It cannot be said enough that Internet content must be scannable—after all, if no one reads the content, then how valuable can it really be. Content that is compelling, personal and energetic, written in the active voice is almost always the best choice. Writing that comes with a bit of attitude can also be appealing to readers, but the ultimate test of whether your words will be read lies in the presentation.
Allowing the Reader to Interact With the Story
Beyond great content and superb presentation, web writing must encourage reader interaction. Readers want to feel as though they are having a conversation with a trusted friend, so take the necessary time to turn a mass of words into something that draws the reader in. Even complex subject matter can be made much more reader friendly with the inclusion of white space—one idea per paragraph and paragraphs that are no more than 5-6 sentences contribute to that white space. Strong headlines get readers involved in the content, while equally strong subheads hold the attention throughout the page. These techniques which are not specifically noticed by readers nonetheless allow them to be drawn into the story, becoming fully engaged and reading to the very end. Content is king, but presentation and interaction are strong supporting players.
Monday, June 25th, 2012
As Google’s algorithms continue to change and mature, compelling content is headed to the forefront of website success. Although many people have known for a long time that compelling, relevant, engaging and timely content were crucial, the Internet world as a whole has been slow to catch on. Most all of us have found content on the web which makes little sense and is largely a string of keywords put together with little thought of actual readability. On the other side, frequent web users generally have certain sites they visit time and time again.
What Makes People Return to Websites?
Think about what makes you come back to the same site over and over and likely you will find it to be the relevant, interesting and compelling content. This level of content not only keeps readers coming back, it even sparks readers to share the content with friends and among social media. Sites which reach the level of “compelling” generally offer unique, well-written content with links which not only point users to other site areas but also keep spiders well-fed, resulting in better search results. These sites also have content which is considered “evergreen,” meaning the information will not be out-of-date next month—or even next year.
Compelling Content Nobody Can Find
But what if your content is top-of-the line, grade A content, meaning it offers expert and timely information in a compelling and engaging manner—yet nobody is able to find it? This is where other factors, such as the right keywords and scannable text, come into play. Suppose you wrote an article about building rocking chairs, yet nowhere in your content were the words “rocking chair?” Aside from being a little crazy, it would also make it impossible for searchers to find your site when they typed in the search query “build rocking chair.” While this is certainly an extreme example, what it should tell you is that quality web content must be extremely easy to find and must be relevant to what the searcher is searching for.
Using Keywords Wisely
Keywords are vital to the ultimate success of your web content therefore you must take special pains to make them stand out, while also ensuring they make sense within your context. Search engine spiders are looking for your keywords and they need to be able to quickly determine whether your page actually describes the topics your keywords are advertising and, if so, how relevant your pages actually are. There are many ways to come up with the best keywords, but following a system can ensure you get the ones which will send traffic scurrying your way.
First of all simply start with the easiest words you can think of, right off the top of your head. Next, figure out synonyms for those words and finally consider your user’s vocabulary. This means you should factor in misunderstandings, incorrect terms, associated concepts and even classifications children would come up with. Once those critical keywords are firmly in place, work at integrating them in your content in the most natural way which keeps the content flowing and doesn’t make them shout “keyword” to your readers.
Remember to keep your content eminently scannable remembering that web readers have little time and even less patience when they are looking for a particular bit of information. Web readers scan, looking for stand-out sentences. This practice dictates that you include engaging headlines, chunks of text and bulleted lists in order to hold their attention. While content is certainly king, great content may never be read without a few tweaks along the way.
Friday, June 22nd, 2012
The word “outline” takes many of us back to our high school English class and brings a shudder. The truth is, your English teacher was smarter than you think. Writers who want their content to be compelling, engaging, informative and sparkly would do well to engage in a bit of pre-writing before they sit down to write their article. Pre-writing can allow you first and foremost to focus intelligently on your topic while narrowing the focus. You will find that your mind opens to ideas you had not thought of once you engage in pre-writing. Pre-writing also allows you to identify any potential gaps in your information—gaps you may not have been aware of. If you tuned out during high school English, you will find some tips below which will allow you to organize your thoughts and thus your content in a way that will have your readers coming back for more.
Focused free writing—what you may know as stream of consciousness writing—is a good beginning point before you attempt an outline. Use a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen and spend from 5-15 minutes summarizing your topic as you let your thoughts roam freely on the specific subject. You will write anything which comes to mind without stopping and without editing or even reviewing what you have written. When your time is up, take a look at your initial topic summary and re-write it. Is it different than the first? Look over your writing and determine whether there are words or ideas you can flesh out on your topic and if a main idea comes shining through.
Outlining and Listing
You are now ready for a more structured and sequential view of your research and your free-writing or brainstorming. Arrange your items and topics in a logical manner without worrying about punctuation, grammar or complete sentences. Make a list of your topics then structure them similarly. Sequence these topics according to their importance—if you have two topics which are equal in importance, place them at the same level; you will likely see one edge out the other as your writing progresses. You can outline on a piece of paper, but know that it will be messy when you are done. If you are someone who cringes at the thought of cross-outs and mark-throughs you should likely do your outline electronically, leaving a nice, pretty outline you can print out.
Reading and Thinking
One way to improve your writing is to read constantly. Make notes of writing styles which engage you and notice how the content is laid out. Writers who are oblivious to what is going on in the world will likely turn out content which is boring and trite. Take a few minutes a day to let your mind wander over ideas which have occurred to you over the past week or so, and capture those ideas on paper before you can forget them. Listening to the conversations of those around you is also a great way to come up with new ideas and inspiration as well as getting different perspectives on old subjects. When you have lots of new ideas, you are ready to pre-write and turn those ideas into valuable content.
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
While many web writers are new writers in general, many more have spent their careers writing for print media. The leap into cyberspace writing with all its different “rules” can be very unsettling and challenging. In the virtual world writers have some seven seconds to hook their reader who is quickly determining whether or not this particular content is worth bothering with. Writing content that is eminently scannable is the challenge for writers who are coming from print media. Writers must reach out to their readers quickly, telling them exactly what they came to find out in the most engaging, concise manner possible. The most successful web writers will not only coax their readers into reading the content from start to finish, but to interact with the story as well. While audience interaction is not particularly new—think Dickens and his serial stories—this interaction must be used to entice readers to stay put and to return for more.
Slant Your Writing to Your Audience
Although new web writers may believe that creating content which is as generic as possible is the best way to appeal to the most people, those same writers must learn that appealing to the right audience is much more important than appealing to every audience. Of course, slanting your writing to your particular audience means you must know who that audience consists of. Are you writing to parents of teenagers, to baby boomers, to the over-seventy crowd or to tech-savvy twenty years-olds? Each of those demographics will read content from a different background with a different perspective. One style of writing will not work for web writing, so writing style must be adjusted to meet the needs of the targeted reader. The web writer must address the specific needs of each audience in a different manner, taking their unique perspective into account and adjusting the writing style accordingly.
Become a Conversationalist
Writers for the web who can write as though they are having a conversation with a dear friend are largely the most successful. Think of content as a method of communication and pretend you are having that conversation with a member of your audience. When you think in this manner, it becomes much easier to build trust with your audience as well as ensuring that audience is receptive to your message. While many web writers are hesitant to encourage feedback, fearing negative comments, remember that without feedback you may not be able to see how your content actually affects your audience. Feedback gives you the message that your audience is finding value in your content, and what better gift could a writer ask for?
All web writing must take into consideration the short attention span of the web reader. Short paragraphs with short sentences are crucial, and headlines and subheads which quickly tell the reader what is coming are essential. Web writing is considerably different from print media, and adjustments will need to be made for a successful web writing career however once you’ve successfully implemented the different rules of web writing into your style your success is on the way.
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
For those of us who have ever pushed the “send” button and noticed a typo or misspelled word as our copy flew out into cyberspace, having spell checker is a good thing—you just cannot rely on it 100%. Most people who write for a living think much faster than they type, so keeping up with the flow of words from the brain is near-impossible and also much more likely to result in misspellings and typographical errors.
While Spell-Check is an amazing tool it’s important that writers use their eyes as well.
For example, for whatever reason I find myself typing “form” instead of “from” time after time. My Spell-Check is perfectly happy with “form,” since it is, after all, spelled correctly. Unfortunately, even spelled correctly, “form” makes little sense when it is standing in for “from.” It is hard for readers to trust your content, your brand or your product when there are spelling or grammatical errors on the page. Faithful readers of a blog may forgive the occasional spelling error, but particularly on pages which are attempting to sell a product or service, spelling and grammatical errors can completely derail your efforts. Proof-reading is a crucial part of writing—albeit a tedious one—so never skip giving your writing the once-over (or even the twice-over).
Potential Problems with Spell-Check
While a spell checker can do lots, it doesn’t differentiate between the three forms of “their, there and they’re,” and will not flag you when a word is spelled correctly but used in a nonsensical manner. Spell check cannot help you with proper names and can (annoyingly) flag certain words as errors which are spelled correctly. When a word is spelled especially badly, a spell checker may not offer any suggestions for making it right. Because of differences in formatting from one program to the next, it can be a good idea to proofread both on your own computer as well as previewing what your content will look like once it’s published—before you publish. For some odd reason, while many of us can catch spelling mistakes made by others nearly a hundred percent of the time our own errors may escape us. It could be the many hours we’ve spent writing and re-writing, but whatever the reason, you should either print the content out and proofread from a hard copy, or even read your content aloud as it forces you to take note of each word.
Getting the Most from Your Spell-Check
Back in “the day” we had typewriters and carbon paper if we wanted more than one copy. While I would never want to return to that era, the tediousness of the system ensured that the spelling, grammar and personalization were perfect on each sheet that went out. Today’s PC’s and laptops with their incredible word processing programs have changed the entire game, yet there is still no excuse for poor spelling or grammar. While a spell checker is definitely a handy tool and should not be abandoned, writers should avoid relying on it to catch every mistake. Most spell checkers include options which allow the user to customize the dictionary to include often-used proper nouns, names and acronyms. Some feature “auto correct,” which allows you to tell your program which words you traditionally misspell and the spell checker will correct them as you type. The only problem with this type of technology is that relying solely on spell checking programs can make us lazy, causing us to become dependent to the point where we’ve forgotten how to spell words we surely once knew. So, use your spell checker, but use your eyes and your brain as well if you want to turn out pristine content.
Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
Many writers are not fully aware of the influence their content can exert on those who read it. Human beings are incredibly susceptible to the opinions of others, and on the web those opinions come in the form of words on a page. As one example, if you buy frequently on Amazon then you likely read the reviews for any book or product you are considering buying. I absolutely refuse to buy a book with less than four stars—after all could all those people really be wrong? Even though I am aware this is sheep behavior, I still follow those self-imposed dictates. If I am looking at a product which received glowing reports I am much more likely to hit the “buy” button than when looking at a product which looks largely similar but has no ready feedback. What you should garner from this example is that the way your content is written is extremely important in framing the expectations of your readers therefore web content should be managed in a professional and scientific manner. Whether you know it or not, your web content can create waves in the real world, so you must always take it seriously.
What is Your Purpose?
Plenty of sites—business, consumer and blogs—have lots to say and, generally speaking, say it well. While most of these writers follow at least some of the “rules” for web writing such as integrating snappy headlines, short sentences and chunks of text into their content, it is unlikely they fully realize the power their words may possibly wield. There are several things you must remember when creating content which could potentially have a profound effect on others. First, does your writing have a clear purpose? Once you can identify that purpose—and if you can’t, stop writing until you can—you will incorporate themes and messages that flesh out and define that purpose.
Who Are You Writing For?
If you know who you are writing for—your targeted audience—it becomes much easier to understand the impact your words could have on that audience. You figure out the human being on the other side of the computer screen then craft your message to engage that audience. When your content is completed, then you can go back and carefully place keywords and other web-friendly techniques to ensure your words are actually found. While some disagree, great content and web-friendly editing can co-exist harmoniously.
Writing Great Content
Remember that great posts aren’t read then shipped off to the content boneyard to languish and die. Great posts are copied, linked, talked about and borrowed. This is what you are aiming for—a great post that everyone reads, re-reads, and tells their family and friends to read. The Internet is full of sites which may be ranked highly, yet their visitors stay on the page for a mere few seconds. Your goal is not just to get visitors, but to give them something so special, so memorable, that they will stay on your site reading page after page and having their view of the world altered in some way by your words.
Monday, June 18th, 2012
Today’s web reader has a very big appetite for information. We get information from a variety of sources such as cable or satellite television, cell phones and home computers with Internet connections. We have tablets and reading devices and smart phones which make many of us suffer feelings of inferiority. In other words, our lives are full of gadgets whose primary task is to bring the widest variety of information our way. Research says that the more information we have at our fingertips, the less overwhelmed we feel when attempting to make a decision. Our human nature makes us want to explore and communicate with others in as many ways as possible. Less than 20% of those surveyed said they would mind giving up their daily newspaper, while over 80% said they would be lost without their access to the Internet’s quick, comprehensive information.
Know Your Audience
Writers whose business it is to add content to the web should have a good idea of who their true audience really is. The most engaged group regarding Internet information and technology are those who are young—average age of 22—and tech savvy. They interact with the Internet through downloading music and videos, participating in online groups and creating online content. Older baby boomers account for roughly six percent of the population; this group are very active gatherers of information while also searching for news and work-related information. This group—with an average age of 52—also spends money freely online. The 36-46 age group tends to have less online experience that the first two groups, however they are quick to embrace information, goods and services. Finally, senior men with an average age of 70 and who have been using the web for at least a decade contribute to a significant percentage of overall web users. This group uses the Internet primarily to gather information, shop, pay bills and handle finances.
A World of Fickle Web Readers
Because all these groups can be impatient and fickle, they may land on your content, take a glance and be off to the next site. If you have a good idea of who is reading your content and what it will take to make them take notice before they have time to hit the back button, your writing will be way ahead of the game. Keywords should get visitors to your content while not making the content illogical or inane. Your titles and headlines must be accurate, on-topic, snappy and engaging and your text must be delineated chunks of highly informational sentences—which should be short and concise. Throw in an original approach, information that is easily verifiable, a dynamic style and a bit of nerve and you have created content that scores of web surfers will stop and read. The “bit of nerve” part centers around throwing just a bit of attitude into your content. So much of what is on the web sounds much like hundreds of other pages so it’s critical that your content really stand out from the rest.
Keep your content interesting, never boring and give readers a real reason to come to your pages. Stay away from monotonous writing—no matter how boring your subject matter is—as well as content that sounds stuffy and academic. Pick a side when writing on a particular subject—no fence sitting allowed. When you know who your audience is and what they want, your job becomes significantly easier.