Jousting with Trolls

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away in cyberspace, there lived an email list for internet travelers searching for the meaning of “information architecture.” I remember it well–especially the thrilling chirp, buzz ‘n rattle of my modem dialing in and that one dude (or was it a dudette?) who alternately bedeviled or captured or led or derailed almost every thread struggling to weave its way through our feverish little minds. S/he never identified him/herself and we never figured out who s/he was, but s/he definitely dominated the discussions despite our occasional attempts to shame or out or ignore him/her. So that’s one kind of troll–the arrogant show-offs and con men. Think Donald Trump.

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Then there are the pranksters who just want everyone to lighten up a bit, have some FUN. The internet’s response to the British government’s recent public poll on the name for a new government research ship is an good example of that.

And then, of course, there are the Bad Trolls, the ones out to do damage, the ones you have to  deal with or, better yet, avoid to begin with. Here’s an excellent, quick primer on doing just that and handling ego-maniacs and funsters, too: http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk/5-ways-to-beat-the-trolls/.

Meatspace events now mostly for online content

Marketing and sales seer David Meerman Scott (“The New Rules of Marketing & PR”) recently had an ‘aha’ moment while watching the Vans World Cup of Surfing in Hawaii:

I was surprised by how low key this important competition looked to me while there in person. I knew it was a big money event and had seen it on video and covered in the surf magazines in prior years, but I thought it strange there were only a few hundred spectators on the beach.

That’s when I realized that the entire production is built around the videos and photos that come out of the contest.

So… more and more these days it’s not just that “a picture is (still) worth a thousand words,” it’s that meatspace events are now designed more to produce online content than to entertain “in person” spectators.

At Vans World Cup, photographers line beach largely empty of spectators

At Vans World Cup, photographers line beach mostly empty of spectators

> read/see full D. M. Scott post 

 

Dark patterns of trickery

Surely you know from maddening experience that more than a few websites and applications are consciously, methodically, diabolically designed to trick you into doing things you don’t want to do. Now there’s a website where you can learn all about such “dark patterns,” conceived and managed by Harry Brignull, a UK-based UX designer with a Ph.D in cognitive science. Here’s a good summary of the site by Bruce Sterling (posted to Wired).

dark side

A likable “like”

It’s hard not to “like” your periodontist on Facebook if you have to stare at a personal request from one of his hygienists for two hours AND she does such amazingly skilled, pain-free work. Thanks to Elena (hygienist) and Dr. Jorge Ramirez of Periodontal Solutions of South Miami!

View from the chair - not for the faint of hear, but likable anyway.

View from the chair – not for the faint of heart, but likable anyway.

Yet another handy Google app

I’ve been using Google Voice for a while now to record phone interviews for Web copywriting. Usually I’m capturing accurate quotations or how someone talks so I can ghost-write a blog post or first-person bio.  You have to have a Google account and get a unique Google Voice number so people can call you (not vice-versa) and Google can alert them when you start recording. The result is a no-frills list of your recordings on your Voicemail page that you can annotate to make an easily readable index. Fast forward and reverse in playback are kinda klunky, but you get used to it.

Google Voice interface - recorded call.

Google Voice interface – recorded call.

And Google Voice does a lot more than just record calls.

What’s Your Style?

Every organization that publishes on the Web should use an editorial style guide approved by whoever is ultimately responsible for the quality of the organization’s content. No matter what size your business is or what business you’re in, an editorial style guide will:

  • save you time and money by avoiding internal disputes about grammar, punctuation and spelling;
  • help you make sure all your content (not just Web content) is consistent;
  • improve the quality of your Web content—help you communicate more clearly and powerfully with site visitors.

Most organizations use either The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style (for more scholarly content). Many more editorial style guides are available for different industries, countries, professions, and media (check out this extensive list on Wikipedia). Savvy, mature organizations usually supplement a published guide such as the AP Stylebook with an “in-house” guide that covers spellings, punctuation and usage unique to their business or industry. Those internal guides should be regularly updated and approved as new editorial issues arise.

And please note that I’m talking about editorial style guides here, not graphic design style guides (fonts, color specifications, ‘look and feel’) etc. Editorial style guides should also avoid wading into ‘voice and tone’ requirements, branding issues, editorial workflows, personas, competitive analyses and other content development policies that are much more useful in higher-level content or marketing strategies developed for specific Web projects.

“HTTP error”

If you get an error message like that and go blank with frustration and disinterest, you’re like me. You may know what “HTTP” stands for and kinda what it does, but hey, you’re trying to get work done with other humans, not respond to a computer application that talks a computer programmer’s preferred lingo. So you’re stuck, or at least delayed until you figure out what that message means or can ask someone who does. More to the point I want to make here: I got that message while trying to upload an image to a WordPress post:

Error message received during attempted image upload to WordPress post.

Error message received during attempted image upload to WordPress post.

Since starting to work with WordPress a few years ago I’ve learned the hard way that it’s definitely not for anyone with no affinity for, or basic knowledge of, computers and networks and how they work; and it’s probably not for anyone who isn’t familiar with basic HTML. It’s the love child of countless programmers and still dominated by them, so when you get a message like “HTTP error” it’s them basically, blithely saying (between the lines): “most of us here in the WordPress community are pretty geeky and know what that means and don’t mind dealing with it.” Which reminds me of one of my favorite books, a classic, about human interaction with technology, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, by Alan Cooper*. I highly recommend it to anyone who almost didn’t read this post when they saw the headline. Here’s from an editorial review of “Inmates” on Amazon.com:

The recurring metaphor in The Inmates are Running the Asylum is that of the dancing bear–the circus bear that shuffles clumsily for the amusement of the audience. Such bears, says author Alan Cooper, don’t dance well, as everyone at the circus can see. What amazes the crowd is that the bear dances at all. Cooper argues that technology (video recorders, car alarms, most software applications for personal computers) consists largely of dancing bears–pieces that work, but not at all well. He goes on to say that this is more often than not the fault of poorly designed user interfaces, and he makes a good argument that way too many devices (perhaps as a result of the designers’ subconscious wish to bully the people who tormented them as children) ask too much of their users. Too many systems (like the famous unprogrammable VCR) make their users feel stupid when they can’t get the job done.

Google Unchained

Since moving to South Florida and having to drive in Miami occasionally, my wife and I have depended on the Google Maps girl (we call her “Rachel”) to show and tell us the way. It’s a blessing—and a curse when she gets confused, usually by some god-awful Miami on/off ramp with stoplights and curvy one-way avenues, all under construction and crawling with Miami drivers (who else?) who think they’re in a stock car race or video game car chase scene. Several times she’s had us driving around in convoluted circles while she sorts things out and gets us back on track. We’re totally at her mercy. My only consolation is that now and then I seem to hear a tinge of anxiety in her voice as we make turn after turn through some run-down Miami ‘sector’. (It’s not a healthy relationship.)

I thought none-too-fondly of frazzled Rachel and her ubiquitous master in Mountain View a few days ago when I Googled “K-Mart” in Key Largo and got this shot of the REAR of the store:

k-mart_review

Seems the Google Maps car shot K-Mart’s derriere instead of its mug. (Note politely confused, clueless reviewer politely suggesting that K-Mart “looks little tired.”) What’s up with that? A coding error? Algorithm seizure? Or are driverless Google Maps cars already on the prowl and as ditzy as Rachel? Or, God forbid, “driven” by Rachel?!?

Wind birds

It was windy yesterday and by late afternoon Old Settlers Park in Tavernier was alive with warblers blown in from their migration north, hungrily hawking insects.

Emotional advertising – keepin’ it real

The McDonalds “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan was bad enough, unless you actually liked McDonalds food. Their more recent “Choose Lovin” campaign is an even bigger stretch, trying as it does to connect an unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible fast-food chain to the most sublime of all human emotions. It got a lot of Bronx cheers as a result, mostly from folks who pointed out that the company might want to kick off its “lovin’” campaign by announcing that it would start paying its employees a $15 minimum wage and also show Earth more love by not buying potatoes grown with toxic pesticides.*

Still, emotional pitches are all the rage these days among digital age Madmen. “The rise in emotional advertising comes at a time when brands are striving to create ‘content,’ not simply make ‘ads’,” writes Rae Ann Fera in Fast Company.** “That is, they are devoting their energies to crafting stories (and other things—products, apps, experiences) that people actively seek out and share—stuff that looks more like the entertainment and editorial material audiences like, not the unpleasant interruption to that material.”

So what works? The answer is pretty simple, according to several advertising gurus Fera quotes: being strictly true to real human emotions and making sure the specific emotion elicited by an ad somehow matches consumers’ actual experience of a company. According to Fera, Volkswagen’s now famous “The Force” ad had a below-average “purchase intent” score with consumers in pre-distribution testing, but a phenomenal “neuro-engagement” score. Volkswagen’s decision to run “The Force” paid off, she says: “It became among the most beloved and shared Super Bowl ads ever, amassing a staggering 56 million views on YouTube, earning a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide and more than $100 million in earned media. And it helped the VW brand achieve the best market share stateside in 30 years in 2011. So much for purchase intent.”

I would add only that “The Force” was phenomenally successful in large part because of its multi-level “surprise” factor—the little boy’s surprise and the surprise we experience with him when the VW turns on, accented by his father’s raised-eyebrow glance at his mother just after we see the remote in the father’s hand. Deutsch L.A. adman Douglas Van Praet would call that a “pattern interrupt,” which he sees as an essential component of successful advertising.***

And of course all of the above can and should be applied well beyond TV advertising–to many kinds of marketing communications, including Web content strategy and copywriting.

 

* “McMadness: Activists Pile on at McDonald’s Shareholders Meeting” (Allison Aubrey, NPR)

** “The Rise of Sadvertising – Why Brands Are Determined to Make You Cry” (Rae Ann Fera, Fast Company)

*** “Research–You’re Doing It Wrong. How Uncovering the Unconscious Is Key to Creativity” (Douglas Van Praet, Fast Company)

Content strategy–a money-saving discipline

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway): Every Web writer should prepare some kind of content strategy, no matter how barebones, for each and every gig — before starting to write. Even if it’s just figuring out the main messages the client wants to get across, how they align with the brand, who you’re writing for (personas!), what style guide you’ll be using, who needs to approve your copy (editorial workflow), and so on — you need to know all that beforehand to write copy that’s worth its salt. Most clients with any communications experience recognize that and cooperate, although often you get the impression they think you’re being a tad finicky. (I remember one exec. calling me “methodical” with a slight air of disparagement). Some will even review and approve the document or documents you prepare for them to make sure everyone’s ‘on the same page’ from the get-go.

The hard part, I’ve learned, is (1) getting get busy execs. to recognize that the time and effort required to prepare those documents is worth paying for and (2) the documents are not optional guidelines that can be ignored later or whimsically changed along the way; they’re specific plans that should be respected and followed throughout a Web project if the copy is to be high-quality and not cost more than originally planned. A documented content strategy plan signed-off on by key project stakeholders can work wonders in avoiding the many additional rewrites, follow-up meetings and phone calls that result from not having a strategy.

Here’s a table of contents from a  pretty basic content strategy I recently put together for a small company (13 employees) that hired me to write copy for their new website. It includes most, but not all, the main components of a typical content strategy planning document:

  • Intro (explain purpose of document)
  • Market position
  • Competition
  • Market differentiators
  • Site business goals
  • Brand attributes & messaging
  • Web copy voice and tone
  • Editorial style guide (published)
  • Personas (goal-based)
  • Website content support for social media channels
  • Blog content support for company brand

 

Garden Walk – Friday, Feb. 27

Coming up soon! The 35th annual “Garden Walk” hosted by the Garden Club of the Upper Keys. Five lovely private gardens in Key Largo and Islamorada will be open to the public, 10-4, Friday, February 27, rain or shine. Tickets may be purchased in advance – $25 donation to the GCUK. > more info

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Misty Pace, whose Key Largo garden is one of five on the Walk, shows off her rare Madame Ratlana Mannuvadee orchid.

“Defining the damn thing”

Back at the turn of the century, when the Web was young, not long after Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville’s “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” (aka “The Polar Bear Book”) was published and information architecture (IA) began to make a name for itself, I spent a lot of time (probably too much time) on an listserv hosted by The American Society of Information Science. It was devoted to (you guessed it) IA, and by far the longest-running, hottest, most thrilling, frustrating, addictive thread was called “Defining the Damn Thing” (IA). Even with all the debate, even back then, thanks again largely to “The Polar Bear book,” most of us who called ourselves IAs were well aware of how important it was to pay close attention to content while designing and building websites.

Fast forward about a decade and I’m four years into a job as “Web writer” that required me to do a lot of IA without actually calling it that, and I get a call from a Web design agency that wanted to talk to me about a “Content Strategist” job. Though I’d never heard of that job title it sounded like just what I was doing, so I poked around and found some new books about “content strategy” and a lot of online debate about what “content strategy” was and had another “defining the damn thing” moment and déjà vu all over again. By 2010 I was working as a Content Strategist (note title case) for Verizon Telecommunications, basically doing much of what I’d been doing for the past 12 years (but making more money).

Then along came “Content Marketing” and people calling themselves “Content Marketers,” aided and abetted by the rise of social media, which unsettled many a newly anointed “Content Strategist,” including me, until I figured out that “content marketing” was basically all about creating good content, publishing and sharing it and thus attracting more attention to a business or organization or self or what-have-you, which again was a big part of what I was already doing.

And then I knew (as someone says somewhere in the Bible)… that like all the many new Web design and development roles and job titles that have come down the pike over the years, “content marketing” is just another healthy symptom of the explosive growth of the Internet and Web and social media and networks and the resulting constant demand for new specialties and specialists to get a lot more new, different work done.  And by now I’ve learned to just keep doing my Web content whatchamacallit thing and if anyone asks me what that is, just describe it to them so they can understand it as much as they need to–and let the job titles fall where they may.

"The Polar Bear Book," where for many Web IA's (erstwhile and otherwise) it all began.

“The Polar Bear Book,” where for many Web IA’s (erstwhile and otherwise) it all began.

Bird on a Wire

American white ibis (Eudocimus albus)

American white ibis (Eudocimus albus)

First time I’ve seen a white ibis perched on a utility line – in Tavernier this morning. It teetered for a while after landing, but found its balance and stayed, looking relaxed, for about fifteen minutes.

Old Settlers Park celebration

About 100 friends and neighbors of Old Settlers Park, a 3.2 acre gem in Tavernier (MM 91.7, oceanside), turned out on Saturday, October 18, 2014 to dedicate the park’s Albury Pavilion, named after the family that settled the land many years before it was purchased by Monroe County in 1994. Park founders Alice Allen, Sylvia Murphy, Shirley Faye Albury and other members of the Albury family were on hand to reminisce and hand out prizes to the young winners of a butterfly art contest. They also gave certificates of appreciation to several Monroe County employees who have helped Tavernier maintain the park as a passive natural area with many native plants and a butterfly garden–recently replanted by two other original park champions, Susan Sprunt and her mother, Donna.

Florida–“where they have trouble voting”

About two years ago, when I told a friend in Massachusetts that my wife and I were moving to Florida, she was amazed. “Florida?,” she wondered. “Where they have trouble voting?”  No doubt she was referring to the 2000 presidential election, “hanging chads,” that whole sorry affair. I’m often reminded of her comment as I experience my first lead-up to an election here in the Upper Keys. There have been few, if any, public debates, as far as I know, only carefully worded candidate statements in local papers and a “voters guide” largely financed by ads paid for by the candidates themselves.  Since there was nothing in that “guide” about where I might actually vote, I googled Monroe County, Supervisor of Elections and soon found my way to an official “precinct finder” which turned out to be a good example of a hard-to-use interface for a poorly designed database.

"Slowly type in your street name"... but only the name in the street name, not the "direction" or the street type. Get it?

“Slowly type in your street name”… but not the “direction” or “street type.” Get it?

Probably like thousands of would-be voters before me, I did not read the detailed, complicated-looking directions–I jumped right to the form because it looked like so many other forms I’d seen before. I typed in my street name: Sunrise Drive… which brought up an irrelevant list of something (I can’t remember what) that bestowed a brief deer-in-headlights moment on me before I recovered enough to go back and actually read the directions. Even then, it took me a while to understand them and several more tries before I figured out what they meant: only enter the NAME in the street name, but not the direction (North, South, etc.) if that’s part of the name and not the kind of street (Avenue, Blvd., etc.) if that’s also in the street name. Oh, now I get it! Hey, I’m not stupid, I was just in a hurry, doing quick data entry, the way I have so many times before, so I did NOT stop to read the fine print and it took a baffling derailment to make me slow down enough to focus in and figure out what THE problem (NOT my problem) was.

Then, just for fun and because I’m a usability zealot, I tried typing fast and that worked (contrary to what the instructions warned) and then tried copying and pasting my street name–and that worked, too (also contrary to what the instructions warned).

So I’m thinking the database in back of that form was designed to allow only one word in a single field for “street name”–and the Supervisor of Elections hasn’t had the money or inclination to fix that (or maybe just hook it up to a decent search engine?), thereby frustrating more than a few potential voters, some of whom probably gave up and won’t bother voting. And at some point in the past, typing too fast and cutting and pasting an address into the field caused a technical glitch, but now it doesn’t and again the Supervisor of Elections apparently hasn’t noticed and asked someone to update the help text.

"Authentic" (good!)  "Because It Matters" ("It"?)

Election signs in Tavernier, Florida: a candidate for judge who thinks it’s important to remind voters that he’s “authentic”… another candidate who’s running “Because It Matters!”…
and a Mosquito Control Board hopeful has the biggest sign of all.

Beware jargon

Consulting recently on a talent agency’s “skillmap” for copywriters, I said that good copy should be “jargon-free.” A colleague disagreed, said jargon “can often help establish rapport with a niche target audience,” especially in a situation where non-specialists are trying to show specialists they can ‘talk the talk’.

If you take most dictionary definitions of “jargon” literally, she’s right – jargon is useful and efficient for communication within exclusive groups, neither good nor bad in itself. And sometimes an outsider, if they’re really good, can get away with ‘talking the talk’. But far more often jargon is used to impress outsiders (“we’re in the know; you aren’t”) or feign insider status or expertise that the writer or speaker doesn’t have, so it narrows the audience and degrades into lingo that even the insiders don’t understand. Scott Berkun (one of my favorite thinkers about the digital realm) makes that point nicely in this blog post, “Why Jargon Feeds on Lazy Minds”: http://scottberkun.com/2012/why-jargon-feeds-on-lazy-minds/.

J-Jargon-cartoon2

 

Hive mind

Tiny scene by our front fence last week: ants hauling a dead honeybee over half-inch pearock, collaborating and navigating and communicating about taking it back to their nest, totally unfazed by a vast jumble of giant ‘boulders’ 10 times their height… and then when they got to the wood fence, they somehow “decided” it would be “easier” (consume less energy) to hang the bee vertically off the fence and shuffle it along that way! [update 7/29/15: recent science on ant behavior moving objects. “The only communication in the system is the forces that [the ants] feel through the object.” – Dr Ofer Feinerman, Weizmann Institute of Science]

Honeybees bringing home the bacon (iPhone shot).

Worker ants bringing home the bacon (iPhone shot).

Crowd-sourced vertical transport

Crowd-sourced vertical transport (iPhone shot)

Viral ice water

Here’s a good start on explaining the huge success of the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” that was all over the media (especially social) in August – Erin Carson, Tech Republic:

  • Compelling message with emotional resonance (humor);
  • Peer pressure (competition)
  • Time sensitivity – 24 hours to respond;
  • Low physical risk to participants;
  • A clear “template” (what to do) with a clear call-to-action;
  • Mobile usability – easy ‘shareability’.

I would add:

  • Trust in the ALS Association – a known, recognized organization
  • Awareness of ALS as a horrible, incurable disease (fear, self-preservation)
  • Getting a tax write-off.

And I’d also emphasize the particular strength of “peer pressure” (competition) among celebrities – even if a member of the Rich and Famous Club wasn’t initially interested in participating, his or her publicist probably said “you gotta do this,” especially after it reaching a tipping point when le-tout-LA was doing it and celebrity wannabees and anyone chasing easy “cool” points started doing it, too.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, it required all participants to challenge someone else. Here’s from a list of “Top 10 Reasons People Give” I recently found in a file of goodies I saved from my work for the foundation that fundraises for Boston Children’s Hospital: “Ask and Ye Shall Receive: the number one reason people give–someone asked them to give!”

Mickey Rourke accepts the challenge on "Late Night."

Mickey Rourke accepts the challenge on “Late Night.”

InBug-60px-R copy

Fast-food information

Numbered lists… “listicles” – they’re everywhere on the Web, like an invasive weed. But there’s no denying we’re drawn to them, click on them, eat them up. New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova calls them our “fast food information diet.”

“The article-as-numbered-list has several features that make it inherently captivating: the headline catches our eye in a stream of content; it positions its subject within a pre-existing category and classification system, like ‘talented animals'; it spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—a bit like sipping green juice instead of munching on a bundle of kale. And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”

– Maria Konnikova, “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists,” New Yorker, December 2, 2013

 

lists

Listicles – now running wild on the Web

 

4 Must-Read Lists!

4 Lists You Really Should Read!

100 Fish ID Challenge

Thanks to Carlos and Allison Estape for organizing and leading a fun “100 Fish ID Challenge” excursion for REEF.org at Alligator Reef a few weeks ago!  Here are some nice shots from that dive by Daryl Duda:

French Angelfish

French Angelfish

“Youtility”

At Wordcamp Miami I picked up some buzz about a book called “Youtility,” heard it was the latest/greatest about online marketing, read it, and was thinking about it when I had to go to Radioshack to see what I could do about a water-damaged iPhone (don’t ask). I was just about to pay way too much for a new phone, when a customer behind me, a deeply tanned 60-something guy wearing wraparound shades, a goatee and a Miami Heat ball cap, said “You know, there’s a guy in Homestead who fixes water-damaged iPhones. Just Google ‘iphone repair, Homestead’.” “Thanks!,” I replied, thinking to myself: “What a perfect Youtility demo!”

The book’s sub-title is “Why Smart Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype.” If the author, Jay Baer, had overheard us in Radioshack that day, he surely would have pointed out that while the goateed guy wasn’t selling anything, he sure was helpful. The Radioshack employee, on the other hand, had been totally focused on selling (hype), and by not mentioning any alternative to shelling out $500+ for a new phone, she missed a perfect opportunity to convert me into a grateful, loyal customer who might eventually spend more than $500 at Radioshack stores.

A key component of “youtility” is what Baer calls “radical transparency”:

“Creating customers by answering their questions is imminently viable and carries remarkable, persuasive power. Unless it inhibits ease-of-use, there is no downside to providing extraordinarily detailed information to your prospective customers. It doesn’t matter whether anyone in your industry is providing self-serve information—big companies are, and they’re training all consumers to expect it.”

Source: "Youtility" via Hubspot (2012)

Source: “Youtility” via Hubspot (2012)

General conclusion: smart, helpful Web content, as much of it as possible and affordable, is a smart investment for any company trying to build long-term, productive relationships with its customers. That’s not big news, it’s obvious, but easy to forget.  (So many of the many new, buzz-worthy new booklets about Web writing and content strategy are just lite, ‘fast-food’ versions of important points that thought leaders in both fields have been making for years – re: “youtility,” see for example, “Letting Go of the Words,” THE best book about Web writing, by Ginny Redish, published in 2007, pps. 110-113, ‘Market by Giving Useful Information.’)

“Content is Core”

Biggest hit, loudest crack ‘o the bat (for me anyway) at last weekend’s deliciously inspiring Wordcamp Miami: John Carcutt’s preso, “Content is Core,” specifically his astute categorization of the 3 main layers we should work on to get content (helpful, useful content!) noticed on the fantastically huge and crowded (and getting more so every day) Web:

j_carcutt_layers_wp_mia_2014   j_carcutt_layers2_wp_mia_2014

Wordcamp Miami 2014 – University of Miami, Coral Gables, May 9-12

> more recap and photos of Wordcamp-Miami from Jeff Chandler (“WordPress guy,” Ohio, WC-MIA attendee) 

Bye-Bye Ernestine

I’m seeing a lot of Keys websites with outdated, stale content… words and images that apparently haven’t changed in months (years?)… no recent news suggesting anyone is expecting me to check in … no fresh blog comments showing that anyone is there to welcome me… in other words: a lot of “brochureware” – which is fine as far as it goes (better than no site at all), but it sure misses out on the lively, personal back-and-forth, the social interaction that makes the Web hop these days–and makes Google ‘bots happy. (And no, posting regular product and event announcements on Facebook and getting some ‘likes’ is NOT the level of social interaction I’m talking about!)

I’m sure many small business owners are aware that their sites are like billboards, but they’re just too busy doing all the other work they have to do, and it takes too much time getting their computer guy or gal to update content or add a new page, and there’s always a financial cost associated with all that. So I keep wanting to tell them: YOU NEED WORDPRESS! Once a WordPress site is up and running, you can update it yourself–quickly create new pages and blog posts, revise outdated language, update your schedule or menu or product offering or whatever else your business needs to stay current, add images and other media, then click the “Publish” button and you’re good to go! It’s empowering! Your customers will take notice! It’s good for business! It’s Do-It-Yourself at its best! It cuts out “the middleman.” It’s like making a direct call instead of going through an operator!

Lily Tomlin as "Ernestine"

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine, the famously ditzy, nosey “Laugh In” operator.

Garden visitor

Giant Swallowtail this morning, feeding on non-native (Madagascar) Kalanchoe blossoms by our front gate:

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Close encounter of the dolphin kind

My sister Mandy swam with dolphins at Dolphin Cove (Key Largo) last weekend. Four groups of 3 or 4 humans played with 2 or 3 dolphins each. Laughter and jubilation filled the air. Here’s from an email Mandy just sent me with a photo attached: “Someone asked me if I had been afraid and I realized it hadn’t even occurred to me to be afraid. Also, seeing how tuned in we all are in every photo – the attached looks like one big group OMMMMMM.”

Interspecies group meditation

Interspecies group meditation

Google likes it fresh… usually

You’ve probably heard that search engines like it if you have a blog on your site that you update fairly often (once a week is the common wisdom). But the same goes for ALL content on your site – in general, the more it changes, and the more of it that changes, the more brownie points get stirred into the particular mathematical stew (algorithm) being cooked up by the particular engine (think: Google) that’s nosing through your site. Which doesn’t mean that The Machines aren’t also good at recognizing and valuing old content that’s good – they do that, too, by looking at it from a different angle.

"A webpage is given a 'freshness' score based on its inception date, which decays over time. This freshness score can boost a piece of content for certain search queries, but degrades as the content becomes older."  - Cyrus Shepard, Moz Blog

“A webpage is given a ‘freshness’ score based on its inception date, which decays over time. This freshness score can boost a piece of content for certain search queries, but degrades as the content becomes older.”
– Cyrus Shepard, Moz Blog

“The goal of a search engine is to return the most relevant results to users,” concludes Cyrus Shepard matter-of-factly (and obviously) in an excellent Moz Blog post on content “freshness factors. “For your part, this requires an honest assessment of your own content. What part of your site would benefit most from freshness?  Old content that exists simply to generate pageviews, but accomplishes little else, does more harm than good for the web. On the other hand, great content that continually answers a user’s query may remain fresh forever. Be fresh. Be relevant. Most important, be useful.”

Content strategy for social media

Now 5 years old, but still good as gold—Britt Parrot’s Digital Web Magazine article on including social media in your content strategy. 4 basic takeaways:

1) Social media is about going out to where the action is, the relevant conversations are, on the Web–and joining in.

2) It’s about open communication (or if you’re a cautious newbie–monitoring relevant conversations).

3) Your primary goal for your content should be communication, not just showing off the latest hot social technology. Which platform will be most effective building relationships, getting word out, gathering info. about your organization?

4) As always with content strategy, you gotta have the patience and discipline to do a careful content audit that identifies different formats (text, video, audio, images) on your site and figures out how and where to share them most effectively.

Sample blank page of B. Parrot content audit for social media

Sample blank page of B. Parrot audit for social media