As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase and read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.
On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.
For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,
“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”
Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?
Active Versus Passive Tense
Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,
“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”
A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.
Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. Be clear. Be terse.
However, instead of just referencing the guide as needed, I read it from cover to cover. And it is a fantastic guide.
So for most people, the act of writing online seems to mainly consist of ejecting words and hoping that they will somehow collide in a manner that is coherent or at least semi-understandable. The Yahoo! Style Guide, instead, serves to provide some well-needed guidance.
Rather than displaying seemingly antiquated grammar rules, the guide provides logical explanations. Hence as the guide says on Page 50,
“Scan an article reading only the headlines. If you can understand the flow and substance of the story, your content passed the test. If something seems confusing, you may need to rewrite the headings or even reorder some paragraphs.”
So to my mind, this makes infinite sense. Consider how quickly we all skim articles and newspapers these days, whether online or in dead tree format. Headlines and graphics grab our attention. Perhaps they are more fraught with meaning than they should be, but those are the current rules of the game. Therefore, writers on the Internet need to understand that headings, image captions and the like are important to the human reader.
In addition, and unsurprisingly, these elements are also important to machine readers, e. g. search engine bots.
Worth the Price of Admission
And then on Page 4, the guide talks about eye tracking. Yahoo! has surveyed users, and they have come up with an understanding of a general pattern as to how people browse websites. Here’s what they said:
“People scan the main sections of a page to determine what it’s about and whether they want to stay longer
They make decisions about the page in as little as three seconds
If they decide to stay, they pay the most attention to the content in the upper top part of the screen”
So you’d better get your pages and posts in gear, and pay particularly close attention to headings and the content that sits above the fold. Because the guide shows you the way.
About a thousand (er, twenty) years ago, I used to practice law. And,
of course, things were far different then as opposed to now. But I have retained some of my old interests and connections, and would get the paper version of the ABA Journal for years after I had hung up my shingle.
Once a lot of that started to go online, I renewed my interest in any number of facets of law practice, in particular how it collides and dovetails with the Internet and, these days, Social Media.
Viral Marketing Gone Wrong
And I have seen enough tone-deaf Social Media campaigns (Able2know is rife with laughably bad viral marketing attempts, for example) to see the need for a publication like Law Practice Today to try to clear up some misconceptions and get lawyers going in a good — or at least non-harmful — online direction. What is great about this article is that it doesn’t just apply to attorneys.
Get Your Own Domain Name
The first point made in the article is: You need your own internet domain name. Well, yes. And it continues to surprise me when companies and individuals who are attempting to make a splash (or at least not appear to be totally out of it) online don’t do this. C’mon, people, domain names are cheap! Go to GoDaddy and buy one! You can direct WordPress to be posting through a domain name that has naught to do with WordPress. This is not too tough (hell, that’s what I’m doing with my blog), or you can hire someone to do this. It’s a lot, to me, like buying business cards with your actual name on them versus cards that just say “Lawyer”.
Rejuvenate Your Website
The next point is: Rejuvenate Your Website. No argument here. Stale websites are as appealing as stale bread. I am not saying that you need to update every minute or every day or even every week but I see an awful lot of abandoned blogs and websites out there — or at least they appear to be, as their most recent changes occurred in 2010. That means it’s been at least nearly two months since anyone changed them. Surely there is news, or at least even cosmetic changes would give one’s readership/potential clients a feeling that someone was minding the store.
Use a Good Profile Picture
Point number three is: Your picture is worth a thousand words. A good picture is, well, good. You might not be able to afford to hire a professional as the article suggests. That’s okay if you at least get a decent photographer friend to take a lot of pictures. How many? How’s one hundred? Lighting varies. You might not smile perfectly the first time. Your tie might be crooked. Your hair might be flying in your face. You might not be looking directly at the camera. There are any number of reasons why a photo can go wrong. And get your pal to snap photos of you in various places, doing various things, so long as they are germane to the site. For a lawyer, that could be in the office, or in front of a courthouse or in front of the office building or with colleagues or alone. After all, with a good hundred photos, you might end up with several usable ones. If there are choices in different locations, you can use them to make different points on your site.
Fill Out All About Me and Profile Pages
Point number four is: It’s All About Me. That is, create an “About Me” page. There’s a place to put a photograph or two, eh? It doesn’t have to be long, but give it a little personality. Be sensible, of course. This is probably not the place (assuming you’re a lawyer) to tout your ninja skills. But if you play tennis or have two kids or are from Omaha, by all means, those things are perfectly fine here. Otherwise, you’re just nameless, faceless Joe or Jane Lawyer — and I, as your prospective client, can find a million of them.
Give Visitors Take Aways
The next point is: Give visitors something to “take away” from your blog. Me, I write articles and I allow the reprint rights. So if my experiences can help you, then by all means reprint my articles, and I wish you well, so long as you respect my rights in the matter.
Work on SEO
The next point is: Build a (Free) Google Profile.Here’s mine. Meh, I’m not so sure it helps me so much, but that’s probably also because I’ve made SEO efforts elsewhere. Still, for an SEO beginner, or someone with a limited budget, this is easy and free and it takes nearly no time.
Here’s another point: Make Sure You Advertise on Google Local. I felt no need to do this, but I’m not trying to push ecommerce directly through my site and blog. Your mileage will, undoubtedly, vary.
Next point: Be LinkedIn. Hell yeah. Here’s my LinkedIn profile. Yes, I will link to you – just send me a request. Also, I have found that LinkedIn is an excellent way to get to know people attending an event with you. If you can get a hold of the guest list in advance (and with Eventbrite, evite and others, you can), look those people up on LinkedIn. Hey, you might have something in common with them, their photo might be up so that you can recognize them and they might be someone you’d like to know, either personally or professionally.
Gather Business Intelligence
Then there’s the penultimate point: Use Social Networks To Gather Business Intelligence. People share all sorts of stuff these days. Want to know if someone is moving? Going on vacation? Selling their business? Changing jobs? A lot of that information is out there, free for the taking. And other things are out there, if you know how to dig. I’m not suggesting that you turn yourself into a creepy stalker but if a possible client is tweeting about buying land, and you’ve got a real estate practice, well, do I really have to connect the dots for you?
Tell People the News (About You or Anything Else of Interest)
Here’s the last point: Be the Evening News. The idea is, broadcast youtube-type stuff, either your own or pass along others’. Agreed, but I wouldn’t overdo this, particularly not at the expense of other types of content, which are generally easier for Google to index (and for you to get an SEO bounce from). But by all means, if it adds value (there’s a big if right there. I adore the Old Spice Guy but he does not help me on my site), add it.
The bottom line, I think is: don’t be afraid. Yes, the Internet can bite you. But it can also be quite a good friend to you
This is tabs and tabs of an Excel spreadsheet as I think about what I really want to do with all of this.
It’s becoming more obvious is that I’ve got major ambitions and there aren’t enough hours in a day in which I can accomplish them. To really make a good site, a beautifully designed one with awesome SEO and kick-bun content, means engaging something like 50 people to do it.
Egad. I’m organized and I’m energetic and I’ve got time these days, but I’m not 50 people.
This is a source of a bit of stress, to be sure, but it’s also a challenge. How can I leverage what I’ve already got? How can I use my organizational skills to make things easier on myself? How can I set up some things which will run on their own, thereby saving me time? What’s the timing of, well, of all of it?
I’m very excited about this whole venture. I actually got a little Google traffic yesterday! Yay!
I’ve only been on Google for maybe 3 days. Holy cow. This stuff really works.
I have a billion things to do. Oh and I’m running in a 5K in a week. If I could do web development while running, I would.
Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson is the concept of succeeding in a small business by essentially paying attention to details and doing many things yourself. Simple ideas, perhaps, but they often seem to be missed.
Some of this may be self-evident.
After all, a small business, almost by definition, does not have a lot of capital just lying around. Often everything needs to be done by an impressively small cadre of workers. Yet we also live in a society where it appears as if many more people than ever before really just want to pay someone to take care of whatever needs to be done. Yet that is wrong-headed.
Levinson’s mantra is that it’s not necessary to invest a lot of money if you’re willing to instead invest time, energy, imagination and information. And, I might add, patience and attention. For a small business owner, this means having a passion about what you do. All too often, it seems, entrepreneurs get into a particular field because they cannot find a more traditional means of employment (the economy has been rather sour for the past few years) or they are chucking a traditional job but without a vision or a plan. Neither method will work for long because the entrepreneur’s heart is not in it.
What the entrepreneur needs — beyond the details of how to work a crowd or give a talk — is to be enthused and passionate about what he or she is doing or selling. Going through the motions is simply not going to cut it. Since the entrepreneur is one of the only faces of the company (and, perhaps, it’s only face), the entrepreneur has got to be jazzed to be presenting, talking, handing out business cards, performing demonstrations, writing copy, etc.
If the entrepreneur is excited, the prospects can be as well. All in all, an interesting read, and good for the detailed tips, but a more current version would have been a better choice.
For User-Centered Design Class, I compared Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment.
Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
For two sites with the same ostensible purpose – assisting users with hiring musicians – Harrison Parrott and Sam Hill could scarcely be more different.
From the beginning, the Harrison Parrott site is all about the hiring of classical performers.
The slide show changes, but the images are all clearly associated with classical performing arts, such as chamber music or opera. There is a lot of white space and the headings are simple and clear.
Scrolling down, the next part of the front page revealed the Featured News portion of the website. The slideshow at the very top is apparently the really important news, whereas the middle portion has smaller images and isn’t a moving slideshow. Featured News seems slightly older, but everything has a date range within the month of May, 2015. This gave the site an up to date look and feel.
Scrolling down, the next part of the front page revealed the About section. This part also contained social sharing buttons for LinkedIn and Twitter, and a Twitter stream. Harrison Parrott has done its homework, particularly given the demographics for LinkedIn (urban, over age 30, many with college educations, and 44% with an income of over $77,000 per annum) and for classical music aficionados (median age of concert goers is 49). As well as they can, Harrison Parrott is matching a typical classical art aficionado buyer persona with the closest social media platforms that they can find.
I clicked on the Artists tab, and was presented with large clickable images of artists with brief verbiage about what each of them does.
The tiles are clickable and everybody’s got their own page.
A quick perusal on my phone (I have a Nokia so the screen is a little smaller than an iPhone) revealed that the site is pretty easy to navigate although the hamburger icon is unexpectedly in the upper left corner of the small phone screen. This detracted from usability but only momentarily.
… don’t miss important features because they overlook a non-standard design element”
While the logo isn’t in the upper left corner (it’s centered at the top), it’s still easy to spot. Doing double duty, the logo serves as a link to return to the home page. To minimize confusion, there is also a small house icon in the upper left corner, another way to return home from anywhere on the site.
Sam Hill Entertainment
Sam Hill is a site for booking bands for weddings, parties and the like. Head to the home page, and you get this:
I’m not really sure what the images on each side are for, as there are no links behind them. This is it for the front page. Everything is above the fold because there is no fold.
The site isn’t optimized for mobile. The side images look even more out of place, and there is a ton of unused white space at the bottom of my screen. Print is tiny; I had to zoom in if I wanted to click anything. If the twin images had been eliminated, there might have been larger print.
Selecting the Browse By Musical Style tab, I was presented with choices which were grouped. E. g. Motown, Soul, Oldies, Beach, and Variety are all grouped together.
I chose the musical style at the bottom of the tab: Decade, Tribute, Novelty Acts.
I selected Massachusetts from a menu of states, and was brought to this screen:
The colors are still washed out, and the print is still too small on my phone, but at least those two images are gone. I clicked the page for The Real Geniuses and finally found a page that looked good on my phone. I scrolled down and found this:
The FAQ has its own page and its own link (upper right corner of every page), but it’s also on all of the band pages. The placement of the FAQ link does follow the Web Style Guide, but the placement of another copy of the FAQ on every single band page does not. Furthermore, from a developmental standpoint, placing the FAQ on every page creates a nightmare if the document is ever altered. I viewed the page source, and the FAQ isn’t linked from somewhere. Instead, the verbiage is in the page itself. This includes a statement that the offices are in Charlottesville, Virginia. If the offices are ever moved to, say, Pittsburgh, the webmaster will need to change code on over ten pages, and that’s just for bands that serve Massachusetts.
Between the two sites, Harrison Parrott is well put together and easy to follow and find what you need. Sam Hill could learn a few things from them.
For Social Media Ethics class, we were asked to compare dark patterns, which are designs which are put together in order to trick users into clicking on something (often to sign up for something they don’t want).
Doostang is a rather unfortunately-named jobs site, claiming to have top financial and consulting jobs. Attempt to apply for a job through them, however, and you’re passed to a sign-up screen. Fair enough, a lot of jobs sites require an account. But this one’s just a little bit different.
Instead of defaulting to selecting the free sign-up, or not selecting any of the radio buttons at all, Doostang defaults to signing its potential customers up for a $9.95 “Premium” 2-day trial.
Complaint: I never agreed to automatic renewal or recurring payments. As can be seen in my usage history, I did not know I had a membership to this site, and never used it. At no time did I authorize recurring payments.
Desired Settlement: Please refund all monies taken after the initial payment. Please do not make me take additional action.
Business Response: Doostang is very clear in stating that all memberships are automatically renewed unless canceled. Members may cancel their subscriptions at anytime.
This is one of Dark Patterns’s classic forced continuity complaints, and it’s also a roach motel, in that it’s deceptively simple to sign up for a Premium service on Doostang, but it’s a real bear to get out of one.
While the questions about buying travel insurance are set off in a different-colored box, and you must pass through this screen and make a decision before you can pay for your ticket, Amtrak doesn’t choose either travel insurance option for you. Instead, you are required to decide, one way or the other. There’s no question that Amtrak is trying to make the buying of travel insurance seem like a smart thing to do. But the consumer isn’t beaten over the head with numerous dubious reasons to make the purchase, and the screen is easy to understand.
Turning Doostang Away from the Dark Side
Doostang has two jobs to do, possibly three.
Eliminate the preselection of anything on the sign-up page, or default to the free option. Clearly explain why a job seeker would want a Premium option. End forced continuity.
Make it easy to cancel an accidentally added Premium service by adding online cancellation options and lengthening the time a consumer has before a full refund is no longer permitted. Close the roach motel.
(Optional) Add more free services. Currently, Doostang only allows for applying to one job under the free service. This is the job connected to the referring URL. What if the free service was expanded, say, to that entire session, or for three job applications? A consumer just surfing in from a referral URL would never pay and, perhaps, would be served more advertisements. But someone clicking around, applying to a few jobs or opening up a long session would be using more valuable materials. Complaints of not knowing they were signing up for a paid service would have a lot less credence.
Once again, we did not have to create a video this week for Quinnipiac Assignment #9. Instead, my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I were required to create a Facebook page for our J-Krak fans community (which in our blog, we were referring to as KrakHeads). We decided to call the page J-Krak RI in order to better emphasize our intimate connection to the state of Rhode Island.
The Facebook page was designed with a standard Creative Commons background image of sheet music and our preexisting KrakHeads logo (Kim made it by combining a Creative Commons image of a vinyl record with lettering in a font that we selected together) was used as our logo and the avatar for the page itself. That avatar has since been replaced with an image of John Krakowski and John Cairo together (the avatar was replaced after our class was finished).
We were pleasantly surprised when we hit one hundred likes in about six and a half hours. Currently, the new page has 125 fans on Facebook. We are very excited about this, and Kim and I feel that we have definitely found our platform!
I suppose I should have planned my site better or maybe not just gone in and barreled my way in just to see what I could do.
I don’t think that’s truly awful as I have some ambitions but they feel very possible and within reach. I look at my notes and I see — yes, I need to fix and put up Google Search. I need to play with keywords some more. I need to do … a lot.
And SEO! Oh my gosh. There’s a boatload to learn there and I’m still busy reading the books. I can’t recall who said that Time is Nature’s Way of making it so that not everything happens all at once. And I can live with that as an idea. It shouldn’t all happen in one shot. It should flow and develop.
Patience, a virtue. And sometimes an elusive one. But one thing is for certain — once a year elapsed, suddenly, I had a Google Page Rank of 3. Was that by design? Well, yes. But the science and art of getting a Google Page Rank of anything over zero is so obscure and unknown as to be akin to deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, I get that it’s all proprietary, e. g. intellectual property, etc., but c’mon! It gets silly after a while. Jigger this, don’t jigger that. Say this in some particular, special, magical fashion, and not in another.
Don’t spam. Well, yeah, that makes sense. But what is seen as proto-spam isn’t always. And what’s seen as non-spam, I suspect, sometimes is. I do recognize that Google is attempting to make rules to cover as many scenarios as possible. And they wish to check out what people like I do by using computer algorithms rather than actual humans, in order to be somewhat timely when it comes to investigating websites. But! It remains frustrating and, in my opinion, unnecessarily mysterious. A clue, s’il vous plait, and by that I mean a real one, by someone who is there and really, truly knows. The rest, it seems, are speculating, with varying degrees of accuracy and results.
I swear that figuring out how to get a good or at least decent Page Rank is harder than translating the Upanishads.
Life is outta control. Well, it’s not that bad. But I’ve got a lot going on, even though I’m not employed. Looking for work is, as they (who?) say, a full-time job in and of itself.
Hence I’ve got a somewhat full calendar. Plus I’m working on the site and also doing work out stuff to lose weight. Which I have to schedule these days in order to be sure it happens. It is, of course, better than sitting around and doing nada but it’s a tad overwhelming at times.