Content creation doesn’t have to be a pain

I made the point a few posts ago (”The new age for all its electronic wizardy is still writing based“) that, despite the importance of the words on your site, many people think they can stick some copy and content in at the last minute. And this is backed up by the experience of Flyte web development company — “Content Creation is Painful” — who describe their experience with customers who decide to write their own copy as follows:

Before the job starts:

“I’m just going to take the content from the current site.”

“This stuff is going to write itself.”

“I expect to knock it out over the weekend. After all, this is my business.”

After the job ends:

“That took twice as long as I thought it would.”

“That reminded me of sitting in the dentist’s chair during the Novocaine shortage of ‘94.”

“You Web monkey bastards! You told me writing content was easy!”

No matter how much you love your job, no matter how passionate you are about what you do, writing content is going to be much more work than you think.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Ease the pain.

(Shameless plug alert.)

Hire a writer.

Blogging tips from masters of the blogoverse

A couple of nice blogging related articles… Seth Godin wrote a succinct summary of what makes a good blog post:

How to write a blog post, he says, involves:

      – An appropriate illustration
      – A useful topic, easily broadened to be useful to a large number of readers
      – Simple language with no useless jargon
      – Not too long
      – Focusing on something that people have previously taken for granted
      – That initially creates emotional resistance
      – Then causes a light bulb to go off
    – Causes the reader to look at the world differently all day long.

All good stuff, although the last point is maybe a little ambitious for all posts!

Start a website for your “bricks and mortar” business

I’m over in Scotland right now — Edinburgh to be exact (back to Vancouver on the 27th) — and it’s clear that Internet usage in the UK is on the up, mainly down to the spread of broadband over the last year or so. There are various stats that have been released showing huge Internet usage growth in the UK, but even just from driving around the city I can see the signs — literally. Compared to my last visit a year ago there are far more URLs on the storefronts of small retailers. No matter where in the world your “bricks and mortar” business is, having even a small Web presence with a memorable URL allows passing traffic to take a note of it and check it out later.

Real life versus the Internet

Ok, the Web’s a convenient and limitless resource and, used effectively, a great communications and business tool. And we’re all wired up to the eyeballs these days. But rearrange the letters in “wired” and you get “weird,” which nicely sums up a lot of the rest of the Internet. And there’s no better, or funnier, representation of this than “Real Life Versus the Internet”

Adding thumbnail previews to your links is a Snap

Here’s another tool that’s worth checking out. Snap offers a free service that lets your visitors preview a site before clicking through to it via a link on your page.

Hover over the Snap link above or any other on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. It makes for a nice user experience, and saves people clicking through to pages they’ve already visited or might not want to visit.

It’s easy to add to your site, especially for a non-techy person like me. You just paste a small snippet of code into your template and you can choose to use it with all links or only ones you specify.

As an aside, the importance of a clean homepage, ideally with a compelling headline, is nicely illustrated when you view the thumbnail preview pages using Snap. Think about which ones make you want to click through and which ones fail to grab your attention. It’s also handy as a quick way to check for broken links on your site. Just hover over a link and, if it’s broken, you’ll see an error page instead of the expected page in the preview.

Successful viral marketing campaign examples

Still on viral marketing, MarketingSherpa has an excellent list of their top 12 viral marketing campaigns here, covering a variety of businesses. Good for idea-sparking.

And I strongly recommend you sign up for MarketingSherpa’s free email newsletter while you’re there. It’s a mine of tips, case studies and other marketing goodness. They also produce some very thorough studies and run some excellent conferences — I attended their Email Marketing one in Chicago this year and found it invaluable.

Global stats for Internet usage

There’s a good article on the BBC site — “How to make the web go worldwide” — showing a breakdown of Internet usage worldwide. According to the stats from Internet World Stats, South Korea is the most connected nation with 70% of homes having a high-speed broadband connection. The figure for Africa, on the other hand, is just 0.1%, leaving experts worried that the continent is being left far behind in terms of global Internet expansion.

There are some good links to other articles in the sidebar of this story.

Hello, G’day, Howdy — what English do you speak?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the growth of the Internet worldwide affects what’s considered “standard” English in the long-term.

Of course, standard English is different according to whether you’re in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia… and so on. So, as the Web has developed most rapidly in the US, is US-English going to become the standard — at least in online communications?

Or will there be a new language called Internet-English that’s a hybrid of the various versions? Inter-English anyone?

This came to mind after reading a post on a new blog called Word Wise — Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon. The author muses on the usage of the “serial comma”, also known as the “Oxford comma” (in other words, “planes, trains, and automobiles”) — usage that differs according to whether you’re in the North America or the UK, etc, as well as according to which style guide, or even newspaper, you read.

I’m from the UK, now living in Canada and writing for any English-language audience when it comes to online communications. So whether I use “-ize” or “-ise”, “color” or “colour”, and so on depends on the main audience the client wants to target. If it’s a universal audience, it normally comes down to where the company is based.

And, of course, there are also search engine optimisation (or optimization) considerations. For example, if you’re a UK-based SEO company targeting a UK client-base, using “search engine optimisation” will get you UK hits. UK search companies like Bigmouthmedia and others get round this by using title tags like “Search engine optimisation (optimization)”.

Google “search engine optimisation” and “search engine optimization” and see what comes up.

And the differences don’t end with spelling. Punctuation and individual words and phrasing can be very different.

For example, before working in North America, I’d always placed punctuation outside the quotation marks, like this, “Punctuation outside”. (Unless it was part of the quote). Now I have to do this, “Punctuation inside.”

This Wikipedia entry has more common differences: American and British English differences.

To complicate matters, the fact that I’m Scottish (and so have to suppress my own regional language quirks) means I’ll sometimes unknowingly throw in the odd word that flumoxes any editors I’m working with. Recently I included the word “outwith” — admittedly not a word I use a lot — in a regular eBay business newsletter I write. The context was something like this, “Most eBay members now come from outwith the US” (meaning from outside the US).

It turned out that not only is “outwith” peculiar to the UK, it’s actually only really used in Scotland. I even checked on the Scottish Office (government) site, and there it is in the, not very inspiring, report headline, “Children educated outwith school and pupil projections”.

So there you go, you learn something new every day — never use the word “outwith” outwith Scotland.

In terms of writing for different clients and audiences, it’s never been a problem (apart from maybe with the word, “outwith”), and — as the Internet rapidly expands outwith North America (sorry) — I actually find it an advantage that I’m aware of these considerations, and can build them into project-scope discussions.

Top 5 must-read books on writing

I went to see Billy Connolly (still as funny as ever) the other night. One of the Big Yin’s best lines was…

“If you go into a house and they only have one book, get the *bleep* out of that house!”

Really I just wanted an excuse to get that line in, but it did get me thinking — if I had to choose one writing book to keep out of the ones on my shelf, which would it be?

I’d have to choose On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Others making up a top 5 would be:

– Networds by Nick Usborne
– On Writing by Stephen King (yes, the Stephen King)
– The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
– The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sellsby Robert W. Bly

I would say all are required reading for anyone who wants to improve their writing.

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is… You

Not so long ago, if you wanted to have your say on a subject, you wrote a letter to the editor, called a radio phone-in show or stood on a box on a street corner and shouted at passers-by. If you were really determined, you started a pirate radio station or published a fanzine. It’s easier now, as Time Magazine acknowledges with 2007’s Person of the Year award going to… “You.”

Cue every content-generating user out there linking to Time’s website. Finger on the pulse, or cunning traffic-generating strategy, asks ProBlogger.