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.

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.

Writing for the Web involves learning how people search online

Writing for the Web is different from print and other mediums because, on the Web, people are actively searching for information – possible related to your products or services. And you have the opportunity to direct those people who fall within your target market to your site.

That’s why content is still king online — image-heavy and Flash sites do look great as an online brochure, but they won’t draw in extra traffic. So that’s why your website should include keyword-rich copy, i.e., copy containing keywords used by your target audience to search for information.

Finding the right keywords — and how best to use them on your site — is a very involved process I won’t go into here, but it’s very useful to get an insight into how people — Internet users — search for stuff on the Internet.

It’s easy to forget — especially if you’re pretty Internet savvy yourself — that a lot of people out there think Google (or Yahoo for that matter) IS the Internet. And the fact is, people search online in a large number of ways. Many people don’t use the address bar at all and instead type things like eBay.com or even Google into the search box. It’s quicker to do this and click on the top link than type the whole URL into the address bar! I do it myself.

There’s a great post on the Morget Designs blog — How Do People Use Search Engines — that talks about this, including a link to a video to a talk given by Google research scientist (now there’s a job title!) Dan Russell. There’s also some discussion on this over at the excellent new SEO blog, Searchland — Why do People Google Google?.

The fact is, not everyone searches for “[My widget’s name and model number]”. So you have to think creatively when compiling a list of keywords.

A great starting point is to do a little user-study of your own. If you want to sell a particular product, ask friends and family to search for information related to it and look at what words they use, in what order, and so on.

If you already have a site, you should also look at your website stats to see which keywords people use to find you. It gives you a clear insight into the thought process of your target market, and can even generate ideas for new products.