Photo credit: Jellaluna
Always loved the quiet of cellar door. It’s a phrase that along with the proper typeface can fill a space on its own. I’m looking to fill less space in the coming year, to fine tune writing and curation.
We need to hear our own ideas and slowly roll them out. Let others scanning at a less-fevered pace enjoy, be inspired and springboard with their best return offering.
I’m full of the scandle whistle, full of the train-wreck pace of the presidential horse race, so full of television punditry, reality and commercial format. I’m looking for quarter notes, very high or low gears, a master’s stroke or gesture in slow-motion.
Looking for craggy rocks and cellar doors.
A crystal clear picture of your storytelling goal is not complete without a sizzling sharp vision. Is it a plant opening or a story?
The workers watched the grainy footage of empty and stilted structures, litter swept streets and a broken and defeated populace sorting through recycle bins.
But on this day, they stood atop the clean, unbroken line of new equipment, haloed by bright lights and steady hum of power that equaled opportunity.
They were alive and plugged in to a new result. Each second that the hum continued was an eternity that soothed the struggle of the proceeding years. Each bright light gave a salute to their new lives.
Storytelling (and social media) is about humans. It’s about emotional response. The good news about social media and storytelling is that it has made it possible for anyone to have a unique voice when telling their own story on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or blogs. Three paragraphs accomplished this in the above story.
A story is what defines your place as an individual in this world. It’s what sets you apart and makes you unique. This is no different when you are talking about telling a story about your business.
We all want others to like us. People like us when we provide something useful and something unique.
Most people have an average of 3.1 email accounts (2.9 billion email accounts worldwide) so you are probably part of the group that sends out 188 billion messages each day.
Each day we’re subjected to a firehose of information, but what people really want is content that is clear, concise and delivers value. Since email is the primary touchpoint for most people each day make yours more effective.
Don’t make readers struggle through dense, cluttered and unorganized writing. Users can delete or ignore your email exactly like search mode when users click the back button. Every reader who comes across new email content asks these questions:
- Can this information solve a problem or answer a question for me?
- Is this information good enough to share with others?
- Can I quickly understand, react and process this request?
4 keys to email
Regardless of your desired outcome each of these email messages must have:
- Clear, accurate and “non-spammy” subject line: Most mail servers use third party software to scan the subject lines. Make certain that your subject line accurately describes the content.
- Summary message: Email is not long-form. Resist the urge to produce every detail. Keep your message short and on-point. In fact, repeat and boldface the subject in the first line.
- Complete email signature: Add appropriate URLs for your website, blog, portfolio or product. Verify that the links are functional so that the reader can connect to you in one click.
- Clear formats and fonts: Use standard capitalization and spelling; avoid odd typefaces; use 10 or 12 point text (Arial, Verdana and Tahoma are solid, easy-to-read fonts).
Email Subject Lines: Your starting point
Don’t begin with odd, cheesy or spammy phrases. These will invariably result in your email being ignored. Keep your subject lines simple and to the point.
MailChimp prepared a study that analyzed the open rates for over 200 million emails. Open rates ranged from 93% to 0.5%. Personal messages top interest, followed by affiliations and timely news. Stale newsletters, requests for money and offers too good to be true bring up the rear.
- Avoid these words: Help, Percent off, Reminder and Free. Trigger spam filters.
- Be Local: Personalization, such as including a recipient’s first name or last name, doesn’t significantly improve open rates. Providing localization, such as including a city name, does help.
- Newsletters: Newsletters tend to start with high open rates, but all experience some reduction in time. The challenge to the newsletter writer is to keep the content fresh. Repeating the same subject line for each newsletter accelerates the drop in open rates.
- Subject Line Length: The general rule of thumb in email marketing is to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less.
- Promotional Emails: Keep the message straightforward and avoid using splashy promotional phrases, CAPS, or exclamation marks in your subject lines. Subject lines framed as questions can often perform better.
Summary: Be consistent and build all your digital copy for maximum readability and usability. Start with email.
Why do we fight? To create great content every day.
Creating consistently good content for Facebook status posts, Twitter tweets, LinkedIn updates, YouTube videos and blog posts means repeating good patterns, dropping poor efforts and never settling for average.
When I discover good content it’s because:
- I haven’t read this idea before.
- I have seen this before, but you’ve organized it in a different, more appealing way.
- The image catches my eye, but doesn’t trick me. Don’t be vulgar or crass because I’ll remember to avoid your content.
- You’ve asked for my opinion or have called me to act.
- The page has multiple headlines, images and bullet points. I’m bound to discover something in my F-pattern scan.
- You’ve shared attribution or identified the content with a name I recognize.
- Your recently created content is a perfect fit for my recently created content. You discovered my content through search and delivered your content at the right time.
- I’ve discovered something unexpected. Thanks for making me slow down and learn something.
- You’ve avoided clichés and overused memes that make me wince.
- You are careful not to over distribute. Seeing a wave of content prompts me to set a pattern – that is overlooking your content.
When I discover good content I want to share it with others. What was the best thing you’ve noticed in the past week?
Photo by Joelk75
It was a meeting of old school/new school when I suggested to my friend Rod how to improve his music review on John Mellencamp with better web writing.
I love his writing and understand his style and pace, but attention deficit-driven listeners might ping-pong right past (I noted the 0 comments and only 8 tweets that the review produced).
Let’s keep the narrative in the chalice. I love the part about Mellencamp’s travel studios and retro recording, but let’s add elements to the top and bottom to satisfy the scan readers and web writing best practices.
You can think of it as a deck head. It tells the reader what’s coming. Jakob Neilsen is a web usability guru who has done wonderful research on how people use websites and how they read on websites.
Subheads every six paragraphs
Search robots and spiders scan web content for H1 heads, H2 heads, copy, links, etc. So when you build subheads you not only give the page better readability but make it more searchable.
Build pop-up hyperlinks into your story? When people scan content they might come across an idea or reference that they want to explore. Old school thinking was that it was dumb to give people the opportunity to leave the page. New school is that you become a trusted reference source and people will scan a pop-up box and return to your content, satisfied and convinced that you are a credible source.
Bottom call to action
After your brilliant closing thought, you ask a question or reference more information. Don’t exit softly into the night, leave me wanting more.
Don’t bruise a great narrative by stuffing it into rigid format. Keep the narrative in the chalice (keep it pure), but liberate the content for web search and readability.
Read Rod Lockwood’s review and let us know what you think.
4 usability questions + 4 usability answers = 1 thin mint
One little survey monkey is asking four questions about your basic experience in finding information on a website.
Improving usability and improving content is your goal during the design process as well as after your website’s debut.
Don’t stop advancing toward the best experience possible. Use different tools.
- Usability testing: asking and then watching people complete basic tasks on your website
- Surveys/polls: collecting opinions on prompted questions
- A/B testing: Tracking results of different options
Answer four quick questions now that might result in four fewer clicks for you in the future.
It’s on. Tell me a story.
Before my eyes glaze over from one more Spam blog each and every one of you is tasked with creating content that will thrill and impress. Only content strategy and solid web writing can save us now. We need to explain ourselves in gleaming detail so that we never have to stamp an envelope holding a résumé ever again (sorry postal service, it’s over – next!).
College (or soon to be) graduates, displaced workers and soon-to-be-displaced workers need to create great content that reveals their background, expertise and passion. Don’t farm out your story. Create your content cache, and in an era of user generated content, share your great ideas on social media channels.
Congrats Tippingpoint Labs on your new media agency. You understand that there is a wave of over 6,000 new blog posts (every 10 minutes), 1 billion YouTube videos and more than 1.5 million pieces of Facebook content (every day). But it’s the solid content that muscles its way to the crest of that wave.
The field is crowded – with junk. The bar is not that high for just mediocre. But we aspire to so much more.
Layering running gear for cold temperatures involves 3 layers
Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon in the dead of winter and cannot bear a long run on the treadmill knows about layering. Anyone who has ever tried to keep readers from overloading on web content also knows about layering.
Layering (or linking) web content helps to pace and divide information on a web page. This helps each web reader get the amount of information that they want on a topic and prevents the reader from feeling overwhelmed.
Layering running gear for cold temperatures involves 3 layers: a base layer, middle layer and outer shell.
- Base layer: A tech or wicking fiber to keep the skin dry.
- Middle layer: Long-sleeve micro-fiber insulates and regulates your core temperature.
- Outer shell: Protects from wind, water and snow. An example of the blend might be 65 percent nylon, 25 percent polyester, and 10 percent spandex.
Layering web content involves 3 layers.
You can use pop-up windows or opening and closing overlays on the same page, but overall you have improved usability by giving readers an opportunity to digest the base content and decide if they want more information.
Your web writing and content strategy has served two groups: scan readers, who have satisfied themselves with your initial offering and people who seek a deeper dive into your base content with layered links.
Now that you understand layering you’re ready for a 12-mile run in 25-degree February weather.