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Content Marketing Tip #1 – Remember to Prof-Read You’re Headline

 

Some typos are worse than others.

Some typos are worse than others.

There’s nothing like a horrible typo or two to wake you up in the morning.

Perhaps you already can guess that the mistakes in the title of my article are intentional.  But even knowing that, doesn’t it jolt your sensibilities to read it? (If it doesn’t, or if you didn’t even note the mistakes in my article headline, alas, read no further.)

Editorial quality standards are important to Google.  They’ve been telling us that for years.  How ironic that editorial standards are in a catastrophic rate of decline.  Take this jarring, unpleasant example in a news story I saw not too long ago:

Antonin Scalia’s body lay in a Texas funeral home Sunday and officials waited word about they would need to perform an autopsy before the late Supreme Court justice could return home to Virginia

Say what?!

First of all the headline is so long that it’s practically a run-on sentence.  Read it out loud; it sounds stilted and awkward.  Additionally it confuses me; I have to read it twice to understand what the article is about.  Last but not least, the headline is actually missing a word!  (Hint: it sounds bad whether or not you spot the missing word.  Get it?)  Normally I would expect to see a headline like that in high school newspaper, or maybe in a blog post on an amateur website, or maybe on Tumblr.

So what low-brow publisher would allow a headline like that to appear?  Um, can you say “Associated Press”?  Don’t believe me?  Here’s the link.  And in case they decide to clean up their headline between now and whenever you read this, here’s the image:

Image of typo in associated press headline

My point here is not to take a swipe at the venerable AP.  Since I’ve been checking news stories on my phone I’ve noticed two things: the blizzard of stories (they come in at a rate of dozens per hour), and the poor quality of proof-reading, regardless of the publisher.  I spot typos in at least half of the stories I actually bother to read.  In the days of “wet ink” that would have been the death of a news outlet.

In our SEO training classes one of the “new generation” search optimization principles we teach is the necessity of quality content (see the part about Google’s standards again).  And yet the rush to keep up with online publishing deadlines, the ephemeral nature of digital content, and the desire to provide huge amounts of grist for Google’s information mill, have led all of us to risk sacrificing quality for speed.  I’m also to blame, as I’ve had my share of typos, none of which I intend to link to (hey, it’s my article, I can link where I like!).

I don’t have any hard, empirical evidence for my next statement, but I believe it anyway: Don’t!  Don’t rush to publish and ignore the proofing.  It’s not just about Google, it’s about your readers and the perception they create of your organization.  I have to admit that my opinion of AP’s quality dropped quite a bit when I read that headline about Scalia.  If they can’t bother to check their headline, what does that say about their commitment to checking their facts?

Fight the trend.  Proof read your headlines (and the rest of your content as well).  Rise above the crowd.  It becomes easy when the standards are fallng all around you.  (And yes, that last one was indeed intentional)

The CDC Zombie Apocalypse Post

image from the original CDC zombie apocalypse post

A Social Media Success Case Study

(Editorial Note: The CDC post mentioned in this post has been removed from it’s original location.  However you can still read it on the Internet Archive here. Be patient, the link takes a while to load.)

In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a quintessentially staid and stolid government bureaucracy, did something quite unexpected.  They explained how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.  Yes, a zombie apocalypse. On May 16th, 2011, a blog post authored by Ali S. Khan, CDC Director of Preparedness, appeared with the strange title Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  Readers didn’t quite know what to think.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.    emergency.cdc.gov

Of course the CDC had not totally lost its grip on reality.  Nor were Zombies a real threat.  The CDC was merely using a clever – and tremendously successful – method to attract attention to its annual push for disaster preparedness.  According to an excellent account and blow-by-blow timeline on The Benshi, the unexpected post was the brainchild of two CDC employees, Catherine Jamal and Dave Daigle, who were searching for a way to motivate people to do some disaster preparedness at the beginning of the hurricane season. Soon the post was generating incredible viral publicity (Writer Randy Olson reported that the CDC media analyst Cision valued the P.R. at $3 million), being featured on The New York Times, Fox News, the Huffington Post, Time Magazine and hundreds of websites.  In less than a week the post had received 963,000 page views. If you read the post, I think you’ll agree that it was indeed moderately clever, but certainly nothing breathtaking.  So what was the secret to it’s success? I think it has to do with three things:

  1. They tapped into a powerful cultural meme: Zombies.  AMC’s show The Walking Dead and countless zombie movies beat a path and the CDC followed it.
  2. They did something unexpected.  What do you expect from the CDC?  I know what I expect: dry warnings about the flu and smoking and HIV and reports of medical research.  No one expects anyone there to have fun with anything.
  3. They followed up well.  In fact the campaign is still generating traffic 3 years later and you can still embed zombie-flavored CDC code on your website (in fact, we’re showing you some of their embeds below).  They’ve added a zombie poster, zombie educator tips, and more.

Return of the Zombies

Of course there are consequences.  In 2012 the CDC was once again enmeshed in zombies, but this time repeatedly, and incredulously, trying to debunk the rumors that the dreaded zombie apocalypse had actually begun (see the Huffington Post report here).

The Zombie Preparedness List

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re curious, the following is the list of the most important items to have on hand for when the undead are unleashed:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
  • Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
  • Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
  • First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

For a full disaster preparedness checklist, the CDC has a less humorous, but certainly more complete page.

In Internet Marketing, 10 Will Get You 20

woman with clock to illustrate point for web copywriting article

How to Keep a Visitor on Your Site Long Enough to Make Them a Customer

According to Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the first 10 seconds are crucial to your online success.  Here’s what he says:

If the Web page survives this first — extremely harsh — 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat.  Source: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-long-do-users-stay-on-web-pages/

When he talks about “the curve,” he means the rate at which users leave your web page.  The drop-off is highest in those first 10-30 seconds.  If you can engage your visitor for a scant half a minute, your chances of being able to communicate your full marketing message improve dramatically.

If you’re a business owner who can’t afford to hire a “guru” to write your web copy, simply keep a link to these tips handy and you’ll be on your way to that magic “conversion” moment when a visitor becomes your customer.

10 Tips for Writing Effectively for the Web

  1. Info graphic, tips for writing engaging web contentYour headline is the key.  Make your headline powerful.  Your headline is the key not just to the first 10 seconds, but the first 3.  Spend time with it.
  2. Understand your visitor.  Before you even get started with point number 1, do some research on who your target audience is.  Research doesn’t have to be hard.  Try asking some of your existing customers or website visitors (for example with an easy online survey) why they came to your site.
  3. Focus on visitor intent.  Once you understand your ideal visitor, and why they came, you’re ready to craft a message that addresses their specific wants and needs.  If you match that “why” you stand a better chance of getting them to ask “how do I buy?”
  4. Engage them.  No one wants to hear your elevator pitch.  People don’t like to be preached at, and make no mistake, a lot of sales talk comes off as preaching.  Instead, involve your visitors with a hook or a question.  Sort of like we did with this blog post, right?
  5. Make it clear.  If you confuse your visitor you might as well give up on them.  And you’re not a good judge of what will confuse them.  Why?  I guarantee that you’re too close to your product or service.  This doesn’t mean you should stop writing your own copy.  Just make sure you share it with at least 5 people outside your organization and see if your written content is immediately clear.  Remember, it has to be clear in seconds.
  6. Don’t fight their eyes.  People have predictable ways of visually taking in your content.  Don’t get so creative in your layout that you ignore typical user behavior.
  7. Use the golden “F.”  Eye tracking studies have shown that people scan a page in an “F” pattern.  They start at the top left, move across then down.  Their eyes stop going across the page as they go down looking for something interesting.  Make sure your important points are top and left.  This is also known as the “golden triangle.”
  8. Go lean.  Too much text puts eyeballs to sleep.  Even if you have a lot you need to say, break it up into short paragraphs and lots of headings.  Better: try always to say what you need to with fewer words.  The Gettysburg Address is not the most famous speech in American oratory because it’s long.
  9. Use bullet points.  Remember those eye tracking studies (see tip 7)?  Well they also show that people invariably will scan bullet points.  Make sure you use bullet points to present the things that are most important to your visitor.  (Use these bullets to match their intent, as indicated in tip #3)
  10. Neuroscience is your friend.  Use it when selecting images.  Part of “writing” for the web is making sure that you include some visuals.  (If people wanted nothing but text they would all have the 1995 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on their shelf.)  But more than a pleasing image, use a shot with some persons face looking at the visitor.  Reason?  From the time we are babies we are wired to look at faces and eyes.  Naturally you want to make the face relevant to your content.  Example: If you’re marketing a car show the face of someone driving it, or standing by it, or sitting in it.

Get the Infographic

As a visual reminder of these 10 tips, we’ve created an infographic, 10 Tips to Keep Visitors 20 Seconds, that will help you to quickly remember them and apply them whenever you write for the web.  Follow these tips and you’re well on your way to breaking that 10-second barrier and connecting with your next customer.