Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In short, I am a copywriter. I write copy. My Web copy is different because it answers to technical concerns online, including:
-- How people read onscreen
-- Tasks people are trying to accomplish online
-- Using keywords appropriately
-- Answering users’ questions in as few pages as possible
Some people think if you’re a good writer, you can be a good Web writer. This is probably true, but only after you master some basic Web writing skills.
What I also do is try to envision my clients’ sites from 10,000 feet above so I can give them a content strategy. Content strategy is thinking about content in a way that relates to EVERY page on a site, giving value and shape to content throughout a site.
Some people confuse content strategy with content intelligence. To me, content intelligence is a subset of content strategy, and a technology solution. For example, content intelligence is listing the physicians who treat a particular condition on that page. In a perfect world, with a strong content management system, this would be done without having to 'handwrite' lists of physicians and instead would be database driven.
Content strategy is understanding that you want patients to make an appointment with a physician when they are finished reading the page and crafting the page to make that end goal happen. Giving them the list of physicians who treat that condition is a strategy to make sure they make that appointment.
Give me your definitions for content strategy and content intelligence.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
To your webmaster,
I'm a usability expert and the placement of your comments command is wrong. It should really be below the line. Above the line, closest to the text should be the NEXT command, to navigate through the full review.
Leaving the comments section so close to the text confuses the reader and takes them to the comments section where there might be spoilers. This is something you really seem to guard against as your editorial team is so zealous about signaling to the reader anytime there might be a potential spoiler.
Imagine a reader is reading though a TV Watch and hits leave a comment, instead of next. They come to a long list of comments that reveals what happened next. It's just wrong.
I hope that the form is a CSS so you can easily change it, because you should.
Don't you agree? For a clear look, go to this link: http://tinyurl.com/dx7bn8
It's clear to me that the comments section and the navigating through a post section should be switched. Why would anyone want to leave a comment on page 2 of a review? So you have to wonder- WHY doesn't someone on their Web team realize it and change it?
I'll let you know if I get a response.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting for a discussion on something called the Semantic Web. A what? Never fear, dear reader, after this article and what Wikipedia has to say, you too will understand (or have some grasp) of the Semantic Web. But since I don't want you to have to jump (a coping strategy), I will explain in brief.
The Semantic Web is a fantasy of all data on the Web being able to talk to each other. For example, your online calendar would automatically publish photographs you took that day without you having to do anything. Basically 2 different applications would be able to talk to each other and would be programmed to do so, creating higher usability for all. What would be really interesting if a calendar that would publish photos you're going to take before the day. But I digress....
At the meeting, the presenter, Duane Degler, was discussing how users use search. He thinks they still type in full sentences and not keywords. This is distressing for a Web writer like myself because my very existence hinges on the use of keywords. I don't expect my readers to type in full sentences. I believe they have an idea of what they want: "Where is a great Italian restaurant in Vegas?"
They don't type in that sentence, do they? They type in to the search box of their choice (cough...Google...cough) Italian restaurants Vegas. However, when I objected to what Duane was saying, he responded that he believes users have learned to cope with keywords, but humans still don't think that way on their own.
Fascinating stuff, and it got me thinking about what other things we make users cope with while they are online. A well constructed Web page should do a few things in my opinion:
1) Answer your users' questions. This is the gold standard of Web writing.
2) Be scannable, so information can be identified and read easily.
3) Minimize coping strategies.
It seems to me, and again, I'm staying on message, this last one needs the input of all Advanced Web Professionals (AWPs) on a project (see I helped you cope- I explained what an AWP was, in case you're not paying attention on this blog OR in case you are a first-timer.)
It's not just the writer or content strategist who works to minimize coping strategies. Designers need to think about clean, usable design that sets well-written content and navigation. Developers need to think about load times and broadband and applications talking to each other as well as different browsers' capabilities. Architects need to think about keeping the architecture so deep and so wide.
What else do you think AWPs should be thinking about when it comes to minimizing users' coping strategies? How do you cope online? And do you know of any good Italian restaurants in Vegas?
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Most of my shows are on ABC, NBC and Fox. I don't watch anything on CBS (sorry, all you CSI fans). In my comparisons of the three players , I've come to the following conclusion:
They are all good, but one is superior. But it's superior for me, and here's why:
The Fox network has figured out that people want to watch their T.V. like they do on a DVD- no commercials and very minor pauses between section breaks. When you watch a Fox show online, it moves to the next section of the show without you having to do anything.
For most people, the commercials on NBC and ABC are no big deal. They last for 15 seconds at most before a little pop up says "Click here to continue". Once you click that pop up your show starts again.
However, for those of us huffing and puffing through a show, we have to get off the machine, move to the computer, click on the click to continue and then move back to the elliptical.
I wonder how Fox can afford to post their episodes without commercial breaks. (Maybe it's because they roll around in money at breakfast after American Idol is on.) While their model is the best, because there are absolutely no breaks, the dramatic tension caused by a break with even one commercial is lost. But at least I don't have to get off my elliptical when I watch one of their shows. It just keeps going, without me having to do anything!
However, they don't post their shows until a week after some of them air.
All in all, the usability on these players is excellent. High def streaming, good sound quality, makes you feel like you are watching on a T.V.
Just another example how usability can be dependent on factors the developers never even thought of. And how executive decisions about revenue stream can affect usability without anyone even realizing or thinking about it.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Similarly, once people hear what I do, they inevitably want my opinion on:
- Their own Website
- A commonly used Website
- A Website they want to copy
Evaluating a Website requires experience and, you guessed it, expertise in many areas. A writer, like me, will evaluate content. A usability expert will evaluate the usability factors. A SEO professional will look at the SEO. You get the picture. But how do we approach evaluating a Website from a global view? And with some monster sites, like Amazon or The New York Times, can we?
I think there are several different factors, and not surprisingly, I think they lead toward an industry standard. In other words, they look like a lot of other Websites, because their writers, developers, designers and usability people have all followed best practices.
Here are a few questions I always ask when analyzing the effectiveness of a site:
- Is the standard horizontal navigation, search box in the right hand upper corner, utility navigation under or below it, logo on the left, in place? Described by Jakob Nielsen in Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, good Websites are moving toward a standard, as newspapers did 150 years ago. Know where to look for the weather in today’s paper? Exactly.
- Are the pages properly tagged, using title tags? When you view the code, can you see more Meta tagging?
- Are you given direction where you are in the site? Breadcrumbs, highlighting of navigation, etc…
- Is Contact Us easily found?
- Do the pages load pretty quickly (depending on your service) and are pictures displayed so they don’t get in the way of reading the text?
- What color is the font? (This one drives me crazy- there are so many good Websites that are ruined because they picked the wrong font in the wrong color).
- CAN YOU FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR WITHOUT BANGING YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE MONITOR?
These are just some of the elements that I think about. There are many others. What elements do you think are critical for evaluating a site?
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention, the theme here is everything. AWPs need to move toward industry standards in so many ways. The SEO professionals MUST understand core usability principles. The usability experts MUST be able to talk to the developers. You can’t say, “What’s a CSS?” Designers need to watch or read the results of usability studies so they can see how users interact or fail to interact with their designs.
Users come to the Web for 3 major categories of activities or tasks:
- Find a piece of information
- Interact socially (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, email, etc...)
- Transact (buy something, check their bank account, sell a stock)
To accomplish all those tasks, users need support. They need excellent content, NOT just so they can find the piece of information they need, but to direct them socially and during a transaction. How many times did YOU NOT FOLLOWED THE DIRECTIONS online? Was it because you were too busy and distracted? Or because the writing of the commands was weak?
Users need great developers so they can get to those tasks faster. Designers create overall and first impressions of sites that encourage users to move forward or drop off faster than Niagra Falls. SEO professionals help users get where they want to go. Every member of the team counts.
Do you think there is another category that users come to the Web to do? I'd love to hear about it.
- Describe your target audience (i.e. average age, special interests, income level, education level). Do they have any special needs?
- Create 3 different user profiles. Give them each names, occupations, ages and identifying characteristics. How will they interact with your site?
- What is the end goal or “buy”? What do you want the users to do when finished reading one web page or the entire group of pages?
- How do you track your users?
- Do you use any feedback mechanisms on your site- comments, surveys, interactive forms?
My clients often balk at number 2. “You’re the creative one,” they say. “You do it.” And very often, while I walk them through the exercise, they find it incredibly helpful to do so. When you have a sharper picture of your user, and therefore your customer, you have a sharper picture of what you need to be going, both behind a Website and in front of it.
But it's not just the users who matter online. It's the AWPs behind and in front of those Websites, working collaboratively to deliver great sites.
Monday, March 23, 2009
For example, I recently received a coupon on email for 20% off Land’s End on almost everything. Because I wanted to buy some summer things, I went to the site to check it out. The usability is really poor, in my opinion, because after you’re done selecting the chosen item, the page reloads you back to the page you were just on. I shouldn’t have to click “continue shopping” in order to make sure the item loads into my shopping card.
But the 20% was the enticement to work my way through a clunky system.
However…if I was competitively shopping, meaning I was looking around at different sites, I might just abandon the Land’s End site and move on to some other retailer. Or I might choose to order fewer items because ‘browsing’ on their system isn’t fun, it’s tedious.
What does this mean for us AWP’s (Advanced Web Professionals) out there? It means that we have to strive for excellent usability, but that we need to understand our users as well as possible. And there are so many ways to approach that understanding, from all the different disciplines combined. Writers will probably focus on focus groups, usability experts on usability studies, developers on log files, SEO marketers on analytics, etc… you get the picture.
Imagine how much more powerful sites would be if those resources are pooled. Now you have a much better picture of one of your users…I’m a busy mom who’s trying to get a deal, who doesn’t want to have to click any more times than necessary, who abandoned the page after about 1 minute and who came through on an email because of an incentive. Write, design, develop, market, analyze with me in mind! (And the million other users, too).
These days advanced Web professionals are required to know, as a wise person once told me, "Something about everything, and everything about something." If you're a Web writer or a content strategist, like me, then you focus on the content. But I care about usability as well, so I focus on IA. And my clients really, really care about the search engines so keywords is where it's at for them (as for me- I want my readers to get their questions answered). Section 508 is important; as really good usability is good accessibility.
Having to "know" all this "stuff" makes it challenging to be at the top of your game.
So I follow 2 major rules:
1) I don't know everything and there's always an opportunity to learn.
2) I don't HAVE to KNOW everything and there's always someone to ask.
If you're an advanced Web professional and you don't know it all, how do you manage it?