marcommlv

Posts Tagged ‘website content’

Your Audience Rules — or Should

In Writing on August 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm

I’m not much of a sports fan. I’ve learned the simple rules of soccer thanks to the many years I’ve watched my son play. I get the gist of baseball, basketball, football and golf. But if you move beyond the basics, I’m pretty much lost. When I watch a football game, the most I usually get out of it is the score, unless there is someone there to explain the game at a basic level — a very basic level.

A true football fan, on the other hand, can watch the same game and understand the strategy, the play-by-play and the statistics. He or she can recount plays and explain how they fit into the overall game. He has a deep understanding of what is going on without explanation.

When you write, readers may vary as well. Some will have in-depth knowledge of your subject matter while others may know very little about the topic. Your job as a writer is to communicate clearly with all of your readers without dumbing down the information or overwhelming your readers with too many details. Here’s how:

  • Understand your audience. Before you begin to write, understand who your audience is, their depth of understanding of the subject matter you are writing about, their interest and their purpose in reading what you have written. If your audience is familiar with your topic, you can count on shared knowledge to “fill in the blanks.” If the topic is unfamiliar to your readers, you need to provide more detail. If your audience varies in its understanding, you should provide enough information so every reader can understand the key points you are communicating.
  • Make it easy for your readers to get what they need. Why is someone reading what you have written? What level of detail do they need? If your readers need quick facts, for example, use a bullet format. Make use of subheads and bold and italic type to make key points stand out. If you need to provide more detail for some readers, use a traditional journalistic style, summarizing the important points in the first paragraph with supporting details in later paragraphs.
  • Write clearly and succinctly. Writing is a thought process. To write clearly and succinctly, you must have a firm grasp of the key points you want to make before you start writing. After you draft an article, edit it carefully for content, grammar and style. When it comes to writing, less is more. If one word conveys what you want to say, don’t use two. Eliminate jargon.

Bottom line — write for your audience for optimum communication.

Advertisements

The Fine Art of Mulling It Over

In Effective Communication, Writing on July 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Mulling it over When I was in grade school eons ago, teachers were quick to admonish us when they caught us daydreaming — staring out the window, seemingly thinking about nothing in particular and certainly not working on the task at hand. They told us that we were wasting time, time that we would never recapture. But were we really?  Interestingly, after working as a professional writer for more than three decades, I find that daydreaming or unstructured thinking is an essential ingredient of good writing. When daydreaming is coupled with “mulling it over,”or structured, deep thought, it’s an unbeatable combination for writing better and more quickly.

I’m not sure why this works or how it works, but I do know that I do some of my best writing when I am away from my laptop, doing something that has nothing to do with writing. This makes sense because writing is not about filling paper or your computer screen with words. Writing is a thought process. Before you can find the right words to write, you need to understand why you are writing and who your audience is. You need to brainstorm ideas, research what you don’t know and organize your thoughts. Then it’s time to start writing.

How does this work? Well, here’s how this particular blog entry was written. A few days ago, while I was taking my morning walk, I had the idea to write a post about “mulling.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mulling” as thinking something over “deeply and at length.” It’s an essential part of writing but one that people often try to skip to save time. When I got home, I jotted the idea down and stuck it in a file with other ideas for blog posts.

Yesterday afternoon, I started scoping out the main ideas of the post, which gave me last night and this morning to think about it. While watering the garden this morning, I started mulling over the article and jotted down key ideas when I got to my office. I focused on the key point I wanted to make (thinking is critical to writing) and how I could best engage readers in the topic (starting with a story). I finally decided to use this post as an example so my idea would be more concrete. I quickly drafted and then edited the post several times.

The next time you are stuck when you are trying to write, give yourself some time to think. This isn’t a luxury and it isn’t a waste of time. It’s a critical part of the writing process. Bottom line —  think before you write and let your mind, not your fingers, do the writing for you.

When do you do your best thinking about your writing? Share your thoughts — and thanks for reading.

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Writer’s Block: What To Do When the Words Won’t Flow

In Writing on July 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

A few months ago, I started writing an article for my newsletter. I knew what I wanted to write about, I understood my audience, I had completed the research and I had organized my ideas. But the words just wouldn’t flow. I had one false start after another and grew more and more frustrated as time slipped away. I knew that the article was going no where and that I really needed to do something different to unjam my thoughts, but I was too stubborn to give up. And so I continued writing and hitting the delete button, wasting way too much time. This was writer’s block at its finest. Finally, in total frustration, I went to find something to eat, anything to get away from my laptop. Within 10 minutes, the opening paragraph had formed in my head.  When I returned to my office, I was able to complete a draft of the article in about 20 minutes.

Everyone can fall prey to writer’s block at some point or another. Generally, writer’s block happens when a person tries to start writing before he or she is ready. Writing is a thought process consisting of six steps. It’s not until the fifth step that you should actually start writing. If you try to skip a step to save time, you often find yourself stuck.

If you have completed the first four steps in the writing process — understand your assignment, brainstorm, research and organize your thoughts —  and you are still stuck, try these tactics to deal with writer’s block.

  • Take a break. Get away from your writing, even if it is only for a few minutes. A quick break from the keyboard can go a long way.
  • Develop a summary sentence. Forget about all the details and cut to the chase. Answer the question, “What am I trying to say?” If you can’t summarize what you want to say, spend more time organizing your thoughts before you start writing.
  • Play with the words. If you have had a few false starts, type a list of key words then start stringing them together. Don’t worry if your sentences make sense. Just play with the words. Before long, you will have a good opening sentence if you are ready to write.
  •  Give yourself a deadline. Some of my best writing is done when I am facing a deadline, either real or self imposed. Not only will this help you break through writer’s block, it also will teach you to write more quickly.
  • Start in the middle. If you find that you can’t write the first paragraph, try writing a different section first. Successfully writing one section or paragraph will often help you get unstuck.

What do you do when your writing gets stuck? Share your thoughts…

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Website Content: Spelling Errors Costly

In Marketing Communications, Writing on July 19, 2011 at 11:45 am

Okay, I admit it. I am probably (okay, I am definitely!) more sensitive to spelling and grammatical errors than the average person. It is one of the drawbacks of being a writer by profession. I go to the movies and catch the typo in the copyright infringement notice. I glance at a billboard and notice the missing or misplaced apostrophe. I log on to a website and decide not to buy anything because I see a string of misspelled words. What???

It’s true. When I visit a website that has blatant spelling or grammatical errors, I rarely make a purchase on that site. In the back of my mind, I am wondering if it is a legitimate site or if my credit card will be taken over by a shopaholic racking up a string of charges to my account. But up until now, I couldn’t prove that spelling and grammatical errors made a monetary difference to a company’s bottom line even though sloppy content obviously does nothing for a company’s image.

Sean Coughlan, a BBC News education correspondent, however, changed all that. He recently reported that online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe analyzed website sales in England and found that “poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.” Duncombe believes that “…misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility.”

Do you have difficulty catching spelling errors on your website or in other work?  Here are some of my favorite proofreading strategies:

  1. Proofread a paper copy. Yes, I know. It’s better for the environment not to print what’s on your computer screen. When it comes to proofreading, however, it’s worth the cost. I edit on my laptop and when I think everything is okay, I print out a copy for a final look. It’s amazing how many times I find a spelling or grammatical error.
  2. Use a dictionary. A dictionary is a wonderful thing. I use both online and paper formats.
  3. Read from the end. Start at the end of your writing and proofread reading backwards. This forces you to focus on individual words.
  4. Take a break. It is difficult to proofread something you just finished writing. Take a break from it, even if for a few minutes. You may be surprised at what you find when you read it again.
  5. Ask someone else to proofread for you. A fresh set of eyes is always helpful in catching typos and spelling errors. This is especially important if your work is being printed professionally.
  6. Use spell check as a final check. The spell check feature is a wonderful tool as long as you proofread as well. The spell check function finds misspelled words, not necessarily words that are used incorrectly.

Copyright 2011. Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Website Content Drives Web Traffic

In Marketing, Marketing Communications on July 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Developing searchable and compelling website content is a critical marketing tactic that will increase your website traffic, whether you own a business or run a nonprofit organization. While good design and navigation are important to the success of your website, content is key. Website content serves two main functions — it helps people find your site and it makes your website interesting. To achieve this, your website content should be searchable and compelling.

Make web content searchable with keywords

  1. Choose customer-friendly keywords. The key to successful marketing is to make it customer centered. When it comes to keywords, use phrases your customers are likely to use when searching for your products or services. While there are many tools that you can use to research the effectiveness of keywords, start by listening to your customers. What words do they use to describe your products or services?
  2. Focus on keyword phrases. When you use a search engine such as Google or Bing to find information online, you use keywords that describe what you want to find. You may search using a single keyword such as “florist.” Most people, however, use a phrase, such as “fresh floral arrangements in Lehigh Valley, PA.” This narrows the search and makes the results more relevant. When you focus on keyword phrases, you develop a niche and make it easier for people to find your website in searches.
  3. Use keywords strategically. Each page of your website content should represent a different focus on your business or organization. For instance, if you are a florist, one page might be about fresh arrangements, another might focus on silk flowers and yet another might focus on your garden shop. Determine two focused keyword phrases for each page. Use the primary keyword in your title and the second keyword if possible. Use both keywords in your page description. When you write your website content, use both keywords in your opening paragraph of content at least once and preferably more often. Weave the keywords into your website content as much as possible but not so frequently that the copy sounds stilted.

Develop compelling website content your customers want to read

  1. Understand your customers. Any time you market your business or organization, your starting point should be your customers or target audience. Learn as much as you can about your customers, especially their pain points or needs. Provide relevant, useful content that your website visitors will want to read and share.
  2. Include a strong message. Include your marketing message or mission statement on every page of your website. Each page should add depth to that message. Your website content must be compelling to entice visitors to learn more about your business or organization, take a desired action such as purchasing a product or service or making a donation, and return to your site again and again.
  3. Write well. Website content must be well written. Otherwise, visitors will click off your site without a second glance. Focus on your message, mechanics and style. Your ideas should flow logically so visitors quickly understand your point. Content must be grammatically correct and free of all spelling errors. Finally, develop a writing style that reflects your business or organization.

How It All Began