During the first class of the first creative writing course I ever took, my teacher posited the question to us of what is the minimum word length a writer could write a story. I remembered that the “Cask of Amontillado” was really short, so I offered a guess of 500 words. Other classmates gave guesses of 300, 450, and 200. One courageous student said 20, but when he was asked to say a story in 20 words or less, he sunk into his seat and offered only a meager excuse of how he didn’t have his coffee yet. Admitting defeat, we deferred back to the teacher who wrote this on the board:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Although it’s been disputed whether or not Hemingway actually wrote this short story, you have to admit that the single line is rather compelling. Immediately, you ask questions of whether or not there was a baby, if the baby died in childbirth, or if the baby just had too chubby of feet to fit into the shoes. Because of the ambiguity and structure of this sentence, a linguist would have a field day with this story.
For example, in linguistics, syntax usually refers to the order of the words in a sentence and how this affects the meaning. Notice that the writer chose to end with the phrase, never worn. By doing this, it intimates that there is shame on the part of person who says it because there is a slight pause with the comma, indicating hesitation.
Let’s say you wrote the sentence like this instead: Never worn baby shoes for sale! Here, never worn is right in the forefront, suggesting that the writer is proud of the fact that the shoes have never been worn and is using this as a selling point. Although both sentences feature the same six words, there are stark differences between the two. Yet each is a story on its own – just a very different one at that.
I described my first day in Creative Writing 101 not to illustrate why I got a C in the course, but rather to show the wondrous ability writers have to create meaning out of words, even if there are many restrictions put on them.
In SEO, this is no different; in fact, some content writers might argue that SEO puts so many restrictions on them, with character limits, tone and keywords, that it creates a sink or swim situation: Either you can choose to sink amidst the limitations put on you and write the same old story, or you can choose to swim with the current and deliver the best content that you can within those parameters (such as being asked to write a story in six words or less).
If you do choose to swim, here are two things to consider that deal with linguistics:
• Don’t try to write a new story – it’ll never happen. The key in creating good content is saying the same story in a new and interesting way. In SEO, you’re writing content that is geared towards specific keywords and themes, but is there a way to write that content that will spark readers’ interests? Can you play around with word choice to derive more meaning out of those keywords, rather than just writing the same old boring content that will never get picked up by anyone? Given the fact that we use a computer screen to read pages and are, therefore, conditioned to scroll up and down and glance, can you layout and edit down your content in a way that will spark meaning within seconds in order to get the message across? It’s cliché, but how you write the story is what matters.
• Computers don’t exactly understand context. In linguistics, the ability to use context, place, intent and other factors is called pragmatics. Computers can infer meaning through latent semantic indexing, but this is no guarantee. Think of the movie, Terminator 2 when John Connor teaches the Terminator how to speak like a human. The Terminator doesn’t understand slang or sarcasm. However, by becoming more human as he stays with John and Sara, he infers the meaning of what is being said and uses phrases like “Hasta La Vista, Baby” correctly. By understanding the targeted reader of your content, you can use phrases and terms that coincide with their contextual understanding of things to connect with them and create engaging content.
By considering linguistics and rising to the occasion of working within limitations that SEO demands, you can certainly create interesting and shareable content that others will actually find compelling.
WebiMax is fortunate enough to have a booth at the HBA Global Expo in New York City from now through Thursday. Guests who attend this event will get to see exhibits from some of the top brands in the beauty industry from all around the world. Whether you want to check out some new products and technology, learn about the current trends, or find ways to promote your own beauty products, the HBA Expo has it all.
As with nearly any industry, brand development and consumer relationships are integral to retailers in the field of cosmetics. Getting to know your consumers is the best way to help create the products they want, and reaching out to your customers is the best way to get to know them. In today’s technological world, this often means using social media, blogging, integrating user-created content onto your site, and marketing online. The workshops at the HBA Expo cover these points. I’m particularly excited for Beauty Goes Social: The Link Between Content with Consumer Behavior, a workshop where I hope to get new ideas about how beauty companies can use social media to market their products and make new suggestions. It’s no secret that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are huge players in the beauty industry right now, helping fashionistas and makeup artists to gather inspiration and gain traction. I’m excited to see how different cosmetic companies use it to spread the word about their products.
Beauty in the Digital Age is another workshop of interest, which will cover how “going digital” was once a way for brands to be ‘hip,’ but is now a marketing and selling necessity. I think it will tie in nicely with the e-commerce event I attended last week – digital marketing and e-commerce most definitely go hand-in-hand.
If you plan on being in NYC this week, definitely stop by our booth, which is number 1033. We’ll be set up all three days for the entirety of the event. Hope to see you there!
When writing for your site, it’s true that content is key and plays a very large part in increasing conversions and keeping people coming back to your site. However, there is a big difference between user-friendly content and… well, not-so-user-friendly content. Consider what draws your attention – would you rather read a list of key points with subheadings or lengthy paragraphs of copy? Personally, and I think it goes for most people, I tend to scan things before I read them and if I find something interesting, I go back and read the rest. A good thing to keep in mind is that if it looks like a research paper, chances are users are probably not reading it.
However, creating ‘easy-to-read’ copy is a lot easier said than done but because it’s so important, it’s vital to understand what it takes to create user-friendly content.
The Key “Points” of Readability
- Bullet points provide an easy way to break up text and draw the readers’ eye to the most important points (see what I’m doing here?).
- Lists, again, are a great way to break up content to make your content appear more user-friendly. From numbers to bullet points, lists are the perfect way to wrap up your key thoughts without overloading the user with text.
- Bolded subheadings also aid in breaking up text and let the reader know what they’re about to read. This makes it easy for the user to skip around the page to read only the parts the interest them.
- White space cannot be stressed enough – don’t make your web pages look like research papers. You can use short paragraphs with white space in between to make it more readable and easier on the eyes.
- Mixed media is another way to break up text to make your site content more readable. From pictures to videos, give your reader something to look at that relates to your content.
It’s About Design, Too
While content is a key component to a great site and has a strong influence on readability, there are certain web design aspects that also affect your website’s readability. Aside from keeping content short, concise, and to the point, it’s also important to ensure your website’s design is effectively conveying this content. Things such as alignment, color contract, and font all play a part in making your site more user-friendly.
- Font is often the most overlooked aspect of web design but is also one of the most important. Always use legible font sizes and font types that are web-safe.
- Contrast is important when it comes to readability. Light grey text on a white background may look slick to you, but for someone else, it may be completely unreadable. Similarly, if you have a dark background you should probably make the text as light as possible. While contrast is important, color is also important in creating an attractive web design so don’t be afraid to use it!
Alignment also plays an important part in readability. Not only does it look nice but scattered web components look unattractive to the eye, reducing site readability.
It’s important to keep content simple and to the point, while making use out of lists, white space, and subheadings. The implementation of a good design has a huge effect on readability as well. While there is a large variety of things that affect your sites readability, content and design play a large part and oftentimes go hand-in-hand.
When something is easy to read, I read more of it.
I read more of it and, more often than not, reach the end of it. I reach the end of it and, if I’m on the web, find myself looking at a link. Sometimes a fancy link with cool effects that reads “BUY NOW.” Other times, a standard hyperlink that says “Learn more.”
And because I like what I read (simple text for a simple guy), I usually click on that link.
Find me someone who doesn’t like clear, concise, easy-to-read language on the web and I’ll hear them out. I’ll hear them out then give them a test. I’ll give them a page of web copy written by a writer proficient in SEO copywriting and a page written by a novelist who writes with lengthy paragraphs. I’ll then hook them up to my CIA-employed father’s polygraph and ask them a simple question: Which one was easier to read?
There are many things that make something easy to read – dialogue, tight wording and use of the present tense – but there’s one thing that makes a piece incredibly easy to read.
See what I did there?
How I Know Writing with White Space Improves Conversions
At the end of my college career, I started becoming interested in web writing, website design and search engine optimization. After creating a few of my own personal websites and reading various books on SEO, I discovered my true passion was for writing. Even though I appreciated the art of web design and SEO, writing lit a fire in me.
So I decided to look into web writing as a career. That’s when I came across a little gem of a writing course offered through American Writers and Artists Inc. – an online company started by one of my mentors, Mark Morgan Ford.
Mr. Ford, known in the copywriting world as Michael Masterson, showed me how to write clearly and concisely. He also showed me how to sell a product or service to a customer. The course offered me stacks upon stacks of successful sales letters and, in all these letters, I saw a common theme: religious use of white space.
Some writers of these successful sales letters preferred to use ellipses over hyphens, storytelling over fact-telling. But one thing remained constant in ALL of their copywriting styles: whitespace galore.
These great copywriters knew that people wanted something easy to read, so they gave it to them. There was no question about it. With paragraphs broken up into short, simple sections, readers could get the information they wanted quickly and easily. Their emotions were appealed to and they became better informed. Why? Because they were being talked to in a conversational manner – a cornerstone of great copywriting and web writing alike.
The sentence is the short breath. The paragraph is the deep breath. A paragraph refreshes the page much like a deep breath refreshes the thinking process of a conversationalist.
Start Using More White Space in Your Writing Today!
The great thing about whitespace is that it requires nearly no effort at all to implement. Unlike fixing grammar and swapping vocabulary, all you have to do is hit ENTER. No thesaurus or proofreading required.
As you continue to discover your writing voice, knowing when to use white space will come to you naturally. But, until that time comes, practice isolating the following with white space.
· Subtopic of an overarching topic
· Key points within those subtopics
· Important phrases and words with a lead-in (see how I used “White space” in the first section of this post.)
· Sentences that significantly impact the reader and deserve their own line
When you use white space more freely, your copy instantly becomes more readable and inspires more conversions, to secondary pages, contact forms and shopping carts.
Make your web copy more user friendly with white space and watch the fruits of your website’s readership multiply!
At the Google I/O Developers Conference last week, we were introduced to the future of Search, or as Google’s Head of Search Quality Amit Singhal called it, the “death of search.” The presentations from the day long event told us that features like Google Now will provide information to us as we need it, rather than when we ask for it.
Perhaps that’s best explained by looking closer at how Google Now works, and considering a fairly recent hire from Google. In the post Why Google’s Predictive Personal Assistant is better than Siri I wrote last September, I wrote about the patent that describes the predictive algorithm behind Google Now.
For instance, Google Now learns from your habits and your actions. If you go to the ball game at a nearby stadium on a regular basis, Google Now might start regularly showing you a knowledge card with the scores of games from the local team. If you only go to games when the local team is playing a specific competitor, Google Now may figure out that you’re a fan of that competitor, and start showing you knowledge cards with their scores. All of this is based upon Google Now learning more of your online and offline habits and activities.
Google Now will be coming to Chrome, and a hands-free verbal searching experience was displayed at Google I/O for desktop searchers as well, referred to as Hot-Word Detection.
While this is worth paying attention to, where things gets really interesting is when we look at three new employees at Google who are the team behind Behav.io, who have been engaged in finding ways to gather and use sensor information in a deeper manner from your mobile device, and those of people who you are connected to.
When news of the hiring took place, I looked at the USPTO assignment database to get an idea of what kind of technology the team had been working upon. A patent originally assigned to MIT was reassigned to Behav.io, which describes the kind of work they’ve been doing.
They developed a mobile application that can predict whether or not people might install apps based upon their behaviors and those of the people they communicate with. They kept an eye on a number of different kinds of informational graphs to be able to make this kind of prediction.
Here are some examples of those types of graphs:
- A call log graph – with edges weighted by number of calls between nodes,
- A text message graph (with edges weighted by number of text messages between nodes),
- A Bluetooth proximity graph,
- A co-location graph (from GPS data),
- A friendship graph (from Facebook), and
- An affiliation graph (from contacts)
If you go back to my (Siri) post above from last September, and click on the link to the patent, it describes how Google might make predictions based upon contextual information. For example, if you drive to work each morning, Google might figure out where you work. If you get in your car to go to work, and there’s congestion on the route you usually drive, Google Now might suggest a different commute to you.
Looking at informational graphs like the ones studied by the Behav.io team can provide a much richer set of information to make predictions upon. In addition to these types of communications, the patent describes the many different types of sensors that mobile smart phones come with.
Smart phones can gather data using many different sensors that are included within them, from accelerometers to barameters, gyroscopes to magnetometers, ambient light sensors to proximity sensors, network position sensors to whether or not a screen is on or off. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is shipping with a thermometer and hygrometer as well. Given all these sensors, a phone can act as a mobile weather station, and can collect a lot of information that can be used in different ways as well.
The MIT patent goes far beyond predicting which apps people might install, and uses that only as an example. As we’re told in the patent:
This invention is not limited to predicting installation of apps. For example, in some implementations, this invention can be used to predict the conditional probability of a user taking any action, including adopting an idea
Sensor Data from a mobile device can be used to tell when you’re getting sick.
For example, a phone could predict that you’re coming down with the Flu a couple of days before you show visible symptoms, based upon your movements and if they show you to be a little slower than normal and weaker and not as steady. It might also look at who you’ve interacted with physically (looking at blue tooth signals between phones, for instance) and communications between you and others.
The patent also tells us that it can tell when an idea is starting to spread across a network by predicting the diffusion of ideas across that network:
In exemplary implementations of this invention, “trend ignition” in a social-influence campaign in a network is predicted. For example, network data may be used to predict the probability that a certain portion of the user population of a network will adopt an idea (due to diffusion of the idea through the network), if a specific portion number of users in the network are initial “seeds” for that idea (persons who adopt the idea initially). This enables campaign managers to allocate resources efficiently.
The patent is:
Methods and apparatus for prediction and modification of behavior in networks
Invented by Wei Pan, Yaniv Altshuler, Alex Paul Pentland, and Nadav Aharony
Assigned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology
US Patent Application 20120303573
Published November 29, 2012
Filed May 29, 2012
In exemplary implementations of this invention, mobile application (app) installations by users of one or more networks are predicted. Using network data gathered by smartphones, multiple “candidate” graphs (including a call log graph) are calculated.
The “candidate” graphs are weighted by an optimization vector and then summed to calculate a composite graph. The composite graph is used to predict the conditional probabilities that the respective users will install an app, depending in part on whether the user’s neighbors have previously installed the app.
Exogenous factors, such as the app’s quality, may be taken into account by creating a virtual candidate graph. The conditional probabilities may be used to select a subset of the users. Signals may be sent to the subset of users, including to recommend an app.
Also, the probability of successful “trend ignition” may be predicted from network data.
The patent is long and very detailed, but worth skimming through with a highlighter, or by making notes in a margin (if your ebook reader can do that), or by pasting it into notepad and deleting all the stuff you don’t want to keep (which is what I do).
The difference behind what the team working on Google Now were doing, and the people at Behav.io were doing doesn’t just vary based upon the Behav.io team looking at more sensor data on a mobile device. It differs because Behav.io has been looking at aggregating data between multiple devices and multiple people to predict the adoption of apps, to figure out how illnesses spread, to understand where ideas might start and ignite socially.
How will this impact the work being done on Google Now, which according to the Google I/O presentations, is one of the key aspects of the future of search? What will these new employees bring with their new focus on sensors and communication between people on smart phones? It can potentially change things significantly, as noted in the article, Google I/O: How Google Now Is Bringing Search Closer to Science Fiction.
For some more on what people involved in Behav.io have been working upon, check out the follow resources:
- Winner: Behavio / Nadav Aharony
- Investigating Social Mechanisms with Mobile Phones
- The “Friends and Family” Study and the FunF platform (pdf)
The future of search isn’t going to be the death of search, but it’s working upon knowing things that we might need to know before we realize we might.
In today’s age of text speak and emoticons, it can seem like proper spelling and grammar don’t matter anymore. The landscape of our language is morphing in front of our very eyes and, with it, our understanding of how to properly convey ideas. However, you still need a common grasp of words and how they work or the ability to communicate your value to clients will be lost.
Making Decisions vs. Mistakes
As a business, language is a part of every decision that you make. The keyword there is decision. When writing something, you are making a choice about the tone and style of the text, as well as the ideas that are conveyed by it.
As such, there’s a big difference between deliberately using a smiley face to express something and unintentionally spelling something incorrectly or using slovenly grammar. The former can be seen as entertaining or cute, if informal; the latter would be seen as unprofessional or careless.
Why Businesses Should Care about Spelling and Grammar
Have you ever looked at a webpage and found an obvious spelling error? It immediately lowered your opinion of the website in question, didn’t it? Suddenly, you may have found the site less authoritative on their subject matter or perhaps you would be less willing to trust them with your credit card.
Client trust is crucial to any business or organization, and a company that can’t spell their own name properly (a typo that I once found on a client page and pointed out to their project manager) won’t garner trust and definitely won’t seem like a leader of any industry.
(Not the attitude that you want toward web copy.)
Two Easy Rules to Write By
I have two cardinal rules that I use religiously when editing and writing. They may seem self-explanatory, but I think they work well:
1. Spell correctly and use good grammar.
· When in doubt, use spellcheck and have someone else review the document for errors that the program didn’t catch.
2. If not using good spelling and grammar, make sure that you’re doing so intentionally and to some purpose.
· There is nothing wrong with slang or incorrect usage for effect — unless it’s gratuitous. Whatever you choose should make sense in context or it isn’t worth doing.
The English language is changing rapidly. While there’s nothing wrong with using modern terms or symbols in the correct context, you should always be making a decision to do so. Clever usage of modern terms may be applauded; carelessness will cost your business trust.
Make sure that you look good!