Columbia Journalism School
I shared a Facebook link this morning to a PBS story about a new degree program at Columbia University, Medill School of Journalism that will create journalist/programmers. To me it made perfect sense, and I said so. I immediately heard back from an old friend.
“Geeks instead of journalists?” he wrote.
“Not instead,” I said. I told him that in my opinion individuals are demanding more control over content than ever before — no longer (if ever) the realm of a programmer.
I also said that, IMHO, writers and designers have historically been separated at birth as far as the web goes. Not for all companies, of course — there are many fine examples of well-designed web sites. I’d say they’re few and far between.
But for the masses? A company generally calls a web design company, who offers a design but no copy — the web design company considers web copy the responsibility of the company. So, as in so many media tragedies, the company calls up its PR person and asks that she or he produce copy for the web site.
Why is this happening when there’s a long history of tight relationships between writers and designers as far as advertising and print collateral? Hard to say exactly, but I think part of it has to do with money and speed. The web has grown so quickly that an infrastructure to support its proper execution has never solidified. Geeks went out and got the jobs that writers and content people didn’t know how to execute themselves. And content went begging.
Not only that, but web designers aren’t always the best people to judge usability. Every time you go to a web site and can’t find the thing you came to find — someone was asleep (or missing) at the wheel.
This scenario is changing, thank goodness. WYSIWYG design programs are getting easier to use even if their users don’t fully understand HTML. Blogging software, incredibly easy for anyone to set up and use, is now fair game for designing full web sites. There are many, many templates available for non-designers and programmers to use. In other words, it’s possible for a content person to “come over to the other side.” Cost, among other factors, has made it so.
Also, web consumers are becoming savvier about what works and what doesn’t. We don’t have that much patience for web sites that don’t work as we need them to. So it makes sense that those who are better at organization, usability, and writing are taking back their birthright.
And, as time goes by, we’ll see the gap narrow even more, as software and e-learning each accelerate. Certainly there will always be a market for technicians, but there will be a larger market for content people who can create anything from an electronic newsletter to an interactive web site at a much lower cost than is now possible.
My friend wrote back, “I hope you’re right. I’m just an old newspaper guy suspicious of technocrats and J-schools on principle.”
I say he and I will both be satisfied with the outcome. The medium will always be the message, and the message needs to be controlled by the many.
Italian cooking by Basecamp Productions
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Zemanta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How can I blog if I can’t write?
I hear this a lot, especially from people who run their own businesses. They might be plumbers, doctors, or geeks — no matter. They’re usually successful at their work, but don’t feel confident in their writing.
I give these folks a lot of credit. They already recognize the importance of blogging. They know that if they blog, they’ll be adding rich content to their web sites, and that Google “spiders” will like that and increase their ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). Google flat-out likes web sites that continually add new content — in most cases, Google figures you’re helping people understand your product or service better, and that’s a good thing. Stagnant sites rank low by comparison.
You can still blog if you can’t write. And by doing so, you’ll still add rich content to your web site, and you can do it every single day if you like.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Reblog. A service called Zemanta lets you take someone else’s content and “stick” it to your web site. You’re not violating copyright, either — you are simply creating a link to the story or article or blog. You can write a few words of introduction — or not. This little plug-in also helps you add helpful links and photos to any blog — Zemanta is a free plug-in for browsers such as Firefox and Safari.
2. Link to news or trade content. You can simply link to a website that offers news that you think your audience might find helpful. For instance, if you’re a landscaper, you could link to stories that get customers interested in their yards. You might offer stories from your local cooperative extension service, or a gardening club, or someone who blogs about lawns and gardens. It’s helpful if you add an introductory sentence or two, but not absolutely necessary.
3. Pay or barter with someone to blog for you. You’d be surprised at how well this will work for you — sit down with a writer and tell him or her what kinds of things you think your audience will be interested in, and perhaps your writer will have some ideas as well. What will sell your products or services? Consider a long-term arrangement, which will probably make more financial sense to you both.
4. Make lists and publish them. Making lists isn’t so scary, is it? If you’re a plumber, you can make a list of 10 things homeowners should check every year — or have checked (hint, hint), or 10 tools every homeowner should have on hand in case of a drip, or a flood. The important thing is to be useful. If people see that you’re concerned about houses and your community, and not just $65 an hour, they’ll respond. You’ve become human to them, and people would rather deal with humans than with web sites.
5. Be sure to set up tracking for your web site. This is the only way you’ll be able to measure the results of your blogging. If you’ve never used a web analytics program before, now’s the time to begin. You can measure the success of your key words, links, and other marketing efforts. The web makes ROI not only possible, but fairly accurate.
The important thing is to get started. Your business world is only going to become more competitive. It would be nice to start understanding now how to make progress in it, yes?
Let me know how you do!
No, I don’t mean sloppily or with bad grammar. For pity’s sake.
I do mean that you want to infuse your web site with the kind of verbiage your potential customers use when they look for your services. If you think they enter “great motel within walking distance of downtown,” then that’s the copy you need to put on your web page(s). “Near downtown” or “close to the mall” won’t do it if that’s not what your audience is searching for.
This news always seems to come as a surprise to my clients. I tell them, if you want to be found, write how your audience writes.
A couple of months ago one of my clients sent me a heated email. “You don’t write a headline as a sentence!” he snipped. Well, maybe not. But maybe you do if it helps you get customers. And in Google‘s (the 600-pound gorilla) world, writing the sentence “I need help with my taxes” in a headline counts for more than the same exact phrase in body copy.
And, note that this copy is written in the first person. People don’t search for phrases such as “Do you need help with your taxes?” Their searches are about THEM. So if you want to come up high in the search engine results pages (SERPs), pay some attention to THEM and their concerns.
In the copy I’d written for my client, I had said something like:
“I need help with my taxes.” (headline)
Is this something you say every year around April 15?
You get the idea.
But don’t overdo it.
You wouldn’t want to write something like this: “Every year, people say to themselves, “I need help with my taxes.” If I needed help with my taxes, I’d call a professional. Because when I need help with my taxes … (etc.).
Your copy has to sound natural, or you’ll lose your audience.
How do you determine your best search phrases? A good place to start is with your (successful) competition. If you have software that checks on key word placement, use it. The results may surprise you, and in a good way.
Your web site responds to attention and nurturing just like any living being. The more attention you give it, the better your search engine rankings.
You see, Google (and this is the 400-pound gorilla to pay attention to) figures that the more attention you give your web site, the fresher your information and the more useful your web site will be to people.
So, if you do nothing else to your web site other than spruce it up once a week, you’ll rank higher in search engine results than your (similar) competitor who hasn’t tweaked a page all year.
Here are some easy things you can do to freshen up your existing web site:
- Revise wording. Trim wording and make sure the important content is within the first couple of sentences. Use subheads with your keywords. Pick a blog and make sure it’s up to date. Things change, and maybe your understanding of a subject changes. Maybe keyword popularity changes. I have a client who’s a landscaper and hardscaper. There’s always something new we can tweak re: technology or plants. Or something else.
- Add SEO-friendly wording. A look at your competitors’ web sites may give you an idea of words and phrases that work. Or go to Google AdWords and run your own test. If you have questions, call me. I can make this process easy for you. 410.404.5559.
- Upload pictures. Pictures will also help to keep people on your web site (we also call this “stickiness”).
- Include additional downloadable information. Google looks very favorably upon .pdfs, for instance. When it sees you offering .pdfs, Google figures you want to help educate people, and education is tops on Google’s list.
- Start a blog. If you have a wordsmith on your staff, this is a no-brainer toward higher search engine results. Just address industry topics in simple, understandable terms. If you don’t have a wordsmith, you can still blog. Quote industry publications (giving credit, of course). Upload photographs of your products. Take questions from your public, and answer them.
There is plenty more that you can do to continually freshen your site. For now, aim to do a little something every week. And watch your stats go up. Oh, you do have a free Google Analytics account, don’t you? And a Google Business page?