Archive for the ‘Content’ Category

Thou Shalt Not Open Links in New Tabs

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Commandments of Web Design

Thou Shalt Not Confuse Visitors

Some sins feel good, but I don’t understand why making hyperlinks open in new windows is so seductive.

This act leaves so many website visitors befuddled (“The back button doesn’t work!”), or mistaken (“Pesky pop-up ad!”) that it should be avoided. Yet I spend more time than you can imagine explaining this.

That’s why I was glad to read in “Small but significant usability sins that websites should never commit” that this no-no tops the list there too:

Don’t open links in new browser tabs. Tabbed browsing is for advanced users. If you open a page in a new tab, most users will get lost, start clicking the back button, and then not understand why they can’t get back to where they started. Remember that they’re not focused on the chrome when they click a link, they’re focused on where they’re clicking. So it’s very easy to miss the fact that a new tab has opened.

The article is worth a read if you aim to put your online project on a righteous path.

[Photo credit: Observe the Commandments by Lawrence OP, on Flickr]

4 Essential Tests Before Beginning a New Website

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Thinking of embarking on a website redesign? The smartest place to start is by asking the people who use the site what they want. Now is a perfect time to embark on a new project, while you’ve got spring cleaning on the brain. Check out our series on how to spring clean your website for a fresh start.

Here are four tests and surveys you should conduct before you launch new project.

User Needs Survey

Set up a questionnaire survey to find out what your audience thinks is most important about your website. Take their comments into consideration for your needs assessment process. What those survey questions will be largely depend on your own organization’s directives. But a question like this might help you get started.

Please rate the value of each of these features, with 1 being extremely important and 4 being extremely unimportant.

  • Ability to log on to access premium material
  • A blog
  • Video clips that demonstrate how we work

You can request a free quick and easy survey template if you don’t feel like writing your own. Make sure to leave a comments space so people can add features they think might be valuable. This is also a good time to evaluate some of your current processes, like asking people how long it took them to receive feedback or how easy it is to make a donation or pay for an item.

Web Content Test

Having an appealing design is one thing, but having readable copy is another. (Be honest: how much jargon are you using?). The web design industry magazine A List Apart puts it this way:

Whether the purpose of your site is to convince people to do something, to buy something, or simply to inform, testing only whether they can find information or complete transactions is a missed opportunity: Is the content appropriate for the audience? Can they read and understand what you’ve written?

ALA gives helpful instructions on how to test the effectiveness of your content. Examples: try some readability software like Added Bytes, Juicy Studio, and Edit Central (or even Microsoft Word’s built-in Flesch Reading Ease check), or host a moderated reading test.

Accessibility Review

A website is only useful if everyone can use it. Paying attention to accessibility is good practice for all organizations–especially since good accessibility equals good SEO–and it’s a must if you’re a government agency. You can start with these Essential Tips for Making Websites Accessible, and then you might begin a “preliminary review.”

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative provides instructions for conducting a preliminary review of your website’s accessibility. In short, they recommend selecting a representative sampling of high profile pages (e.g., the welcome page) and those with different layouts and functionality, and testing just a few of those to see how well you’re measuring up.

SEO Audit

Making your website more friendly to search engines is a large but critical undertaking. The good news is any improvement you make is a good one. Schedule a search engine optimization (SEO) audit of your website with a few key goals in mind:

  • Are you using heading tags correctly?
  • Do you have a sitemap?
  • Is your content skimpy?

Check out the 9-Point SEO Checklist for more tips.

Open Letter to Board Members

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Hey, I get it. You’re a dedicated board member and you are invested all the way from your hair follicles to your bunions in your nonprofit organization’s mission. You want everyone to know how awesome your nonprofit is. For whatever reason, what comes naturally is to emblazon your mission statement everywhere you can: annual reports, brochures and, in a streak of misinformed enthusiasm, your website homepage.

Oh, no. No, no. You are sorely mistaken there. Your mission statement does not belong on your homepage. I would argue that thing shouldn’t be within throwing distance of your website. Your site is not a place where you need to talk about how you’re meeting your organizational vision. In fact, the words “vision,” “mission statement” and “statement of purpose” have no business anywhere on your website.

Why? Because nobody cares. I’m not trying to be mean here, there’s just no other way to say it. I guarantee the people you’re serving care more about what you’re doing for them than looking at your gobbledygook mission statement.

I’ll tell you now that no pregnant teen, no neglected pet, no activist, congregant, health worker, educator, mentor, counselor or any other type online audience member visiting a nonprofit’s website ever needs to know the mission statement. Not one!

I’m writing to you directly, dear board member, because you’re the unseen reverser of many a good decision about website homepages. I know this because in my work at a web development firm, I lead our clients through a painstaking process of identifying the most important information for the homepage. We look for something that will keep them there longer than 10 seconds. Too often a board member steps in during final approval to insist on the mission statement going front and center. So back we step.

Listen, I’m not a board member. I don’t know what goes on behind doors when choosing a mission statement. It could be a mixed martial arts battle over which words to choose (“innovation” or “enrich”? “Potential” or “realize”?). You might have bloody lips and bruises that prove your mix of bizpeak is the best. Respect, man. That’s got to be tough.

Still, though. It doesn’t change that no one cares.

So for pity’s sake, pretty please stop insisting your mission statement appears anywhere on your website homepage.

Respectfully yours,

Frustrated web developers everywhere

10 Horrid Words You Must Never Use (Plus, Win a Copy of Content Rules)

Friday, December 30th, 2011
Be a better blogger

Be a better blogger

Here’s a nauseating mix of nonsense terms that are far too common on the web, in blogs, in e-mail newsletters, in online training or in writing in general. They’re collectively called “Frankenspeak,” according to Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, authors of the book Content Rules. The term is described on the Content Rules book website as “convoluted text that doesn’t sound like it was spoken by a human, but instead sounds like it was created in a laboratory.”

Handley and Chapman have launched a campaign to ban these words and phrases from “marketing, sales, corporate communications, business schools, blogs and boardrooms.” Handley reveals what she considers the 10 most horrendous examples on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog. Take note whether you’re a blogger or in charge of writing anything, and never use these phrases again:

  1. Impactful
  2. Leverage
  3. Synergy
  4. Revolutionary (or innovative)
  5. Email blast
  6. Proactive
  7. Solution
  8. Buy-in (or other mashed up words like mission-critical or best-of-breed)
  9. Run it up the flagpole (or other ridiculous corporate-speak phrases like “eat your own dogfood” or “at the end of the day”)
  10. Nazi (when not actually describing a Nazi member, i.e., “brand Nazi”)

Looking for more advice on writing better? Check out 10 Commandments of Writing for the Web and request our free Perfect Blogging Checklist.

Win a Copy of Content Rules

Contest time

Contest time

[Update! Congratulations to Julie, who won the drawing for a signed copy of Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. This contest may be over, but you're still welcome to keep sending examples of frankenspeak.]

Make the leap from marketing-speak to respectable publisher on the web by following the advice in Content Rules, which you can win as part of Talance’s Customer Appreciation Month festivities. We’re taking the chance to say thanks for letting us work with you on your web and e-learning design and development. Entering is easy: just tell us below in the comments your favorite example of Frankenspeak, and your name will automatically go into the hat for the book drawing.

Note: If you want even more hand-holding, you should check out our grammar gaffes contest, where we’re giving away two hours’ free communications consultation with Kyla Cromer.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 30, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on Jan. 31, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Last-Minute 9-Point SEO Checklist for 2011

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

The last couple weeks of the year is usually down time in most offices, distracted by holiday parties and run on skeleton crews. We have a productive idea for making the most out of these last nine days of 2011: do a little something to improve your search engine results. We wouldn’t dream of taking you from those festive glasses of bubbly, so we’ve come up with a task-a-day SEO checklist that won’t overwhelm you but that will leave your website performing better in the new year.

SEO Tweaks

1. Know and use heading tags.

These are widely misused but can help visitors as well as search engines navigate your site. The W3C says, "A heading element briefly describes the topic of the section it introduces." This Improve the Web article has a great break-down of how you might use the H1 tag, suitable for people who are less than acquainted with HTML mumbo jumbo.

2. Swap out your outdated bold tags.

Search engines like Google scan through the text on your page for keywords – the words that best represent what the page is about. One of the things they look for is words in bold, assuming that you bold things that are important.  Bolds should use <strong> tags, not outdated bold <b> tags. The Spunky Jones SEO Blog has a nice description of why strong is better than bold for SEO.

3. Submit your site to some directories.

Don’t assume everybody knows your site is there already. Submit it to directories that address what you do. Library Spot has links to some of the most popular nonprofit directories. Don’t forget to look for directories in other countries.

4. Bookmark it.

You might already Tweet the heck out of your site’s articles or pages, but don’t forget other social bookmarking sites. Search Engine Journal has a wicked long list of 125 social bookmarking sites.

5. Add a sitemap.

Search engines use sitemaps to quickly find each page on your site. Add one. If you have a big site, make sure it’s automatically updated.

6. Beef up your content.

Search engines like meaty text. Make sure your site has an adequate amount of text instead of a few floating headlines. If your pages should be longer, go ahead and beef them up. Just make sure to optimize for easy reading.

7. Plan your blog.

The best way to keep the search engines (and people) coming back is to blog. If you don’t have one yet, take a couple hours and plan out some ideas for a new blog you can launch in 2012. If you do have one, still sit down and plan out some ideas for 2012. You’ll appreciate being organized.

8. Update your content.

Everybody – humans and search engines alike – hate old content. Conduct a search-and-destroy mission on old dates and duplicate junk on your site. Our Definitive Website Pre-Launch Checklist is a handy tool for systematically updating.

9. Don’t lose yourself in your quest to be Number One.

Listen, everyone wants to be number one. While it helps to be the first listing in Google, but it’s not worth obsessing over. No matter what certain SEO charlatans promise, it’s impossible to guarantee being listed number one. Just concentrate on building a useful site that works well, and more people will use it.

Free SEO Analysis Contest

Contest time

Contest time

Improve your search engine readiness with a free SEO analysis – a $600 value. If you win our drawing for a free analysis, we’ll comb through your site to tell you where you can improve your site for better performance on search engines.

How can you be entered to win? Just use the comments below to tell us about the next step you’re going to take to improve your search engine rankings (it’s OK to use one of the tips above – that’s why we wrote them!), and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 23, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on Jan. 24, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Get Out the Red Pen

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Or, Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?)

Consultant Kyla Cromer

Kyla Cromer

Guest post by: Kyla Cromer

If what I see surfing around every day is any indication, many people have a hard time writing in a clean, clear way, especially for the web. There aren’t any tricks to it, but here are some key concepts I try to use:

  1. First things first. Decide what to say and make the most important points first, in case your reader gets bored or distracted and wanders off mid-read. We all do it.
  2. Prepare for scanning. An oldie but goodie: use subheadings, bullets, and numbered lists when you can, in case the reader is skimming. We all do that, too. (More on why we scan.)
  3. Cut ruthlessly. When reviewing a draft, imagine you’re a cranky, very impatient person – your great aunt Edna, say – and ask, “So what?” after reading each bit. If there isn’t a good answer, cut it.
  4. Think small. Don’t use big words when small ones will do. They slow things down and increase the likelihood your reader will go find something better to do. “Gigantic” is more evocative than “big,” but “utilize” isn’t better than “use.”
  5. Write what you know. Avoid words like “evocative” if you don’t know what they mean. There are many free dictionaries on the web.
  6. Keep it basic. Skip the trendy terms and expressions, like “planful,” or “that said.” They can have more than one meaning, or be just plain wrong. Some readers will stop to ponder, be confused, or even go look it up. Keep them with you!

All of these points assume you will take time to write a draft or two. Or three. Do it! If possible, have someone else read your draft, too. If you can’t do that, take a long break – preferably overnight – and you’ll likely notice things that are unclear or unnecessary, and catch a mistake or two.

Last, notice I said, “key concepts I try to use.” Don’t drive yourself crazy – or someone writing for you – chasing perfection. One can’t effectuate that no matter what methodology is utilized.

Garbled Grammar Contest

Contest time

Contest time

[Update! Congratulations to Michael, who won the drawing for a free consultation from communications consultant Kyla Cromer. The contest may be over, but you're still welcome to keep sending your favorite pet peeves. It just feels good to vent.]

Need help with your copy? You can win a free clear-writing or site-review consultation as part of Talance’s Customer Appreciation Month, courtesy of writing and online communications consultant Kyla Cromer. Just add your favorite grammar pet peeve (sentences that end in prepositions, anyone?) to the comments below, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win.

Note: You can pick up more tips on terrible writing with our 10 Horrid Words contest, where you can win a signed copy of the excellent book Content Rules, written by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman.

Deadline for entries is January 2, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on January 3, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

BY KYLA CROMER

Kyla Cromer is a writer and editor who works on projects on and off the web, uses various types of social media, blogging and web content management platforms, and offers website consulting. She also provides tech support house calls for little old ladies in her neighborhood. Reach Kyla through KylaCromer.com, Twitter @kylacromer, LinkedIn or by emailing kyla@kylacromer.com.

10 Ways to Be a Jackass in Online Discussions

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Donkey del Sol

Please apply the following rules to discussion boards, comments entries, and Facebook and Twitter postings if you wish to raise collective blood pressure.

  1. Use all caps. I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MANY PEOPLE DO THIS EVEN THOUGH THEY’VE BEEN WARNED AGAINST IT FOR YEARS.
  2. Stay off topic, perhaps discussing the demise of the semicolon, one of the most misunderstood pieces of punctuation. You can use the semicolon to join two independent clauses that bear a close relationship; a period is sometimes just too much. Independent clauses can stand on their own as sentences, but a semicolon can bring two of them together. Wait. Where was I?
  3. Make it personal if you disagree with someone. As in, “You don’t like cilantro? You’re a pathetic and ugly sad sack.”
  4. Jump to the end of a discussion without reading the whole thing. That way you can make clueless statements or ask obvious questions that cause everyone to write you off.
  5. Slip little spammy messages into your postings.  (Seriously, though. Click here to read more about how you can be a better person for $9.99 per month.)
  6. Curse like a **** sailor.
  7. Make sure 2 use ur worst speling n grammar.
  8. Post irrelevant personal messages to everyone. (Andrea: doesn’t this remind you of the time you threw that flaming marshmallow at Travis’s head?)
  9. Be sarcastic. E.g., “Smooth move, ExLax.”
  10. Hit Submit before you’ve finish

[Image: Flickr user devittj]

Widget Worth

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

We never expected to spend as much time as we do building widgets. Increasingly more often, our clients come to us for Twitter stream sidebars, custom Facebook pages and Facebook Like buttons. We’ve known anecdotally that there’s a growing demand for these social media hooks, and now there’s justification.

Lijit, a provider of search, content delivery, and analytics tools for online publishers and networks, has just released a report that reflects how many publishing organizations rely on social tools blended into their sites. Many, many sites have widgets installed, implying that websites are not stand-alone and serve as a hub for more wide-reaching campaigns. Over the past two years, they found:

  • 2010: 735,834 sites surveyed, 84.8% with widgets installed (13,541,022 widgets)
  • 2009: 744,848 sites surveyed, 84.7% with widgets installed (13,826,562 widgets)

Why the huge numbers?

“To either make their sites better, or to give them more understanding about the readers that visit their site, or to make money,” says Lijit CEO Walter Knapp in an article in EContent Magazine, which featured the study.

The article outlines the wealth of social tools available for augmenting the site and also extracts key date from the study. A helpful benchmark in case you’re deciding whether you want to add a widget to your site.

Check out the top 50.

Top 50 widgets and tools implemented on publisher websites

Top 50 widgets and tools implemented on publisher websites

Definitive Website Pre-Launch Checklist

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Websites can have as many moving parts as a jumbo jet, so it’s easy to lose track of something. That’s why checklists abound here at Talance HQ. They’re one of the best ways we know to make sure we don’t forget something while juggling all the building, writing and planning pieces. We know that when it comes time to launch, it’s particularly easy to forget something important.

Below is a list of top items that can make the launch of any website easier and more organized. We’ll keep adding if we think of anything new. Did we forget something? Add it in the comments, and we’ll update.

Also check out our 9-point SEO checklist to help you show up at the top of those search engine results.

[This appeared in our January newsletter. Wanna subscribe?]

Copy

  • Spelling correct on every page
  • Check for typos
  • All pages reviewed and accounted for
  • Outdated content removed
  • Placeholder content removed
  • Check for consistency in writing voice, tone and style (including first person vs. third person, singular and plural, eccentric capitalizations and words like “website” vs. “web site”)
  • Non-spelling errors, such as old addresses, phone numbers, former employees, etc., corrected
  • Stylistic inconsistencies fixed
  • Terms of use updated
  • Copyright updated
  • Privacy policy updated
  • Contact information accessible on every page
  • All hidden copy checked (error messages, JavaScript functions, transcriptions)
  • Jargon removed
  • Content quality evaluated

Formatting

  • Most important info listed at the top of the page
  • Appropriate use of bold and bullets for easy scanning
  • No written text within images
  • Colors and typefaces consistent on every page
  • Each page format uniform
  • Images resized and consistent
  • Menus not overloaded with too many items
  • H tags used for headlines rather than bolds or size increases


Technical Quality Assurance

  • Internal and external hyperlinks work
  • Pages checked against WCAG guidelines
  • Private data secure (passwords, contact info, etc.)
  • Usability testing complete
  • Sitemap updated
  • Everything works
  • Important pages print OK
  • All old URLs point to new URLs

Accessibility

  • “Alt” attributes used for all descriptive images
  • Pages accessible
  • High contrast color used everywhere
  • Color and size used for critical information
  • Tested on most common browsers
  • Tested on mobile devices

Marketing

  • PR releases written
  • Social media launch campaign planned
  • Off-line promotion planned
  • Friends, colleagues notified
  • E-newsletter notification written and ready to send
  • Business cards, letterhead, envelopes and other printed material updated with new address
  • Voice mail updated with new address
  • Email signature updated with notification about launch
  • Link submitted to directories and search engines
  • Ads created
  • Blog entries planned or written
  • Marketing plan revised
  • SEO checklist completed

Support

  • Training completed
  • Extra help on website support procured
  • User feedback surveys written
  • Maintenance and update schedule created
  • Plan established in case of heavy traffic
  • Databases set to backup in case of roll-back

Fall Web Cleanup

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

[This little gem is the e-mail newsletter our subscribers just received. Want a slice for yourself? Sign up now.]

After a summer of pollen and yard games, the house and yard is in much need of a fall clean-up. Fall clean-up is time to clear out the cobwebs and fix items that broke over the course of the season.

Web projects also collect clutter, whether it’s a website or online course. While you’re in a tidy mindset from keeping up your house, turn your attentions onto your website. Here are a few easy things you can do to tune up your web project for fall and not lose your mind.

1. Solicit comments.

Ask members of your organization and your constituency for ideas of what they think needs improvement. You might be surprised to hear what people from the outside think.

2. Put together a clean team.

Cleaning up is much easier if you do it with a task force to share the load. If you are an army of one, just make sure to pace yourself.

3. Dedicate 30 minutes a day.

It’s much less disruptive to pick away. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you do a little every day, rather than taking off two weeks for a major overhaul.

Need more tips on how to keep your web project ship shape? Look through our blog archives for hints on maintenance.