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

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

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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

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

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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.

Choose Your E-learning Tools: Essential Dos and Don’ts

Guest post by: Robin Neidorf

If you’re asking yourself, “Is running a distance learning program for me?” then read on. Use the following as a checklist while you’re evaluating online education tools. It’s an excerpt from the book Teach Beyond Your Reach by Robin Neidorf. The e-learning guide takes a practical, curriculum-focused approach to setting up and running successful online classes. The guide for new and experienced distance educators allows them to develop and deliver quality e-learning courses and training sessions.

Do:

Ask informed questions.

Demo a tool before you commit to using it.

Try freeware or open-source tools.

Go for low tech whenever possible.

Ask potential students for their input.

Network with other instructors; ask them what they use; compare notes, success stories, and battle scars.

Keep up with changing technology; treat yourself to an occasional seminar or conference.

Stay open, creative, and flexible about your teaching.

Assume that you will find the right solution (although it may not be the one you thought you’d find).

Don’t:

Use technology for its own sake; it must enhance the learning and instructing experience or it will be merely distracting (at best) or a barrier (at worst).

Change your requirements, objectives, or audiences without keeping your partners (especially your technology partners) informed.

Assume everything will work as promised; test and retest (preferably with members of the learner population) before the course begins.

Ignore the unwillingness of your students to use a tool; sometimes they’re not just ready and you may need to take smaller incremental steps than you’d like.

Let failure or challenges discourage you from believing in the possibilities of distance education.

“Get married” to a particular tool or solution; it might not be all things to all situations.

Use the tool as a substitute for good course design and delivery.

Migrate content from one tool to another in a cut-and-paste approach.

BY ROBIN NEIDORF

Robin Neidorf is the author of Teach Beyond Your Reach: An Instructor’s Guide to Developing and Running Successful Distance Learning Classes, Workshops, Training Sessions and More (Information Today, Inc., 2006), soon to be published in an updated second edition. She has taught communications and writing through the University of Phoenix Online and has co-taught creative writing online through the University of Gävle in Sweden.  As a consultant, she has helped organizations develop and implement successful distance learning and self-paced tutorial programs. Robin holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Teach Beyond Your Reach Free Book Contest

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Contest time

[Update! Congratulations to David, who won the drawing for Teach Beyond Your Reach by Robin Neidorf. This contest may be over, but you’re still welcome to keep sending ideas for picking a learning management system or exercise ideas.]

You could win a free copy of Teach Beyond Your Reach as part of Talance’s Customer Appreciation Month, courtesy of e-learning pro and author Robin Neidorf. How can you be entered to win? Just add your favorite training exercise, lesson idea or experience to the comments below, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 16, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on Jan. 17, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Top 8 Places to Feed Your Inner Artist (Plus, Win a Gift Card and Travel Mug)

Here’s a little secret: web designers like to be bossed around. Nicely. Under certain circumstances. They like to be told of your color preferences. They like to know what styles of fonts to avoid. They want to know what things you find hard to use on the web and the things you prefer to visit.

One of the worst things a web designer can hear is, “I don’t care. Just make it look good.” “Good” is one of those enormously subjective words, the way some people think cilantro is “good” – ugh. Even if you don’t think you know what kinds of design elements you like, the chances are high that what a web designer thinks looks super may not be what you think.

You really do have preferences, even if you think you’re a design noob. You just have to learn to tap into them. Then, when you go to create a project brief, you’ll have somewhere to begin.

Where to find web design inspiration

Here are a few places for finding design inspiration:

Check your stationery for branding.

If your organization or corporation already has business cards, letterhead, a logo or anything with approved colors or branding, you should look here first for design guidance.

Look through random magazines.

Flip through a few magazines at the library or bookstore and focus on the design rather than the articles. Note typefaces you like, colors, pictures, layout – anything that grabs you.

Scan your environment for cool things.

You might have unknowingly cultivated a design aesthetic through the pictures on your wall and the stuff on your desk. Look at this interesting coffee mug photo contest, where you can see the beauty in a cup of joe.

Look through image sets on Flickr.

This enormous image database has not only photographs that might spark your interest, but also all manner of design projects, products and just about anything that someone else finds inspiration.

Check the design of other websites.

Look at other web design for inspiration. Note down what resonates with you, including overall design and good logo examples, and why.

See artwork in galleries and museums.

Check out the masters to see how they use colors together and what kinds of patterns they put together. We once built a website to match the architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Check for design in nature.

Nobody does it better than Mother Nature: the colors, patterns, textures. All wonderful fodder for design.

Read a few children’s books.

Kids’ books have masterful balance, color and content. You can use them to glean some great ideas from the layout and textures.

Web design gift card and super cute mug

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Contest time

[Update! Congratulations to Linda, who won the drawing for one of the cutest travel mugs on the planet. This contest may be over, but you’re still welcome to keep sending ideas for creative inspiration.]

Now that you’ve got some solid ideas of the kinds of design elements you like, do something with it.

Enter our drawing for one of these enormously cute Brewed by Talance travel mugs, and you’ll automatically receive a $150 gift card good for any new web design or update work from us. It’s part of Talance’s Customer Appreciation Month, where every week through December, we’re offering a new giveaway or contest.

How do you enter? Just add your ideas for how you find design inspiration in the comments below, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win the mug and will receive your gift card via e-mail.

Deadline for entries is January 9, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on January 10, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Enter now!

Get Out the Red Pen

Or, Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?)

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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

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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.