Dramatic changes for SEO are only just beginning

I have a client who’s starting a comprehensive website update. Talking with him last night, I realized that he’s still back in the old days when you could win at the search rankings game by conducting SEO analyses of keywords and then stuffing your site with lots of pages with all the right words.

Of course, things have changed. Google continues to tweak its algorithms to give top rankings to sites with rich, organic content that is frequently updated. New products. Blog posts. Links to and from other highly regarded websites. Length of visits to the site. Video. Mobile-friendliness.

You can’t fool Google any longer.

And now there is another search system to take into consideration — this one’s for the proliferation of app content.

photo of Emily Grossman
Emily Grossman, with MobileMoxie, is an applications marketing expert.

A series of articles by Emily Grossman at Search Engine Land (which I found via Moz.com) takes a look at a whole new way of organizing web content — via app. It follows that if the content that people are trying to find online is organized differently (within apps rather than on pages) people are going to need different tools to search for that content.

That’s why Apple (lots of apps) has jumped into search (Google’s game) by creating a search API (application-programming interface) to organize app content for search. Google is hot on the trail with its own API.

Apple’s system is call Apple Search. Users will recognize the front end as Spotlight and Siri. Google, Apple’s system gathers online content using a web crawler (called “Applebot”) that finds and indexes information.

Grossman’s articles are aimed at programmers who are going to write app screens (the corollary of web pages) to be indexed by the Applebot. Thus, these articles are highly technical.

But if you are a content owner who employs programmers to create app screens (as well as web pages) you’ll want to:

  • Know this is out there, and picking up speed
  • Start considering your strategies for creating screens that are highly searchable

Have any of you started down this path? I’d love to hear about it.

Effective web content: Rethinking your About page

About Us pageI’m working with three clients on small-business websites and we’re getting hung up on the About pages.

So I went off and did some research on About pages (specifically for small-business websites). I found several types, each with their own benefits and limitations, and thought the information worth sharing:

  1. The “all facts” page. There’s nothing wrong with an About page that is, essentially, your resume. Facts make prospective clients and partners feel comfortable; facts (about where you went to school, where you worked, your skills, your past projects, a bit about why you do what you do) provide ways to connect your world with their worlds. The danger of an “all facts” page is its dryness. An about page that’s too close to a resume risks making your business look like something you’re doing while hunting for a “real job.” If you use an “all facts” format, try pruning the information to emphasize information that relates specifically to your business.
  2. The “too much information” page. I’m seeing a lot of About pages that make me feel as though I’m trapped at a cocktail party with an enthusiastic nut case. When people go on at length about how passionate, ethical, environmentally aware, and socially conscious they are, I get nervous. In part, it’s because they could be lying through their teeth. I’d rather look at their portfolio and their client list and their testimonials and see that these passions and commitments are evidenced in their work and in the clients and partners they choose to work with. The “too much information” page is often characterized by a regrettable photo of the business owner doing something recreational rather than professional — or, worse, a studio portrait that looks more like a brooding, self-involved artist than a business person.
  3. The “connections and keywords” page. This is a version of the “all facts” page that emphasizes not projects and experience but the business owners’  connections to clients, partners, educational programs, and professional organizations. It reflects the influence of LinkedIn, which uses a format that identifies you by these connections. This is a great framework to which you can add a bit of personality. Again, as with the facts page, you’d do well to give greater emphasis to those connections that have something to do with your business.
  4. The “short and sweet” page. These can be some of the best About pages. Given that most people will spend only a second or two looking at an About page, keeping it short (three sentences, max) vastly increases the chances that a prospective customer will actually read what you have to say about your business. If you say something that is genuine and moderately engaging, you’ll have achieved a huge win. Of course, there are a few About pages that try so hard to be cryptic, provocative, and clever with their brevity that they leave visitors scratching their heads.
  5. The “story” page. Storytelling was all the rage in online communication two or three years ago. I’m finding that, like many online communications fads, storytelling is rapidly losing its patina. That’s because so many people have abused it. They’re abusing it by telling stories that are inappropriate, boring, or pure fantasy. If you are determined to use the About page for your business website to tell your story, make sure there is a real story to tell. It should have information about who did what, when, where, and why. And make sure the story is about the business at least as much as it is about you. Most importantly, focus on what you’ve done, not on what you intend to do. You want to sound like a solid business person, not a dreamer.

Here’s are some observations by marketing communications experts on effective About pages and why business owners have such difficulty writing them:

What About…Me?

So…what type of “About” page did I use for WriterWay?

#3, the “connections and keywords” page.

Most of my business comes through referrals. I find that nearly every prospect who contacts me makes a reference to some client or organization they saw mentioned in the top third of my About page. We then go on to discuss that common connection.

People never mention any of the weirder stuff I have near the end of my About page, so my guess is that they aren’t reading it — I’ve got too much stuff on the page. (See “short and sweet,” above.)

Take it from whence it comes

I invite you to take a look at the blogs you follow, or at your Facebook timeline, and note who’s contributing genuine, new, first-hand information to the world and who’s just trying to get people to join an angry mob.

iStock_000002081921MediumI’ve been mulling over writing a post that analyzes the rhetorical devices used by online trolls to transform civilized discussions into conflagrations but have decided it makes more sense to talk about a tool that will keep everyone’s blood pressure under control. And that’s evaluating information based on the source from whence it comes.

I noticed a few weeks ago, after reading an extremely well-researched indictment of some bad behavior in a professional community to which I belong, that the discussions of first-hand information tend to stay relatively civilized.

When people report on what they’ve witnessed, first hand, or what they’ve discovered through systematic research, the comments tend to be similarly first hand. Even if the comment is “I completely disagree with you” or “Well, that wasn’t what happened when I lit a cigarette and leaned over a sparking engine.” Whether the tone is supportive or dismissive, it still comes across as genuine and informative.

It’s when people post long rants on blogs, on Facebook, or in community discussions about what they think about someone they’ve never met who did something at an event they didn’t attend to someone who is a friend of a friend — that’s when the comments tend to heat up. And I think that’s in large part because when we read that sort of post or comment we are seized by a subliminal sense that this person has no idea what they are talking about. It’s like sensing wide open spaces where pictures, sounds, and reality ought to be. And then, of course, there’s your own urge, which I’m sure is a deep-rooted instinct, to leap in and fill that wide open space with your own comments. Which may, sadly, be just as vaporous as the original post.

I’ve decided to start a one-person campaign to comment, positively and supportively, on posts that are based on first-hand experience. I plan to do this even in instances where I don’t think that the generalizations the person is making based on their one or two data points are justified. My rationale for giving support? They’re bringing themselves to the discussion, and that’s a good thing.

And, for my own sanity, I’m going to ignore posts that say “I heard that he said that she said that the-person-she’s-not-going-to-name did blah, blah, rant, rant, and rantforth.” In fact, if I see a series of these from one person, I’m going to quietly mute that person. That’s because, whatever their intentions, they aren’t adding much to the conversation. They’re just amplifying it and adding some unpleasant noise while they’re about it.

Note that the two exceptions my the plan are people (such as journalists) who have done actual reporting on the situation (“I called the business owner, and she told me X, Y, Z”) and people who did research on it (“I counted the number of reports of a particular occurrence during the past three years, and here are the numbers I came up with.”) They may have interviewed the wrong person, to your view, or they may have counted the wrong things, but they are adding actual information to the discussion. Information that any commenter can cite in their reply. “You should have calculated the mean rather than the median” is so much more helpful than “You and your cowardly cabal are obviously the scum of the earth.”

I invite you to take a look at the blogs you follow, or at your Facebook timeline, and note who’s contributing genuine, new, first-hand information to the world and who’s just trying to get people to join an angry mob.

Before you fall in love with your business card

Before you fall in love with your business card — is it readable by an OCR scanner? High-drama design can often result in low impact.

business cardsBefore you commit to a mad, passionate affair with your business card’s design, ask yourself: Is this readable by an OCR scanner?

OCR (optical character recognition) software now comes bundled with most home-office scanners. It’s no longer something for the sales person who goes to trade shows and comes back with 500 business cards. It’s for just about anyone who’s tired of the piles of business cards cluttering their desks.

I just popped a dozen business cards into my ScanSnap S1500M and was astonished at the results. They scanned in seconds, and in Cardiris software half of the cards transferred most of their data into the correct fields for a vCard that could be exported with one click into my Contacts application.

The other half of the cards yielded up no data at all. Zip. Nada. They might as well have been blank.


Because they had white type on a dark (or highly patterned) “artsy” background. (Note: It’s not just the Cardiris software; people report this with other common business-card scanning applications.)

The Dark Side of Design

So, do you want to be the graphic designer, building contractor, or editor whose email address and phone number are now in my database? Or do you want to be the one whose unreadable card I just dropped into my recycle bin?

In the world of business communications, high drama can easily result in low impact.


Stories. They’re what people remember

Stories are powerful. Stories are what people remember. So why don’t more organizations harness the power of their stories?

Father and daughter story
There’s a story here.

How quickly the news — of Robin Williams’ death, of the police brutality in Ferguson — turns into stories.

Give us a one-sentence headline, and almost immediately we find ourselves appending a story. A story about the state police official who stepped in to march with the protestors. A story about Williams stopping by a young comedian’s dressing room to give an astonishing private performance.

As Jonathan Gottschall explains, stories are powerful. Stories are what people remember.

Yet let marketing and development professionals sit down to their desks in a corporate setting, and what happens when they start to write? Well, they churn out dull grey platitudes and pompous marketing cliches. They purr over features, benefits, and selling points.

They write:

“HealthFix’s new consulting nurse service has won the best ratings in the region! Just one call puts you in touch with a degreed medical professional who can help you get the after-hours care you need. That’s peace of mind.” [add stock photo of beaming nurse with headset]

instead of:

“Jim Wilson’s story: ‘My wife was late getting home from work, I was trying to remember if we had guests coming, and then there was a scream from the kids playing soccer in the back yard. Had my daughter broken her ankle or was it just a sprain? I called the HealthFix consulting nurse service and within two minutes we knew just what to do.'” [add actual photo of Jim and his daughter]

What’s stopping you from reaching out to the people your organization serves and asking to use their stories?

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about what it takes to put stories — your own stories — to work for your organization.

What’s next in website design? Scroll down to see

Suddenly, they’re everywhere. Websites with big, bold home pages. Big headlines. Big, colorful backgrounds that evoke posters. No sidebars, ever. Want more information? Start scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Suddenly, they’re everywhere.

Websites with big, bold home pages. Big headlines. Big, colorful backgrounds that evoke posters. No sidebars, ever. Want more information? Start scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Take a look at Nordic Rubyscrolling website. And Grovemade.

This isn’t news to designers. But it may be news to lots of folks in Marketing and Communications who are working with the current industry standard template — a top nav; a photo slideshow; three “boxes” filled with teaser information linking to pages deeper in the site; and secondary pages with complex sidebars.

What’s driving the change

Blame the trend toward scrolling sites on mobile devices and tablets (and their touch screens). By late 2013, 28 percent of website visits were from mobile devices (phones and tablets) and that percentage was growing at a phenomenal rate. For businesses whose visitors are in demographics that rely on phones and tablets, the percentage is likely far larger. For the mobile visitor, clicking little text links on a touchscreen is painful; scrolling, a breeze

What’s gained, what’s lost

My experience with mobile-friendly websites that rely on scrolling is that the process of getting information from them is less hierarchical and more immersive. I get a sense of the personality of the organization. If I need to click to get to a secondary page, the link is a large, bold button.

That said, I miss the hierarchy. Without a detailed site map or drop-down navigation, it’s easy to feel that you’re lost and overwhelmed.

Perhaps that’s why some of the most appealing scrolling sites are ones that represent simple, discreet events (such as a conference).

Looking ahead

Thinking about migrating your organization to a scrolling website design? These 12 scrolling sites featured on  awards.com provide plenty of inspiration. Be sure to check out the Unfold site — it’s a continuous loop!



Ignite Seattle — 15 talks and one wedding

Karen Anderson ignite talkThe videos of the May 22 Ignite Seattle talks are up on YouTube — 15 5-minute talks (including mine) and one 5-minute wedding.

I’ve created a page about my talk on “What You’ll Wish You’d Known Before You Joined that Nonprofit Board” with the YouTube video and information about longer versions of the talk that I have developed for conferences and trainings.

The talk has been getting tremendous buzz on Facebook.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite: It began in Seattle in 2006 with an evening of 5-minute talks at a community theater space. The motto is “enlighten us, but keep it quick.” Topics range from urban bee-keeping to finding the right school for your kid to songwriting. There’s a definite “how-to” theme.

The gatekeepers are careful to discourage anyone from making a thinly disguised sales pitch for their business or organization.

There are now Ignite events all over the world. I spoke at an early Ignite Seattle (2007) on “Ten Tips for Survival in the High-Tech Workplace” and realized about a year ago that I wanted to share some of my more recent experiences with nonprofit boards.

Misogyny and messaging: Where it’s coming from

Can you imagine a user manual for a product that tells you “If something goes wrong and you try to tell us about it, we won’t believe you. We’ll tell you ‘That’s ridiculous!’?” That’s the message we’re giving young women about their relationships with men.

Can you imagine a user manual for a product that tells you:

  • If something goes wrong and you try to tell us about it, we won’t believe you. We’ll tell you “That’s ridiculous!”
  • If something goes wrong, you tell us about it, and we believe you, we’ll immediately stop listening to you and start telling you why it’s all your fault.
  • If something goes wrong and we find out about it, we will punish you.

And yet that’s the user manual that many parents, teachers, and adult authorities give young women when it comes to handling their relationships with men.

The user manual we give to young men isn’t much better:

  • If something goes wrong and you tell us about it, we’ll laugh at you.
  • If something goes wrong and we find out about it, we’ll tell you to “man up.”
  • If something goes really wrong, however, don’t worry about it because we understand that it’s always someone else’s fault and they should buy you a brand new product. You’re entitled!

(NOTE: I’m a tough, pragmatic person. I read the user manual for girls early on, and realized that I was pretty much on my own to develop some good judgment and defenses. My long-term relationships have been with kind, principled men; my encounters with jerks have been few. But, on those very few occasions that I encountered a stalker or an attacker and turned to people for help, I was pretty much handed the ol’ user manual and put on hold. I won’t go into detail about any of these experiences because, as the user manual explains, there are still plenty of people who’ll believe it’s my fault that anything bad ever happened to me.)

parents and teen, misogyny and messagingAs a communications person, I’m puzzled as to why more people aren’t asking where young men and women have come by the attitudes that I’m hearing bemoaned in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara murders. There’s a lot of muttering about “society” and “the media” but I’m not buying it. Sure, the ideas from my “user manuals” are pervasive in the media. But, sadly, I find that most parents, teachers, and workplace advisors are the most egregious proponents of user manual philosophy.

I hear a girl mutter that she doesn’t want to go out with a boy because she thinks he’s creepy. Her parents reprimand her and argue that  “Oh, he’s a very nice boy.” and “Oh, he’s Mrs. Johnson’s nephew.” — in effect, telling her that her perceptions are all wrong. I hope that somewhere a mom or dad is asking “Why do you think he’s creepy?” and listening to the answer — listening, instead of leaping in and barking “Well, then you need to stay away from people like that!” and “I don’t want you hanging around at that mall!”

Parents I’ve talked with about these frustrating situations insist that they’re reduced to barking because their kids won’t listen to them. Listen to them? Often their kids aren’t even talking to them. I have a good idea why that’s the case.

Again, putting on my communications hat, I hear parents arguing with their teenage daughters in a way that completely undermines the parents’ credibility. Their “arguments” wouldn’t hold up for a second in a business environment, so why should a wary teenager be convinced by vague, self-serving statements like:

“I just don’t like that boy.”

“I think his family seems a little…odd.”

“I just think you could do better.”

In business communications, people are impressed by facts. Teenagers are, as well. I’ve noticed that an adult is likely to get a glimmer of recognition, or plant a seed, with observations like:

“I’m concerned about the way he treats his dog. It was limping.”

“I’ve noticed that he’s usually late.”

“I heard what he said about your friend Susan. She was upset and embarrassed.”

Even if the reaction is vehement denial, the picture remains.

Another reason to use frank, clear language with teenagers (and younger children): It gives them a vocabulary to talk with you about what’s going on in their lives.

In 1981 I heard sex educator Dr. Mary Calderone address a large audience of pre-school teachers, social workers, and police on the topic of sexual abuse of very young children. Teacher after teacher stood up with stories about children who begged the teacher not to let “Uncle Bill” drive them home from day care, or who attempted adult sexual behavior with their puzzled peers. What, the teachers asked, could they do for these children? How could they start a conversation with parents or social workers about…you know…sex.

Calderone said that the first step was to be clear and concrete in the language they used with children and adults.

“Call a spade and spade, and a penis and penis,” were her exact words. She pointed out that it was unlikely that children would be able to tell an adult what was being done to them if the adult got upset and punished them for using the words to describe their experiences.

There was a general nodding of heads in agreement. But as the discussion continued, not a single teacher in the room could bring herself to say the word “penis.” And my guess is that, at the end of the day, one of them once again turned a frightened child over to “Uncle Bill.”

The child got the message that no one wanted to hear about his or her frightening experience, and “Uncle Bill” got the message that he could just keep on molesting children.

Let’s rewrite the user manuals, folks.



Getting control of your content: The Language of Content Strategy

The Language of Content Strategy bookOrganizations acknowledge the tremendous value of their content — content being anything and everything customers encounter along the way to the product, from ads to websites to printed packaging and user manuals. Whether an organization’s product is an energy-efficient appliance or a soccer camp for kids, content is what helps people find it, buy it, figure out how to use it, review it, and recommend it to others.

Managing content — video, photos, audio, brochures, packaging, user manuals, sales training materials, and customer service documents — constitutes major work at any organization. Or at least it would if people did it.

In my experience, most companies don’t. Instead, various tribes within the company create pieces of content in the absence of an overarching organizational content strategy. This is why a company’s flagship product is called “Wonder Widget” in the video and “Widgetarama IIZ” in the catalog. It’s why the brochure, website, and tradeshow banner have the company name in three different fonts — one of which is Comic Sans.

CEOs often accept out-of-sync content as inevitable. Which is really sad because they could dramatically improve not just content but marketing return-on-investment and customer satisfaction if they had a content strategy in place.

Recommended reading: The Language of Content Strategy

The Language of Content Strategy by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie provides an essential tool for getting a grip on content and developing a content strategy. The 130+ page book from XML Press is a glossary of 52 key terms from the content management field. Each term comes with a definition from an expert and a succinct, one-page explanation of why a content strategist needs to know about it.

Some terms (like editorial calendar and style guide ) are familiar. Others (folksonomy and augmented reality) may have you raising your eyebrows. My guess is that you’ll recognize a lot of communications issues and problems you’ve encountered in your organization described in terms of content management solutions. These range from supporting a product simultaneously in several international markets (globalization) to developing content that can be used for a variety of projects (single sourcing) to determining who, internally, owns communications/content strategy (governance). I particularly liked message architecture, which is a key part of maintaining your brand’s tone.

The book is intended to enable content professionals “think big about content” — to engage with others in the content community, and sell their strategic plans to colleagues (and, one hopes, to management).

It can’t happen too soon.



Storytelling for Social Media

Perhaps the biggest challenge for PR professionals today is sharing the stage with all the other people trying to tell a version of the corporate story — from Marketing and Customer Service to employees, customers, and indie pundits.

social media geek
Social media seven years ago. How things have changed.

For the past seven years, I’ve been a guest speaker for the Certificate in Public Relations & Strategic Communications program at the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education division. I do a presentation on social media — which seven years ago consisted of talking about blogging on LiveJournal and Blogger and setting up a profile on MySpace.

How times have changed.

Tonight I talked about the institutionalization of social media. I suggested that social media has matured and become increasingly complex. Strategic analyses of audiences, organizational resources, and the current proliferation of social media platforms, are essential. So is investment in the technology and training necessary to take advantage of sophisticated social media tools.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for PR professionals today is sharing the stage with all the other people trying to tell a  version of the corporate story — from Marketing and Customer Service to employees, customers, and indie pundits.

I’ve posted a PDF of my Keynote slide deck “Storytelling for Social Media” for the students in Lee Schoentrup’s class.  Everyone else is welcome to take a look at the deck, though I’m not sure how much sense it will make without the accompanying song-and-dance.

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