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Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback

by Elizabeth Saloka

You spend weeks writing your client’s site. And it pays off. Your messaging is dead on. Your copy is fresh, clear, and active. Deliriously tired but satisfied, you email the document to your client.

Two days later you get the document back. You open it. 

MAMA SAY WHAAAATTTTT?! 

She. Butchered. Your. Document. Butchered it! Using track changes, she reformatted your beautiful bulleted lists into gigantic paragraphs filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence. She added “dynamic” and “synergism” to the home page intro. As an overall comment, she requested you please “change all the links to ‘click here’, so people know to click.”
 
This feedback is bad. Very bad. But she’s the client. What do you do?
 
First, let’s clarify something.
This article is about dealing with bad feedback. Not dealing with negative feedback. Bad feedback and negative feedback are two different things.
 
Negative refers to how the client perceives your work.
 
Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work.
 
For my fellow visual learners, a chart:   
 

Now let’s talk about types of bad feedback—and how to deal with them.
Below, a profile of four popular types of bad feedback accompanied by coping tips: 
 

1. Jargon-y feedback.   
Your client: “I’d like the copy to be more delightful.”

You: “Sure! No problem! I’ll make it more delightful!”

Wrong move, buddy.

When a client uses subjective, vague terms in feedback, you MUST call her on it. Right away. Even if you know stopping to dissect and analyze her feedback is going to take extra time and effort. Even if you have to revise schedules.
 
In the long run, you will save time, the content will be better, and your client will be happier. Promise.
 
If you can, help your client see the flaw in her logic. If she wants the intro to be more “robust,” respond with an open-ended question such as, “What does ‘robust’ mean to you, exactly?”
 
Also, make sure you get examples—ask the client to email you “robust” copy samples. That way you have something tangible to work with. 
 
2. Vague feedback.
She says, “Looks great!!!” And that’s, like, it.
 
Your client read all 87 pages of your copy deck and had no changes? Riiiiiggghhht.
 
I’d bet my bellybutton this is what’s really going on: your client didn’tactually read your whole content doc. Or at least not thoroughly. She’s so busy worrying about the site’s design/other projects/her newborn octoplets she didn’t have time to read it.
 
So she’s cool with it. For now. That is, until her site is four hours from launch and she calls you for a boatload of last-minute revisions.

Do yourself and your client a big favor and make it very clear she needs to provide feedback now (remember, do so nicely!) or forever hold her peace.

Say something like, “I’m so tickled pink you went through ALL the content and you don’t haveANYrevisions. I’ll go ahead and send you the invoice and close out your project. It was great working with you!”

 
If she responds with, “Wait! Wait! I might still have some revisions!” you can firmly (but nicely!) remind her of the feedback process you agreed to when the project kicked off.

Tip: Include one or two questions using the comments feature in your document when you send it to the client. That way, if she gives you the ‘ol, “Looks great!” you can respond by asking if she had any further thoughts about your questions.

If she has no idea what you’re talking about, or if she responds with, “Oh, right. We’re going to have to change that,” you know she didn’t look it over thoroughly. Proceed with caution!

 
3. Contradictory feedback.

She says, “We only call ourselves ‘managers’ internally. Please don’t use that term in the copy.’”
 
You say, “Okay.”
 
What’s so contradictory about that, you ask? You’re right: It’s perfectly straightforward direction. Until you get your document back from your client and see she added ‘managers’ to the company tagline, home page headline, global navigation, footer, and image ALT tags.  

Clearly, you need to clarify what your client wants.

But, for the sake of your working relationship, you also need to be careful not to put her on the defensive or make her feel foolish. There are many ways to proceed. For instance, you could say …  

“Earlier you said I shouldn’t call you ‘managers.’ But throughout the document you inserted the word ‘managers.’ What exactly would you like me to do?”

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I guess. But doesn’t this just seem friendlier …

“Hey! Thanks for the feedback. I had one quick question regarding the word ‘managers.’ I see you’ve added it in a few places—is it okay to use that term now? Thanks!”

See? Nicer. Generally, clients like it when you’re nice to them.

 

4. Nonsensical feedback.  
Maybe she’s high on coffee. Or she prefers expressing thoughts verbally. Or maybe she’s been up all night watching Lethal Weapon and its sequels. Whatever the reason, sometimes your client will give feedback that, well, makes absolutely no sense.

“Could you please add another future verb to this entire beginning of copy paragraph? Thanks!”

Huh?

“I talked to Janice and she said Tom’s player copy doesn’t need any more action-oriented dropdowns (except maybe for twice?). Thanks!!”

Whazza who?

“Legal review. Stakeholders. Danny Glover. Thanks!!!”

Mmm.  

If you have no clue in sweet heaven what she’s talking about (it does happen), schedule an in-person interview with her—over the phone works, too—so you can walk through her, um, “points.”

Start by reading a couple of her comments back to her. Hopefully, she’ll stop you after a couple minutes and say, “Geez. I wasn’t making any sense! I meant to say blah, blah, blah.” Or whatever. If she doesn’t, hopefully you’ll be able to glean some insight into her state of mind through verbal cues. 

Finally, a request.

It’s easy to roll your eyes when a client gives you slick, vague, contradictory, nonsensical feedback. But you know what? She’s likely juggling a billion things, from wireframes to babies to Lethal Weapon DVDs. Your copy is just one of them. Cut her some slack. And remember, she’s not a writer. If she were, she wouldn’t need you.

If you’re willing to have patience and put forth a little extra effort, you can help your client. You can educate her about content best practices. You can show her examples of successful websites with great content. You can take time to really understand where she’s coming from, so you can put her feedback in context.
 
In the end, your content will be better. And your client will be grateful. So, what do you say, ‘ol chum?

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Personal pronouns: It’s okay to own your web copy

by Angie King

Using personal pronouns may sound like a simple, common-sense web writing best practice. Speaking directly to users with the word “you” is something most companies get on board with easily enough. But those same clients often ask us to avoid self-referential pronouns like “we,” “our,” and “us” in their web copy. 

Granted, sometimes there are legitimate legal considerations that keep companies from getting personal with their web copy. (I’ll get into these legalities later.) Other times, it’s simply a matter of being overly cautious or old-fashioned.
 
Why use personal pronouns in web copy?
In my experience, many larger corporations have trouble breaking free from the formal business communications style they’ve been using for years. But guidelines that limit the use of personal pronouns should be reconsidered now that we’re in the digital age. These days, content needs to speak to users clearly and directly. It needs to compete for their attention.
 
A simple way to grab your users’ attention is by using personal pronouns in your web copy. Why? Personal pronouns reflect the way real people write and speak.
 
For example, most of us don’t refer to ourselves in the third person. We use first-person (me, we, our, us) and second-person (you, your) pronouns in our email exchanges, Facebook statuses, and Twitter feeds—channels that compete for your users’ attention every day.
 
Using these first- and second-person pronouns on your corporate website will:
 
  • Help users connect with the content
  • Help users understand the content
  • Identify who owns the content
  • Make writing the content easier
What happens if you DON’T use personal pronouns in web copy?
Not using personal pronouns forces you to repeat your company’s name throughout your website. This approach creates awkward sentences that are tedious to read and to write. The repetition can also set off keyword stuffing alarms. At the very least, your website ends up sounding unnecessarily formal and stuffy.
 
Worse yet, the bland third-person pronoun “it” may creep into your web copy and force you into using awkward sentence constructions. For example, something simple like “Content strategy is all we do. And we do it well” becomes “Brain Traffic believes its focus on content strategy is an advantage.” Blech.
 
Coupled with company name repetition, “it” creates confusion around who is speaking. It’s hard to tell who owns the content when it’s written so generically. (Right?) And if you want your users to feel connected to your brand, it’s important they know you stand behind your content.   
 
When legal reasons prevent personal pronouns
Of course, sometimes there are legitimate legal grounds for not using personal pronouns. For example, we work with a few clients who sell cobranded products. Their legal departments strictly forbid the use of personal pronouns in order to avoid making sweeping statements about the collective “we.”
 
To illustrate what I mean, let’s say White Castle partnered with Holiday station stores on a special line of slider-scented gasoline. (Ok. That’s gross. But it’s the first thing I came up with from a quick glance out the office window.)
 
Anyway, if White Castle/Holiday created a website dedicated to this cobranded product, legal teams may advise against using “we/our/us” in the content. Value statements and “about us” sections get a bit more complex when cobranding. Maybe Holiday wouldn’t like being lumped together with White Castle on general statements about what “we” as a company believe in. Or, vice versa.
 
Large corporations with many divisions may also have legal concerns about using personal pronouns. Insurance companies are a good example. While Division A offers products similar to those of Division B, the products may have completely different rules and regulations restricting their features and use.
 
Let’s say Acme Insurance Company uses personal pronouns on their website when describing their products. If a Division B customer purchases a plan based on benefits they saw on a Division A product page, the customer may have grounds for a legal complaint. But by avoiding personal pronouns and only using the specific division name in product descriptions, Acme reduces their chances of getting sued.
 
So, to be safe, it’s better not to make broad “we/our/us” statements when there’s this type of product overlap.
 
How to prevent legal issues with personal pronouns
To avoid finding out the hard way, ask your client for any legal restrictions surrounding the use of personal pronouns at the start of the project. Because I can tell you from experience, going back and rewriting copy decks to eliminate all “we/our/us” statements is not fun.
 
When to use personal pronouns on your website
Unless legal guidelines prevent you from using personal pronouns, go ahead and get personal with your web copy. Using this type of plain language will make your web writing process easier. Even better, your users will more quickly connect and engage with your web content.
 
Personally, I think it’s a great style choice.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Thanksgiving is over, turkey: When to kill your darlings

by Angie Halama

My suburban neighborhood is pretty typical, with the exception of the 200-acre wooded park in the middle of it. I live right on the edge of the park, which means deer, ducks, pheasants, and turkeys roam near my house. And I enjoy that.

But a certain turkey has really started getting in my way. Literally. 

He often hangs out on the corner of a four-way stop. At first it was funny, like he was waiting for the bus.

Then, this weekend as I approached the stop, the turkey was in the middle of the intersection. I waited for him to cross the road (I see the joke here), but he had other ideas. He headed right for my car and proceeded to block me every time I tried to swerve around him. He was so close I couldn’t even see him until his blue head popped up over the hood and he "gobble-gobbled" at me.

It was ridiculous. And maddening. I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t about to get out of the car—turkeys are surprisingly large. And this one clearly had no fear.

I finally escaped, and then I called Animal Control, who said, and I quote, "We’re aware of the turkey."

Apparently, even the local news had heard about this traffic-stopping bird. Police hadn’t been able to catch him. They even hired a professional trapper. And guess what? His trap was stolen.

Why? Because the neighbors like the turkey. They’ve been feeding him. They think of him as their mascot. They’ve even called city hall to protest his capture. They love this turkey so much that they are willing to put up with the hazards and annoyance this turkey imposes on, well, me.

So. Do you have any turkeys on your website? Let’s discuss.

A navigation "concept"

Website navigation helps users find the information they’re looking for. Sometimes.

The Flash-powered navigation on thomasedison.org includes an impressively long list of Edison’s inventions. But it literally spirals and moves as you use it, and the font is so small it’s illegible. I want to know more about Edison, but the design is getting in my way.

Here’s another example: The tiny gray boxes at the top of the site for fashion designer Alexandre Herchcovitch may look sleek, but as unlabeled navigation they tell you absolutely nothing about the content—unless you click each one. (P.S. Incredibly loud intro music and no off button? Isn’t that against the law?)

Give me what I’m looking for
If you give me a text link, make sure that when I click I get whatever the text tells me I will.

If a "Read more" link on a "Project Management Courses" page goes to a video, that video should give information on course content. It shouldn’t just show course participants saying "hi." This is only interesting to the people in the video. 

And the video ending, showing a participant in his underwear and covered with Post-It notes, helped me decide to never sign up for these classes.

Show, don’t tell

Don’t fall victim to the "blah blah blah." Just give me the goods.

Ladder Golf site visitors are likely interested in ordering this new game or learning how it’s played. So the homepage doesn’t need all kinds of content telling them why the product is so great. Instead, move that animated banner demonstrating the game from way at the bottom of the page to the top, and give visitors what they want. 

Too much fun
If you’re looking for product information on the Beggin’ Strips dog snacks site, you’re in for some unexpected fun. Play games! Put a picture of yourself and your dog in a music video! Lots of fun—and no actual product info anywhere. Hmm. Bacon-flavored turkey? 

Why did the turkey cross the road?
I don’t care. Because it’s not funny.

Do you have turkeys on your website? No matter how fun, cute, or beautifully designed a turkey is, if it keeps users from getting to the information they want, then it’s causing an annoying, even aggravating, experience.

Think of it this way: Does anyone want a turkey getting in their way? No, they don’t. Trust me.  

 

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Posted in Content Strategy, User Experience

Members vs. guests: how to label users on authenticated sites

by Angie King

Recently, Brain Traffic Twitter friend Taj Moore (@tajmo) asked us for some advice about copy for authenticated websites, or websites that require registration in order to log in for firewalled content and/or functions.

 
Taj wanted to know our thoughts on what to call members vs. non-members, and logged in members vs. non-logged in members.
 
Taj’s question inspired quite the philosophical discussion around here. And by “philosophical discussion,” I mean: “really long email chain.”
 
We like Amazon’s approach to labeling members.
In short, we side with Amazon’s way of doing things. But, as it is with anything of value, it was the ride that mattered. Here’s how we came to our conclusion.
 
 
Are there terms to diff. bw member logged in and member not logged in? "Guest" not useful bc conflates w/ non-member.
 
…Or another tack: how about a word for guest/visitor who is not a member?
 
…b.c. I am leaning toward "logged-in," "logged-out," & "non-member" but thought you might have better insight.
 
Kristina: Let’s discuss. Who wants to go first?
 
Katie D.: Just call everyone Earthlings. We’re all just people, after all.
 
Christine A.: Is he asking about a user-facing label? I’d question whether there is any value in showing those terms to users.
 
I like Amazon’s approach. They use a cookie to identify users who have accounts, and ask them to log in only when they do something significant like go to their shopping cart. 
 
Amazon doesn’t tell people they’re logged in, logged out, non-member, etc. They just put the person’s name up there if the cookie is in place, or show a generic login link if it isn’t. They don’t need users to keep track of their own status.
 
If he’s asking about what the developers/UX people/etc should call it, it doesn’t much matter as long as they’re consistent and the labels identify clearly defined roles.
 
Elizabeth (her email passing Christine’s on the information superhighway from NYC):
 
I’d say, the first question is, how are these terms going to be used? Are they internal or user facing?
 
If they’re meant to be user-facing, they don’t really seem necessary. If the user is logged in to the site, you’d address them by name. If they’re not logged in, you’d probably call them a guest. If they’re a member who isn’t logged in, you can’t really know that. Not sure why it’d be necessary to label each separately, unless he’s talking about terms to be used internally …
 
Angie K.: Whoa. It’s like Elizabeth and Christine A. had a cross-country mind meld.
 
Elizabeth:  We’re Vulcans!
 
Twitter says…
 
Address logged in members by name. Everyone else, guest. Internally, use whatever labels you like. Just be consistent, please!
 
Yeah, we heart Amazon. But nobody’s perfect.
When not logged in, Amazon covers all of the bases—member, non-member, logged in, or not logged in. Check it out:
 
 
  • Hello—greets the user, whether a member or not.
  • Sign in—invites members to log on.
  • Start here—gives non-members the opportunity to create an account.
 
When you’re logged in, Amazon greets you by name and gives you the option to log off. Nice.
 
 
However, when I used our company’s login to do some office supply shopping the other day, “Not Brain?” had me giggling for hours.
 

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Posted in Around the Office, Content Strategy, User Experience, Web Writing

Behold, the mighty hive

by Kristina Halvorson

 Happy New Year!

 
(My New Year’s resolution was not to resolve anything this year. So far, I’m doing great.)
 
Say, I’ve gotten several requests for the "hive" diagram I use in presentations. It’s a simple, visual example of how web project team roles interact with one another.
 
This is it:
 
 skillset org_webprojectroles
(click to see full-sized image)
 
I found the diagram on Skillset.org back in ’08, but apparently they’ve pulled it down since then. So, as my gift to you, here it is. Wield it within your organizations at will.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

“Hand-Crafted Content” vs. the Machine: Betting on the People

by Kristina Halvorson

 I just finished reading Michael Arrington’s "The End of Hand-Crafted Content " (also published elsewhere as "AOL’s New Fast-Food-Content Strategy Means the End of Journalism You Actually Enjoy").

How. Depressing.

Since reading Wired‘s apocalyptic article,  "The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model," I’ve certainly spent plenty of time bitching about the lowering of our already low standards for web content.

Here’s a summary of how mass-produced content works: 

Pieces [(content to be created)] aren’t dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.
 

Then, the assignment is posted to a ginormous database; it’s accepted by a freelancer somewhere, who then throws something together as quickly as possible because he’s only getting paid, like, four dollars to create it. (Want to know what the best vodka in the world is? A random bartender from a random bar in Florida KNOWS THE ANSWER!) (Uh, you’ll have to sit through the ad first.)

So, in one fell swoop, Demand Media—and now AOL—are both flooding the search engines with awful, terrible content and gleefully commodifying the work of writers, videographers, editors, and other media professionals around the world.

I hate them. Oooooo, how I hate them.

But, you know what?

McDonald’s didn’t put La Belle Vie out of business.

Does McDonald’s make more money than La Belle Vie? Of course they do. They’re freakin’ McDonalds. But La Belle Vie is running a very fine, profitable business, thank you very much, turning out exquisite French food that makes me want to weep with joy. (Even their cocktail menu is extraordinary.) (No, I do NOT say that about every cocktail menu.)

You don’t have to eat at La Belle Vie to appreciate the metaphor. Not everybody wants McDonald’s, and nobody wants McDonald’s all the time. People go out of their way to find what will satisfy, even delight, their appetites. 

AOL and Demand Media (and dozens more competitors, I’m sure) are anathema to pretty much anyone who wants an even slightly obscure question answered online. But in the long run, I’m betting on people, not algorithms. Just because I clicked on your stupid video doesn’t mean I can’t use my back button.

p.s. Google, get on this.   

 

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Ask yourself

by Christine Benson

Do you really need that?  

As an Information Architect and HUGE Martha Stewart fan, I have unrealistic expectations about how organized my house should be. I periodically take on projects to get sections of my house in order. I approach them similar to my work projects, with audit and analysis, followed by designing a solution and implementing the structure. 
 
Early attempts at these projects would always stall in audit and analysis. I would come across the random things that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Unable to find a home or at least some friends for said item would paralyze me into inaction.
  
But I’ve since found a solution that’s made my projects finish without fail… I get rid of it. 
 
This doesn’t always work, but approaching a large organizational task by assuming that I will be getting rid of anything that is redundant or without a home clarifies the usefulness of the item and my emotions about it. 
 
If I truly cannot part with it, then it needs a home. Usually that home is a highly prominent location that allows for organization based off of frequent use, like a utility drawer.
 
I’ve since transferred this process to wrangling source content. When I’m left with the stragglers that aren’t like anything else, I consider a series of questions: 
 
"What will this information add to the experience?" 
"What would be lost if this information went away?" 
"Who would be affected if they look for this and can’t find it? 
"By including this information, will it get in the way of more important information?" 
 
If any or all of the answers to the above mean I need to keep it and there’s still no obvious home, perhaps I need to reconsider how I’ve organized things. 
 
If I don’t need to keep it, then it’s simple. It just goes away.
  
Useful, usable website content is not about providing every single piece of information that anyone could ever think of, but instead focusing the information that people are most likely to want and use.
  
Getting rid of extra stuff clarifies your message and makes it easier for the majority of people to learn what they came there for. 
 
So when you’re faced with leftover pieces of content start with "what if we got rid of it?" If you can answer that, the rest is much easier. 

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Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content

A little label love goes a long way

by Christine Benson

I’m currently seven months pregnant. Rather than developing nesting tendencies and actually cleaning my home, I have developed an addiction to reading craft blogs.

On many of these blogs, I’ve noticed the trend of labeling the comments section with something more customized than the standard "comments."
 
Here are a couple of examples:
 

not talking to myself

superCool

It’s a great combination of being human and still being useful. This small change demonstrates an individual’s voice, but also clearly communicates the goal of the section.
 
I also thought it was a great example of how content (rather than design) can show brand and personality. These are blogs that are built on standard templates, but with this one little change, I suddenly felt a connection to a human on the other end.
 
Added bonus? People seemed to comment on these blogs more than the ones simply labeled "comments" or "leave a reply".
 
Many companies are locked into template designs that they feel constrained by, resulting in lamentations about being unable to add a lifestyle image or change a font. These projects are often time-consuming and expensive. Neither of those terms are popular, especially in the current economic climate.
 
So, when half of the room is screaming for a redesign while the other half is screaming back about time and budget, consider focusing on how the content can improve your site.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Communicate clearly with online customers

by Erin Anderson

Writing error messages and instructional text isn’t exactly a sexy undertaking. Which is part of the reason it often gets left to the last minute.

Here’s an example of why that’s a really bad idea. I recently encountered this screen while reviewing my domain name renewal information (click on the image to enlarge):

Communicate clearly

I spent about two minutes here (which was about a minute and 45 seconds too long) trying to decipher the phrase “Bad username and/or password.” Because although I definitely had an account with the company, I couldn’t recall whether I’d previously activated my online customer service profile.

So I wasn’t clear on whether A) this was the place to create a username/password for that account and my entry wasn’t strong enough, or B) the username/password I entered simply didn’t match what I’d used to create the account.

Furthermore, I couldn’t tell whether the culprit was my username or my password, thanks to the clear-as-mud “and/or.”

Your users don’t notice your content unless it’s not working.
When you don’t take the time to carefully craft these seemingly dull and insignificant pieces of content, you end up with vague instructions and dead-end words like “bad.” And before long, you’ve got customers like me who are ready to jump ship. 

On the other hand, when this kind of supporting copy is carefully planned for and constructed, it disappears completely into the experience. Your users don’t even notice it’s there. And that’s a good thing.

Remember: Your users expect perfection online. Or close to it, anyway. Why? Because nobody’s there in person or on the phone to guide them as questions arise. Which means your content has to anticipate those questions and provide answers at every turn. Make sure you’re always one step ahead with clear, actionable copy.

So, make your content work harder.
If this all sounds like a big job, well, it is. Writers agonize over stuff like error messages, links, and headlines every day. Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet for writing killer instructional copy. Finding the right words depends on factors such as your audience, your business goals, your user needs, and your brand voice.

If you don’t have access to the kinds of metrics or processes that provide concrete insights, you can still cover many of your bases by asking yourself: 

    • What questions does our current copy raise as users are trying to complete a particular task?

    • What are the implications of changing this word or deleting this phrase?

    • In how many different ways could this message be interpreted?

    • How can we minimize ambiguity?

    • How can we simplify or streamline?

    • Would a graphic be more helpful here than a word or sentence? 

Even without tangible data to back up your changes, you’ll catch many of those careless copy oversights that frustrate your users and undermine business goals.

 

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Rupert Murdoch vs. the “Content Kleptomaniacs” and “Plagiarists” (See: Google)

by Kristina Halvorson

There’s a big fuss being made over the fact that Mr. Rupert Murdoch has said that his media empire will "probably remove our sites from Google’s index."

How DARE he hide his content behind the iron curtain of non-indexing?

Murdoch isn’t stupid. (Old and confused, yes. Stupid? Not so much.) He’s talking about making a seriously bold move, here, in the interest of keeping his empire from crumbling. So why are people freaking out?

It’s JUST WRONG. Right?
When the religion of the Web is that you can find anything you want, from anywhere, at any time, Murdoch’s plan is straight-up blasphemous.

With this in mind, our faithful interviewer asked, "One of the key, underlying principles of the Internet is that anyone from anywhere in the world can access information freely. Wouldn’t this change mean people have to afford it?"

Murdoch replied, "They’re already paying for newspapers. And anyone can afford a newspaper, they’re the cheapest things in the world. Electronically, it will be even cheaper."

(This cracks me up, because, of course, the majority of the world’s population either can’t afford newspapers or simply don’t have access to them …  at least, newspapers that offer unbiased, quality reporting.)

Here’s what Rupert thinks you should do.
Generally, Murdoch wants you to know that his content is actually Quality Content because he employs real reporters, real writers, and real editors who offer experienced, insightful points of view. Which, of course, is true. However, this argument also implies that people shouldn’t go looking for "quality content" on search engines. No, no. You should go straight to an established publisher’s website.

Unfortunately, the internets don’t care so much about the "should"s. There’s a reason Google gets about a bajillion times more traffic than every publication website in the world … combined.

More than anything else, Murdoch is counting on his current readership’s loyalty to his brands. He admits, though, that he’s not sure what that’s going to look like in five, ten, twenty years… which means that this ends up looking more like a Hail Mary pass than anything else.

Rupert, dear, you can’t kill search.
Online readers typically know what they’re looking for, and they want the fastest way to get it. They want to be educated or entertained. They want their questions answered, their lives made easier. They have the Google or Yahoo! or MSN toolbar built into their browsers. They’re going to use it.

Murdoch doesn’t seem to get this, or care. The rest of the world, of course, does. Including you. You’ve been obsessed with SEO and page rankings for years. You don’t have the option of breaking up with Google.

However, you also shouldn’t be so obsessed with Google that you neglect to remember this all-important fact: getting your content indexed by the search engines isn’t enough to win eyeballs that matter. Just because your users can find your content doesn’t mean you’ve won your battle.

Content first. Google second.
Here’s where you can take a page from our friend Rupert and start placing significant value on content people will care about. Editorial oversight. Quality research. Quality writing. These things actually do matter. They inspire trust and motivate action.

Getting to quality content is worth your organization’s investment: time, budget, people. Because once your readers arrive from Google, they’ll either like what they see and stick around for a bit, or lunge for the back button.

Remember, people: If you have a website, you’re a publisher. If you participate in social media, you’re a publisher. If you create emails, help text, product descriptions … you’re a publisher.

You may not be selling content, but your content is selling you. Google won’t solve your problems. Of course, ignoring Google won’t, either …  sorry, Rupert.

P.S.
I just have to add this little gem: In the interview, Murdoch says that public broadcasting should be of the highest quality, which commercial broadcasting can’t afford to be. Then he tells us that " most of the stuff [public broadcasting does] is stolen from the newspapers now. And we’ll be suing them for copyright. They’ll have to spend a lot more money paying a lot more reporters when they can’t steal from newspapers."

Old. Confused. Sigh.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing