Monday, October 28, 2013 11:54

“High-quality web content that’s useful, usable, and enjoyable is one of the greatest competitive advantages you can create for yourself online.”

― Kristina Halvorson, Content Strategy for the Web

Plain Language and Clear Communication

Friday, October 18, 2013 18:21

Last week I had the fortune to attend the Plain Language Conference (PLAIN2013) that was held here in Vancouver. I have to admit that I had never heard of the plain language movement, but after this great event, I certainly do now.

I met a lot of very interesting people from different backgrounds, including one of the plenary speakers, the highly entertaining and informative Dr Neil James who is the Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation based in Australia. In essence, the conference was an opportunity to meet and hear from plain language advocates. So just what is plain language?

Plain language is also often referred to as clear communication, and as these names imply, focus is on trying to craft easy-to-read and consume documents. The following is a slide from Dr. James’ presentation and it explains it in more depth:

Definition of Clear Communication

 

 

What was enlightening (and reassuring) about all the talks I attended is that I realised that this is what I am trying to teach my students and also trying to apply to the work I do for my clients. I just didn’t know it had a support group.

Although there was a volume of information, all the talks I went to taught me something new, and I came back inspired and more confident in what I do. I especially enjoyed a talk by Rachel McAlpine, an author, teacher, trainer, and generally all round fabulous person. She spoke about her experiences as a writer, trying to bridge the gap of what she calls “joy writing” with “work writing” and how one can feed the other. It was a good reminder of needing to slow down, feed one’s passions, and not let the ‘everyday’ get one down. Good life lessons.

Some of the ideas and information I absorbed included information on  rethinking how people read (getting rid of this polarization of good and bad readers and adding an intermediate level), needing to accommodate mobile users, and being aware of the stories of those around us.

I came back brimming with ideas and inspiration, a ton of excellent resources, a great sense of reassurance that I know what I’m doing, and  some new friends to top it off.

For more inspiration about plain language, you should check out this TED talk by Sandra Fisher-Martins, titled “The Right to Understand” and you can also access speaker videos, presentations etc, from the PLAIN2013 website.

Geraldine

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration When Blogging

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 17:48

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to start by reading other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? What makes you want to keep reading?

Once you have built up some ideas, then start writing. Ensure you use your own voice in your blog and focus on writing something that you could imagine yourself reading. Start a list of topics so you don’t run out of steam and keep practicing.

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list of blogs that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for a recent Tech Writing Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

 

How Long Should Your Resume Be?

Monday, August 12, 2013 10:00

Cartoon about resumesSomewhere along the line, we were convinced that there is a set length to a resume.  I remember how adamant a student of mine was once about keeping her 1-page resume format, despite it looking cramped and sounding incomplete. Others have shuddered at the thought of condensing their 3-page resume. Some recruiters insist two is the magic number. So what’s the ideal length? I would say it depends, much like the resume as a whole, on your preferences and what you’re applying for.

Length ∝ Job

One of the biggest mistakes people make with resumes is not to customize to the job, and length is part of this. I would argue that the length of your resume can be directly proportional (∝) to the job you’re applying for. If you’re fresh out of college and applying for an entry level position, then 1-page works well. If you have more experience, and it’s all relevant, then make it 1 1/2 or 2. If it’s executive level, then 3 could work.

However, I would also argue that it depends on the industry and the company. Perhaps, even for a high level position, a 1-pager would make more impact – it states the highlight of your career  and it guarantees the reader will absorb more information more quickly. After all, with a wealth of experience, what could you give other than core benefits your skills would bring to the employer? I think that if you’re applying for an unsolicited job (i.e. there is no ad, but you’re submitting your resume to a company you really want to work at), then perhaps a 1-pager also makes the most impact;  a teaser that says “call me if you want to know more”. 

Philip Berne, in his blog post titled The Zero Page Resume, discusses how we may be heading towards online resumes – no pages at all, but formats like LinkedIn to replace the traditional version. If you’re running a smart self-marketing campaign through social media, then much of your resume should be online already (think LinkedIn). Personally, I feel like a combination is ideal. Again, you have to look at the industry expectations, the information preferences of the reader, and what type of job you are applying for.

You vs. “They”

Regardless of what “they” say (including me 🙂 ), I think you have to decide what best represents you and what you think your readers will expect and need to see. And above all, follow the job ad guidelines to the letter – they’re telling you what they want, so give it to them. Don’t include every single job you’ve had; include the most relevant and get around the date gaps by using “Related Word Experience” or “Relevant Work Experience” as your work section heading. Tailor to the ad, the company, the industry. Highlight measurables. And edit, edit, edit.

Remember that these days recruiters scan through resumes very quickly (and they may be scanned by machine beforehand or after to look for keywords), so don’t overwhelm the reader with reams of information. Choose your highlights. And go with the length that works for you.

Geraldine

Using Operators to Determine Keyword Popularity

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 10:44

An alternative or perhaps companion to keyword research tools, operators can help you identify the popularity of certain keywords and keyword phrases when you are optimizing a site. Although very limited in the level of information you receive, I find them a quick way to check for popularity, as you simply type in a word before your search term/keyword phrase into Google and hit ‘search’ to get your results.

There are three main types of operators you can use:

1) Allintitle This operator tells you how many web pages globally have the same keywords listed in their title tags.

E.g.  “Allintitle: thai restaurants” is typed into the search field. The SERP then reports back that 744,000 web pages on the web contain both these words in their title tag.

Using Operators for Keyword Popularity

2) Intitle: This works the same way as Allintitle, but shows all web pages that list any of the keywords. So in the example above, if you used “intitle:” instead of “allintitle:” the SERP would reflect all websites that contained either the keyword “thai” OR the keyword “restaurants” in their title tags.

3) Allinanchor: This operator allows you to see how many links on the web are using the specific keywords.

If you’d like to know more about using keyword research tools for SEO, I recently wrote a post on the new Google Keyword Planner and how it differs from the Keyword Tool.

“Suiting Up” Your Language

Monday, July 29, 2013 10:00

Image of Edited GraffitiA video a friend recently sent me in which Stephen Fry decries “pedants” had me thinking about language. While I would not describe myself as a grammar Nazi (others apparently do 🙂 ), and as much as I delight in the deliciousness of language (particularly cuss words; yes, I know, a filthy habit), I do still think there is a time and a place for good grammar and professional writing skills.

I have definitely become aware of amusing or infuriating mistakes in the world around me more because it is part of my job (not to make them, of course, but to correct them). I have also become more aware of the decided decline in correctness. And then there’s the fact that I’m constantly torn between Canadian and British/South African spelling…. But most disturbingly, I have become more aware of how little people seem to care about the impression this all makes on others – particularly in a business context.

I was grabbing a coffee on my way to work today and I overheard the manager of the coffee shop interviewing a candidate. I couldn’t believe how many times the interviewee said “like” and “whatever”. Even for a coffee shop job (and perhaps even especially for a coffee shop job where you deal constantly with the public),  sounding professional is vital. The interviewee came across as very young and not particularly clever as she answered the manager’s questions. While I am sure the young lady is perfectly capable, she really didn’t seem it in her answers.

I do not mean to infer that this is only a problem with the young. And I do know that given my profession, I am perhaps more acutely aware than others, but I see this sort of informal/haphazard/unprofessional communication in both the written and the oral communication around me. Heck, even on the evening news… and even in the communications I receive at work (at BCIT and through my own business, as well as in other previous situations). When I was helping to find a candidate to replace me at my job at Wordtravels, for example, I was astounded at how terrible the spelling, grammar, and general writing skills of the applicants were – and this was for a writing and editing job!

I’ve read so many reports that say hiring managers will not call someone for an interview if they see even one spelling or grammatical error in a resume or cover letter. I’ve spoken to professionals who say they will not promote someone who doesn’t have excellent written and oral communication skills. And yet the more we use social media, texting, the tiny predictive text keyboards on smartphones, and even email as our primary tools of communication, the worse we seem to get.

I’m not sure what the cure is, but it’s vital to remember that just as people’s first impressions can come from what you look like, they can also come from what you sound like. And you always need to adapt your message to your audience and context. So while you’re putting on that business suit for your job or a job interview, don’t forget to “suit up” your language too.

Geraldine

Google Adwords Keyword Tool Becomes Keyword Planner

Friday, July 26, 2013 12:50

I Google; therefore, I am. If you use the popular Google Keyword Tool for SEO and keyword research for websites and ads, you may have noticed that there’s soon to be a shift to the new Keyword Planner. Similar to its predecessor,  Keyword Planner allows you to create keyword lists as well as ad groupings, but it’s not too hard to see that Google seems to be trying to push users towards creating ads and buying keywords as opposed to simply using the tool for organic SEO. This makes sense seeing as that’s how Google makes more money…

How is Keyword Planner different from Keyword Tool?

As the name suggests, the focus is on planning out whole AdWord campaigns, with an emphasis on keyword searches along with traffic estimates. Some of the main changes seem to be around the statistics on searches.You need to add your keyword ideas to your overall keyword plan to get more information and traffic estimates. The good news is that you get more data – instead of a default of search estimates for desktop and laptop users only, the new functions include all mobile users and tablets too, which makes sense in terms of today’s web users.

Keywords From Webpages Removed

Something that I really like with the Keyword Tool is the ability to look at what keywords already appear on a site (especially useful if I am trying to update the content on a website and want to know what they already have). This has been taken off the main interface. Now, to get this information, you need to download your historical statistics from the Keyword Planner and it will then give you that data.

Local and Monthly Searches Replaced

Of course one of the main elements of organic SEO, as well as ad campaign choices, is to review local and monthly searches to get an idea of how the keywords perform. This has been replaced with “average monthly searches”. The focus seems to be on nano targeting. You can still get global monthly searches if you select to target all locations, but now you can get a simplified version of this information. The average monthly search function allows you to pick specific targets (e.g. countries, cities, or regions) to help create more accurate keywords. You can also still get local search volume trends, but this is also only when you download your historical statistics. It does seem like the changes are making the process a little simpler, though in playing around with the tool, I get the impression you see less upfront.

Other Changes in Keyword Planner

Some of the features that have been removed from the Keyword Tool include the Search Share column and the Ad share column (according to the Keyword Planner information page, Google is working on a replacement for the latter). Another change is more accurate  CPC (Cost-Per-Click) data. Instead of “approximate CPC” – the Keyword Tool version, Planner has an “average CPC” column, making this data more specific and, therefore, more useful for ad campaigns.

Keyword Research With Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner still works well for keyword research as it still allows you to get ad group ideas as well as individual keywords and keyword phrases, but it operates more on a selection – Google likens it to a shopping cart idea. You can pick the words you want to use and add them to your overall plan. You can then build lists and the tools are able to do automatic combinations. For example, you may have a list of locations and then a list of keywords that you want to combine with those locations (e.g. real estate agents and the cities they work in). Keyword Planner can combine these and generate a list of suggested keyword phrases based on your separate lists (e.g. real estate agents Vancouver). The instructions on the Google Planner information site explain exactly how to do this. I foresee this as a great time saver as you can then get traffic estimates and statistics for these new phrases.

Analysis of Keyword Planner

So is it a good change? I don’t see it as being too different from the latest incarnation of the AdWords Keyword Tool, though it may take a bit of time to get acclimated to the changes and the concept of keywords first, data after, as well the ‘shopping cart’ concept to build keyword plans. I look forward to exploring it and seeing whether it really improves my organic SEO campaigns. I like the idea of being able to get more specific with targeting and that there seems to be a less is more approach to the layout and set up. I also think that, as the name suggests, rather than just doing research with the tool, you can build more of a concentrated plan for your SEO.

Only time will tell, though, and I still suggest that no matter the tool, always default to the number one rule of SEO – write for people, not search engines.

Geraldine

 

 

 

 

A little meerkat news… (or three)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 11:05

bristol-zoo-welcomes-triplet-meercats-20130723-113729-100Meerkat triplets were recently born at the Bristol Zoo – for some adorable pics:

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/photos/meerkat-triplets-at-bristol-zoo-slideshow/

Tips for Blogging Inspiration

Monday, July 22, 2013 14:13

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, and “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to read other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? But ensure you use your own voice in your blog.

Look at how the bloggers connect with their readers (or don’t), how they use language, but also how the posts themselves are set up in terms of how they look. Are the titles effective? Are they tagged and categorized clearly? Is the message engaging?

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for their Technical Writing Program’s annual  Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

What are Tags and Categories in Blogging?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 10:32

Let’s face it, the odds of becoming a famous blogger are not really in our favour, but ultimately with any social media and online interactions, it’s about the quality of your communication, not the quantity. However, if you are trying to get your blog  read and attract followers, then you need to do what you can to help potential readers find your posts. Enter tags and categories*.

What are Categories?

Adding Tags and Categories on WordPressWhen you write a blog post, categorizing it allows you to connect it to a list of topics/subjects/categories – rather like an index in the back of a book.  Think of it as you “filing” your posts under key words that readers might search for (e.g. Blogging Tips); essentially you are optimizing your posts for search engines. If someone is searching for a particular, broader topic, and if you’ve categorized your posts effectively, then they are more likely to find your blog/posts. Personally, I also like to categorize my posts under my full name, the blog’s name, and my company name. If any one searches for me or my company, then they are more likely to also get the option to view my blog.

Remember that the default is “uncategorized,” so make sure you start adding categories that are relevant to your posts and the blog’s focus to avoid everything falling under this. In WordPress, simply use the “Add New Category” option on the right hand side of your posts (as shown in the image left). You can also choose to use “parent categories” – so I could have “Communication” as a parent category, and “Communication Problems” as my sub-category. These are like sub-folders in your filing system. I tend not to use them as I find it adds too many layers and too much work!

What are Tags?

In comparison to categories, tags are more specific keyword phrases (and usually a little longer). They serve the same function as categories, but for more detailed search terms (e.g. How to Add Tags to Blog Posts). These you add simply by separating the tags with commas to create a list. WordPress also allows you to choose from your most used tags (see image), so if you’re writing about the same/related topics, you can simply use these. Once you publish the post, WordPress now provides you with a list of other keywords it pulls from your post and you can simply click on these to add them to your tags list.

Final Tips:

  • Include verbs (action focused words) but also nouns (usually people, places, things) because although readers prefer verbs, search engines like nouns
  • Think  about what relevant key words readers (or you) would search for related to the post topic and use these for your tags and categories
  • Avoid too many tags and categories; you want to sign post your blog entries, not create an overwhelming list that becomes visually distracting
  • Use the analytics tool on WordPress to see what tags and categories of yours are being clicked on the most (this gives you a good idea of which posts are most popular, and can therefore guide your topics for future blog posts)
  • Play around, experiment, and try different tags and categories – you can always uncheck them on your posts or delete the tags.

Geraldine

*Tags and categories are used in WordPress; Blogger calls them “labels,” which limits you to a combination of the two.