How Fresh is Your Content?

Sure, you know that your website needs to be updated frequently. New blog entries, new pressroom posts, new product descriptions, new client listings and new work samples are all important additions to the content of your website. But how often do you update, tweak and refresh your existing content?

This great blog entry on Ektron’s website brought the topic to my mind. Matthew Sullivan blogs, “It’s not just upcoming events, customer lists, or press releases you need to author, but you also need to consider the “freshness” of everything else. Product pages can easily stagnate after a launch or campaign. With a good content management strategy in place, you can continually update your product descriptions, and change page layouts.”

While initially this might seem like a daunting obstacle to overcome, it can actually be a huge asset and opportunity when viewed in the right light. When you’re creating a sculpture or a painting, at some point, it’s done. You step away and frame or exhibit or sell the work. But web content is never “finished.” Even when you have published a new blog or a web page, you can always go back and refine and update the text.

Have you ever created a print brochure or other collateral material, and ordered a large print run? It makes sound economic sense, but sometimes within a few months, the information is unexpectedly dated. Maybe it’s not necessarily  “wrong” but it isn’t exactly “right” anymore. Or perhaps, with new developments or initiatives at your company, the copy could be an even more accurate and engaging representation of your product or your company. But you’re stuck. You either continue working with the already printed material, or craft new copy and go through the entire printing expense again.

That’s the great thing about the web. It costs virtually nothing to revisit and optimize web copy that was already written. You can easily, as one of my favorite journalism professors liked to say, “Make good better.”

Fresh, current and engaging content not only satisfies the ever-evolving needs of the bots. New content keeps your readers, and your clients, coming back to your site as a trusted outlet where they can find the relevant information that the need.  And more readers and clients mean more business—well worth the investment of time to keep your content up-to-date and fresh.

Posted in Communication, Content Strategy, Web Writing, Writing | Leave a comment

Check Out Cool Cleveland

In this week’s issue of Cool Cleveland, “Stars,” I contributed to the listings section. It was a blast to write these–I am constantly amazed and pleased (and oftentimes amused) at the wide variety, and over-whelming quantity, of awesome things there are to do in Cleveland. You have to love a town that offers the Redneck Games and Opera in the Park on the same weekend. And you have to love a weekly publication like Cool Cleveland that offers a comprehensive list of handpicked events, that are sure to be, well, cool!

Posted in Announcements, Clips, Web Writing | Leave a comment

What to Write?

Figuring out what to write about can be every bit as challenging as actually writing.

This truth is well known and all-too-well understood by writers of every description. Reporters have to sniff out their story before they can worry about snappy leads. Poets must find that inspiring moment before they start wrangling metaphors. And web writers—bloggers, content developers, even Facebook and Twitter users—must first discern their topic before they sit down to write.

The best status updates or tweets are informational and insightful in nature. They might contain a link to an enlightening article, an entertaining video, a light bulb realization that struck the writer while sitting in a meeting.

Writer 1: “I ate a ham sandwich for lunch.” While this post is informational, it is certainly not enlightening. The most useless updates and tweets are simply statements of the mundane detritus of every day life, devoid of any context or quest for meaning.

Writer 2: “Just enjoyed a ridiculously tasty croque monsieur at L’Albatros. Gooey, melted fromage, tender ham, crisp bread. Perfection. Check it out!” This is both informational and insightful—and actionable. Anyone in that writer’s network now knows where to go for a smashing sandwich.

The difference between those two updates (besides the use of “telling detail”, thanks Creative Writing 101) is that while both started out with a piece of information—a ham sandwich—writer 2 pushed the information to the next level. That post actually shows an opinion. The second writer actually has something to say, something on which to write—as opposed to writing just for the sake of writing (or tweeting for the sake of tweeting.)

The same theory applies for blogging and web content writing. The best blog entries actually put something new into the world and provide an insight. The best web content is, in addition to being engaging and exciting, of practical use. The zenith of web content is usable information.

Not sure what to write about on your website or blog? This great post on Small Business Trends identifies sources of possible story generators, like WordTracker and Google Trends. If you collaborate with a content generator in an informed manner, the usefulness and effectiveness of your content can reach new echelons.

I find a lot of great links that inspire me to write these posts on Twitter. If you blog or write, where do you find your ideas?

Posted in Communication, Social Media, Web Writing, Writing | Leave a comment

Defining Content Strategy, Part 2

What does content strategy mean? What, exactly, does a content strategist do?

One could say, at a most basic level:

Content strategists employ content strategy to strategically optimize their web content. And that would be accurate, albeit repetitive and pedantic. But it doesn’t represent the nuances of content strategy.

I’ve been on a quest to create my own working definition for content strategy. Every day I discover interesting blog posts, insightful articles and helpful tweets that are contributing to my definition’s evolution. Today’s particularly thought-provoking definition comes courtesy of this post on the blog I’d Rather be Writing.

Tom Johnson writes, “Content strategy can seem like a fuzzy concept because it encompasses so much. But this all-encompassing quality is part of the definition of content strategy — the content strategist looks at all content, not just a slice of the pie. It easily includes metadata, taxonomy, search engine optimization, information architecture, user interface, multimedia, company presence, social media, web copy, product announcements, semantics, wireframes, and more.”

I love this definition. I’m both intrigued and challenged by the ephemeral nature of content strategy, but here this “fuzziness” is presented as an inherent part of the definition, rather than something to be overcome in seeking the definition. Continuing this way of thinking, the very fact that countless articles and posts and tweets are devoted to defining content strategy is in itself part of the definition of content strategy.

So in seeking the definition, and in writing about it, I also become part of the evolving definition.

Become part of the definition—leave a comment below.

Posted in Communication, Content Strategy, Editing, Web Writing | Leave a comment

What’s In a Word?

Our language is evolving, sometimes seemingly daily. That’s an incredibly beguiling concept—that our language is what we make it, that it must reflexively grow and morph into what we need it to be. It isn’t merely an inheritance from the past, an amalgamation of different languages and dialects. Language changes as society changes, to reflect our evolution as a people.

Every year I look forward to the class of new words that Merriam-Webster anoints as sanctioned, official words. (I was borderline giddy when ‘ginormous’ made the cut.) My friend’s blog post alerted me that this year’s crop has just been released.

I’m quite taken with some of the words selected—locavore, frenemy, staycation.  I’m surprised that some selections are only now being legitimized—carbon footprint, fan fiction, zip line. Some words are completely from other languages, like shawarma, and I find it pleasantly indicative of the continual melting-pot nature of English that such words are now included.

Unsurprisingly, many words relate to technology and Internet communication—vlog, webisode, flash mob. It’s another indication of how dramatically the web influences how we communicate, and how essential it is for content drivers to keep up to speed, and ahead of the curve, on the information super highway.

Posted in Communication, Reading, Writing | Leave a comment

Editing for the Web

Editing is essential. Through the act of editing, raw creative content can be refined into something elegant, effective and useful. The process of editing is a pivotal phase wherein content can gain the ability to serve a more meaningful purpose than simply existing.

The omnipresence of the Internet has made it so that anyone and everyone can contribute content to the web. Photos, video, music, text—the sheer quantity of content posted to the web, without any of the traditional “gate keepers” that used to serve as filters for public consumption, is astounding. This vast array of content means that now, more than ever, editors and their skill sets are necessary.

Eat Media muses on this topic in their excellent blog post, “Is Editing a Lost Art?

They write, “We may have reached the point in the internet revolution where pervasive broadband access has made everyone a publisher, but this explosion of content providers—most of them roaring pell-mell down the information superhighway—has made the need for savvy editors ever more acute.”

The post proposes five main reasons that editors continue to be ever more valuable as the amount of content on the web increases: editing is a skill, editing is an art, editing takes time, editing takes care, editing is necessary.

This insight is salient, and relevant to all forms of content. It’s especially material, to me, in the realm of written content. Often times, web content does not appear to have been thoroughly challenged and improved by an editor, as it would have been if it were going to be printed. Just because web content isn’t inherently “permanent”, as it would be in a brochure or on a newspaper page, does not mean that it shouldn’t be held to the same rigorous standards as printed words.

Editing makes content better. As a writer, working with a good editor (and rigorously editing myself) makes my writing better. And for businesses who have already created their content, working with an experienced editor can make a perceptible difference in how your content is presented and received, and how effective the content is in reaching and influencing your audience. Just as you wouldn’t send out an un-edited mailing, look to an editor to make your content shine before posting it to the web.

Posted in Communication, Editing, Web Writing | Leave a comment

Defining Content Strategy

Think about it. The web is never static, never constant. Like a river, the web is never the same web twice. Every moment, new information is shared, new content is generated, new comments are posted. Through archival processes, some information is stored. But new information is constantly presented to the public for consumption.

This reality has revolutionized the way that humans communicate with each other. Never in our history has communication and information been so omnipresent, available to so many in such egalitarian fashion.

One facet of this ever-changing information ocean is that finding correct and relevant information can be a challenge. With so many sites and so much information, both user-generated and professionally issued, it can be difficult for companies and individuals to get their message out to the public in a way that is useful and easy-to-find.

This is where content strategy plays a pivotal role in information organization and distribution. This knol offers and excellent round up of sites and definitions which explore the meaning of content strategy. It’s fascinating to explore the myriad ways a good content strategist can make the most of your web presence.

The site quotes:

“According to Richard Sheffield, author of The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, content strategy is “a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project[.]”

There are many definitions that cover a wide breadth of what content strategy is—I’m working on crafting my own statement. What do you think? And if you’re part of a business, what are some of your needs or goals that could be achieved with the help of a content strategist?

Posted in Communication, Content Strategy, Web Writing | Leave a comment

Content by Design

When planning a launch of a new website, or a redesign of an existing site, there are many important considerations. The site has to look sharp, it has to function intuitively and correctly, it has to offer interactive opportunities to the visitor. And it has to offer engaging, well-written, memorable and informative content.

Companies are growing to understand how essential their content is to a successful web site. In this great blog entry, 15 Key Elements All Top Web Sites Should Have, ‘Meaningful Content’ comes in as element #5.

“You might have a pretty web site which will catch someone’s eye, but if the content is no good, you can be willing to bet that they aren’t going to stick around.”

The article lists ‘A Solid About Us’ page as #6, which also ties in well to the concept of great content being central to an effective website. Visitors to websites want information. They want pertinent details, and they want them swiftly and logically. The web can be a sucking vortex of time, when information is hard to find, and today’s web users are more savvy and more demanding. They want the information they seek to be easily accessible, and useful once found.

A web writer plays such an integral part in creating a winning website. We can help companies develop an overarching, strategic content plan and then research, develop and create this content. A great web writer makes great content, and great content is a key element to success.

Posted in Content Strategy, Usability, Web Writing, Writing | Leave a comment

For the Love of Words

Most writers I know became writers because they couldn’t not become writers. The love of words, of communication, of expression manifested through the written word isn’t just a pleasure or a pursuit, it’s a compulsion.

And this passion is necessary if a career based on content is to be maintained. As anyone who’s opened a newspaper (or more likely, a browser window) lately knows, content producers and editors are being called upon to reinvent themselves, and their careers, to remain competitive. Going to journalism school no longer even remotely guarantees a job as a journalist.

So what’s a writer, a lover of words to do? Explore new horizons. Pioneer new fields. Continue to push the boundaries of how content is delivered—remember that once upon a time, printing newspapers on movable type was a revolutionary technology.

And best of all, this is fun. Writing for the web is a challenge, but it also contains opportunities for interactivity and dialogue that were impossible prior to the web.  This great blog entry, at the content strategy noob, explores how content strategy is an act of love.

“Content strategists love content. We love both its form and its substance. We love crafting and refining it. We love running our hands around its shapes and tasting its rich and subtle flavors. We love delving into meanings and relationships. We love finding new ways to say things—and finding new things to say.”

In this age, writing is about more than perching at Walden Pond and thinking deep thoughts (although find me a writer who wouldn’t jump for the change to spend a week writing at a lake!) It’s about becoming involved in new media, learning and exploring, expanding and growing what the written word can accomplish, and how it can change the world.

That sounds like something to love.

Posted in Content Strategy, Web Writing, Writing | Leave a comment

Strategizing Content

Writing effective, engaging web copy is a skill. A good web content producer has notable writing talent combined with passion for interactive communication and an understanding of the web medium. And just as you wouldn’t hire a plumber to do your hair, or ask your doctor to do your taxes, there is innate value in finding the right person to create your web content.

Content strategy involves more than just pretty writing. This burgeoning field, whose very nature is continuing to evolve and define itself, contains professionals who can not only write compelling copy for you, but assist you in crafting a strategic communication plan.

This spot-on blog entry discusses what five attributes a business seeking a content strategist should look for in potential candidates: a passion for content, editorial capabilities, familiarity and comfort with the principals of content management and databases, understanding of logic and communication skills.

I would add just one more concept into the mix. The best content strategists keenly understand and appreciate the challenges and possibilities inherent in web writing. A great producer of print content isn’t necessarily a great producer of web content. But if a writer has experience and training, along with an inquisitive nature and a willingness to learn and explore, they can create custom content for you that will surprise and delight you, and your readers.

A great writer can help you strategize so your content works for you.

Posted in Communication, Content Strategy, Web Writing, Writing | Leave a comment