I recently delivered a pair of presentations on web writing. As usual, I published them on SlideShare and am reposting them here on JonathanRick.com.
Headlines and Headings: 2 Tactics You’re Neglecting That Will Turbocharge Your Web Writing
Just because you can write well doesn’t mean you can write well for the web. Yet if you vigorously pursue the perfect headline and employ strategic headings, you’ll be well on your way.
For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of delivering presentations on career development to the Institute for Humane Studies. Here’s my latest, which offers six best practices to establish and protect your brand online:
A version of this blog post appeared on Mashable on May 8, 2012.
Why do search engines always rank certain websites so highly? Obviously, their content is kingly, but so is their search engine optimization (SEO). Indeed, for many sites, the search-engine spiders that crawl the Web deliver a third or more of their traffic. Perhaps the most famous example comes from the Huffington Post, which in February reeled in readers with the ingenious bait: “What Time Is the Super Bowl?”
In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”
In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!
To convert a prospect into a client is a special skill. Sometimes you get lucky and the company has already been contemplating the services you offer. Typically, however, a prospect hasn’t envisioned the various ways you can support his brand.
This is why, when we first sit down with someone, we begin by contextualizing what it is that we do for a living. Instead of tossing around lingo such as “hashtags,” “Klout,” or “search engine optimization,” we present five simple slides on “how to think of social media” (see above).
Earlier this month, the Daily Beast broke the news that Facebook had hired a powerhouse PR agency to plant negative stories about Google in the press. The agency, Burson-Marstellar, deployed two of its big guns for the campaign: Former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman and former Hotline executive editor John Mercurio.
In one e-mail, Mercurio offered to help write and place an op-ed if the recipient, blogger Chris Soghoian, would lend his name to it. The savvy Soghoian asked who was bankrolling the campaign, and when Mercurio declined to say, Soghoian made the e-mails public.
What makes this incident interesting is that on one hand, Mercurio did many things right. He used a descriptive subject line: “Op-Ed Opportunity: Google Quietly Launches Sweeping Violation of User Privacy.” His first sentence succinctly and directly summarized the ask. He provided a list of talking points, each supported by a link to an independent sources. And his offer was tantalizing: Who in DC wouldn’t want a byline in the Washington Post?
This past summer, I delivered a presentation on how to write better. My intent wasn’t to rehash the rules of grammar but to leave people with handy, memorable tips they could recognize and immediately apply to their own copy.