Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Let's Cut to the Chase!

An article about the English language in the online version of the Times Literary Supplement has started me thinking (not for the first time) about the way we use language.  I am, I freely admit, a bit of a pedant on this subject.  After all, the purpose of language is to communicate and if the person listening to us or reading what we have written doesn't understand what we are trying to say then we have failed.

I was reading a book of short stories the other day.  The second paragraph of one of these read "But as I let the street suck my blood while I still have blood to suck we are not on terms and a glimpse is better than no terms at all until I stand all drained of psychic energy from nothing not even a glimpse, glimpses being untimable in a live long day of a full irregular masculine time-table and walk away quickly as if none of it mattered to unnumb my limbs while I still have limbs to unnumb all the way to the small flat in the square block in the big lonely city."  Do you have any idea what that means?  Because I don't!  The author lost me way before the end of this 96-word sentence.  I cut my losses and turned to the next story.

It's the same with sales copy.  If I go to a website because I'm interested in whatever it is that's being sold and I'm confronted by a sales letter that rambles on about all sorts of other things that I'm not interested in - the writer's house in Florida, his yacht, his glamorous holidays - then I don't read to the end.

As anyone who's read some of my previous posts here will know, I'm a great fan of Armand Morin.  If I go to his website to find out about the FAST (Facebook Ad Secret Training) system, there are no long screeds about how wonderful Armand is or how much money he's made but, rather, a powerpoint presentation that begins "Let me ask you a question . . . What if I told you there were 9 secret methods to advertise on Facebook which no one is telling you about?"  This, to my mind, is great copywriting.  My natural response is to want to find out about these methods.  I'm hooked within seconds.  As another marketing guru, Matt Bacak, has said "People love secrets".  Mention that you know a secret and everyone else will want to know it, too!

Recently I've heard several people say that the day of the long sales letter is past.  Well, hooray!  I'm too busy to waste time reading something that I'm not really interested in.  And, if you've read this far, then hopefully I'm practising what I preach!!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

To Assume Makes an Ass of U and Me

In the past two or three weeks I seem to have received quite a number of emails and pieces of literature in the post that try to tell me what I think, like, do or want to do.  And it annoys me.  These people are assuming that they know me . . . and they're getting it wrong.

For example, I got an email a few days ago from an internet marketer.  It began: "I bet you take at least one family summer vacation each year, right?" Well, actually, no.  And it went on "But if you're like most ultra busy parents - you probably aren't really going out of your way to create real-world entrepreneurial activities and lessons and unique family bonding?"  Well, I may be ultra busy but I'm not a parent.   So wrong again.  

Now, it so happens that I both like and respect this marketer and I have bought courses from him in the past.  But, if I didn't, I suspect that this sort of thing would lead me to wonder about the quality of what he was selling . . . after all, if he can get so much wrong in a single email, how reliable would his teaching be?

Admittedly, he was promoting "a special event for highly successful entrepreneurs and their families" and he went on to say: "If you have kids (or grand kids, nieces, nephews, etc) ages 6-18 this it a great way to let them get a taste for business".  But what puzzles me is why, with all his experience, he didn't start off with the "If you have kids . . ." bit.  That way he would have avoided alienating people who might assume that he wasn't a very good marketer and would have avoided the risk of upsetting anyone who had lost a child, who had no contact with his or her children as a result of divorce, or who desperately wanted children but was unable to do so.

Writing good copy is not just about capturing the reader's attention and persuading them to buy something.  It's also about being honest and being sensitive to the reader's feelings.  So I believe that it is counterproductive to assume anything about the people who receive our emails.  All we really know about them is that they gave us their names and email addresses via our opt in pages because they wanted something we were offering.  We don't know anything else about them.  And if we imply that we do - and get it wrong - we're in danger of losing them.

We need to be sensitive.  Implying that someone is a parent when they're not could cause distress.  Similarly the phrase "I bet you take at least one family summer vacation each year" could be hurtful.  Although some people do, indeed, take one or two holidays a year, there are still some who can't afford it.  And when we consider that a lot of people who start dabbling in internet marketing do so because they have lost their jobs or because the're having difficulty making ends meet, the assumption that everyone can afford holidays implies that the writer is out of touch with his readers.  Years ago, when I was working in a psychiatric hospital, we used to have a meeting of all the patients on the ward every morning.  One day, one of the women mentioned that she hadn't had a holiday for several years because she couldn't afford it.  To which one of the other patients (a very well-heeled and rather haughty woman) said in an amazed tone of voice "Can't afford a holiday?  I've never heard of that.  I have friends who go to Majorca three or four times a year."  All these years later, I still remember the distress of the first patient.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Learning to Manage Time

Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day.  There are times when I feel that, if there were thirty six hours in a day and ten days in a week, then I might get everything done.  Or perhaps I'd just find more stuff to do.  So I was interested to hear about a webinar that Marie Grigorian, who is a certified life coach, is running next Thursday (May 24th).  

She's planning to teach attendees how to manage their time (that's something I'd find useful), how to recognise the patterns that impact on their time management (and that), how to deal with procrastination (hmm . . . is she directing this seminar at me?), how to prioritise work (how many of us do the things we like doing first and hope that, if we don't have time, everything else will go away????) and how to recognise time vampires.  Hmm . . . the concept of time vampires is a new one on me, but I have a sneaking suspicion I know what she means . . . those things you agree to do because they'll only take half an hour - and two days later you're still doing them.

At $47 this seems to be very good value.  So if you, too, are interested in attending, you can find the details here

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Way the Cookie Crumbles . . .

If you live in the UK and you own a website, you need to be aware of legislation that is coming into force on May 26th.  The EU Cookie Directive came into force in the rest of the EU a year ago but its enforcement was delayed in the UK because there was confusion about how sites could be cookie compliant.  Some people might wonder whether there is any less confusion now.

The legislation states that cookies must not be used unless the person visiting the site is  provided with clear and comprehensive information as to exactly what the cookies do and has given his or her consent to allow it.
 In a very good article on FluidWebWorks, Jessica Shailes writes: "this directive is creating way more problems than it’s solving.  In order to get permission you are forced to either stop site visitors when entering your site with a pop up and demand permission at that point, OR use a banner at the top or bottom of your website asking nicely. The first option is intrusive and may well put a lot of visitors off your website altogether. The second option risks being ignored by people who just don’t understand what they’re agreeing to."

So if people ignore the request or refuse to give permission, tracking cookies won’t work and nor will cookies designed to improve the visitor's experience of the website.  In addition, as Shailes points out, any advertisements that are highly targetted won't work either.

Some people may be tempted to ignore the directive - but with a maximum penalty of half a million pounds, that's probably not the best option.  I notice that several software companies have come up with solutions to the problem of asking permission - all at a cost of £200 or more.  However, if your website is WordPress based, there's a plugin - called, unsurprisingly, the EU Cookie Directive plugin - which will do the job.  And Jessica Shailes has posted a video on YouTube, showing how to install it.

If you're not WordPress based, it's more difficult and you may need to think about removing cookies.  However, it's worth finding out whether there are other ways around it.  I've mentioned before on this blog that I like StatCounter for the accuracy and depth of the information it produces. I emailed the company's helpdesk and was told that it has implemented a cookie opt out which enables users to use StatCounter codes that are cookie-free.   Although this will interfere with the collection of information on first time, returning and unique visits, it will still allow the collection of information on popular pages, entry and exit pages, keyword activity, exit links, visitor paths, visit length and more.

I was also directed to a post on the Statcounter blog in which the writer discusses the directive at some length and says "It would appear that this Directive has been badly drafted and takes little or no account of how the internet actually works. To obtain prior consent for every cookie, would result in a severe diminution of the quality of the online user experience. Imagine… Every website in the EU would have to use a pop up form to obtain consent for evey cookie… Users would be obliged to deal with these pop ups multiple times every day… Web browsing would become frustrating and cumbersome… And, somewhat ironically, the very people who reject cookies would suffer the worst experience; websites wouldn’t function correctly; shopping carts wouldn’t work and, as they don’t allow any cookies to remember their preferences, they would be prompted to opt in/out on potentially every page of every site they visit! In the end, most people would probably opt in to all cookies simply to eliminate all the pop ups… thereby defeating the purpose of this Directive in the first place!"

Saturday, 12 May 2012

What Makes a Good Website?

There's a lot of advice 'out there' about how to write good copy for a website. Top gurus offer us the benefit of their experience, telling us, for example:
  • Copy has to grab your attention in the first few words and hold that attention through to the point where you want to get your credit card out and order.  (Andrew Reynolds)
  • If your sales page headline is not understood by a 12 year old, your headline sucks. (Jo Han Mok)
  • People love secrets . . . share insider knowledge and translate it into a benefit for the reader. (Matt Bacak)
  • The primary purpose of your sales copy has to be to understand, to empathize, and to emotionally connect. (Shaune Clarke)
  • Before you can begin to know the real keywords that will bring you visitors who will convert to prospects, you must find out what they want. (Derek Gehl)
and so on.  There's loads of stuff telling you how to write copy and how to write headlines but there seems to be very little about the look of the website itself.  And, in my opionion, if your website is ugly then people won't stay to read your copy, no matter how good it is.

If you look at some of the top websites - such as Amazon, eBay, Google, Wikidpedia, Tumblr - it's easy to see what they have in common.  They're simple and they're readable.  They don't have flashing ads or garish colours or twenty different fonts.  I was told, some long time ago, that the only fonts that are reliable online (in other words those that you can be sure will show up as you want them to) are Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana and Tahoma.  Now, I don't know if that's still true, but I tend to stick to those fonts for my websites.  Because four is plenty.  In fact, four is too many.  You can get enough variety using just one or two fonts, with occasional use of bold or italic if necessary. 

One of the reasons why the sites I mentioned above are easily readable is because of the colours used - black type on a white background.  Now, it may be because the human race, since the advent of the printed word, has become used to reading black script on white, but there is no doubt that this is the colour scheme that most of us find easiest to read.  I went to a seminar some years ago and the only thing I remember about it is an experiment that we did on reading different colours.  The tutor had brought a large number of printed sheets, each of which was covered with a coloured transparent sheet of celluloid.  And the participants were asked to say which sheet they found it easiest to read.  Some people chose those covered by different shades of pink or red celluloid, others chose green, or blue or yellow or mauve or brown.  I don't think any two people chose the same colour.  So, if we give our website a light blue background and use dark blue type, yes there may be some people who find that easier to read than black on white - but the chances are that there will be others who find it more difficult.

Then, of course, there are those websites that decide to use yellow type on blue, or orange type on turquoise or other bright combinations that I defy anyone to read easily.  Have you ever found that the only way to read the text on a particular website is to select it and thus change its colour?  I have - on several occasions.

And it's not just the 'amateur' websites that get it wrong.  There are some out there that have clearly been professionally designed and you wonder how they got away with it.  Some months ago I bought a new computer and one of the sites I looked at was a nightmare to use.  (I'm not saying which site it was because I've looked at it again this week and they've changed it.)  Firstly, everything was on a black background.  Since the computers themselves were black, even the photos added to the gloom.  The text was white, and the whole site had a dead feeling to it.  What made it even worse was the navigation.  The visitor was advised to click on a picture to get more information about each computer.  The first few times I did this, I thought it wasn't working.  Then I realised that the information was coming up at the bottom of the page and I needed to scroll down to find it.  I made a note of a couple of models that I was interested in but, coming back the next day, couldn't find them using the search box.  I eventually tracked them down by going into the 'desktop' section and drilling down . . . but what a palaver!

The company asked for feedback after I bought my computer.  I told them that, yes, I would buy that make again . . . but I'd do so through Amazon or another outlet, rather than return to their website.  Interesting that the website has now been changed for the better - I wonder how many other people made the same comments that I did.

So, for me, a good website must be clear and easy to read, and easy to navigate through.  And it must provide the information that people want.  I remember some years ago Phil Gosling talking about a particular website he'd gone to.  This website was selling what he was looking for, but he needed to ask a question before ordering.  However, he couldn't see a way to contact the suppliers.  So in the end he gave up and bought on another website whose helpdesk link was clearly displayed. 

Sometimes the problem is not that there isn't enough information but that there's too much.  I belong to a certain professional organisation which has a website that is almost impossible to navigate.  I've found that, quite often, the only way to find what I want is to go to the site map and work from there.  Links to different areas aren't clearly delineated on the site and some of the headings are ambiguous.  I've always been able to find the information I want - eventually - but I do wish it was better signposted.

Nowadays, we're constantly being told to 'monetize' our sites.  Adsense has become ubiquitous.  Blogs and information sites are plastered with advertisements.  But do they work or are they counterproductive.  Perhaps the most important thing, if you're going to have clickable ads on your website, is to ensure that the site they're linked to opens in a new tab.  Otherwise, every time someone clicks on an ad, they'll be taken away from your site and they may well not come back.  Another thing to think about is how many ads you want.  I don't know about you, but I find it distracting to see loads of ads surrounding a piece of text.  I start wondering about the motives of the website owners - are they really trying to offer good information or are they more interested in selling me stuff?

Interestingly, Armand Morin will tell you that there are some shapes and sizes of banners that don't work because we're just so used to seeing them that our minds shut them out.  He always advises against using a long horizontal banner across the top of the page.  I don't know whether it's the same for adsense - whether adsense 'boxes' further down the page will sell better than the strip of three ads across the top of the page - but it's possible.

So there's a lot to think about and a lot to do when setting up a website.  And sometimes - if it's a fairly simple site - I think it's better to design it yourself rather than pay a fortune to a web designer.  Nowadays it's easy enough, using Wordpress or some website design software such as SiteSpinner.  But, whatever you do and however you do it, it's important to remember something that was said by one of my favourite gurus, Armand Morin: "You don’t have to get it right first time.  Just put something up and then improve it."  Keep an eye on your visitor stats and your sales and you'll soon know what's working and what's not.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Have You Heard of URIBL?

Have you heard of URIBL? Well, maybe you have . . . but I hadn't until last week. It describes itself as "a real time URL blacklist served via DNS to identify unsolicited bulk and commercial email." And that's something, I imagine, that most of us would applaud. People can submit sites for inclusion on the list. This makes it harder for emails from that site or mentioning that site to get through spam filters.

However, I found out about URIBL not because I wanted to report a site . . . but because I discovered I was ON it!!! I was sending a newsletter from my autoresponder to my mailing list, telling them about my previous post on this blog: What do You Need to be a Successful Internet Marketer? When I'd finished writing it, I checked it and clicked the 'spam' button which tells you (based on a number of factors) how likely your email is to get through people's spam filters (bearing in mind, as I've moaned about before, that on Microsoft Outlook, even if you whitelist addresses, they can still get shoved into the spam folder).

Everything about my newsletter was fine . . . everything, that is, except for the fact that I was blacklisted by URIBL. This was the first I'd heard of URIBL. I had no idea what it was . . . and I was worried because, although it didn't seem to mean that my emails wouldn't get through, it reduced their chances. Now, unfortunately, the message about this on my autoresponder was in lower case, and I read it as URLBL. So when I tried Googling it, nothing came up. Not knowing quite what to do about it, I put it on one side until I could ask someone who might know the answer.So I continued with a piece of writing I was doing - and then went to to shorten a link I wanted to insert. (If you've never used Tiny, I'd recommend it - you put in your link, click a button, and your new link comes up. If you register (which is free), you can also keep a record of all your abbreviations, so that you can use them again.)

Well, as I say, I went on to Tiny to shorten a link to this blog. And a big red sign came up saying "Check terms and conditions". Which I did. And I found that Tiny won't shorten links to sites that are blacklisted on URIBL. Now it was getting serious! But at least I did now have the correct title of the site and was able to find it. I checked and, yes, I was on their list. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to ask to be removed - you put in your website url and explain why the listing is incorrect. I told them that I sent emails only to people who had given them to me through my opt-in box, that all my emails have an 'unsubscribe' link at the bottom, and that I had never sent an unsolicited email in my life.

I was taken off the list very quickly - although they didn't let me know; I had to go to the site and look. But it left me wondering how on earth they could think that a blog hosted by Blogger was capable of sending out bulk unsolicited email. So I had another look at the website and worked out what must have happened. Under 'List Information' it states: "URIBL lists domains that appear in spam, NOT where they were sent from." Which, to me, seems a very odd way of doing it.

So, why am I going on about this? Well,there is a lesson, I think, to be learned from it. I have to assume that someone on my mailing list received one of my emails in which I gave a link to my blog, and for some reason that person thought it was spam. And this could be because I've not been sending out emails very frequently . . . perhaps every ten days or so, which means it's quite easy for a recipient to forget that he or she actually signed up to the list.

When someone signs in to my opt-in box, to acquire the four books on internet marketing that I'm offering (have you got yours yet?), they are taken to a 'thank you' page where they're told that they will receive an email explaining how to download them, and they're given the address it will come from and asked to whitelist it. But, clearly, that's not enough. We obviously need to keep reminding them who we are - and, while not advocating sending an email a day, perhaps three a week might be best!

I'm left wondering how many sites get wrongly listed . . . and why a site can be blacklisted on a single complaint without, apparently, any investigation. At least they make it easy to get off again.