The Web Whisperer

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On Friday, Web Development Librarian Randy Oldham facilitated a lively and interactive workshop on “Writing for the Web” at the University of Guelph.  In addition to presenting five tips, Oldham provided well-placed humor and several practice exercises to reinforce those concepts. I appreciated the gentle nudges and urged Oldham to consider a sideline as web whisperer.

Be Concise

Words cost us brain power and time. If we imagine that each word has a cost and that our users are cheap, we will make an effort to get our copy down to the bare basic facts.

Good questions to ask…

What is the point of this page?

What content on the page fits with my expectations?

What doesn’t belong with the title?

Have I gone into too much detail?

Are my introductions too long?

Make it Scannable

Oldham informed us that three out of every ten people are color blind. So, when we use—and often overuse color—we are disenfranchising thirty percent of the population.

Other suggestions…

Break information into manageable chunks by using bulleted or numbered lists.

Keep sentences short and avoid long paragraphs.

Don’t use italics or the underline feature.

Use boldface sparingly and smoothly.

Select sans serif (Arial) over serif (Times New Roman) font.  Eyes will fatigue when reading serif font. Size: at least 12 point.

Avoid unnecessary images.

Use Active Voice

The passive voice is jarring to read and makes us sound robotic. On the other hand, the active voice makes sentences shorter and easier to read.

Be Conversational

Make web content friendly and easy to read.

 Link Smoothly

When you include tons of links on your page, you detract from your credibility. Aim for no more than five links in a post.

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Colleen Tully and the Bees

colleenftullyColleen Tully likes to talk about beehives. Not the usual topic one would expect during a workshop on “How to Please Both People and Robots with Your Digital Content.” But the senior editor of Fresh Juice and former web food editor at Canadian Living effectively pulled it off yesterday at the University of  Guelph’s Third Annual Writers Workshop.

In comparing the social media community to beehives, Tully outlined the pitfalls that could be encountered by bloggers, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest users. We cannot and should not underestimate the intelligence of bees. The bees  know when we’re being greedy and will react accordingly if we annoy them.

So, how do we please our hive and get noticed in the digital arena?

Consider Tully’s suggestions…

1. Write concise digital content for easily distracted people who need to be entertained.

2. Your title will be vacuumed into other platforms. Make it count!

3. Break up copy into sub-headings, short paragraphs and lists.

4. Do not steal artwork for publication. Use Instagram or your own photographs.

5. Pick the social media platform you like and understand the rest.

6. Use conversations starters to generate more interaction on Facebook and Twitter.

7. Put space and time between each content share. Everyone hates a spammer.

8. Don’t push your content and walk away. Instead, share ideas from other sources, even your competitors.

9. Package content with timelessness, seasonality and trends in mind.

10. Keep in mind that social media is not the ugly stepsister to a website or print publication.

My First Month on Twitter

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At the April dinner meeting for Guelph Writers Ink, Cindy Carroll dared me to start tweeting.  While I had set up a Twitter account in November, I still hadn’t tweeted. I didn’t know where to start and  felt that first tweet had to be significant.  I also wondered if anyone would follow me. No one in my family or immediate circle of friends was tweeting. Would I be the only person on Twitter without any followers?

Cindy had heard my excuses before, but that night she decided to force my hand. She found my Twitter page and became my first follower. I hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a tweet.  As I join the world of Twitter, I keep in mind Nancy Thayer’s famous quotation: It is never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise.

The next morning, I discovered a second follower. I thanked her and tweeted five more times that day.  I was hooked! I started spending more and more time each day in Twitterville, reading other people’s tweets and responding to them. I welcomed all their replies and learned all about mentions and retweets. I discovered some interesting hashtags–#amwriting, #writing, #cozymystery, #leadfromwithin, #lifeclass, #quote–which I visit regularly. I also participated in several twitter chats.

Four weeks have passed and I am very pleased with my Twitter progress.

482 Tweets | 557 Followers | 703 Following