Why You Shouldn’t Link to News Sites With Paywalls

My day-to-day work involves writing blog posts based on current news stories, or just informational posts that may link to them as a source. The Globe and Mail used to be one of my favourite Canadian sites to link to, but when it introduced a paywall, I had to stop linking to it. I would encourage others who write posts for a living to do the same, not out of any grudge for paywalls, but because it just doesn’t work from a usability perspective.

1. Readers Will Abandon Your Post If They Can’t Read the Story
If you’re writing a post based on a current news item, you should be giving a summary of the news in the blog post itself and providing a link to the full story if your readers want more. As a constant blog reader, I almost always follow the more in-depth link if I’m interested in the subject matter, and if I can’t find it, I’ll abandon the original post. I suspect others do the same.

2. Sites With Free Subscriptions
Marketing Profs is a site I love and read religiously after it was recommended to me a few years back by a colleague. However, if I try to link to a post on MarketingProfs, it asks the user to sign up for a free subscription. Many people are gunshy of doing this because they don’t want their inbox being flooded with spam, and rightly so. No matter how good the site is, a link to it could have the same reader abandonment effect on your post as linking to a site with a paywall.

3. Does a Paywall Link Hurt SEO?
Technically, a link to a paywall site does not hurt your SEO since the link is not leading to a 404 (page not found) error. It’s just a usability issue. If you have a site with lots of external links and you have WordPress, you may want to consider installing a Broken Links Checker plugin to ensure that broken links are automatically removed from your site, since Google does list broken links as a factor that they’ll penalize a site for.

4. Optimizing for Mobile Another Reason To Avoid Linking to Paywalls
Readers at home on their couch have a little more patience for a paywall link than a user on a mobile phone. These people have things to do, and putting up with your paywall linking shenanigans is not one of them. This is important since the percentage of users accessing the Internet from a mobile device is steadily climbing. It jumped in the last quarter of 2012 to 23.1% and shows no signs of slowing down. There are more important things to consider when writing for this audience, such as keeping copy shorter and clearer than you ever have before. Long, sales-letter style copy will definitely spook mobile users. If they can’t find what they’re looking for right away, you’re history.

5. Some Paywall Sites Have Free Article Limits; Does This Make it OK?
No. You have to assume that your reader has already blown through the article limits.

6. So What Can I Link To?
If you’re writing about a current news story, there are always going to be free media sites you can link to that are running the same story. Personally, I avoid linking to Huffington Post pieces because I don’t believe that anyone writing for free can be doing serious journalism. There’s nothing wrong with writing for it to promote yourself as an expert, but their news coverage leaves something to be desired.

There are endless posts and articles arguing the pros and cons of paywalls. I don’t pretend to know the advertising model of a major media site well enough to offer an authoritative opinion either way, but I wonder if the paywalls will make up for lost online ad revenue. Only time will tell if they’re viable for the media sites that have chosen to implement them.

TL;DR: Don’t link to paywall sites. You’ll lose your readers.


Five Ways to Tell if Your Web Copy Sucks

You’re a business owner, not an English professor. How are you supposed to tell if the writing on your website is driving away potential customers? People don’t tend to tell you when the writing on your website is bad. They just don’t buy your stuff. Here are five litmus tests you can use to tell if the copy on your website is full of suck.

1. Numerous Grammar and Spelling Mistakes
Grammar and spelling aren’t minor things that people don’t pay attention to. When I was working in customer service at a smallish company, a woman called to complain that our website had a spelling error and it had actually prompted her to not buy our product. Mind you, this person was really taking things to the extreme, but there are actually numerous studies out there that prove that she was totally right.

Numerous spelling and grammar mistakes are also a sign that the writer of the website copy did a slapdash job in other areas. Most websites with numerous mistakes of this nature require a total rewrite.

2. Search Engines Aren’t Listing Your Website as High as You Want
There are two reasons that your website isn’t being listed in the top results for your key search terms; code problems and website copy. A web designer will be able to tell you if there are coding problems and a writer who is familiar with the practice of search engine optimization (SEO) can rewrite your pages to include more of your key terms in a way that flows naturally. Sometimes the freshness of content can be an issue, making an option like a blog very attractive to a business that is looking to improve their search engine standings.

3. Your Website Copy is Riddled With Jargon
There are two types of jargon. There is industry jargon that your clients will understand and be on board with, and there’s the kind that nobody but you can understand. My most frequent offenders for this type of issue have been businesses that specialize in software and programming, but it could happen anywhere.

4. Your Website Page Word Count is Over 600
While there are no hard and fast rules about word count on a website, you start losing people from top-level pages if they get too wordy. Wordy pages generally mean unclear pages. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible and people will be more likely to understand you. Obviously, you may have to go over 600 words on pages where you offer technical details or troubleshooting, but people are more tolerant of a longer word count where it is necessary. Just don’t do it on pages where you are trying to sell something.

5. Your family member/neighbour/best friend in the whole world wrote it.
Unless this person is a professional writer by trade, I hate to break this to you, but there’s a good chance their work just isn’t up to snuff. Be prepared for a total rewrite. If you wrote it yourself, it could go one of two ways. Either it’s awesome because you have writing talent and a complete understanding of your own business, or it’s not because your writing skills aren’t great and you don’t have the necessary distance from your subject to do a good job.

Do you want me to honestly tell you if your website copy sucks and how it sucks? I’ll give you a free, no-holds-barred evaluation of your website if you contact me with your website address. I’ll even let you know if I see some issues with usability and other stuff that would usually be out of the realm of a writer. You can then take my evaluation and do with it what you will, or have me quote on writing website copy that works.

Photo by Jim Champion: Flickr



Give Your Writing a Makeover by Cutting Out These Three Overused Words

The quickest way to an engaging blog post, web page, or any form of communication is to employ a literary pair of scissors. The more extra words you make your readers read, the less interested they are in your point. If you aren’t a writer by trade, it may be hard for you to spot some of your extra words, so we’ve assembled some of the top “extras” here. Protip: use the find function in Word to highlight these words and erase them if they can be snipped without making the sentence illegible.

If a word adds nothing to the sentence, cut it out. The resulting tightening up of your piece will be remarkable.

1. That
“That” is by far the most overused word in most blog posts. It should be replaced in some instances by “which”.

2. Also
This word is my own personal literary bogeyman and I always check myself for it before publishing a post or sending anything off to a client. If you are presenting a list of ideas, “also” can get easily overused.

3. Then
“It can then” or “we can then” can easily be cut down and have way more impact by cutting out the “then”. If you are using then in context, such as describing a sequence of events, it shouldn’t be cut out.

Honourable Mention: However, meanwhile
Both of these words are usually not needed. If you really need to link an opposing viewpoint to a preceding statement of fact, “however” is the best way to do it. “Meanwhile” refers specifically to an instance in time and isn’t applicable when trying to conjoin two ideas.

When you start editing your own work, you’ll discover your own personal bad habit words. Take special note of them and run a “Find” for them before passing on any particularly important document. If a document is very important, have a friend or co-worker look at it for you before you pass it on, post it, or publish it.


New Google Update Penalizing Sites Which Put SEO Before Content

Matt Cutts, a senior engineer at Google, made it clear this weekend that Google has been setting their sights on sites that are gaming their engine. While Google has always made this clear, Cutts dropped a real humdinger by stating that they would be targeting “overly optimized sites”. So what does this mean?

If you are a business owner, it could mean anything. Heck, even if you know a bit about search engine optimization, it could mean anything. But it is interesting that back in 2009, Cutts was in a video expressly saying that there would be no optimization penalties, and yet here we are.

Cutts real point was that Google was trying to shine a light on good content and place sites with good web content (that means writing! Hi there.) above sites that may not have stellar content but have better SEO. This means that if a blogger is particularly good at what they do, they may find themselves outranking multi-million dollar companies for the same key terms in Google’s ideal search engine results page utopia.

This means that if your website contains writing that passes for OK, you may want to upgrade it to crazy fantastic by talking to someone like me or any one of the other stellar web copywriters out there. Because when Cutts talks, changes are soon to follow at the Googleplex.


Offerings Update: Social Media and WordPress Websites

We’ve been informally handling client social media needs and creating and troubleshooting WordPress websites since we launched the business in January of 2009. It’s time to announce the fact that we do this and offer one simple price to do it. $80 an hour. We charge to the minute rather than rounding up or down. That way you only pay for exactly the time that we spend on your project.

If you prefer a flat rate quote instead, let us know and we’ll try to come up with one for you. We’ll also include estimates for hours worked in any quote and let you know if we come close to an overage, so you’ll never have to worry about an unlimited budget.

If you are interested in social media management, we’ll get you started by offering you a free social media proposal. We’ll examine your current web and social media presence and give you tips to improve. You can either take our proposal and use it in-house or hire us to implement it for you. Why would we do this? We want to be front-of-mind for your copywriting, blogging, and website maintenance needs. So we’re happy to give a little of ourselves to get that relationship going.

Contact us today to get started. We don’t bite, and more importantly we won’t pepper you with endless emails, promotions, or phone calls.


StumbleUpon is The New Spot to Submit Your Own Posts: Not Reddit

Sometime in 2010 I wrote a post about Reddit which identified it as a good spot to push out your own blog posts. In the aftermath of Digg’s demise, it was true at the time. It is not the case at all any more. It doesn’t matter how good your stuff is or how large the publication or website that you write for is, if you wrote it yourself, you can’t submit it. The Reddit community looks down their noses at that sort of thing and you will get banned if you do it.

In my defense, I was totally unaware that this was even an issue on Reddit until I noticed that my posts stopped getting upvoted on an account that I’d acquired a huge amount of karma points on. After some research, I found I had been banned for submitting my own posts. Since I don’t really believe in gaming the system, especially on Reddit, I was rather embarrassed that I’d so flagrantly flaunted a rule of the community for so long. You get no notice or email when you get banned, you just get banned and that’s it.

StumbleUpon, however, has no such rule, and it is a great source of traffic. The thing to remember about StumbleUpon is that it isn’t enough to cut and paste your link; you must fill out the tag and description fields. Yes, it’s more work, but it allows the StumbleUpon community to find your stuff.


HR.Com Presentation on Social Media Strategy Friday, March 2

I’ve been invited to present an hour-long seminar next Friday, March 2 on developing a winning social media strategy. While the free webinar is geared towards human resources professionals, the topic will be of interest to any business person trying to wrap their head around social media and how they can make it work for their company.

The free webinar will take place between 1:30 and 2:30 EST on March 2. I hope to see you there, and you can request presentation materials from me after the fact via email at info@workingwebcopy.com.

For more information and to sign up, check out the event information page.



Contributing Writer for PC World Business Center

I’ve been asked after about a month-long trial to be a regular contributor to PC World’s Business Center (and yes, Canadians, that is how it’s spelled south of our border). I’m extremely humbled by this and look forward to helping PC World business readers navigate through the choppy waters of tech. You can read all of my posts so far at http://www.pcworld.com/author/Angela-West.

I’ve also created a Facebook page as well. If you want to follow all of my posts, I’ll be posting them up there. The Facebook URL is http://www.facebook.com/angelawestwriter.

If you are a small business, I highly recommend checking out Business Center since the whole purpose of the site is to translate all the goings-on in tech into terms real business owners can understand, and all of the writers on the site do a great job of sticking to this mandate.


Automating Your Tweets Without Sounding Fake

With services like Hootsuite, you can write your Tweets all at once and schedule them to publish on Twitter whenever you want. This is a huge time saver for people who like to curtail the time that they spend on social media. Depending on how frequently you want to tweet, you can take a few minutes at the beginning of your day and plan your tweets.

The only drawback to this is not being able to respond to people who ask you questions about your tweets throughout the day. Luckily, Twitter has a solution for this. Most of us pry ourselves away from social media throughout the day, but are always jacked in to our email. You can set your preferences in Twitter for Twitter to email you when someone responds to your tweets, saving you valuable checking time that can easily lead you away from your work. This way, you can just pop onto Hootsuite, respond to the person, and get back to what you were doing.

Take advantage of this feature by sounding more “real” through asking your followers questions and other things that make it look like you are on Twitter right now, breathlessly waiting to answer questions. Even if you are not.

If you need someone to manage your social media marketing, we do that. Contact us for a personalized quote for your business.


How to recognize and fix “overwritten” web copy

There’s a reason that I insist on starting most of my projects from scratch. I’ve seen copy from clients that is “overwritten”. I have to edit it down harshly without regard for the feelings of the client if we both want it to be effective.

Here are a few tips on how to recognize and fix overwritten copy.

Florid Language

I just rewrote a website that I’m convinced Chaucer worked on. While “forsooth” wasn’t being used, it was just a tiny hair away from entering the paragraph. If your language has more flowers than a royal garden, slash and burn until you are left with something a little less heady.

Example: “Our company purveys the utmost in shoe leathers, exquisite craftsmanship is our aim.”
Should be: “We sell expertly crafted shoe leathers.”

Lack of subheads

If your piece is online and lacking the subheadings you see throughout this post, go back and sprinkle them in where it makes sense to do so. This will break up the text and make it easier to scan online.

Slay your sacred cows

If you find yourself spending hours crafting a turn of phrase, chances are good that it will come off stilted and overwritten. “Inspired writing” is something to save for your first novel, not advertising copy.

Don’t be afraid to be casual

Old school corporate language was stilted and boring. It doesn’t translate well into web copy. The same stuff that worked for a bank’s website or marketing material even fifteen years ago will not work now. Clients are younger and hipper and enjoy a fresh perspective, and if you can give it to them you’ll have an edge over your corporatespeak competitors.

Have you got any overwritten or corporatespeak copy that you’d like to have fixed? Contact me and I’ll get you a free quote.