Posts Tagged ‘Subject-Matter Knowledge

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis - Video Ads vs. Social Marketing vs. Pay-Per-Click Ads vs. Search Engine-Optimization

It’s no secret that Google recently changed its search formulas.

Google’s intent was to decrease the occurrence of “content farms” in search results, because the farms were clogging the search rankings. Content farms tend to be heavy on ads, post information without much regard for quality, and often use text copied from other sources.

So good for Google! Time to stop rewarding the content farms.

Alas, however, Google’s modifications to its search algorithms also spawned some unintended (and negative) consequences for legitimate companies.

If you own or work at a small business with a web presence, then one or more of the accidental side effects may be giving you a real headache.

Recent articles on CNN Money and in the Wall Street Journal noted that, as a result of Google’s changes, many small businesses have seen dramatic declines in their web traffic and web-generated sales – think drops in sales of as much as 40 percent.

Wouldn’t that make you sit up and take notice? Thought so. As you might imagine, then, those businesses are now taking action.

Which brings us to the “silver lining in the cloud” part.

If you are a freelance writer, pay close attention here, because one tactic favored by those companies is to hire more freelance writers to customize copy.

You see, many of the affected companies sell lots and lots of different products. Formerly, they relied on the manufacturers’ product descriptions, meaning they basically just copied the text. The manufacturers certainly didn’t mind (it’s partly why they created the copy, after all), but that approach seems to have caused their sites to lose their place in Google’s rankings.

So rejoice, freelance writers. As Carol Tice says in her excellent post about this subject: “Google’s change is opening up a world of freelance writing opportunities.”

In addition to writing original product descriptions, companies also need copy for email marketing campaigns, customer Q&A, social media, direct customer communication and much more that will help each company distinguish itself from its competition.

Companies, although you’re going to suffer some short-term pain, in my opinion you have been handed a golden opportunity to make your businesses even more profitable and productive. You and your customers will eventually benefit enormously from what good freelance writers can bring to the table.

Remember, good communication is the heartbeat of a great business. (And better Google rankings.)

Bonus just for you: If you’d like to read more about substantive content and SEO, and why you should care, check out these recent posts:

Now it’s your turn: How do you present your products and services in an original, creative way? What keeps your customers coming back to your website and actually buying stuff? Writers, what do you think about the opportunities presented by Google’s changes? Please share your thoughts and keep the conversation going in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write ideas


Information visualization provides a way of helping people make sense of large, complex data sets, such as the following:

  • Topology data
  • Epidemiology data
  • Sets of time series
  • Medical data
  • Geographic maps
  • Network connections
  • Financial data
  • U.S. Government Budget
  • Billions of customer transactions
  • Radiation doses and their impact over time

Improving large-scale analysis of these and many other massive data sets presents an ongoing challenge for businesses, academia and government. Using information visualization techniques, however, allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

Essentially, information visualization allows you to extract meaningful information from a sea of data.

And those data do not have to correspond only to the physical and concrete. They can be abstract, drawn from the domains of the symbolic, the textual, the logical, the tabular, the networked, and the hierarchical, among others.


Example: Accessing the Geosocial Universe via Mobile Devices

How popular are the various geosocial networks with mobile users? This infographic is a good example of “compare and contrast.”

Geosocial Universe

This infographic illustrates and compares the popularity of different geosocial networking services. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ranking Themes in Documents

If you’re curious about the relationships among documents, this visualization shows clusters of themes and their strengths in health- and medical-related literature.

IN-SPIRE Software: ThemeView Landscape

This ThemeView Landscape figure shows relationships among documents. High peaks represent prominent themes. Peaks close together represent clusters of similar documents. (Click to see credits and source.)


Example: Ordering  News Topics by “Interestingness”

Ever want to find out what are the hottest news topics within a given time period? In this visualization, the most reported (hottest) topics are in the center column. Less-reported topics appear in the side columns.

Automated, Intelligent Broadcast Video Content Analysis

News visualization topics are arranged according to “interestingness” for a given time period. Hottest topics (those most reported) appear in the central column. Side columns are used for topics of lesser impact by the interestingness measure. (Click for credits and source.)


Using Information Visualization to Improve Your Publications

For your visualization to be effective, it must be useful to your audience as well as aesthetically appealing. This requires thoughtful analysis, attention to detail, imagination, and no small amount of perseverance. This YouTube video provides some examples and techniques. You may also find inspiration in Edward Tufte’s website.

The idea is that you do the heavy lifting, so your audience doesn’t have to.

To guide your work, ask the following questions:

Does your visualization have a purpose?  That is, what is the story you are trying to tell with this visualization? What information are you trying to tease out of the data and put into visual form?

Is your visualization the best one to convey the story?  That is, when your audience sees the visualization, will they immediately grasp the “big picture” of your analysis of the data? Will they easily grasp the meaningful patterns in the subject? If details are also important, does your visualization scale to that level in a way that makes sense for the subject and the audience?

Is your visualization interactive? Interactive views allow you to guide the story and are especially helpful when there is too much detail to show all at once. Although interactivity works best online, it can be approximated in print by breaking out information into related visualizations.

Is your visualization beautiful? Beauty influences comprehension. How you present something can determine its usefulness. Visual attributes such as fonts, colors, sizing, orientation of view, scaling of graphic elements and placement of graphic elements have a large impact on the user experience. For an example of WOW! beautiful maps, check out Maps: Visualizing Twitter and Flickr Data.

Tell me, do you think information visualization is the new frontier?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think? Do you use information visualization in your work? Do you generate your designs by software or have a graphic artist create them? I’d really like for you to keep the conversation going by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


Search Engine Optimization -- Does It Really Work?

Search Engine Optimization -- Does It Really Work? Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What does it take to improve the visibility of your web page or website in a search engine’s results list? Can you actually improve your search-engine ranking? And, most important, is that what really drives more visitors to your page or site?

A lot has been written about search engine optimization (SEO) and its value as an Internet marketing strategy.

Over the years, of course, search engines have caught on to so-called black-hat techniques, often referred to as spamdexing, which can get a page or site removed from a search engine’s index. So ethical website designers have learned to avoid bad practices like link farming, keyword stuffing and article spinning. And beyond the ethics question, to my knowledge there has never been any clear-cut evidence that such tricks ever really worked without any massaging of the results data.

Legitimate practices for optimizing a web page or site, the so-called white-hat techniques, include backlinking, removing barriers to the search engines’ indexing activities, cross-linking between a website’s pages and URL normalization.

Perhaps the most important technique of all, however, is to create worthwhile content that is truly relevant to your audience and also contains the keywords that your audience is most likely to use in their search queries. Place those keywords on pages, in title tags and in meta descriptions.

In my opinion, content wins, hands down, over other website-based methods of optimizing for search engines. Here’s why:

  • In order to create content that is relevant and useful for your audience, you have to know your audience. This requires research, analysis and thoughtful consideration, not black-hat tricks.
  • To develop keywords that make it easy for your target audience to find your web page or site, you must know how your audience thinks. You’ll probably have to dig a little to figure out which search terms your audience tends to use, run some tests and get feedback.
  • To make your web page or site compelling enough to draw visitors, your content has to be useful, interesting and well written. Great page design and graphics certainly help, but those alone won’t save your site if your visitors decide the content is not worth the trip.
  • Finally, to keep ‘em coming back for more, you must keep your site’s content fresh. So update and tweak as often as needed, which will depend on your company’s overall marketing objectives, the site’s purpose and your audience’s needs.

Gee, it’s beginning to sound as though you might need a marketing plan, isn’t it? Which is exactly where I think SEO belongs: as one part (and only one part) of your marketing plan.

What do you think? Do you use SEO? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Many proposals miss their target. Why?

Are Your Proposals Missing the Target?

Are your business proposals missing the mark too often? Have you been told they are “nonresponsive”?

Although you can encounter many pitfalls and hidden traps in responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal), perhaps the most important is this one:

Many companies simply do not meet the requested requirements, as stated in the SOW (Statement of Work).

The SOW describes the product or service a company, government agency or organization wants to buy. It is the key to a successful proposal.

And yet, amazingly, many companies submit proposals that do not adequately respond to the requirements given in the SOW.

Fitting the Pieces Together

Crafting a Successful Proposal Is Like Fitting Together a Puzzle

Crafting a Successful Proposal Is Like Fitting Together a Puzzle

To win the business, your company must be able to:

  • Meet the requirements set forth in the SOW.
  • Write the proposal in such a way that every requirement in the SOW is thoroughly addressed.

Can Your Company Meet the Requirements?

Whether the SOW is general or specific, vague or concrete, long or short, pay attention to every issue and detail it contains.

Before you do any work on the proposal at all, study each section to be sure your company can actually deliver the product or service, or solve the problem. And if so, can you deliver the goods in the manner requested?

If you have any misgivings, contact the company or agency to discuss your questions. You may want to do more research, including on-site, to clarify any doubts or uncertainties about what the project entails.

Additionally, RFPs can contain errors and omissions. If you think you have found any, get in touch with the person in charge of the project to discuss acceptable modifications or work-arounds.

While you are talking with the procurement agent, keep in mind that a tone of voice or a revealing comment on the part of the agent could provide you with insight about the RFP and the project. This information could prove very useful in deciding how to design your proposal – or even whether to submit a proposal.

You may also find it helpful to find out who will be evaluating your proposal. After all, technical experts in a field will have different evaluation standards than accountants or business executives. Knowing who is on the source  evaluation board can help ensure that the solution your company proposes will satisfy the requirements of the SOW.

Write to the Requirements of the SOW

As part of your proposal strategy, review the vocabulary and style of the company, government agency or organization for which you are writing the proposal. You must use their terms and jargon. Your language and style must reflect their practice and their context. Know your audience!

The wording in your proposal should reflect the language used in the RFP, especially the language used in the SOW and the evaluation standards. Repeat key words, phrases and sentences, because doing so will help the evaluators recognize that you are responding to the criteria given in the RFP. If you can, write in such a way that they are able to tell which criteria you are responding to, just by reading your words.

Pay close attention to the relative importance assigned to the evaluation criteria. The weighting values of the various categories help determine the scope, level of detail and amount of discussion to give to each issue in the SOW.

For more information on writing proposals, check out Deborah’s Proposal Writing Blog.

You may also want to check out this Boot$trapping Blog page on writing business proposals.

Make It a Winner!

The SOW Is the Key to a Successful Proposal

The SOW Is the Key to a Successful Proposal

Remember, the SOW is the critical document in the solicitation package. It is a statement of the work your company must perform to deliver a product or service, or solve a problem.

To craft a proposal that stands a good chance of resulting in a contractual relationship, you must address the issues in the SOW in a responsive and relevant manner.

What other advice would you give to readers on how to write a successful proposal?   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Basil Leaf in a Garden Context

Basil Leaf in a Garden Context

Context is a tricky word, because its meaning morphs, depending on the situation. Given this interesting quality, today I thought I’d look at some of the ways we can think of what the word context can mean in writing.

Text Level

When we speak about the text, or copy, in a document, the word context commonly refers to the elements of a sentence (or paragraph) that surround a particular word or phrase and that influence its meaning. So, what precedes and follows a word, sentence or paragraph helps to determine how readers will interpret it.

But as we know, the text lives inside a document, which in turn affects how readers understand the text.

Document Level

At the document level, the writing situation changes. Here, context is broadly understood to mean the relationship of the writer, the audience, the subject, and the purpose of the document.

As writers, we ask ourselves these core communication questions to start to get a handle on the document’s context:

  • What do I know about the subject?
  • What is the purpose of the document?
  • What does my audience know about the subject?
  • What does my audience need to know about the subject, given the purpose of the document?

And just when you think you’ve got it nailed, it’s very useful to get feedback on your document’s game plan from some test users, who should ask themselves: “What do I know about the subject now that I’ve read the document?” And, most important: “What else do I need to know?”

Of course, no document stands alone. Every piece of writing exists in a system, or setting, which helps to shape how the writer approaches the document.

Setting Level

The document itself exists in a context, an environment we can think of as the conditions that govern the document’s function or the setting in which the document is to be used.

Here are some key questions to help define the conditions/setting:

  • Where will the document be used?
  • Is this a print or online document?
  • Is the document flying solo, or is it part of a communications package?
  • Will readers have access to other help resources?

In order to clarify the complexities of the setting-document-text relationships, many writers find it helpful to use a context diagram.

How Context Works: Some Considerations (Involving Basil)

Bet you were wondering why a picture of a basil leaf opens this post.

Because, in making pesto last weekend, I ran into some context questions, which prompted me to write this post.

The pesto recipe I used calls for three cups of snipped fresh basil. Now, I happened to already know that “snipped” in this context generally means to tear each leaf by hand into rather small pieces (or use scissors to mince it).

But what if I hadn’t? Solution: For online publications, define “snipped” in context-sensitive help; in this case, a linked glossary definition or a pop-up. For print publications, use boldface on the word and, in an introductory section about conventions used in the document, tell the readers that a bolded word means the word is defined in a glossary. Another option (for both media) would be to define the audience: level of expertise, experience and knowledge.

On second thought, what if the writer of this recipe actually understood “snipped” to just mean “cut the leaf from the stem”? After all, the recipe says to use a food processor. Why hand mince the leaves if the machine will do that? How could I be fairly certain that my interpretation was probably correct? Answer: I interpreted the statement in the context of previous general knowledge. Still and all, that’s a little dicey. Maybe the author really did mean three cups of whole leaves, with the stems snipped off.

After all, recipes for a given dish can differ wildly, and who knows what the writer’s intent actually is, unless it’s explicitly stated?

Onward. Since this was my first foray into personally making homemade pesto, I didn’t know how many whole leaves to gather. How many cups of whole leaves result in three cups of snipped leaves?

So I experimented and discovered that about four cups of whole leaves very nicely turn into three cups of snipped.

The entire whole-to-snipped dilemma is another lovely opportunity for the writer to supply some context. Why make the cook guess and spend time experimenting?

Another aspect of context would be to tell readers to harvest the basil leaves before the plant flowers. Ah, tips on usage. Now that is helpful. Who wouldn’t want to know that after the plant flowers you will taste a tinge of bitterness in the leaves?

In this next picture, you can see the flower spikes on a basil plant that is just starting to blossom.

Flower Stalks on a Basil Plant

Flower Stalks on a Basil Plant

The recipe does provide substitution suggestions (walnuts or pecans) for the pine nuts, which is terrific contextual information. Pine nuts cause adverse reactions in some people, and others simply prefer another taste.

Another contextual suggestion, again involving usage, concerns storage. The recipe says the pesto can be put in a jar, covered with ¼-inch olive oil, and stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Wouldn’t it be nice to know for how long in each case? When does the pesto go bad? What is the outside “safe” date for each method of storage?

Also of contextual interest to a cook is the best way to store something for ease of future use. Freezing the pesto in a jar means you have to thaw all of it at once. What about including the following alternative: If you intend to store the pesto in the freezer, pour or ladle it into the sections of an ice-cube tray. That way, you can conveniently access exactly the amount of pesto you need for one meal. How cool: little frozen cubes of pesto. Talk about ease of use! Wouldn’t that be nice information to offer to readers in the recipe?

As you see, this simple recipe for pesto (only six ingredients and minimal assembly work) very quickly got more complicated due to issues of context: one question at the level of text (“snipped”), and many more at the levels of document and setting.

Well then, what happens when we write user manuals, hardware assembly instructions, operations guides, policy manuals, and so many other business and technical publications?

Compared to a simple pesto recipe, those and other documents are astonishingly complex in their requirements for suitable contextual information.

We need to pay attention to all levels of context so our readers get what they really need to know in order to get a job done (without tearing their hair out).

If our audience wins, our company wins as well, because there is a bonus benefit for using context well: notice that adding these contextual elements to the pesto recipe would help readers find a lot more meaning in the recipe book. (And, of course, we would add similar contextual information for the other recipes in the book as well.) Think of the marketing opportunities! Think of the increased sales! Think of the expanding market share!

What do you think of my observations about context? What suggestions do you have for dealing with the complexities of context?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Do you need to learn how to use a software feature? Have a question about your taxes? Interested in keeping up with the local news? Are you a life-long learner with a passion for expanding your knowledge in one or more subject areas? Are you trying to change careers and need to acquire certification in a technical field?

Day in, day out, we all need or want to know more about certain subjects. Our “need to know” is never-ending.

It is in this sense, then, that all of us have a “problem”: we need some type of information, and we must go about finding it. How do we resolve our dilemma?

We turn to writers, who supply the solutions we need.

You see, there would be no point in writing if there were no readers who needed to know something. Every piece of writing, from newspapers and magazines to fiction and nonfiction of all genres to technical documentation and beyond, seeks to satisfy someone’s need or desire to know.

The writer’s job is to recognize a specific audience’s problems (what do my readers want to know), define the problems in a way that makes sense for that audience (why do my readers want to know), respond in a way that will interest that audience, and communicate the right information.

If the writer is successful in that effort, readers will get what they need.

Good writers know that all writing is problem-oriented, in the sense that the “need to know” reflects the existence of a problem.

So, writers, let us thank our readers, for without the problem of their thirst for information, we would have no reason to write.

As readers, let us all thank the writers who have answered our questions, filled in our knowledge blanks, satisfied our curiosity, and given us so many hours of reading pleasure.

What sort of writing has helped you?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Writers and editors are always hunting for good ideas, whether a sparkling, original one or a new angle on a tried-and-true war-horse. After all, every print and online publication needs to be fed, some on a daily basis. Finding good story ideas is a constant scramble.

Let’s say you need a good idea for a travel article.

Start by establishing your subject area, also known as the focus, angle, slant, hook, or thread. Since you clearly cannot write about everything relating to even one place, much less an entire neighborhood, city, region or country, you have to focus on some particular aspect.

For example, if the editor of a travel magazine wants an article about St. Louis, Missouri and has asked you to submit several ideas for articles, what do you do? Begin by jotting down large topic areas like historical sites, arts, museums, festivals, food, neighborhoods, local celebrities, music, and so on. You’ll probably have to research the metro area in order to make such a list, and you might also want to check around to see what has already been written in travel magazines and blogs, and in the travel section of newspapers. And, by the way, what are actual travelers interested in knowing? Get all the stats you can.

Pick one of the topic areas and refine it. Take food, for example. Do you want to write about cuisine native to St. Louis (yes, it exists; gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli are just some of the fare to be enjoyed)? Or would you prefer to neighborhood hop and sample what one or two areas offer, or, alternatively, highlight one venerable dish and how chefs in different neighborhoods prepare it? What about tracing a single St. Louis food specialty back to its origins? If a local chef or restaurant has just won a major award, would a timely profile piece appeal to readers (and the editor)? Maybe a jazzy piece on the truly great “dives” in the city? Or how about throwing a spotlight on bars that serve the best bar food?

You can see where this is leading—right to what could become a very interesting slant on St. Louis food. And now you’re on a roll, slicing and dicing the “food” idea, heading toward a nicely defined point of view, which will give the editor a story worth telling and, for the magazine’s audience, a story worth reading.

Continue shaping your story idea by tightening the frame, so that you zoom in closer and closer to an idea about food that is very particular and very local. And while you’re at it, sharpen the focus until you distill your idea to one facet of the subject.

If you follow this process, you should bag your quarry in the end.

What do you think?  Do you have any tips for tracking down a good story idea?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

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