Thursday, April 30, 2009

Leveraging Website Copy

Notes From A March 13th Presentation
To SCK's
Ask The Experts Workshop Series

U.S. Households lost $11 TRILLION IN WEALTH IN LAST YEAR. That's worth keeping in mind. But if you’re in business, now’s not the time to retrench. If anything, you need to work smarter if not harder in biz development. During tough times, there’s a flight to quality, value, dependability, etc.

Entrepreneurial people aren’t as intimidated by chaos, because they find opportunities in change and see patterns that others may not. Use the web as your skunk works; experiment with it for building leads, contacts and conversations.

Full disclosure: I’m not really an expert about the web. Be skeptical of anyone who says they are. The web is too fluid and dynamic for anyone to ever really become expert, because just when you think you have the hang of it, things have moved on. The goal instead is to be a learning machine.

For the web to work at its best, you need to blend the various sub-disciplines (SEO, e-marketing, analytics, design, content, usability) into a seamless whole. Think of them as tactics blending into your larger web strategy.

The end goal of all of this is, or should be, inbound marketing. Business is a lot easier when some opportunities find you.

A Few Do’s & Don’ts On Web Copy

Don’t Bury Your Lead
Get the essence of your organization/product offering on the home page, not buried four clicks away, hoping visitors might find it. Just as every successful presidential campaign has a crisp, clear, coherent, credible narrative that states the case for voting for that candidate, your home page has to quickly and clearly communicate what you’re about, how you’re different, and why anyone should care. And it should be tailored to your audience & closely tied to your business objectives.

Don’t Get Carried Away by Baking Key Words Into Your Message
This can sometimes come at the cost of being unclear about your main offerings, real corporate culture and central differentiation points. Besides, you can always accomplish some of that via meta tags and title tags.

Don’t Panic About All This Social Media Stuff
Just do something, at least one thing well, and grow from there. These are merely tactics that shouldn’t cause you to lose sight of your larger strategic objectives. Do a couple things that help with inbound marketing. Consider an “ask the experts” micro site in which you invite visitors to ask questions. It’s a good way to demonstrate your knowledge.

Do Give Both Readers & Skimmers Something for Them
If you worked for Bill Clinton, you might best report on your progress by preparing a long report for him to read. If you worked for George W. Bush, you’d be better off crafting a short and compelling story to relate to him orally. Find a way to deliver your message to different kinds of audiences.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Writing for the Web

A Presentation to the 18th Annual
Spring Writers Conference
@ Lakeland Community College
March 28, 2009

(editor's note: we're long overdue to post these notes. Thanks to everyone who joined this engaging discussion. I found it uniquely energizing).

It wasn’t so long ago that most writers focused only on print, while a few others concentrated only on the Internet. But those two worlds are steadily merging into one seamless publishing platform (when you publish an article in print, the outlet generally has purchased the right to also publish it on their website, and that’s a plus for you in terms of visibility if not income). At the same time, with the steady erosion (sometimes bordering on implosion) of print outlets, the web is becoming an increasingly crucial platform. In truth, it’s all just writing, but it helps to understand the sometimes different protocols and market conditions of print and online.

Item: Blender, Tennis Week, PC Magazine and the century-old Christian Science Monitor are among dozens of publications that have recently converted to online only. Plenty more will follow.
Item: Just a few weeks ago, the Pulitzer Prize administrators announced that for the first time, web-only pubs would be eligible.
Item: Longtime NYT & Washingon Post writer Sharon Waxman recently launched Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, recently began Both are chasing after, which just raised $25 million in funding.
Item: online-only taking on mighty Chronicle of Higher Ed. Former Clevelander who used to edit the latter is now editing the former.
Item: the New York Times recently launched a local blog network.
Item: (which might just win that first online Pulitzer) broke the story of the Bush White House sacking of U.S. attorneys for politics.
Closer to home, two former PD reporters have launched online-only, and, an e-letter, has something like 60,000 subscribers, while Northern Ohio Live magazine last year went from monthly to every other month, and two competing alternative weeklies (the Free Times and Scene, both near 100 pages most weeks) merged into one smaller paper.

Around the country, a number of great online-only publications are springing up to slowly fill part of the vacuum left by declining print newspapers (again, expect plenty more to follow):

Potential Online-Only Markets For You
The two granddaddies, each now well over a decade old: &

Every writer, novice to master, should maintain some form of web presence, the more substantial the better. At the very least, that should include a page or two with your credits, background and contact information. It should provide a sense of your style and distinguish you from others who wield a pen or word processor. If it also includes a handful of examples of your best work--published or not, journalism or commercial/institutional copywriting--so much the better. I can promise you this: it will make you feel more serious about your own writing aspirations and invite others to do so as well. Through the power of search technologies such as Google and the web’s unique linking structure, you will also substantially increase your likelihood of serendipity. You’ll find that, done right, even a modest web strategy will help writing opportunities find you rather than you always having to search for them. Not a bad idea in any line of work, but especially helpful in writing.BlogsWeblogs, or blogs for short, are an excellent way to establish that web presence. These easily updatable online sites allow anyone to instantly publish to the web, and you needn’t have any Internet skills to do so. What do they do? Whatever you want them to do. You can use it as a way to stretch your muscles and try new things. Experiment with new topics, new voices or approaches. If you’re a fiction writer, you can take a stab at nonfiction, or vice versa. If you’re a journalist, you can try some poetry. You can choose to tell people it exists, or wait until you feel ready to unveil it. You can be more ambitious, treating it as your own online publication, written for an audience. Even if you’re an advanced writer with decades of experience, blogs are a way to steadily widen your audience, engage more people (including new editors) and show more of what you can do and have done. You can share links to new articles and other publications, maintain an archive of earlier work, announce and sell your books and inform folks about your workshop appearances. In short, it’s a great method for building a community around your work. Unlike a static writers’ website, it screams out for readers to return periodically to your site to read about what’s new.

Other Benefits That May Surprise You

If you want it to, having a blog will instantly connect you to a dense network of fellow writers, thinkers, readers, doers and seekers. This group of highly engaged people can become a community of practice for you and your writing that will sustain and support you in your efforts. That’s critical for every writer, from the greenest novice to the most experienced master wordsmith, because writing can be, but need not be, the loneliest calling/profession/hobby/pursuit (choose one or more that applies to you). Through blogging, you can, should you so choose, join a large ongoing discussion that will stimulate your curiosity and imagination, challenge your intellect and ultimately inform and nourish your writing. It will stretch your writing horizons and possibly erase geographic boundaries. It could bring you a few (or perhaps many) international readers, and might just even get you hired for a writing gig simply because someone liked what they read and wanted more.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Okay: so let’s say for the sake of argument that I’ve convinced you to consider beginning your own blog. How do you do it? There are a number of online publishing platforms through which you can publish your blog. Wordpress ( is perhaps the most popular platform, because of its easy adaptability and many features. One of the best and easiest is Blogger ( It’s owned by Google, is simple and reliable, and best of all, it’s completely free (though they’ll be happy to sell you upgrades with more bells and whistles). Actually, believe it or not, there’s something even better than the fact that it’s free: you don’t have to know a thing about web technology to set one up yourself and to maintain it. If you can figure out the Microsoft Word program, you can follow Blogger’s highly intuitive prompts and in about 10 minutes set up your own blog. You’ll just have to give yourself a password, decide the look you’d prefer by choosing from among several page templates, decide what to call your blog and if you’ll want to allow visitors to post comments. And bingo--you’ll be in business, ready to become your own publisher. If you need help, just ask. I’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

Some Worthwhile ResourcesFor writers, a static website and a blog shouldn’t be thought of as either-or propositions. Ideally, they complement each other. But if you’re going to introduce yourself at cocktail parties as a writer or identify yourself that way on your tax return, you’d better have at least one.
Here are a couple great examples of writer’s websites:

List of websites maintained by journalists:

List of blogs by independent journalists:

Good Portal For Information About Freelancing:

Best Blog About Commercial Copywriting:

If you’re going to invest in a subscription to a writers magazine, I recommend one of these:
The Writer ( more nonfiction oriented
Poets & Writers ( more poetry and fiction oriented
Over this:
Writer’s Digest ( mostly bad advice & sales pitches, but sometimes okay

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Few Things That Caught Our Attention

  • Read It & Weep. Five reasons house prices may never recover.
  • Who Could Argue With This? You are what you read.
  • Stop the Presses! Study finds some kids are addicted to video games.
  • From the Archives, a Classic. Business Week wondered aloud back in 2000 if the "purity" of Google's business model would prevent it from making any money.
  • The Sisterhood's Not Gonna Like This. We reserve all comment on this story.
  • Could Mall's Demise Cause a Suburb's Death? Note Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones' comment on the potential backlash from the closing of Randall Park Mall.
  • Finally...A site where you can download some classic books for free.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Our Favorite Headline & Subhead of the Week

It's also one of the more satisfying developments we've read about, this moaning from Wall Street. While you're at it, perhaps you're also in the mood to read about the privations of an anonymous spouse of a banker who feels he must get out of the crosshairs of public attention as a result of accepting the federal TARP bailout funds. Please, do include all these poor folks in your prayers, will you? But if all that focus on bad economic news leaves you in need of some comic relief, I recommend this video clip posted not long ago by my friend Erin O'Brien, wielder of a uniquely wicked pen. I watched it four times, and laughed each time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hunger Pains

'Hunger is not an emotion, not quite a mentality and certainly not a skill. What it is, though, is as vital as anything drawn up on a whiteboard or honed in a gymnasium. Coaches come up with syrupy speeches and perform wild pregame stunts in an effort to generate it, and moderately talented players -- "energy guys" -- earn millions for providing a form of it. It's unquantifiable and only vaguely identifiable, and that allows every baller to think he's hungrier than the man he's facing up. Only some of them, of course, have a case. "It's that old cliché: 'Don't talk about it, be about it,'" says Hornets coach Byron Scott, who won three rings with the Lakers. "A lot of teams talk about how hungry they are, how dedicated they are. But until you go out and show it, it's just talk."
--from a cover story in the current ESPN Magazine, which rates the Cavs franchise as well as its fans as among the NBA entities hungriest for a championship.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Are You Stuck in a Rut?

'Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.'
--Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the celebrated (rightly, we think) author and Harvard Business School professor, whose work centers on leadership and innovation. It doesn't hurt that she also happens to be a Cleveland-area native. You can read an interview with her here, and check out The Economist's brief overview on her here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's As Simple (Or As Hard) As That

'Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.'
--William Wordsworth. We tip our cap to the incomparable Jenny Rough for first noting this lovely quote.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 16

Putting the Public Back in Public Relations. The web is devastating to the business of lots of middle men operations, from ticket brokers to travel agents and stock brokers. PR firms are trying their best not to join that list. You can review earlier favorite book titles here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Here's How Writing & Farming Are Alike

'We like that a sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.'
--Henry David Thoreau. To review several earlier mentions of HDT, you can begin
here. Simply follow the links.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If It's Springtime, We're Engrossed
In the Delicious NBA Playoff Drama

We all have our favorite sporting traditions. Millions of folks annually overdose on the near frenzy of March Madness, the college hoops tournament (which I wrote about some time ago in
this book review). And during a recent breakfast conversation, my friend Terry was sharing his visceral love for the NHL hockey playoff season also now underway. He has one of those wonderfully expressive faces that masks little of what he's feeling, and his passion for hockey came through loud and clear. But for me, the sporting sun rises and sets on the NBA playoffs, which have just begun. Ah, nirvana.

I would enjoy it this year as I do every other no matter what, but when your favorite team is considered among the favorites to win it all (certainly the first time for that), it takes the experience from merely wonderful to a state of near rapture. It helps, in an odd way, when your city has a famously tortured history with its major league sports teams, as mine does (I wrote all about that
here three years ago).

The NBA season is way too long, and there's sometimes far too little drama during the regular season, when most of these pampered millionaires seem to be playing on auto pilot. But when the playoffs begin, you quickly find out which individuals and teams are just hanging around for the paychecks--or have one foot in the game and the other in the Bahamas, as one TV commentator so pungently put it tonight--and which ones have deeper sources of inspiration and pride upon which to draw. It's the clash of those giants (whose success is built at least as much upon their character and work ethic as it is on their athletic skills, the latter of which is a given) that makes playoff basketball such a treat. There's so much ballet, brute force and athletic improvisation blended into the final product that it's a joy to watch. So for the next six weeks or so, you'll have to excuse my divided attention.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Robert Frost on the True Value of Higher Learning

'We go to college to be given one more chance to learn to read in case we haven't learned in high school. Once we have learned to read, the rest can be trusted to add itself unto us.'
--the late and immortal poet, Mr. Frost. You can review earlier mentions of the Sublime One here, here & here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dear Commenters: We're Always Telling
You How Much We Love You, But This
Blogger Took Things One Step Further

'Consider the erotic potential between blogger and commenters,' this recent eye-opening article began. It tells the amazing story of a slow dance between a blogger and one of her commenters, eventually resulting in the couple's marriage. We got a serious kick out of it. Heck, we've always felt that kind of bond with our commenters around here. But please don't take it personally if we just keep it at the friendly level, as we're already spoken for in the marital department. We'd love to hear your thoughts about it, though.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Design is at the Core of Everything

'Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones...Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training.'
--Nobel laureate Herbert Simon

Friday, April 17, 2009

Piercing Insights Such as This
Converted Many Into Jungians

'Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.'
Carl Jung. you can review earlier items about the late intellectual giant (considered the founder of analytical psychology) here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best Lead of the Month

'It wasn’t hard to bribe your way into Madison Square Garden in the 1970s. You set out from Brooklyn, ran the toll at the tunnel and quickly inhaled a couple of bottles of under-age courage at the Penn Bar. Then, with a squarely folded $5 in the center of your right palm, you made your way to the ticket taker at Tower D and executed your Class C misdemeanor like a politician working a rope line: feigned ease, little eye contact and an efficient, soulless handshake during which your $5 became his.'
--from a New York Times article on an upcoming HBO documentary about the famous Thrilla in Manila heavyweight championship fight between Muhammed Ali and George Frazier. You can review earlier best leads here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Authenticity Above All Else

'Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.'
--Judy Garland

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Few Of Our Favorite (and Least Favorite) Things
  • The best magazine subscription come-on of the week, month and year, from The Nation: "We're like Fox News. Only Smart. And not crazy. And we don't lie. Click here for 4 free issues."
  • The silliest academic mumbo jumbo we've seen in quite awhile: Womanist Theology.
  • Glad to see we're not the only ones who hate those infernal traffic cameras the City of Cleveland uses to nab scofflaws. To us, they merely provide one more reason not to head downtown.
  • Some recent Seth Godin wisdom, on the need to occasionally push yourself by sprinting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Words Matter

'The person who first hurled a word founded civilization.'
--Sigmund Freud. It's good to be back. I've missed y'all. A special thanks to all of those who left comments and sent all those lovely emails...