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Tag: web content

SXSW Interactive: Day 1

Today was simply easing into the South by Southwest Interactive conference. I started the afternoon much like last year – by eating Mellow Mushroom pizza and missing the first (2:00) panel.

I made it to the next panel I wanted to see: The Accidental Writer – Great Web Copy for Everyone. While it was slightly more directed toward people who don’t write (developers, UI people, etc.), it still contained a lot of helpful tips that bear repeating for even the most seasoned writer.

But before the speaker (a tech writer and content strategist by trade) got to the tips, she stressed the importance of having good, well-written content, that’s not shoved into the end of a project budget as an afterthought.

So what tips are there for people who may not be writers by trade?
1. Don’t just describe things.

If all you do is describe what your business or website is about, it’s probably going to be a boring description.

2. Break up text.

If your readers see a long, continuous block of text, they’re probably not going to read it.

3. Give people something to do… use action words.

You have to use actionable language that has some punch behind it.

4. Web copy needs to integrate with design, design around the content

This goes back to the idea that quality content should never be an afterthought. It should complement your site design, not just supplement it.

5. Tell a story

Using narrative to tell a story of how your business, service, or website works is far more effective than a boring paragraph about what you can do for your customers.

6. Don’t overuse memes, no cliches

Got milk won’t work for you.

7. Get rid of half the words on the page then get rid of half of what’s left

People aren’t paying to read your eloquence. They’re trying to figure out if what you’re offering helps them. If they can’t figure out a yes or no answer to that question in the first few seconds of reading, they’re going to stop reading.

8. Don’t be afraid to write a horrible first draft

I fall into this trap, but I’m getting more comfortable with letting the first draft go, and then editing afterwards.

9. Make copy scannable

People should be able to get the idea of what you’re all about just by scanning the page. This is impossible unless you use bold text or bullets or some other visual scanning queue.

10. No passive voice

A basic of journalistic editing.

11. Revise and proof

No one writes a perfect first draft. You have to revise each draft and proofread the final one. Typos and misspellings show laziness.

12. Fun, friendly copy

The speaker mentioned both Groupon and W00t as examples of great, engaging web copy. Since Groupon turned me down for a freelance writing position after round 4 of the vetting process, I’ll use woot as an example. If you’re known for your engaging and quirky content, people will keep visiting just for that reason.

There’ll be a lot more tomorrow!

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Learning a shit-ton at SXSW

So, it’s day two of the South by Southwest festival in Austin – which is a freaking awesome city if you’ve never been. It’s been an absolutely amazing time, and I’m learning how to talk about my writing, including what I like writing about, what I’ve written so far, and what I will be working on next.

And as far as that goes, I went to some panels today that really helped me figure out what I want to do next. I started the day with a panel called iPad: New Opportunities for Content Creators, which was a panel centered around how the iPad is going to change the way different industries do business. The businesses represented included a rep from the Village Voice (a free weekly newspaper in major cities), an HTML guy, a game developer, and of course, a publisher from Hyperion books.

The panelist from Hyperion confirmed some of the things I’ve been talking about on the blog – that the industry as a whole has had the same business model for the last 500 years (literally, she even said so), and have only really had the need to innovate in the past couple of years. No one has quite figured out how to do it right yet, but they are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly and with some degree of reticence.

In the afternoon, I got to watch Ze Frank speak, and it was incredible. He was inspirational, funny, touching, engaging – everything you would want in a speaker. He spoke a lot about the creative process in general, and about the importance of getting feedback and killing bad ideas, and figuring out the best way to form an emotional connection with your audience. I’m not gonna lie, I was fighting back tears of laughter and emotion at various points throughout his presentation. And it also reminded me I need to kill more of my bad ideas.

After a snoozefest mistake in a CSS panel, the coup de grace came at the end of the day, when I attended a session called New Publishing and Web Content. The panelists included book publishing industry execs, magazine editors, and some other folks who’ve had their hands in content publishing for a long time. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time as they talked about how the publishing industry in changing, and these are some of the things I took away from the session:

  • This is the BEST time to do something new and innovative as an author in regard to online presence. Why? Because the model is so new that no one has gotten it quite right yet (not Amazon/Kindle even), so even if you fuck up, no one will know.
  • The idea that you no longer need a publisher is still bullshit, as much as many of us would like it not to be. I got up and asked the question regarding which school of thought about publishing one’s work is better (since I already know neither is right), and I got some great feedback.
  • Collaborative storytelling is here to stay. I’m not sure it will exist in the same form in which it is using today, which is one of the things that will be coming to the site soon.
  • Print publications and online publications are not the same – so we writers need to not try to simply replicate our print work online.
  • While the publishing industry is being shaken up by open standards and new formats, the way readers access the content is still proprietary, which is still a major roadblock.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, content is not free. Someone has to pay for it. And people need to get used to paying for good content if they actually want good content. And it’s true. If I weren’t lucky enough to have my technical writing day job, you betcha I’d be asking people to pay to read my stuff. As it is, I’m just happy anyone is reading my stuff at all, so it’s not a big deal.

It’s been a whirlwind of information, but suffice it to say it’s been beyond belief, and it will lead to some great things to come on the site. Stay tuned for all the goodness. More to come tomorrow, when I will actually be tweeting from the sessions, unlike today.

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