Monday, August 31, 2009

Phish and Internet Content

I always liked the Grateful Dead, and I saw around a hundred Dead shows back in the day. As a writer, you had to respect the Dead's content a great deal. Robert Hunter is the best lyricist that I have ever heard, and Barlow is pretty good himself. However, toward the end of Garcia's life, I found that the music was lacking in energy and focus, and I became bored by it. At the last show that I ever attended, At the Oakland coliseum in 1993 (I think that was the year), Garcia was flubbing lyrics and missing licks, and I was leaning back in my chair lamenting the time and money I had wasted planning my vacation around this trip to Oakland.

The guy sitting next to me leaned over and said into my ear, "You should go see Phish." I took his advice and went to a Phish show at the Crest Theater in Sacramento. It was a pretty small venue, and it was nowhere near full. They played all of what I know now to be Gamehendge. I was in awe.

I went on to see quite a few shows after that, and must say that I have always loved Phish. Some would say that their lyrical content is lacking at times, and that may well be true, but all in all their lyrics are solid and interesting. The reason I am mentioning all of this here is that when I went to see Phish, most of the people seemed very real and not easily fooled. They were forward thinking. And now, many of the people who I was dancing with back in 1993 are people who are in a position to contract someone to write their content.

I don't wear a tie, and though I know how to do it, I avoid "corporate-speak" when ordinary English will do. I sometimes wonder why so many people are so idealistic though jaded and perhaps hopeful when they are young, but then, when they are in a position to make change, they don't have the courage to do so. I keep it real here knowing that I may be alienated potential clients because I feel in my heart that I will eventually win over the "right" clients and develop meaningful relationships that help to usher in a more genuine landscape here on the 'net.

Of course, like I always remind everyone (especially myself) this may not happen. And that's fine, the difference between bounty and the bare necessities can be boiled down to Popov or the Goose. And that isn't much at all in the big picture.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Content Conveying Individuality

I have been writing a good bit of on-page content for a web design firm, and because I am contracted by them to write for their clients' sites, I haven't been getting the opportunity to speak with the companies that I'm writing about. I feel as though I have done a good job of conveying the rather stock message of "we provide quality goods or services at great prices, and our customer service is stellar." But, I think that truly good on-page content should answer a simple question: what sets your company apart from the many others who are offering the same thing?

I realize that larger corporations really don't have a soul, so there is no unique individuality that can be honestly conveyed. But the companies that I have been writing in behalf of are all small or relatively small businesses (mostly service companies) that are targeting a local demographic. I think that prospective customers would like to hear who you are, why you do what you do, and why they should choose you. If I as a content provider can make a compelling case in your behalf, your site should have a better than average conversion rate.

Many companies are sold on web design and SEO/SEM in a couple of meetings, and they trust that the "gurus" will provide content that will provide results. It's true that I can and do conduct keyword research and deploy content with the correct keywords in the proper density, and this does indeed help the site do well in the SERPs. But conversions are another matter. I'm not saying that stock "marketingspeak" is completely ineffective. I do however feel as though the best on-page content will let your customers know who you are, why you're good at what you do, and why you think that you deserve their business.

Here's where I am unique from others in the field. All of the above makes sense to me. But, I have no way of knowing if it's true, and I know for sure that it's not totally true. There may be some people who feel that content that is not stock is lacking in "professionalism." That's cool, because the whole concept of "professionalism" is laughable much of the time. It is often synonymous with disingenuous bullshit manifest in various different forms.

Anyway, it's almost time to go out for a few White Russians, followed by a couple of slices of pizza with garlic, anchovies and jalapenos. So, in closing, let me say that I am a content dude who believes that keeping it real will always yield the best results. But, I may be wrong.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Content Dude: Last Days In Vegas

These are my last few days in Las Vegas before I head back to Athens, Georgia. I originally moved from Athens to Sedona in Arizona about ten years ago, but economic opportunity brought me here to Las Vegas. I learned most of what I know about e-commerce, search engine optimization, and web content while I was here, and the overall experience has been good for me in many ways.

When you have never lived in Las Vegas, but you have visited here like many if not most people have, you may get a skewed idea of what it's like. My typical day consists of getting up, writing content and doing some marketing when I have time, and then doing yoga and walking a few miles before I eat my main meal. Then it's back to providing quality web content for my clients, and when I'm done for the day I'll play some guitar, read, and then go to bed. Once in a while I go out after working for a few White Russians, and there is the occasional show or road trip, but that's life in Vegas for me.

Most people that I know here, of all ages, lead similar lives. Going to the strip is not something that you want to do unless you are going to a concert or show. I have walked around on the strip once in eight years, when a friend was visiting.

As for gambling, I rarely indulge. When I am drinking White Russians in a bar I may play five or ten dollars in a poker machine just for shits and giggles. But gambling is a losing proposition, and the content dude is not about losing. Not that I haven't considered every possible way to apply my formidable intellect to the task of winning mad stacks of easy cash, but I have come up empty and simply lost interest in gambling. I became a good enough live or Internet poker player to have a shot any time I play, but I just got sick of it. In the end, even if you're successful, all you get is money, and what good is that? I'm back to playing guitar all the time instead, and maybe that's part of why I got into the vibe of moving back to Athens.

So if you are reading this, you're thinking, what does all of this have to do with Internet content? I found this site looking for sage advice or some sales pitch trying to convince me to get my content here. But all I'm getting is a regular person keeping it real and writing about his own life. What's up with that?

I'm not sure. All I can say is that this is what I felt like writing. I could have kept quiet entirely, but this came out instead. However, since I provide content for a living, you need to know if I can write well enough to populate your pages with readable material. you have it, it's your call. And speaking of calls, there is no last call here in Vegas...I guess I'll miss that...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing Content To Your Demographic

I see a lot of web content that is not written with the intended audience in mind, and because of this, I feel that I should always have unlimited work and people should be trying to outbid one another for my services. I should be very highly paid and in extraordinary demand because I am not so smart that I'm a dumb ass. (I'm actually fortunate enough to have some awesome clients who understand my unique form of genius and keep me pretty busy, but I have to feign indignation to make my point.)

We have all seen straight-up poorly written content, or content that was clearly written by someone who does not have a firm command of the English language. For that reason alone I should be swimming in work, but I'm not even trying to go there right now. I'm talking about content that is written as though it was a white paper on a technical matter. End users don't need too much information. They just want to know what the thing that you are trying to sell will do for them and why they should buy your version of it. Making them feel as though you must be really smart because they don't know what the hell you're saying is not the most effective approach to writing content.

I understand that many people who spend their lives immersed in the technical side of computing are not trying to flex their knowledge when they try to explain an application. They just see things from behind the scenes as it were, and that's understandable. This is why writers should compose web content, not designers. Let me research the product and understand what it does, and I'll explain it in a way that the average end user can understand.

Now you may say that the demographic for many products are techies in their own right. I would counter by saying yes and no. There are countless small businesses that don't have an IT department--but they may have a hell of a need for killer apps that make their lives simpler. Plus, you have decision makers who are not in IT who can be sold on a product and inform IT of the fact that the company will be using this solution. That is, if they can understand what it is by reading the content that describes it.

My premise is that you should write to the audience you are trying to reach. Aside from potential customers, your content should be telling the Google bots what you do and what you sell. I am not a designer, but when I use SEO tools to analyze keyword density I notice that a lot of expensive looking sites don't have any keyword focus. The bots are not even reading the written content, they are seeing code that apparently tells them nothing about the purpose of the site (For instance, "Adobe" as the top keyword on a site that has nothing to do with Adobe). I would hold out the possibility that there is something at play here that I just don't understand, but the sites I'm talking about are not doing well.

Then there are the sites with quality writing (but way too much jargon) that do not consistently remind the bots that the purpose of the site is to sell widgets in Chicago. Proving that you know all the business school lingo is the job interview (maybe). But if you find yourself writing content, serve your client and don't be too uppity to sell his frickin' widgets in plain English. And by the way, I invite you to check the keyword density of this blog.

Of course all of the successful sites on the web were done by amazing designers who understand good design with SEO focus, and they contain content that sells. I'm talking about the rest of them here.

I purport to be a content dude. I am humble, and I know I have a lot to learn, but I also know that my content work would be an improvement on the majority of the sites I've seen. Let good writers who are focused and detail oriented enough to consider keyword density write your content, and let the designers design.

Disclaimer: I do sound kind of pissed off when I read this back to myself, but I'm not really. I don't get pissed off. This is a persona I adopted to make a point. I will always be an iconoclast no matter what I do so this is just that coming to the surface. I am actually drinking White Russians and listening to Radiohead as I write this and smiling rather dumbly...