Uncommon Sense about Web Content

<img src="ken.jpg" alt="Ken Wells" />
Ken Wells
A recent introduction to online marketer Ken Wells turned into a captivating telephone interview on Web content. After some thinking and a bit of research, I decided our discussion was good educational material and worth publishing. I’ve added some background info and a few insights to round it out.

<img src="ied.jpg" alt="IED Web Marketing" />Ken is president of IED Web Marketing and he’s been involved in online marketing for about 10 years. His company offers a full range of digital marketing services to small and medium businesses in the Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Vaughan areas.

Digital Marketers: “They’re on the endangered list. There’s far fewer of them this year than last. Why? “So-called search engine optimization “experts” have realized that Google’s updates have more to do with social proof and especially content.”

Social proof is a validation of one’s website, a web page or blog post from others through recognized channels, such as:

  • Recommendations – on Linked In and other industry networks
  • Testimonials on Google Plus, Yelp, etc.
  • Ratings and reviews on company sites from satisfied or ecstatic customers
  • Social shares (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) of well received web pages or blog posts

This type of evidence is powerful because it equates to consensus from unrelated parties. Just as people check out comparative software reviews, social proof can sway others if they’re unsure about an impending decision.

Ken Wells: “If yours is a legitimate site, you will likely have social media (social proof) connections: a Twitter profile, be on Linked In, have a blog, be on Facebook and have a Pinterest account.” Standalone sites, however, with no connections are likely spammy ones.”

Spammy Websites & An Example
First, what is a spammy website? Primarily, they’re commercial-advertising sites for doubtful products like sort of-legal services or get-rich-quick schemes. Their sole purpose is to steal personal information like name, address, city, country, credit card/driver’s license numbers and email addresses.

Why? identity theft and email lists which turn into spam emails.

<img src="blackhat.jpg" alt="Black hat SEO" />Before 2011, spam sites used to be frequent entries on 1st pages of the search results due to “black hat” search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. Black hat techniques focused only on fooling the search engines and ignoring human audiences.

<img src="google-spam.jpg" alt="Example of spammy site" />
Spammy site rejected by Google

In Google’s words: “These websites look Ok except that they use hidden text, cloaking (words in black text on black backgrounds), stolen (scraped) text from other sites, and gibberish text not visible to website visitors.” Read the rest of this intriguing article, “Google shows live examples of web spam,” on SEOProfiler Blog.

<img src="panda.jpg" alt="Google Panda update" />It was Google’s Panda update in 2011 that first took site quality and Web content seriously. Here’s a few relevant passages:

  • When looking objectively at the site, is the primary focus the user need or the business goal?
  • If it’s the business goal, than the site could just be a promotional spammy site

  • If some of the pages on the site are high-quality and engaging, are other pages on the site not as high quality? (Google has stated that enough low quality Web content on a site can reduce the entire site’s rankings, not just the low quality pages.)
  • Websites with a real-life purpose will have strong Web content on every page to convince readers to stay on-site and soak up their marketing messages

Ken: “Before those updates, fly-by-night sites served as units in link farms (sites that are linked to each other in little networks) to boost other sites in the rankings. Now they need strong Web content to do so. That takes work, a search for writers, money to pay writers and a legitimate purpose so as to attract readers who might buy what the site markets.”

Content is where it’s at: Now, and in the Future
Producing informative Web content aimed at your customers’ interests and priorities is a necessity, not an option. Regardless of how or where you meet a new contact, they’re going right to your website to check your company out.

When they get there, they’ll be scouting around scanning text as they go. The more interesting things there are to read, look at or watch, providing you’re covering interesting topics in an interesting way, the longer they’ll remain on your site: absorbing your marketing messages and developing trust in you.

Web Content as Currency
<img src="w20.jpg" alt="W20 Group" />Back in 2009, I was fortunate to hear Bob Pearson (@bobpearson1845), now president of Atlanta-based public relations firm W20 Group, speak at Toronto’s Third Tuesday social media Meetup. His words were prophetic:

<img src="image.gif" alt="Bob Pearson on Web Content" />
Bob Pearson
“As the digital revolution accelerates, everything will speed up and there will be less time to evaluate companies as partners, customers or vendors. For companies of all sizes, content will become the new currency of communications.”

Content communicates your understanding of your customer’s problems, expectations and what the Hubspot folks say delights them. It demonstrates your company’s values, expertise, service and grasp of your customer’s experience.

Educational Web Content
Content, in whatever form it appears, must be educational and customer-centric. Educating involves deciding what topics or aspects to address and communicating their features and benefits succinctly.

A sales or marketing background helps because with all the practice and trial and error involved, lessons are internalized. This is especially important for video where you have only seconds to make a good impression.

Finally, if Web content is being expressed in words, they must be well-written, meaningful and be engaging – to the point that people are compelled to share them. That would a social share, of course.

Video is the New Black
Ken does a lot of video for his clients and notes that it’s the future of marketing. “People would rather watch than read but the words are necessary to frame the video and words do wonders for SEO for videos.”

His perspective parallels what was said in a TechCrunch May 8, 2016 article, “The Information Age is over; welcome to The Experience Age.”

“The central idea of the Experience Age is this: I’ll show you my point of view, you give me your attention. I hear you yelling, “That’s always been the story of social! And it has. But what’s changed is that the stories we tell each other now begin and end visually, making the narrative more literal (factual) than ever.“

But here’s an startling fact: 70% of Ken’s clients aren’t comfortable in front of the camera. This includes people in such public occupations as lawyers who work in courtrooms. “People say their voices sound foreign to them because they’ve never had an opportunity to listen to their recorded voice.”

I piped in: If people are anxious in front of cameras, their business capabilities may be not be as trusted because video is equated with real-life. Hiring actors might be a better idea as they won’t be self conscious. The business owner, in turn, would receive a professional corporate video. Ken agreed, adding that this practice is very popular in Australia

Uncommon Sense Makes Sense
Near the end of our phone discussion, Ken shared a question he asks every Web content writer: “Do you have uncommon sense?”

“Good one,” I replied

I knew where he was going with this. It goes further than the old chestnut, “Can you think out of the box?” Common sense only exists among people with common traits, cultures, and backgrounds which gives them a shared perspective.

Uncommon sense as it relates to writing means:

  • Being an adaptable thinker
  • Seeing other possibilities within a story and possible tributaries extending from the first one
  • Understanding how one theme might be related or linked to another, technology and-or application
  • Being creative, curious, ingenious
  • Reaching out and asking to speak with people: influencers, if you like
  • If you feel your vocabulary could be stronger, you become a fan of Dictionary.com

Uncommon sense is based on uncommon thinking which challenges customary ways of perceiving, analyzing, and creating. Uncommon sense is derived from resourceful, creative, limitless, unconventional, lateral, relational, linear, logical, critical, abstract, and unusual thinking.

The type of thinking that created new technologies like:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Wearable technology
  • Virtual/augmented reality, and
  • Further advancements in wireless technologies

<img src="rain.jpg" alt="Rain Callahan" />
Rain Callahan
The transition from the Information to the Experience Age will require uncommon sense and thinking to be able to originate uncommon solutions to complex problems. Courtesy of a Twitter contact Rain_Callahan
here’s a top 10 list of skills projected to be important in 2020:

<img src="top10.jpg" alt="Top 10 2020 Skill sets" />

It appears, we’re all going to need uncommon sense to remain employable and vital human beings.

Thinking: Art Imitates Idea Generation

Staring out from a friend’s balcony last winter, I got to thinking about the splendor of the evening sky even if its colours were dusky dark gray bleeding to even murkier depths.

<img src="thinkingart.jpg" alt="Night sky, thinking, art" />With its successive vertical layers, the encroaching night’s sky reminded me of artist Mark Rothko’s abstract paintings. In many of them, he layered both contrasting and complementary colours to form visually arresting effects.

Like all painters, he created his own hues (variety of colours) on his pallet and required them in volume. I mention that because it increases one’s appreciation of his work and demonstrates a point yet to be made.

<img src="gofa.jpg" alt="National Gallery of Art logo" />From Washington D.C.’s National Gallery write-up: “Rothko developed a painstaking technique of overlaying colors until, in the words of art historian Dore Ashton, “his surfaces were velvety as poems of the night. By the overlaying of different colours, he produced a velvety haze that compels and mesmerizes the eye, drawing you into its projection.”

Which is also how great ideas and concepts are arrived at: by overlaying them, one on top of another until the best idea is achieved or a more refined or dynamic version emerges. This requires it be shared with someone else, and preferably, many people.

In contrast, an unexamined idea is seldom sufficient to achieve a desired end. Creators are too close to it and thinking within the vacuum of their own minds, it’s very easy to make assumptions.

Knowledge isn’t Everything
I write this from personal experience having been swept up in a personal vision, that of a Web Usability service back in 2007. I’d been interested in that subject and had technical sales writing experience since the 90s, taken a class in it, read 4-5 books by Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug, and applied what I learned in several of my client’s websites – with very successful results. They made a lot more $.

‘Figured that was it: good to go, ready to launch. However, recognition of the importance of Web Usability among the SMB (small-medium biz) market was low, i.e. scant. In fact, at that time, at least in Canada, websites were still only gaining credibility.

Months later, I realized that, while the idea was good, my thinking was premature. ‘Best to wait. But that was only after I’d spent a lot of time-and money-during that time.

Better Alternative
What if, instead, I’d sought the opinions of others in the Web industry, offered the idea up for debate and had it subjected to “So what? / What if?” hard questions and crushing doubts? Or better still, set up an open debate or even organized a Meetup group of my own to formalize the critique-overlay process.

How would it work? Each of us brings up an idea they’re working on and someone adds to it, expands it, critiques it, tweaks it, extends it or takes it in an another direction. Throughout, what is required is an absence or minimization of Ego and a “Let’s see where this goes” attitude.

Regardless of whether those involved had a vested interest in the process, successive idea overlays make for a much stronger concept. There’s also the possibility of finding others to collaborate with.

Let’s Finish with more Rothko

<img src="orangeyellow.jpg" alt="Mark Rothko's Orange & Yellow" />
Orange & Yellow
91″ x 71″
If you weren’t already familiar with Mark Rothko’s work, leaving you with the impression that he dealt primarily in darker shades wouldn’t be fair – or accurate; in fact, most of Rothko’s work was done in striking colours. Here’s a sample, but miniature editions don’t do him-or you-justice.

To really appreciate his work, one needs to behold one of his paintings in person. In a lecture at Utica, New York’sPratt Institute, Rothko told the audience that “small pictures since the Renaissance are like novels; large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.”

Just like sharing ideas and sharing in them

Thinking: What do Birds Have To With Ideas?

Looking up last week, above the streets, people and traffic, I saw something I’ve never seen before – and twice in 1 day: large groups of birds perched on telephone and hydro wires taking in the world below. Could it be they were exchanging ideas?

<img src="birds.jpg" alt="Ideas and Birds" />

This ‘beak meeting’ was of pigeons, which I’ve never seen in groups of more than 20 or 30; even then, they’ve always been in dining mode. That day saw roughly 200 of them out of my hearing range, but likely chatting among themselves.

Had I not looked up, I wouldn’t have seen them. Later, that reminded me of how limited perspectives can impede problem solving.

Most of us stare straight ahead (or down at our phones) and apply the same approach to problem solving or working out equations.

We get used to figurin’ the way we always have, even if the solutions arrived at weren’t particularly effective: habitual thinking and humdrum ideas are both the process and the result.

Alphabet Block Method
<img src="cube.jpg" alt="Alphabet block thinking method" />When I discuss problem solving techniques, I inevitably refer to the cube theorem; a children’s alphabet block provides a good visual. Its 6 sides are distinct yet some appear to be identical. But they’re not. The ‘M’ on an adjacent side is a different colour, for example, which parallels how similar conditions or lines of reasoning can be mistaken for their similarity. That leads to skewed and-or inaccurate conclusions.

Figuratively speaking, hold up the cube (or problem) in front of you (or write it down) and rotate it.

Consider its different sides, perspectives or aspects. How similar or different are they from your accepted rationale? Maybe they suggest that other factors or thought streams, not yet considered with any depth, may deserve more consideration. Asking different questions about ‘a’ topic yields different answers and often, breathtaking insights.

This is often followed by:

  • The birth of new ideas
  • Tweaks to existing philosophies or concepts
  • A re-think of content and marketing strategies, and
  • Adjustments to products and services
<img src="birds2.jpg" alt="Birds and Ideas" />
Chirping it Up!

Later down by the lakefront, I heard the cackle of birds and gazed upwards. There, on a construction crane’s cable and trestles were perched hundreds, if not thousands, of them.

My photo doesn’t capture the amount of activity flying about. Beyond the stationary ones, several birds hovered about, jockeying for position or hop scotching to different spots. Kind of … like a debate was being held or perhaps a negotiation of some sort.

Seeking Feedback Equates to Seeking Clarity
That got me thinking about the value of seeking feedback on one’s idea, concept or hypothesis (a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument or line of reasoning).

It’s very easy to ‘fall in love’ with one’s idea and for others to do likewise, especially in groups or companies where it may be politically advantageous to do so.

<img src="salmon.jpg" alt="farmed salmon effect" />When this occurs, the Farmed Salmon Effect (my term) takes hold and does so to the detriment of both the idea’s soundness and those involved. Figuratively speaking, all those fish swimming in an enclosed tank with:

  • Inadequate water circulation
  • No predators to escape, or
  • Challenging water currents
  • leads to an under-examined idea, concept or product-service.

    Whereas, inviting others’ critical-constructive feedback reveals oversights, updates thinking and polishes already stellar ideas; it also prevents well-meaning, experiential conclusions from previous-current applications unduly influencing one’s thinking.

    <img src="wreckingball.jpg" alt="Take a wrecking ball to ideas" />Routinely asking unasked, “hard” questions reveals logistical gaps, disconnects and/or contradictions. Prospective customers tend to ask questions from these same perspectives.

    Having ‘an’ answer, preferably a researched, analyzed and “proofed” one, promotes trust. The objective is cohesive content, a sound sales proposition or other argument, whether vocal in nature or in written form. Being proactive improves quality.

    Is this theme a future post or merely just another side of the alphabet block?

    It is both.

    On the subject of inquiry, the great thinker Edward de Bono said:

    “Everyone has the right to doubt everything as often as he pleases and the duty to do it at least once. No one way of looking at things is too sacred to be reconsidered. No one way of doing things is beyond improvement.”