29 June, 2016

Front loaded text and scanning the page

We push our writers to always front load their titles and paragraphs not just because we think it's a good idea, but because studies back up the technique.

Jakob Nielsen posted a great article, "First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye," where he goes into the details of his research in this area.

Jakob starts with reminding us how our customers have many lists to read, err scan -- it's not just search results.

  • Search result pages
  • List of current and/or archived articles and press releases
  • Product listing
  • Table of contents
  • Question lists on an FAQ page
  • Bulleted and numbered lists, checklists, etc

11 characters is used as the baseline measure the number of characters a user actually reads when looking through a list (link text). The test is to see just the first 11 characters, and see if you can predict what's behind the link -- what will you get when you click.

The best link text has these characteristics.

  • Plain language
  • Specific terminology
  • Follow naming conventions
  • Front-loaded, action-oriented terms

The first 3 have something in common -- no slang or internal jargon.

What's the characteristics of bad link text?

  • Generic words
  • Made-up terms
  • Having the information-carrying text at the end

Jakob concludes with a reminder that our customers do have the option to read past the first 11 characters. What we need to remember is to front-load our titles and links, so the customer, when necessary will read the rest of it, i.e. it needs to grab their attention to read enough to validate it's the correct link (which would be followed by a click). "Nanocontent (first bit of a link) just needs to be good enough that users will sniff the most promising links in full." How?

  • Provide enough additional context, so the user knows what to expect (and make sure the clicked-to page actually delivers).
  • Clearly differentiate links -- don't make me choose between 2 very similar links.
  • Don't mislead or over-promise.

It's all so simple. Right?

28 June, 2016

Improve your writing for the web with the Hemingway Editor

As we know, readers on the web don't really read, they scan and skim articles, and won't ready anything that's long form. With the Hemingway Editor, you can improve your writing by making it more "bold and clear" -- make your writing standout so your audience actually reads it.

The Hemingway Editor is going to give you feedback and input on the following:

  • Sentences that are too hard to read
  • Simpler alternatives to words and phrases
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Use of passive voice
  • Readability score

The Hemingway Editor also has other helpful functions:
  • Basic formatting
  • Import from Word
  • Export as HTML
  • Character count
It's free to use online, ore a mere $10 for the app version.

27 June, 2016

Text (SMS) from your computer using MightyText

It's 2016 -- if you're not texting, you've fallen behind. I text my family, I get appointment reminders via text, and text is being used for 2-factor authentication.

At my company there are several different communications apps, from Yahoo Messenger, to Slack, to HipChat. They each work well, but only texting is guaranteed to reach the person I want to talk to.

With that being said, texting can be difficult from my phone if I have multiple conversations going on, or I have a lot to share. Fortunately, I've found a great solution. Whenever I'm at a computer, PC and Mac (I have both), I can use MightyText instead.

MightyText works with Android phones and Google Chrome browser. Not only can I type faster using MightText, I get notices from my phone on my computer screen. I no longer need to take my phone out of my pocket to see alerts or respond to text messages.

It also as the added benefit that I can easily attach any image that I can access from my computer. There's also an integration with Gmail, if you want to work within the Gmail interface (over having its own tab).

MightyText is on my short-list of must have apps.

Favorite Podcasts

It's been a year since I've posted, and only once in 2015... how time flies! I was sharing with a friend my favorite podcasts, and thought I could share here.

  • Daily Tech News Show (DTNS) -- I've been following the host, Tom Merritt for 10 years. He's excellent. If you only have time for 1 podcast, this is the one.
  • Serial -- Spin-off from This American Life (below). There have been 2 seasons. Each is a story. I would highly recommend listening to both seasons. 
  • This American Life -- Big variety; some better than others. The host Ira Glass is excellent. 
  • TWiT -- This is a network of Podcasts. The quality varies. The founder, Leo Leporte should be recognized as the person who pushed podcasts to be more mainstream. I've been to their studios in Petaluma, CA. Try these:
    • This Week in Tech. This was the original show that started the network.
    • Tech News Today. Started by Tom Merritt (DTNS).
    • The Tech Guy. Syndication of Leo's radio show.
    • Security Now. Deep technical -- if you like this stuff, the host Steve Gibson is the best.
    • Triangulation. Interviews with current experts in the tech field.
    • there are several more, too.
  • The Vertical Podcast with Woj. If you like basketball, Woj is highly respected NBA writer. Not the best radio voice, but well worth the time.
    [** I currently work for Yahoo, where Adrian Wojnarowski is also employed, though our jobs are unrelated.]