June 25, 2017

Lists that link to stories, teaser text and links to related stories account for nearly half of the “eye stops” (what we non-scientists call “looking”) on the Web.
— The Poynter Institute Eyetrack07 study

The weakest link

You’re not still writing ‘click here’ and ‘read more,’ are you?

When it comes to link writing, “click here” is so 1996. We’re talking 14.4k modems, a CompuServe account and the Spice Girls singing “Wannabe” on your portable electronic device, aka a Sony Discman.

PARTY LIKE IT'S 1996: Remember Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal? Your "click here" link does. IMAGE BY GEORGE GASTIN.

Remember Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal? Your “click here” link does.

“But our visitors have never been on the Web,” you explain. “They have no idea what blue underlined words mean unless we spell it out for them.”

You know what? Mom opened a Twitter account last year; Dad watches YouTube videos on his iPad; and your Web visitors know what a link is.

(Still think they don’t? Does that mean you believe they made all the arrangements to get online just so they could visit your website? “I don’t know what this browser thingy is, but I can’t wait to get on the World Wide Web so I can see for myself this XYZCompany.com everybody’s talking about.”)

The problems with the weakest links

Besides being dated, “click here” and “read more”:

  • Aren’t scannable. Because links are blue and underlined, they stand out, making them among the most scannable elements on your Web page. That gives links the ability to lift your ideas off the screen. But how are you using that superpower if the ideas you highlight essentially say, “push this button”?
  • Aren’t actionable. Writing “read more” for a link is like writing “buy this” for an ad. They’re calls to action, sure. But not very persuasive ones. Why should I click, read or buy? That’s your copy.
  • Clutter up your copy. Every time you write “click here” or “read more,” you’re adding at least two extra words to your Web page.

Fix the weakest links

So how can drag your 1996 links into the 21st century?

1. Focus links on the topic, not on the action. Instead of focusing on the action — aka, “click here” or “read more” — focus on the topic. Don’t tell Web visitors to click; tell them what they’ll find if they do click. Notice how focusing on the topic lifts the idea off the screen, promises the reader a benefit and slenderizes the sentence.

Don’t: To learn to write better links, click here.

Do: Learn to write better links.

2. Don’t write about mechanics or the system. “Click here” and “read more” have some ugly cousins: URLs, email addresses and other references to the mechanics of the Web. You wouldn’t write, “turn page” in a publication. Why write, “point your browser at” online?

3. Write mostly verb-based links. Try starting with a strong verb and an implied “you.” Putting the reader first and leaning on strong verbs makes for good writing, whether you’re crafting links or brochures.

Don’t: Videos of the ceremony are available at StopMeBeforeITweetAgain.com.

Do: View videos of the ceremony.

Get the word out on the Web

Want to write microcontent that lifts your ideas off the page?

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“Graphics/fact boxes/breakouts, when done well, serve as welcome mats for … stories.”
— Curtis Hubbard, staff writer, Daily Camera

Table for two

Pit dueling ideas in columns and rows

Are you writing a face-off between your technology and the alternative? Juxtaposing competing information and ideas? Comparing and contrasting products or services?

If so, a table is probably the best format for your article.

I’ve been enjoying webifying magazine articles for EADS Key Touch magazine’s website this year. I often find myself organizing the original information into a table.

Tip: If you find yourself repeating words and phrases, it may be a clue that you need a table. In one story for EADS, for instance, each section had a list of items “for digital” and “against analogue.” If you could make those repeated items column headers, you’ve probably got yourself a table.

Writing tabular information

ACROSS THE BOARD: If you find yourself repeating words and phrases like "for digital" and "against analogue," a table may be your best format.

Open the Creativity Toolbox

Want to come up with fresh ways of telling the same old story?

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“If we can open your mind to laughter, we can slip in a little information.”
— Virginia Tooper, American humorist

Funny formulas

Try these fill-in-the-blanks jokes

Want to add humor to your piece? Two professional speakers shared these formulas in SpeakerNet News, a weekly e-zine for professional speakers:

Jargon jokes

Executive speech humor, jokes

PLUG & PLAY: Try these quick tips for jokes that practically write themselves.

I know, I know. Your organization is overloaded with jargon. Take advantage of the situation, suggests Paul Seaburn, “The Humor Handyman,” by writing funny definitions for the worst gobbledygook.

Use the formula “Back where I come from, a ___ is a ___.”

“Back where I come from,” Seaburn says, “‘megahertz’ is a huge car rental company, ‘Tai Bo’ is the last thing you do to a present, and ‘preferred carrier’ is a mailman who doesn’t read your magazines.”

Light bulb jokes

Write your own light bulb jokes by asking, “How many ____s [members of your audience] does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Seaburn suggests. Or twist the old light bulb joke by making it a remote control:

“How many managers does it take to set the clock on a VCR?” he asks. “No one knows, because they can never find the time.”

Location jokes

Writing an executive speech? You may be able to play off the location of the talk, says corporate comedian David Glickman. One approach: Find a town within 30 miles that starts with a V. Then play with, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From V___.”

“I know that’s true,” Glickman says, “because I read it in that local best-seller, ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From V___.‘”

Get humor help

Are you looking for someone else to fill in the blanks? Glickman and Seaburn write custom corporate humor.

Make fun

Want to make your copy more amusing?

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“Sometimes [mission statements are] created at a retreat in the woods, between the trust fall and the passing of the speaking stick. Vigorous fights over semantics last for hours, even months. Then you end up with some variation of … jargony quasi-poetry.”
— Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something, in Fast Company

Mission creep

Don’t let the mission statement become the mission

Mission statements may be the most popular management activity since tee time, according to the folks at Bain & Company, a Boston-based consulting firm.

Mission statement

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Has your mission statement become your mission? Perhaps it's time to move on.

In fact, 90 percent of the executives at 500 companies Bain surveyed had written an official mission statement within the last five years.

Have you ever been sequestered in a conference room for months, putting commas into and taking commas out of the mission statement? Then you know that writing a mission statement can all too quickly cross the line from project to lifestyle.

Get it out …

To avoid devoting the rest of your life to perfecting your mission statement:

  • Craft a draft. You can’t develop an effective mission statement by decree, of course, but there’s no reason to start with a blank slate. And who knows better than you the purpose of your communication vehicle? Take a quick stab at a first draft.
  • Talk it out. Chat with your staff. Huddle with management. Meet with a couple of key department heads. Have lunch with your editorial board. Call your consultants for their opinions. Run it by a few readers.
  • Finish the job. Then, armed with this insight, draft a final statement.

… Then get on with it

If your mission statement takes longer to produce than your annual report, it’s time to rethink the process. Changing “however” to “but” in the mission shouldn’t require a nine-hour, closed-door meeting with everyone who’s ever read your column.

Not to downplay the importance of mission statements, but your statement of purpose isn’t going to get better and better with absurd amounts of time, analysis and input.

Remember: Mission statements should drive your communication efforts — not replace them.

Plan powerful communications

Want to master the art of effective communication planning?

___

Sources: Ann Wylie, Planning Powerful Publications, IABC, 2002

“The real focus of companies? Drafting a ‘vision statement’,” San Jose Mercury News, Aug. 15, 1997

Kelley Holland, “In Mission Statements, Bizspeak and Bromides,” The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2007

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— Robert Anderson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Rev up your writing

Check out the new RevUpReadership.com

We’ve revved up RevUpReadership.com, the toolbox for writers. Now she’s faster, friendlier and more fascinating — not to mention waaaaay better looking.

In the new RevUpReadership.com, you’ll find:

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REV UP YOUR WRITING: Get more tips at the NEW RevUpReadership.com.


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“Extremely informative. One of the clearest and most poignant programs on writing for the Web. Every Web developer and new media manager should take this course.”
— Daniel Brunell, new media manager, Association of Washington Business

Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Asheville, N.C.: May 5
  • Chattanooga, Tenn.: Nov. 30
  • Franklin Lakes, N.J.: Oct. 12
  • Kansas City, Mo.: March 3
  • Memphis, Tenn.: Nov. 18
  • New York: Nov. 5
  • Pittsburgh: Oct. 28
  • Warren, N.J.: Oct. 13
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 17, Nov. 9-10

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations. But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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