Writing effective content for websites

Without much ado, here’s how I do it:
Stage: Pre-production
1. Rough brief: List the elements that the new site has to have. Get a sense of the sort of content to be included – for instance, is it a hardcore corporate site or is it more visually driven?
2. Global benchmarking: Visit websites & note the presentation techniques employed by others in the same or similar line of business.

3. Competitors’ analysis: Visit sites of market competitors & make a list of their best & worst practices.

4. Gathering material: Leaf through the brochures, ads, etc. to get a sense of the products & the way in which they are marketed on the ground.

5. Interviews: Speak to people associated with all aspects of the product to get a perspective on what is important, what needs to be showcased upfront, what can be relegated to the background, etc.

Stage: Production
1. Visualization: Make a mental picture of what each page would include. Some pages might be text-heavy (e.g. the ‘About us’ segment) while others could be driven by images, icons, etc. (e.g. Shopping cart, Work samples, Contact us, etc.)

2. Content structure/ sitemap: Create a working set of menu items, titles, etc. to be included. Subheads or a general description of the content of each page to be included where possible.

3. Writing content: Collate all the information available into manageable chunks taking care to ensure that:

  • The text is brief & to-the-point, such that people can get to the point quickly instead of having to concentrate too hard on what they are reading.
  • The first couple of lines introduce the topic to be discussed on that page.
  • Everything is written in ‘active’ voice (e.g. The company creates ABC products for XYZ market), rather than ‘passive’ (e.g. ABC products have been created by the company for the XYZ market).
  • Every page/ paragraph has plenty of opportunities for interaction. If the reader wants to take action such as filling up a form or contacting the company, he or she does not have to look too hard to find a way of doing it.
  • Content for each page is kept brief such that there is no need to keep scrolling. Wherever the content exceeds these limits or where further details are to be introduced, the reader is led to a page linked to the one he/ she is perusing.
  • The text focuses on what the visitor gains, not what is done to ensure he or she gets these benefits. For instance, saying: “This microwave oven saves you time by cooking things within 10 minutes”, is more effective than saying: “Microwave ovens created by us use special microfiller technology that brings down the temperature at which food cooks.”
  • There are plenty of subheads within the text. Running text never works on the Internet. Everything goes into logical subheads so that a reader may simply scan the page to get a gist of what’s being said.
  • Important points within the text are highlighted using bold or italicized fonts.
  • Wherever appropriate, points that belong together are presented in the form of a list.
  • The content does not suffer from ‘writer’s bias’ – the tendency of a writer to use certain words, phrases & a certain style of writing over & over again.
  • Images or diagrams are used instead of words, wherever possible. This breaks the monotony of reading a chunk of text.

Stage: Post-production
1. Editing: After the text doc is ready, the content needs to be edited for language, style & grammar and to avoid repetition of points elsewhere within the site.

2. Hyperlinks: Once it is clear what the content of each page is, relevant items within the text are linked to other segments of the site. Care is taken to ensure that only the right – often, ‘action’ – words are linked. For instance, ‘We offer a 30% discount on some items’. Here, linking the words ‘30% discount’ will make the reader assume that he/ she is being led to a page that has details about the discount, while linking ‘items’ makes the reader think that he will now see a list of the items on which the discount is offered.

3. Editing as per visual orientation: Content has to be aligned to the look & feel of the site. For instance, there may not be enough space for a paragraph that was originally very long, captions may be required for some pictures, the tone of the text may have to be changed based on the animation & graphics used on the site, and more. Also, the content itself has to be rechecked for any spelling, grammar or other errors that may have occurred when the text was being integrated into the site design.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. It does not cover, for instance, the whole thought process that goes into SEO/ SEM activities, the logic by which to write meta tags, titles, descriptions, et al. However, it does lay down the very basic rules by which content for the Internet ought to be created. The rest, as they say, is fodder for another post 🙂

A weally weally creative blog

Okay, in light of the last (lengthy) post I subjected you to, I will keep this one brief and totally to the point.

Just go check out http://krishashok.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/facebook-mahabharatha/

Love how creative this is! And if you have more than a few minutes to spare, do spend some time hanging around this blog – you’re sure to find interesting gems of wit & humor. I know I did.

Just for the record, I am not being paid to do this. But I deserve to be, don’t you agree? 😉

A Recap. Starring: A checklist!

Over 4 months gone and then one fine day, you’re back. Back with still more stray thoughts running unsupervised around your head, with a little more learnt, and a lot more to think of.

It’s hard to tell where the time has gone. All I know is that, last I checked, it was still 2009 and everything in my mind was in the place where I had put it last. Until something came along and shook it all around. But enough talking in puzzles.

First, the hard facts:

  1. I’m co-hosting a corporate party this Friday & just writing it down this way makes me nervous as hell. Wait till I tell you I actually volunteered for this. Guess it had to be done sometime…and sometime just happens to be 4 days away on Friday. This Friday! Yes! I still can’t believe it! Forgive all the superfluous exclamation marks please!
  2. In better news, I seem to have finally found a fitness regime that sticks. It involves waking up a Whole 30 Minutes Early (Hey! It’s 5.40 am so wipe that smirk off your face already!) – and walking briskly around a pretty little garden the authorities have been nice enough to construct in my locality.
  3. With reference to 2 above, I have also found the flipside to a fitness regime. It’s called guilt-free bingeing & it comes in all flavours – from plum to chocolate…even with gajar ka halwa seasoning.
  4. I find myself overwhelmed with work these days. And it’s happening once too often for my liking. But you already knew that, right? What? You mean you didn’t wonder where I was gone for 4 Whole Months?!
  5. Attended half a dozen (extended) family engagement/ wedding events over the past one month. That’s the only way to tag them: events. The Big Fat Indian Wedding didn’t seem quite so big or fat until I saw it up close. And now that I have, I still have rather ‘mixed’ feelings about it. (For those not privileged enough to be my friends in real life, ‘mixed’ is my way of keeping things polite).
  6. I suddenly find myself with a lot of free time on my hands (yes, I know this contradicts 4 above but they are different matters entirely, trust you me). So using all this free time, I am trying to swing my very own website into cyberspace. Built by myself, 100% from scratch. You will hear all about it from the rooftops. Soon. I promise.
  7. I realized – yet again – just how bad it hurts to lose someone you’ve learnt to take for granted. If life is a series of lessons, I had learnt this one already. Really didn’t want to go back to this chapter ever again. But can’t help these things, can we?

…Oh Dang! Just realized that my ‘hard facts’ have taken up more than their fair share of space in this post. Well anyway, with so much catching-up to get done, what’s a girl to do?

So anyway, time to bid adieu again. Shall return with some not-so-hard facts. Soon. I promise. (Did I use that already?! Never mind…)

Independence Day goosebumps

Indian flag - abstractToday is India’s 62nd Independence Day. I didn’t attend any flag hoisting ceremony. Nor watch on television the Prime Minister’s traditional salute to the flag and address to the nation.

What I did do was stumble upon AR Rahman’s brilliant rendition of Maa Tujhe Salaam/ Vande Mataram that features the kind of music only he can make.

I have heard the song and watched the video hundreds of times. But it still has the power to cause me goosebumps. No, to make me shed tears of simultaneous pride/ pity for this vast, weird and completely crazy country I happen to have been born in.

Don’t get me wrong. I am about as patriotic as the next steal-from-thy-neighbour and damn-the-country Indian. If I had to give up the comforts of home, I’d probably live abroad without much regret. But some things do move me. This song does. Watch it and feel it.

India’s Got (oodles of) Talent!

India's Got Talent snapshots
India's Got Talent snapshots

At long last, there’s finally an Indian TV show worth watching. I haven’t been following ‘India’s Got Talent’ at all but this morning’s display of…well, talent – had me enthralled for almost the entire duration of the show. Reality TV was never so worthwhile!
Apparently today’s show (a repeat telecast) was some sort of a semifinal where the takings included – sample this:

  • A 20-something deaf and dumb guy who danced the sensuous Marathi Lavani dance without ever having heard a single note of it! What’s more, the dance is traditionally meant for women and includes a whole range of gestures and expressions that I’d never thought would work on a man. Guess what? I was wrong.
  • A Bhangra performance by a troupe of super-enthusiastic guys all from a single college somewhere in Punjab. There was so much zest and energy to their movements that it made people leap to their feet and cheer out loud! But what I admired most of all was their superb coordination. 6 people moving as much in tandem as is humanly possible. It was so good that, if you looked at one dancer’s foot somewhere to the extreme right and then some other’s far away to the left – you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference! Amazing, that’s what it was!
  • A group of kids (evidently from a lower middle-class background) who had such agile and flexible bodies. They walked on their hands, jumped over each other and over themselves in beautiful formations and – hold your breath (I did!) – even managed to thread a needle with their bare feet. That’s right – they supported their bodies on their heads and threaded a needle with their toes. If I had just about 1% of their flexibility, I’d be a prize-winning famous contortionist!

There were 6 other acts as well but I was only watching off and on. Apologies if I missed mentioning some gems here. Still, watching this show was perhaps one of those very rare moments when you actually feel something stirring inside you, a feeling of supreme pride that you – like all these shockingly talented people – are an Indian.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised then to see Siddharth Basu’s name among the quickly-rolling credits at the end of the show. The man has always managed to do one up over whatever the current trend might be.

Move over ‘Moment of Truth’, ‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Fear Factor’ and (ugh!) MTV Roadies/ Splitsville/ random show where surprisingly young and supposedly innocent people bitch/ carp/ crib/ politic against each other to win some obscure bike or some-such prize (?) Mr. Basu shows what reality TV is – and should be – all about: A platform for true talent, nothing more, nothing less.

Tripping points: A week of Lonavala & Mahabaleshwar

The mists of Lonavala
The mists of Lonavala

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since I last posted. For one thing, the month has changed – bringing me closer to my birthday. (Hey, do birthdays really get less exciting as you grow older? I don’t know yet…mine still looks enticing even from the distance of a whole month.)

Anyway, those of you who sent me ‘Bon Voyage’ vibes (can’t say ‘wished me’ for a post that got zero comments, can I?) after my last post, would be disappointed to know that the voyage didn’t materialize after all. Not that weekend, at any rate. Midnight saw me burning with fever; as a result, my kicks remained untouched all weekend.

Last week, though, was another story. I begged off work for 5 whole days. Add to that the weekends before & after and what I had were a respectable 9 days away from the desk. Not getting into details but here’s how all that time was spent:

  • Shopping & eating out (2 days)
  • Taking a quick trip with a friend (2 days)
  • Another trip with family (4 days)
  • Chilling out at home (the last remaining day)

The weather was cold and rainy, the conversations deep and thought-provoking, the walks long and wet…everything just the way I like it.

Panchgani monkeys huddling for warmth
Panchgani monkeys huddling for warmth

And yes, I had two amazing animal experiences as well! But more on those in the next post. Need to wrap up early today – it’s Raksha Bandhan and I just don’t wanna miss the opportunity to go be with my cousins & extended family.

A book recommendation & a holiday plan

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (By Bill Bryson)
Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (By Bill Bryson)

Whoops! And it’s already been a week since I saw you last!

It’s weird how each day inches so s-l-o-w-l-y by while the years (or a week, in this instance) just seem to up and run. Anyhow, this past week has been full of ups & downs. The first part was more down than up, and even though things were really picking up on the work front, other things were sliding waayyyy down to their lowest ebb ever.

Why so low then? For one thing, being a moody person isn’t as great as those eccentric geniuses make it out to be. You never know when a sad/ weepy mood is coming on. One moment you’re feeling all superior, looking down on that part of the world that takes immense literary pleasure in reading Mills & Boon and other Harlequin Romances. And the next you surprise yourself by weeping uncontrollably over the death of the heroine of the most non-thrilling thriller/ suspense book you’ve ever read. (If you must know, the book is ‘Odd Thomas’, authored by none other than the paranormally-obsessed, prolific Mr. Dean Koontz). It doesn’t help that the heroine is described more or less as a walking candy stick, with her pink cap, pink skirt and pink-and-white blouse cutting a very ‘hot’ picture (at least in the eyes of our hero).

Okay, so why am I rambling on about a book I don’t even intend to recommend to you guys? God knows about that, but there is one I do wanna recco. Recommend, and how! If some of you (like me) have been foolish enough not to have read Bill Bryson, do it now! Do it yesterday. The guy’s a happy-go-lucky genius and, if he hadn’t been older than my father – not to mention married – you’d have been reading Mrs. Bryson’s blog right now.

I’ve just been introduced to Bryson by a friend (thank you, thank you, J) and I started off with his ‘Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe’. The man is so chilled-out, so ready-to-go-with-the-flow and, most importantly, so observant of people, places, things…that it’s a real pleasure to forgo Internet and television and only curl up with him in bed. (That sentence was about to end with: ‘…that it’s a real pleasure to read him’ but then I thought to make it an itsy-bitsy more fun than that).

Now that you have my book/ author recommendation for the week, I also highly recommend a mini vacation – the likes of which I am all set to go for tomorrow. Just grab a pal (as I did) and jet off to one of the tiny hill stations scattered all over the place. The rainy weather makes it all worth it. Don’t know about you but there’s something about water falling unbidden from a zillion faucets that makes me want to sing and dance madly. And since quiet office aisles & cramped city sidewalks are not the place to do either of those things (sing or dance), I figured it’d be better to make it happen in a place where only the trees and the birds could bear witness.

So off I go tomorrow. But don’t you worry – I’ll be back just a day later on Sunday. And this time I promise not to be so lax about posting…

Suffer the dogs

Stray dog - Mumbai
Stray dog - Mumbai

It’s an awful awful sound, the yowling of an animal in pain. As my friend told me: “I can’t stand it.” And this is from a 6-foot-plus giant of a man who’s pretty much a ‘toughie’ on most counts that count.

But the municipal corporation has made up its mind. The animals are to suffer. Actually, little changes with this. ‘Suffer the animals’ was always the diktat. Even before the government publicly walked all over its old sterilization policy with feet shod in shoes soiled with shit.

 Don’t mind the language too much. I just happen to be boiling with rage.

Dogs, especially, are so obviously meant to be beaten, thrown acid upon, starved to caricature-ish skeletons & generally thrashed to death – or to a fate worse than death – that it amazes me how this simple fact seems to escape almost all the educated, intelligent people I do know. Or perhaps I only know the wrong kind of people.

Being wet behind the ears

For a week now, I’ve been working with a fresh new writer. If I had to describe him, I’d say he’s someone full of enthusiasm, completely ‘into’ his work – someone who does not hesitate to ask questions and make corrections whenever he’s wrong. So what’s the problem? Okay, not to split hairs, but he is a little too enthusiastic – if you know what I mean.

For instance? When I asked him to write some content for a website, he mailed me back a CorelDRAW file containing his “vision” of what the site should look like. This would still have been fine if, in his enthusiasm, he hadn’t completely overlooked the ‘content’ part of it. The design of course was no use – by his own admission, he is not much of a designer. Luckily, things moved fast once I’d called him with the news that it was quality content delivered on time – and not his vision – that would get him paid 😉

The incident left me thinking about the perils of being a newcomer to your field of work. People view you with suspicion, expecting you to trip up at any moment. And more often than not, you oblige.

I remember the first time I met a Times of India editor to pitch a story idea. I prepared for the interview for a week beforehand, compiling a file full of my previously published articles in kiddie newspapers and college magazines, collating diary entries that seemed particularly interesting, digging out old class essays with such groundbreaking themes as ‘Global warming: The final solution’…even a humorous piece on dealing with unwanted guests.

Armed with a thick file, I donned my most grown-up, journalist-y outfit of the day – a khadi-cotton kurta paired with a severe white churidar – and tied my mousy hair in (what I thought was) a professional-looking bun.

My ‘interview’ lasted exactly 37 seconds. The editor I had arrived to meet was “out for a smoke,” said his colleague, demanding to know instead what my ‘broader ideas’ for the paper were. Now this I hadn’t much of a clue about. I’d been browsing a magazine article on genetic engineering in their office lobby, and this led me to say that I’d like to bring a whole new scientific tilt to the paper. Seeing her eyes refuse to come unstuck from the monitor, I added that the said scientific tilt could be achieved by publishing a series of articles about new advancements in genetic engineering. Yeah, right.

Something about my earnestness – or my naiveté – must have made an impression on that assistant ed, for I left the place with a mandate to work on an article on ‘Genetic science & advancement in India’ – to be researched & submitted within 48 hours (!)

I still don’t know whether it was euphoria or panic I felt more of. And the best of it is: after working night and day over the next 2 days, I spent the next 3 weeks twiddling my thumbs (also using them to dial the editor every 20 minutes) while they tried in vain to find space for my 500-word article in their 16-page newspaper.

So yes, I do have some idea of what is to be all wet behind the ears. And I guess my new writer now has some idea of waiting around to get served…after all, it’s been 45 whole minutes since he last called!

Death of a friend

Flowing watersI hadn’t known him too long. A couple of months at the most. But the news of his passing came as a shock nevertheless. Especially because he was so young. So nice, friendly, sincere.

Little would he have known, when he set out on a picnic, that it would be one of his last few acts in this lifetime. I can imagine him waving goodbye to his dad, to his sister. And then jauntily putting on a pair of sunglasses even as he headed towards the waiting bus.

It was supposed to be a day full of adventure, of negotiating swift river currents secure in a raft packed with colleagues. With friends. But before that adventure could begin, he decided to undertake a small swimming adventure of his own. Of course it proved fatal. The water had been calling out to him, as Death often will do, in forms benign yet deadly.

And, like Death, it brought him down. To a place where he couldn’t fight anymore. Nor think of an escape from the inevitable.

God knows how it feels to want air, so bad you could die. I tried holding my breath in the shower this morning. It lasted for maybe 30 seconds and didn’t feel all that bad. But I had always had the option to quit. Quit before the panic could take over my capacity to think, to get out of there.

Just imagining it makes me queasy. I cannot trust harmless, bottomless water anymore.

Death by drowning. And then you feel no more. Not the swirling darkness of the water, not the fish come to get their pound of flesh from what remains of your earthly existence. Not the gentle falling and rising from the riverbed to its surface. Again and again. Just like breathing.

It’s not so unbelievable, when you think of it. People die in accidents, in plane crashes, of old age and sickness – even in their sleep. But when those people have a name that rings a bell, a face you recall, a guileless smile you will never forget, then the whole equation changes. It is part of the selfishness of being human. The moment you know someone, they stop being a statistic. The existence of that person in this world takes on an importance all its own. And the ceasing of that existence, the power to make you dream of slimy riverbeds, night after restless night.

I had never attended the funeral of someone my age, before. I hadn’t thought I was old enough for that to happen. But it did. Just one evening ago.