Thursday, August 28, 2008

Many sites (including this one) offer the option of receiving updates via email for those who don’t use RSS readers. Usually, a daily email is sent out (in the middle of the night, in my case) containing the previous day’s post or posts. It’s a good way to keep up with a site without having to remember to visit it.

However, there’s debate whether that many people really want this – after all, don’t we get enough email?

So I’m putting the question out there: Have you ever subscribed to this service on a website? (And I’m talking about RSS email updates, not site newsletters.) Why or why not? What do you see as the pros and cons?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I found this story on BBC News online a few months ago: web users are becoming more “ruthless”, according to a study of web habits. 

The point is that more and more people are going to the Internet for a specific task, not to linger or be entertained. The story says that many users are annoyed by the extras that many sites have added, such as applications and widgets (I would add gratuitous Flash videos to that mix), that just add weight to the page and make it slower to load.

(As an aside, remember the early web pages with grey backgrounds, default text colours and only the odd, very compressed picture? Think of how quickly those would load on our faster computers with faster bandwidth. Does it really make sense to take advantage of almost everyone being on high-speed by adding so much weight that page load times are slower?)

The lesson? Don’t let “fun” design extras get in the way of helping your users find what they want, quickly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How do you find information on the web? Do you go directly to a site that offers the type of information you’re looking for, or do you do a search?

If you’re like most people, it’s probably the latter, especially when it comes to how-to content.

Search – and by search I mean Google, which dominates the market – is a key traffic driver online, and capitalizing on people’s searches is a good way to increase traffic to your site – traffic that you can hopefully turn into regular visitors. The way to do this? Search engine optimization, or SEO.

Basically, Google sends automated bots around the web to “read” pages and catalogue them for the search engine. (This process is why new content doesn’t appear immediately in Google – the bots haven’t gotten there yet.) They have a formula for ranking pages on different search terms (the words you type in when you’re searching for something) and the higher-ranked pages will show up closer to the top of the results when you search, resulting in more clicks and more traffic.

SEO is the process of making your pages more appealing to Google. Some of this is on the code side and in the site architecture, but a lot has to do with the actual words you use on the page. Computers have limited appreciation for subtlety, so you have to make things very clear for them. (Really, what we’re doing here is redesigning the Internet in the image of Google, but that’s a discussion to be had over drinks.)

The truth is, no one outside Google really knows the exact formula of how pages are ranked, but we have a pretty good general idea. Just search (!) for SEO and you’ll find pages of results on how to optimize your content. I’ll also be covering various aspects of SEO over the coming months – if you have any specific questions, please drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It’s generally assumed in the online world that web articles should be kept short – after all, web readers have the attention span of a gnat. Zainab Zakari at the New York Review of Magazines disagrees in an article that goes over studies on attention spans, actual site statistics and his own anecdotal evidence.

On the one hand, I think short and to the point is good: the bulk of my online reading consists of scanning articles and rarely making it past page 1. But on the other hand, when the time and place are right (usually a Saturday morning browsing the Globe), I’ve been known to spend a good 20 minutes to half an hour reading one long, in-depth article. So what do web readers really want – and what should you be providing them with?

Well, the answer is probably both. There’s no need to exclude long features from your site if you think people will want to read them, just because the prevailing wisdom pushes short web articles. But in highly scannable pieces (service or how-tos), where readers are looking for you to get to the point, it doesn’t hurt to cut the excess (especially in repurposed content) and make the story quick to read.

What are your online reading habits when it comes to length?

Friday, August 22, 2008

It seems obvious, but it bears repeating: there’s no quicker way to lose readers than by having a site that a) is too slow or b) doesn’t work (whether that be broken links or something more complicated like malfunctioning logins).

Web readers have a pretty limited attention span, unless they’re really, really looking for something specific. Think about it: How often has it happened that you’ve clicked on something interesting, waited about 10 seconds for it to load, given up and moved on? You may not have thought about it much at the time, but for the owner of that site, that was lost traffic.

The key is to not bite off more than you can chew. Know what you’re capable of and do it well. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t dream big – just make sure each step is implemented properly before moving on to the next.

About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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