Features Your Website Must Have -Color

The purpose of having a well organized and  beautiful website

Sometimes, when I read articles by web designers my eyes glaze over after a few hundred words. I think they serve as informative guidelines for other designers; however they simply don’t address lay people in easy to understand terms. I’m going to break down some web design principles beginning with aesthetics in a few short posts.

Beauty

The dictionary defines beauty as a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, which pleases the senses, especially sight. I would add proportion to that definition.

Simplicity and Navigability

How do these concepts relate to your website? If you recall, it was the architect, Louis Sullivan, who coined the phrase form follows function. In terms of website design, we now look for several things:

  1. Remember most people are looking at your website on a mobile device, at least at initially. There has to be a certain flow that is logical to human eye as the viewer scrolls downward. You don’t want the viewer to be overwhelmed by busyness, multiple columns, too many images, or massive amounts of text.
  2. You/your business, what you do/sell/, and contact information should be prominently displayed in the visible area prior to the first fold, that is, the area displayed on your device before you need to scroll.
  3. Pages should be logical, coherent and displayed above the header. I will return to these design fundamentals in a later post.

Interestingly, architects are the worst violators of these principles. Google ‘prominent architects’ –and start clicking on the websites of those who are currently in practice.  You’ll be scandalized.  Sometimes their sites are so ‘artistic’ that a viewer can’t figure out how to enter the site from the splash page or how to navigate it once they are in.

Color

Color happens to be my strongest point and the misuse of it drives me crazy. Recall when you have done a search for a medical practice or a physician. Invariably the website is blue and white. I’m sure all these good doctors use a specialized design service aimed at the medical profession. Unfortunately, they all look the same- sterile and impersonal. While white evokes hygiene and cleanliness, and blue supposedly stands for trust, security, competence-there are absolutely no mitigating colors or nuances found in the background fields.  Occasionally, a biotech or a pharmaceutical company with a big budget will insert a few random  colors into the design-but this is rarely done with any skill -we simply see grass green before one fold, sky blue in another, turquoise in the footer etc. One would think they were selling swimming pools.

When I created Refine Medical Spa’s, I decided on a clean, elegant and warm presentation, suited to the urban nature of this aesthetic practice. The tones are warm, complimenting all skin colors. No harsh blacks or whites are used-there is nothing jarring here. The header and the footer are charcoal; the background is a barely perceptible cloud grey, which makes images pop. Subtle touches of tan throughout along with thin gold framing around each photo contribute to the overall feeling of refinement and sophistication. Unlike many websites featuring plastic surgery or medical aesthetics I used photos of mature men and women of all races and shapes.

Another site I created, this time for an integrative medical practice, features pale and dark greens suggesting wholeness and nature based modalities. Since one of the partners exclusively practices Chinese medicine, I used images of Chinese landscapes, of themselves beautiful and peaceful.  No blue or white whatsoever and yet it succeeds in evoking tranquility, health, and serenity.

Lawyers are also notorious for having bad or outmoded websites. Again, with new sites there is a total uniformity throughout. A photo of the lawyer looking personable in the header, three boxes opening to the areas of practices and some text in which the lawyer tries to make himself seem caring-and then more boxes with more verbiage. The worst is when all the information about the lawyer, the practice, their victories, and any legal forms is crammed into blocks of text on the home page. Your eye has no idea where to focus. With all these boxes the designer must add color and it ranges arbitrarily from fully saturated teal to orange –mercifully not on the same site. I’m not sure how anyone expects to stand out with websites like those.

One of the few law practice sites I truly love belongs to my real estate attorney –and unfortunately was not created by me. It couldn’t be any simpler. A sepia photo of the scales of justice and a gavel reside in the header. Then we see one simple line before the fold: ‘We are passionate about providing our clients with the best service possible.’ Directly below, there is a sepia photo of said lawyer speaking to the client. The reason you believe he means it is how he looks-part Yul Brynner, part Gary Copper: engaged, warm, and very confident. His website is timeless and would have looked just as good in 1930-had we the technology -as it will in 2030.

Recently I landed on the website of a famous tennis star. I liked the layout very much. Under the header blocks of text appear next to photos of the said person, then a horizontal band appears with a quote and then more squares before the footer. Each photo is filtered through a different color. Somehow maroon, purple, mustard yellow, charcoal, white, and grey all live together on these pages.  I thought the color selection was hideous and arbitrary until I realized the design and colors were representational of multicolored WWT courts. I then realized the whole website was patterned after a tennis court. I still hate the colors, but I respect the ingeniousness of the designers.

Relevance

Another website that I lit upon this winter had to do with cutting edge home technologies Unfortunately it was designed to look like something from Great Depression. 1930’s graphics with maroon as the predominant background color, highlighted with a few touches of what can only be described as clotted cream has quite the opposite effect of conveying innovation and advancement.

Marketing

There is an entire psychology behind marketing and colors and the values and ideas those colors hold for us. Your website is part of your overall marketing strategy and a critical factor in presenting yourself or your business to the world. People will judge you by it, just as they judge you by your appearance, unfair as that may seem.

Each week I will feature a different aspect of website design. Please stay tuned.

 

1000 or More Words per Blog Post to Rank

Hemingway or Victor Hugo?

There’s a word I came to late in life that I simply adore: prolix. It’s sort of a combination of verbose and tedious. You know, it refers to the kind of 19th century author who uses two thousand words when two hundred will do.

Changing reading habits in the 20th century

The leisure class, though it may still have time on its hands, has moved away from spending languid afternoons in the sun reading ponderous tomes. Really, it was the advent of the typewriter that moved us away from those finely wrought, and sometimes, overwrought, sentences that used to span whole pages and that could have been only written with a pen. In contrast, the crispness of journalistic prose seemed like a revelation. American writers particularly pushed the envelope, priding themselves on forsaking ten dollar words and using, I guess, two cent ones, if length is the determiner of value.

The Internet and smart phones affect how you read

In the early days of the Internet, we were still reading full-length articles while peering at the small screens of our gargantuan monitors. However, social media and android phones changed all that. Few actually read anything anymore. They simply scroll, skimming headlines and looking for information that would benefit them. With this in mind, bloggers learned to write big catchy headlines, use visuals and keep  word count between 450-800 words, knowing their readers’ eyes glaze over at about 350.

Changing algorithms-Google and Social Media

All that is about to change since Google has changed its algorithms. Confusing length with quality, Google is now looking for blog posts of over 1000 words. This doesn’t count if you are already famous or Seth Godin, but if you are a small business owner who depends on rankings to get noticed on Google pages, you are being advised to spend more time on what are essentially marketing activities than ever before. So, you will be torquing yourself out of shape, all the while knowing those skimmers will be even more frustrated and click away because they are overwhelmed by the massive amount of sensory input they are exposed to during the course of a day.

So what should you do to diversify your marketing efforts?

First let me remind you that black hat SEO is a no-no and that Google supposedly doesn’t like padding. Professional bloggers, however, are using technologies that allow them to talk-type, thus adding to their verbosity. Some add abstracts to their posts. Others are thrilled that they can stick their keyword into more headings, more pictures and more superfluous text –thus admitting the sole purpose of their blog is not to share information, instruct, or write for pleasure but to rank. On top of that you are advised to entertain your audience with videos, graphs, charts, and all kinds of other nonsense.
Before you get your knickers in a twist over this, there is both good and bad news. Google will be gradually moving into voice searches, phasing out SEO. Your competitors who can pay to show up at the top of the page will be the ones that will be referenced, and all your  efforts to rank will be meaningless. The solution to this, according to Neil Patel is to diversify your marketing efforts. And that won’t be simple either. On Facebook you will have to pay to play, since Pages have been placed in a separate feed, thus reducing their already minuscule organic reach. YouTube has changed the rules as well.

Most internet users are looking for quick advice

The truth is both marketing and writing are arts, honed over time and made better with practice. Neither is easy to do well. Moreover, things get even more difficult when you have to draw out your posts to simply be visible. Search intent should be the real criteria-and how well the problem is addressed, regardless of length.  I, for one, am not going to go there-and I think users will bear me out-those who appreciate short, succinct, informative articles. This one is ending at 641 words.

 

How to Capture a Reader’s Attention

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

 

What catches a reader’s attention? We all have favorite first lines that grabbed us and propelled us into the alternate universes imagined by our favorite authors.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

 

Mesmerizing! Catching your breath, you could hardly wait to see what was going to unfold from that first delicious beginning.  But you’re not a novelist, you say. You write to promote your business. So how can you grab your readers’ attention and hold it?

There are a few ways you can make your product or service stand out.

  1. Personalize the text-you will not be anonymous that way, but someone the reader can relate to.
  2. Tell a story. Why do we tend to tear up at those Hallmark commercials? It’s because they tell a story.
  3. Appeal to emotions.
  4. Solve their problem.

The best marketing copywriters understand those basic principles and use them to their advantage.

You can do the same. Grab the reader’s attention and then wow them with what comes next. Speak to their desires. Show them that you have the perfect solution to their problem. Remember you need to establish their trust by offering them something valuable and setting yourself up as the expert who can help them or get them to where they want to be.

Whether you are going to help them lose weight, make and save money, have better relationships or make their work easier, you hold the solution in your hands. Make them want it so badly that they will press that buy now button and call for your service, make an appointment, or come in to your shop.

If you find it difficult to promote yourself, hire a professional writer. They have the experience necessary to understand how to best promote you and your business and get YOU where you want to be.

Is Your Bio A Hazard?

Is Your Bio a Hazard?  I can fix it for you!

While I was writing this article, I received a message from one of my clients, a respected photographer. This is a direct quote from her client, a bride, whom she met for the first time yesterday:

‘First I was intrigued by your images. They spoke to me. Then I read your bio and it felt right. Then I went onto your blog posts and I was sold!’

Since I wrote several versions of that biography and many of the longer blog posts, I was encouraged to move forward and publish this article.

The importance of having a great biography

Whether you are looking for a job, clients, or need to establish your credentials, the importance of a well written biography cannot be overestimated. Your biography is the first view people who are online will have of you.  Most studies indicate you have less than three minutes to make an impression, so your biography needs to convey your unique qualities and qualifications in a tightly written and inspiring way.

When do you need to hire a professional writer?

  • You know your field, and you know how good you are, but writing isn’t your strong point. You begin, but you’re not sure what to emphasize, and you find yourself rambling and going off course. You don’t want to bore your reader or have them think less of you due to your choice of words.
  • You need to stand out in your field, but what distinguishes you? Often, it’s not our actual skills but effective marketing that marks the difference between success and failure.
  • You are new to your field and uncertain how to leverage your education or previous experience.
  • You are too modest to blow your own horn. Unfortunately, most of us were taught to not overplay our strengths and to take a self-effacing approach. Even when we know our value, we are afraid to be perceived as arrogant or unpleasant.
  • You are not a native English speaker. I’m a Slav. I have worked for many Slavic professionals who, despite their high levels of education, commonly misplace articles since they don’t exist in our languages. Whether it involves spelling, sentence structure, or phrasing, English is a difficult language. Many natives don’t get it right.
  • You’re busy. You know you need to take care of social media and have a website, but you can’t do it all yourself.
  • You’re not objective. Sometimes we need a second pair of eyes to point out strengths that may not be obvious to us.

It’s all about them

The thing to remember is your skills are commodities in a competitive market place, unless you can sell yourself as an expert who can solve others’ problems. Your biography needs to be about what you can deliver to your clients or your prospective employers, and yet, it needs to be unique to you.

And lastly, often you will need one or more biographies depending on your purpose.

 

To see examples:

Biographies

If you want to be recognized as a leader in your profession call, contact, or message me to discuss your needs.

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Keep Your Mojo Working?

For the past year and a half I have been looking for an agent for my latest novel. I’ve had two requests in that time from important agents, one who is considered a top London agent, the other, a well -known and respected New Yorker. Both asked for full manuscripts, neither followed up.

Rejection letters from other agents who have seen samples are highly complementary and respectful of the writing but invariably end with, ‘I’m not passionate enough…’, which I understand to be a euphemism for, ‘It’s not bankable.’

Eight books ago, my first novel made it to Little Brown, where it spent a summer and was considered, quote: ‘Important’, but rejected for being, ‘…too high-brow for our commercial lists’. Since, I have self -published idiosyncratic books that gave me great satisfaction to write and which were praised by the few who read my work.

The dilemma now is not even what to do with the current book-I suppose if all else fails I can self-publish again and knock myself out trying to market it, but whether to continue to write fiction at all.

I have to ask myself, if the market doesn’t want my work, am I just indulging in an expensive and time consuming hobby? Am I deluding myself that this novel, or the next, will be the one which will allow me to write professionally?

I suppose there are those who have starved for their art, but I am not made of such stern stuff. And yet there’s an idea that’s been hovering at the edge of my consciousness as I’ve denied it, refusing to begin anything new until the last book pays off. It’s taking shape in two versions, and maybe it will amount to two books. But I can see the opening now: A woman in a khaki raincoat riding a bicycle down an allee of trees, headed for a small country house. There’s her absent and cheerfully unaware art historian husband, and there is the dark painter who intrigues her, but is he someone who is threatening her equilibrium now or is he from the distant past –his story waiting to be uncovered? What will she find out about herself, and more importantly what will I discover as I plummet the inner world of my own psyche?

So the final question remains: Should one keep indulging oneself? Is the satisfaction of producing alternate realities on the computer screen worth sacrificing time that could be spent more lucratively elsewhere?

I don’t know the answer to that question or what I intend to do about it, yet.

Writing for a Specific Audience

 Visuals

The first point that we have to acknowledge is that postmodern society has moved away from the written word towards visual mediums. We see evidence of this everywhere on social media. On Facebook we post and like animal videos. People have made or enhanced their careers with helpful videos on YouTube. Our blog posts are often peppered with photographs, since we know these posts get more views and more shares.

From this we can conclude that it would be wise to add visuals to our material, whether we are bloggers or those making a corporate presentation or formal paper. Illustrations, charts, graphs, videos and photographs help clarify and enhance the experience of our audience and keep them from becoming bored.

Time and Technology

The next thing we have to consider is that our reading habits have changed since the advent of the Internet. With smart phones we are primarily engaged in scrolling and skimming. The leisure of the 19th century is over for the reading class, and the pressures of modern life give us little time to indulge.  We know that Hemingway on his typewriter wrote in a very different style than did Dickens or Tolstoy.  Keep that in mind when you consider your presentation or blog post.  Succinct is always preferable to long winded and wordy. Catchy headlines are also important to engage reader interest.  Sadly, often it’s the only part of the article people will read.

Voice

Should your tone be formal or informal?  First, you must determine who your audience is. We don’t speak to our employers the way we do to our friends. A blog about the joys and travails of being a working mother will read far differently than a white paper. Choose your tone accordingly. This blog post would read far differently if I were to change from addressing it directly to You to writing things such as:

‘When one writes for the board of directors, one should remember to …’

Are you writing a short story or a novel and don’t know who the audience will be?  I can guarantee it will be someone like yourself who will share your outlook and interests and will be enthused to discover your in- depth insights. That is unless you write for children, which is a whole other topic.

Depth and language

Is your audience expert in their field or are you going to be explaining a topic for the general reader? If the latter is true you will have to explain your topic in depth minus the familiar jargon. In truth, few scientific and tech writers can overcome this hurtle and resort to a convoluted academic style which is impenetrable for the most part, and is deadly dull. Remember, explain your topic or paper as you would to an intelligent high school student. You’ll be a standout and your colleagues will actually read what you have written with interest.

Problem solution

Most online readers are searching for a solution to their problems-and they want quick solutions. Make the content easy to understand and bullet or number it. Use large catchy titles, small paragraphs and illustrations. Your audience will be engaged and receptive resulting in recognition of your product and your expertise.

Your audience

In truth, you know who your audience is whether it is a board, shareholders, laymen, colleagues, or the general public. Pick the audience and you will be able to choose the proper voice. I’ve never cared for the advice that you need to imagine your ideal reader and write to them. Most of us are too constrained and self-conscious to begin with and further censoring ourselves with a potential inner critic is overwhelming. Imagine a broad audience and tailor your writing to them instead. If you get stuck, google! Don’t plagiarize, of course. Simply getting ideas from those who have tackled your topic before is extremely helpful before you begin to think about how you will structure your own work.  Above all, keep practicing. In time, all this will come easily to you.

Staying on Track for Bloggers

You know you have something powerful and meaningful to express, but when you read your writing back to yourself, you notice that you have rambled off course. You are not quite sure where you went wrong since you thought it was going so well. Don’t censor yourself until the entire post is complete. You may not know where you are going during the process of writing it, so wait until you finish before you go back to perfect the piece.

So how are you going to deconstruct your article?

  1. Pretend you are writing for someone who has never read any of your previous blog posts.
  2. Understand that while you may be familiar with your back story, your reader is not.
  3. Briefly clarify the things that make no sense or that are incomplete.
  4. Make an outline. You are doing this in reverse of the usual order. However, when you create an outline from a completed piece which is giving you trouble you will be able to tell where you have gone wrong.
  5. Now that you have an outline, you will title each section and think about summing it up in a sentence.
  6. Now put those sentences into order. Do they seem cohesive? Does one topic flow into another? If so keep the sentence categories. If not cut and paste them to the side.
  7. Now reading back –does each paragraph in your blog post reflect the one sentence summary? If it does keep it, if not, cut and paste it to the side.
  8. Now, let’s move on to the sentences within each paragraph themselves. Ask yourself if the sentences follow logically from one to another. Can you edit and organize the sentences to have better flow?
  9. Do those sentences seem crisp or are they running on? If so, truncate them and use the necessary punctuation.
  10. Make certain your tense structure is compatible throughout.
  11. If you are still having trouble, ask someone else to read it. A second pair of eyes will be able to find things which may have escaped you. You can then clarify.
  12. Practice deconstructing a blog post you admire. I know our schedules can be overwhelming but if you want to be a good writer, you must learn to have a discerning eye.
  13. I can’t emphasize enough that reading and absorbing material will make you a much better and more skillful writer. If you are having problems, look to an example. I had a lot of trouble with transitions when I started to write. I also knew that Flaubert wrote the best transitions. I only had to open Madame Bovary to find out how he did it.
  14. Sit on your post for a week. You’ll find you can improve it when your eyes are fresh.

Above all, don’t fret. Let it go. Your capabilities may be limited at present, but you can be sure that you will get better the more you write.

Three Ways to Organize Ideas for Writers

 

 

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A few days ago I was speaking to a client who is a business coach. My client has brilliant ideas but is struggling to organize her writing on paper. To be able to advise her I had to think back to when I first started writing.

 

OUTLINE

I have a confession. I hated writing in high school and college. Often I would procrastinate until the last minute. What would invariably save me was my ability to outline. I would break down the subject into several title headings and then –this was prior to my knowledge of bullet points-number the sub headings. The subheadings would then be further broken down into lettered paragraph topics.

This would give me an overall plan. Then I would simply fill in a few sentences on the subject and tie the paragraphs in with a transitional sentence or two, yielding a complete paper. Because I was lazy, I learned to write in the most economical style possible, conveying my ideas in a succinct and forthright manner.

 

DIAGRAM

When I began my first novel, I adapted a technique I had learned from my college major, anthropology. We used diagrams to outline family relationships-something like a genealogical chart. If you are writing fiction you can use this for developing characters and determining how they relate to each other. If you are writing a technical subject you can use this method for seeing how the parts will relate to the whole.

 

PUT EVERYTHING ON A BIG PIECE OF PAPER

This was a trick I used in studying foreign languages. I would use a large piece of drawing paper to write out everything I would need to know on a test-conjugations, tenses, idiomatic phrases etc. The purpose was not to lose track of essential matter by having everything in clear sight and not on multiple pieces of paper.

There are softwares available nowadays which will allow you to do the same thing.

 

PRACTICE

Begin by breaking down an article in your niche, or a simple short story, to get the hang of these three techniques. Once you begin writing your text, you will undoubtedly deviate from your outlines. Don’t hesitate to follow your instincts, and feel free to change things around. As you progress, you will be able to throw these crutches away and let your writing flow spontaneously.