Make sure you dont lose credibility.

There. Did you catch it? The missing apostrophe in the title? One tiny mistake like that can affect the credibility of your website and your entire company!

Misspellings, incorrect word usage and grammatical errors are common on even the best websites.

Think no one will notice one little error? Dead wrong. Potential clients can be unforgiving when it comes to misspelling or incorrect word usage. This instant loss of credibility translates into lost sales opportunities. (The more educated the user, the more likely they are to notice errors. And the more likely they are to have a higher income and more to spend – or not spend – on your products and services.)

Think I’m exaggerating? A recent British analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.

Not only that, but spelling mistakes distract users from the information you are trying to convey. Like hitting a speed bump at 40 miles per hour. Major communications deterrent.

What impression are you giving your website visitors?

Use this checklist to make sure your copy isn’t turning potential customers away from your site.

1. Get at least 2 other people you know to read your site and look for errors. You might consider hiring an experienced proofreader and/or copywriter (such as myself) to go over your site with a fine-toothed comb.

2. Cut and paste all of your website copy into Word or a similar program and run it through a spell check. This will catch some of the errors in spelling and grammar, but not all. Spellcheck won’t know if you meant to use “bear” or “bare” since both stand-alone spellings are correct. Don’t neglect step 1.

3. Make sure you are not using too much industry jargon. Non-technical people will be visiting your site. Don’t assume they are familiar with the buzzwords of your business. Use plain language. Or if you do use a buzzword, give a little explanation of the term.

4. Beware of homophones (its or it’s, their or they’re or there) and make sure you’re using the correct word. Homophone mistakes are extremely common on websites. Spellcheck doesn’t always find these.  (See step 2.) There are plenty of sites that can help you if you are not sure which form to use. I like Grammar Girl at [grammar.quickanddirtytips.com].

5. Use the right voice. If you are writing in the first-person point of view, make sure you do so throughout the site. Same thing for second or third person. Be consistent.

First person (I, we, me, us my, our)

Our company will complete the job on time and on budget.

Second person ( you, your, yours)

Before you get burned by a fly-by-night outfit, you need to check business references.

Third person (he, she, his, hers, it, they, them)

Many businesses have grammatical errors on their web pages; they need to have them properly proofread.

(Ok. So I threw a semi-colon in that last sentence just to show off.

And to remind everyone that I am a copywriter as well as a graphic designer.)

Piracy or Plagiarism…

…It’s still stealing.

Internet plagiarism is rampant. Web plagiarism is the illegal use of written work, photographs or graphics on a website and refers to content taken from another website without having permission or giving credit.

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Online piracy is refers to downloading illegal copies of copyrighted software, movies or music via peer-to-peer networks, Internet auctions or blog.

…Piracy is a form of ‘free-riding’ in which the pirate takes advantage of the efforts of the original author without having the investment of resources by the original author.” 1

Free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but so are property rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote that patent and copyright protection were necessary to encourage the creation of new works and suggested “Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

When something is written or a picture or graphic is created, it is automatically copyrighted and protected under the law from being stolen. But it didn’t have the little c in the circle copyright mark, you say? Doesn’t have to. In the United States, since 1978, there is no formal requirement to mark your work with the copyright symbol. In fact, there are no formalities required whatsoever except creating. Copyright is created in a work once it is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. This means your writing is copyrighted the moment you hit the “save” button; your photo is protected as soon as you click the shutter; your art becomes your intellectual property as soon as ink or paint touches paper or canvas.

The laws governing online content are the same as for printed materials, and both are protected by copyright infringement laws. Internet plagiarism is sometimes harder to detect than with printed materials because it is so easy to copy images or text from a web site. Most search engines can detect when a site is using plagiarized materials and can keep the rogue site from showing up in search results. The offending websites may even be taken down.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not downright copying.

My first experience with copyright infringement was in third grade. A local women’s club ran a contest at the local elementary schools for the best summer safety poster. I was good at drawing ducks and, spending the majority of my summers at the beach with my best friend, I knew The Big Rule at the beach was never to go in the water alone.

So I entered the contest with my poster of two giant yellow ducklings swimming together with the caption “Swim with a Buddy.” I won first place and a check for 25 buckaroos. Big money in those days to a 9-year-old. It felt fantastic!

The next year, having already won, I magnanimously didn’t enter in order to give the other kids a shot. I was flabbergasted to see the winning poster. It was almost identical to my winning entry the year before. Exact layout, exact headline. The only difference was that she had used another animal. Dolphins, I think.

I was sick to my stomach at the unfairness of it all! She had just copied what I had done! That was cheating! She stole my idea and profited from it! (To this day, I’m still surprised the ladies in the club didn’t see the similarity to my poster from the year before.) My mom gave me the old “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” speech, but I didn’t buy it then and never have. (In high school, the same girl stole money out of my gym locker. Not surprising since she embarked on a life of crime with plagiarism at the age of 10…)

Have you been copied?

How do you know if someone has plagiarized content from your website? Fortunately, the same technology that makes it so simple to swipe on the internet also makes it easy to hunt down the pirates using the internet. From the time my kids were in middle school, students were required to submit essays and papers to a plagiarism checker online before they could be turned in.

I use one regularly to check text given to me by clients for their web sites when they hire me to do the design only and not the writing. I don’t know if it is more embarrassing for them or for me when I have to make the phone call letting them know that I can’t use their “lifted” content.

There are many free plagiarism checkers online. I use this one – http://www.copyscape.com. Just enter your website address and it searches the entire web for copies of your text and identifies websites using identical phrases.

For other written material, or small excerpts of text, I use the Plagiarism Checker at http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker. It lets you paste in content and check phrases to find out what percentage of your content is original. If it finds the same combination of words somewhere else on the internet, it will identify in red the phrases or sentences that already exist online and will not pass Google (or other search engine) plagiarism tests.

If you are concerned about your website’s “page ranking”, don’t present someone else’s content on your site as original. Most search engines can detect when a site is using plagiarized materials and can keep the rogue site from showing up in search results. The offending websites may even be taken down.

Not sure what can be borrowed with being considered stealing? Take the online plagiarism test from Cardiff University at https://ilrb.cf.ac.uk/plagiarism/quiz/.

1. John W. Snapper, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago – “On the Web, Plagiarism Matters More than Copyright Piracy”

Your website (or ad or brochure) looks great! But not to everyone.

Content is key in all of your marketing materials, but your prospective customers need to have it presented in a way that is easy on the eye.

75% of Americans use some form of corrective lens.  That’s 225 million people wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Everyone, let me repeat, everyone over the age of 45 experiences some form of age-related vision loss that makes reading small print and distinguishing colors difficult. (Whether we like to admit it or not.)

Text and background color choices also affect readability, a big issue for visitors over 40 or with visual impairments.

By some estimates, up to 10% of the male population of the world suffers from some form of color blindness. The most common is Red-Green color blindness, the inability to distinguish between red and green hues. There is also Blue-Yellow color blindness and Total Color blindness.

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To a person with color-deficient partial sight, the left-hand panel might appear like the right-hand panel appears to a person with normal color vision.

Make sure the text is readable.

Consider font size, typeface and color contrast.

What’s with the trend of gray text on a white background? Play around with color in other elements all you want, but make sure the text on your site is utterly readable. When I buy a book, I expect the type to be black on white paper. Same with a newspaper. If you want me to pay attention to the text on your web page, you’d better make it easy to read. That means size as well as contrast. It’s harder to read a screen than a page, so make sure your type is large enough to read easily. Don’t expect people to read white type on a dark background unless it’s the headline.

Words on a computer screen are harder to read. And even harder to remember. A recent Scientific American article says, “Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done.”

Contrast is key.

Text should have the highest possible contrast. It is the contrast of colors touching one another that determines their readability.

Exaggerate lightness and darkness between text and background colors, and never use colors of similar lightness next to one another, even if they are different hues.

Printed material, generally, is most readable in black and white because that offers the highest contrast. If using color for type, save it for headlines and titles.

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 A quick way see if your web page print material has enough contrast is to print it out in black and white and see if the design still looks clear and easy to read. There are lots of more sophisticated tools for web developers with complicated algorithms, but sometimes the simplest ways are the best. I use this test for everything I design, not just web sites.

Type size and spacing

Type should be large, preferably at least 12 to 14 points. The rule of thumb in the newspaper business is never to use type smaller than 10 point, except in captions. Newspapers, however, always use extremely legible fonts in narrow columns, so they can get away with it. And among different typefaces, there can be a vast difference between readability and point sizes.

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 Font choices

Don’t use decorative, cursive or funky fonts. Stick with tried and true, easy-to-read fonts like Helvetica and Times Roman for any text longer than a couple of sentences. Using upper and lower case letters makes text more readable than italics, oblique or condensed.

If you want to get creative with type, hire a professional designer. Otherwise you risk having your ad or site look like it was designed by a twelve-year-old who thinks Comic Sans is a cool font.

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Making the most effective text and color choices can have a positive impact of your business communications.

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If you use a Mac, you can see what your site looks like to a colorblind person by putting it through different filters that simulate types of color blindness at http://michelf.ca/projects/sim-daltonism.

Thanks to Lighthouse.org for the examples of contrasting colors.

Scientific American – The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

Does your web site get an F? Great!

People read content on the web differently from how they read printed materials. Users read your page content In just a few seconds; their eyes flit at amazing speeds across your website’’s words in a pattern that’s very different from the way they read a book, magazine or newspaper. Eyetracking visualization research shows that when users arrive at a web page they scan it in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.
 
Eyetracking research uses special equipement to detect exactly where people’s eyes are focused when they look at a computer screen. This  makes it easy to see what part of a design attracts users’ eyes and which parts tend to overlooked.
 
The Mysterious F Pattern

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When you open a web page,  without even being aware of it, your eyes begin to scan the content in the rough form of an F.
 
First, you’ll look across the top horizontal area of the page to get oriented and find important content before going to other parts of the page.
 
Second, your eyes then go back to the left as you begin to look at the content just below and parallel to the top area.
 
This all happens in less than a second.
 
Then you go back to the left side of the page and begin to scan through the main text of the page focusing on headings, bold words and bullet points. At this point you will have decided whether to stay on the page, if it has given you the information you were looking for, or to click away and give another site a try.
 
Only then will you go back and read longer blocks of text.
 
(Note: there are exceptions to the F pattern rules, of course, but this is what happens most often when your eyes hit the page.)
 
Now you understand how crucial it is to incorporate art (great design) and science (optimum layout) as well as great written content in your site if you want it to be effective and user friendly.

Our Visual Culture and Your Web Site

Visual representation is the both the oldest and newest means of communicating in and between cultures around the world. Visual symbols have always been the best way to pass information from one person to another. The earliest recorded communications were pictorial in nature. Ancient artifacts and representations have enabled us to reconstruct history.

Today, in the 21st-century, our homes and workplaces are visually saturated environments and most of our education and favorite pastimes involve visual media in some form — television, video games, the internet, films, and publications of every kind in print and on digital media such as smartphones and tablet computers.
 
Think of all the ways knowledge is shared visually. Visual systems help us cross cultural boundaries using recognizable images to circumvent language barriers. Doctors use xrays and scans to gather information. Crime scene investigators photograph evidence and chart DNA to help solve crimes. Mapmakers give us visual information to understand where we are on this planet. Toddlers learn to read by associating grouped letters with pictures. International pictorial signage helps us find our way when we are out of our native cultures.

The enormous growth of the internet as a system to distribute information  has made visual design factors essential in getting relevant information to web users across the globe.
 
What does this have to do with your web site? Just everything. First impressions of your site should immediately convey information as well as personality. (Yes, your business has a personality. And your website should be conveying it successfully.)
 
Design can make or break your website even if you are selling the most fantastic product or service in the world. The look of your website can build your credibilty or ruin it with the impression it makes.
 
On the internet you have only seconds to impress a visitor to your site as they make a snap decision to stay on your page or click to someone else’s. Your site needs to instantly convey to visitors how professionally you run your business, how pertinent your business is to them, and how to easily find any information about your business/product without too much scrolling
or clicking. (As internet users, we all have incredibly short attention spans.)
 
The same sensibilities apply to the design of all of your marketing materials, be it business cards, brochures, postcards, direct mail, socialmedia or flyers. Make it visually compelling, easy to navigate and find information, concisely written and (really, this is so important, people*)
grammatically correct to make your potential customers feel they know who is behind the products you are selling.
 
After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

*A Stanford University study, the “Web Credibility Project,” found that typos are one of the top factors reducing a site’s credibility. “…the findings suggested that typographical errors have roughly the same negative impact on a website’s credibility as a company’s legal or financial troubles,” according to the study.

Don’t make me scroll down there.

Web users have a limited attention span. People prefer sites that get right to the point and are quickly navigable. On the internet, there is a general reluctance to read more words than necessary and scrolling is too much extra work.

In the 1990’s when the World Wide Web was new, internet users had to be taught the concept of scrolling. At one time AOL wouldn’t even accept sites that didn’t completely fit onto a computer screen.

So ok, these days we all get scrolling, but that doesn’t mean we like it. If you want me to scroll, you have to give me a pretty good reason.

Internet users spend 80% of time studying information “above the fold”. Despite the fact that they also use scrolling some of the time, only 20% of their attention is distributed on what is not on the first screen. The “first screen” is a term that refers to the part of a web page that is visible when you first land on a web site without having to scroll down.

“Above the fold” is a term borrowed from an older form of media – newspapers. It originally referred to the upper half of the front page where an important news story or photograph is  located. Papers are displayed to customers folded so that only the top half of the front page is visible. So an item that is “above the fold” is one that the editor feels is most important
and will entice people to buy the paper.

Sometimes, users do read down an entire page. It does happen occasionally. With blogs and articles, readers would rather scroll down to read an article in its entirety than have to click to a “next page”. But he basic rule of thumb for websites is still  that visitors should be able to land on your site and understand what it is about by what is visible without scrolling.

Three conclusions for for web design

  • Things that are important for business should be placed above the fold on your landing page. Name of your company. Phone number. Navigation bar.  Introductory paragraph. Key photos. (Yes, a picture is still worth a thousand words.)
  • People scroll pages quickly, so it is necessary to adjust page layouts for quick viewing, not for scrupulous reading. Columns are easier to read than text that runs across an entire screen.
  • Don’t forget the bottom of the page. Footers should always have navigation buttons repeated. Also include the business name, phone number again along with an address and an email link.

And it never hurts to add something interesting as a reward for scrolling all the way to the bottom. A photo, quote or something visually interesting is a nice payoff.

Want to know exactly where the fold falls on your web page for different monitors. Check this out http://www.whereisthefold.com/

Is your web site half-baked?

The dinner bell might bring people to your table, but doesn’t mean they’ll find your meal appetizing.

Optimizing your site for the search engines may help bring visitors to your site, but it won’t keep them there. Only good content can do that.

On the internet, all the power is in the hands of the consumers in the form of that little mouse. If we don’t satisfy our visitors, it’s so simple for them to go elsewhere with a single click.

And your site visitors will judge very quickly, in a matter of seconds. User testing has shown that visitors first scan your page to see if it has the information they want. If it doesn’t, or if the answers are too hard to find, they will go elsewhere for a site that makes it easier to get answers. Visitors don’t want to struggle with your site if it isn’t isn’t intuitively understandable. And chances are, unless you don’t have any competitors in your business,
they have a good chance of finding the same information more easily on another site.

Keep this in mind:
1. Users have many choices
2. Users judge your site in under six seconds
3. Users want navigation that doesn’t require thinking

Make it appetizing with design and content.

Clarity, both visually, and in terms of content, is crucial. If you can’t convey what you have to offer quickly, then be prepared to lose that visitor. All the keywords and search engine optimization in the world can’t solve that problem.

Use keywords to get them to your site.
Use content to keep them there.

Thankfully, there are good designers (such as myself) who understand that web design is a balancing act. It’s one thing to get someone to your site, but if that the visitor finds your site visually unappealing, confusing to navigate, or uninformative, they will probably click away in an instant and you’ve lost your sale.

So, search engines bring visitors to your site. Good web design guides them easily to your content. Concise, informative writing pulls them in and keeps them there long enough to buy your product or at least consider it enough to bookmark and come back to your site.

SImplicity is the key ingredient.

Simple, attractive design. Simple, concise text. SImple, clear keywords and key phrases. The nature of the web favors the simple over the complex. Web users have short attention spans. They scan content rather than reading it.

The first taste of your site must be scrumptious enough to make a big impression and keep people coming back. It isn’t just a professional logo and pleasing colors. Or how quickly your pages load. Or the clear layout and ease of navigation. Or the convincing, grammatically-correct writing. Or that you answer emails quickly. It is all of these things working together in a web design that complements and reinforces them.