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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) April 19, 2001

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Sponsored by: Informative Graphics, Recommend-it.com, Building Dynamic Web Sites Conference and Enterprise Web & Corporate Portal Conference __________________________________________________________________

This week Bill Cook writes on a topic relevant, not just to those on the Web, but to anyone who wants to communicate a complex idea effectively; he tells us how to write the perfect blurb. However, he uses what might be considered an counter-intuitive yet pensively sensible approach, so prepare for a surprise.

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This week in the WebReference newsletter,

New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! Signup & Win! 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: BEGIN WITH THE BLURB 3. NET NEWS: * There Must Be a Better Way ... * Document Object Model (DOM) Requirements * Startup aims to encrypt all Web traffic

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! Signup & Win

>Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0!

Submit your article today and you could win SoftQuad's HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! If your article makes the cut, and we publish it on the site or in this newsletter, you win! See the submission page for details:

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This week Bill Cook tells us how to come up with the perfect blurb using an interesting strategy. Congratulations, Bill! Enjoy the software. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: BEGIN WITH THE BLURB

You see them all over the Web. Some call them teases, others just call them linked text. Me, I call them blurbs. They usually look something like this:

Feeling Spontaneous? Spend your weekend somewhere else. Find bargain airfares in Web Fares.

Beginning XHTML: Different Media Types Still writing plain old HTML? With XHTML and CSS2 you achieve media independence.

More Harry! What are the rules of Quidditch? Read the Harry Potter schoolbooks to find out!

Blurbs are those short pieces of linked text you put on a home page or an index page to drive traffic to content within your site. Usually a blurb is written only after the content it's pointing to is already finished; too often, it's written in a few minutes, almost as an afterthought.

Big mistake. Because when you write your blurb before you start developing content - whether it be text, tools, apps or graphics you're actually vetting, editing, focusing and supporting that content all at once with a minimum of time and effort. ******************************************************************

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**********************************************************adv.**** GOOD BLURBS AND BAD BLURBS

Here's what a good blurb does:

It neatly and quickly summarizes the content it points to

It promises that the content will provide a benefit or reward to the user

It engages the user with an appropriate tone or "voice" It gets clicked

Bad blurbs, by contrast, are long, don't promise the user a clear benefit, and speak to users in an inappropriate voice. And they therefore don't get clicked.

Bad blurbs are sometimes unavoidable. Why? Because bad blurbs often reflect the same lack of focus and organization within the content itself. When you sit down to write a blurb for a finished piece of content...

Does it take you two paragraphs to summarize the content for a user? The content is probably too complicated and should have been simplified.

Does it take forever to find one interesting thing to say about the content? The content probably has no real benefit for the user built in to it and should never have been approved for development. Does your blurb seem schizophrenic because it contains numerous, unrelated topics? That's probably because the content itself contains numerous, unrelated topics and should've been focused or broken down into several articles before it was published. By contrast, a good blurb is easily written because its matching content has a clear purpose, delivers a specific benefit and speaks to its intended audience in a voice that's appropriate. In this sense, a blurb is a diagnostic tool; it can tell you whether your content works or not. So why wait until the content is finished before you find this out? Just remember this: Before you create any content for your Web site, write the blurb; before you buy any content, demand that whoever is creating the content submits a blurb first.

PUTTING BLURBS TO WORK

Blurbs can be useful in four ways:

They tell you at a glance whether a piece of Web content will be useful for your site users before you approve it. If the proposed blurb doesn't have a clear user reward or provides no user benefits, scrap it. The content won't have it, either. Congratulations. You've just saved yourself a lot of time producing boring content. If someone tries to sell you some content that they can't summarize neatly in a blurb, pass on the purchase.

They help you shape and develop that Web content once you've given it the green light. That high school English teacher who said a short thesis statement can organize all your ideas was right. Let your blurb be your thesis, whether you're creating text, tools, games or graphics. Refer to your blurb while you work. Are you getting off-track? Are you adding additional topics or purposes or features that detract from your initial goal? Are you really delivering the simple benefit that your blurb promises? Resist the temptation to go back and rework your blurb so that it matches your shifting content. Fix the content instead.

They give all members of the content-creation team - marketers, producers, writers, designers and programmers - a shared idea as to the purpose and tone of the new content. Reducing the project development to a clear two-sentence form ensures everyone is on the same page and has the same goal. This not only reduces interpretation errors, but it can also tell all team members how the final project should appear just through the tone. Is the content playful or serious? Is it aimed at teenagers or businessmen? The blurb's tone tells all.

They drive traffic from the home page or index page to that content once it's published. If you've taken the time to write a compelling blurb before creating the content, the clicks will come. Even better, the users will find the content useful and will return to your site for more of the same. Nice, huh?

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BLURB-WRITING TIPS

So now you know to create your blurb before your content. But how do you actually write the darn thing? Here are some tips. Your blurb won't necessarily have all of these ingredients, but a good one will have at least one or two of them.

Make a promise

Remember this: Most people constantly operate in "so what?" mode. To break through this shell of "so what?," let your users know right away that your content addresses their specific interests. How? Make sure your blurb contains a promise.

A blurb with a specific promise with real value will get a click. The promise doesn't need to be overt, but it needs to be there. Take a look at the following blurbs:

TV's "Survivor" It's the most popular show on television.

"Survivor" News Click here to read about all things "Survivor"!

"Survivor" News We know who got the boot this week. Do you?

The first blurb is a good example of how information itself is not persuasive. It's a statement, not a promise. The second blurb is better, but its promise is vague (and that exclamation point isn't fooling anyone).

The third blurb is best. The promise is clear - "click here and we'll tell you which sucker is heading home."

A question is always better than a superfluous exclamation point, by the way. They call these things "teases" for a reason. A real promise creates real suspense, and a real blurb promises a real reward.

Get personal

According to marketing wisdom, the most powerful word in the English language is "free." It's overused, yes, but for a reason. Nothing catches the roving eye quicker than a word that promises a direct benefit.

Some of the most popular marketing words and terms include "fast," "easy," "convenient," "best," "sexy," "sale-priced," "quick," "fun," "hilarious," "instantly," "save time," "powerful," "save money" and "most popular." Basically, any term that describes the you that appears in your daydreams is a marketing keyword.

These terms might strike you as clichés and you might feel it's cheap to use them. My advice: Feel free to rework them but please don't ignore them. Learn from them. The more prominent these terms are within your tease, the better your chances.

GOOD

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BAD

Join today! Save on every purchase you make with Buyer's Advantage.

UGLY

Try Buyer's Advantage! It's a great deal for you. Click here to find out more.

An aside: Words and terms like "read how...," "learn more about...," "check out..." or "find out about..." are OK. Sometimes they're even necessary. But why not simply state the promise's reward? "Lose weight," not "read about losing weight." "Save money," not "learn more about saving money." You get the idea.

Say it clearly

We all like clever headlines and blurbs, and wit is always appreciated. But not at the expense of clear communication. Puns, alliteration and pop-cultural allusions should never obscure your blurb's simple promise. The tone of your blurb is of course decided by your site's audience, but believe me - you can never go wrong with clarity.

See which blurb below catches your attention and makes the promise ring. Me? I like the last one. You might think it dull, but experience has told me it's the one most likely to be clicked.

Money for nothin'!

And the tips are free! See who's livin' large locally - you might be surprised.

Be sage and gauge your wage

Tell us what you're pulling in and we'll tell you what other people are pulling in with the Salary Survey.

Do you earn what you're worth?

See how your pay compares to your neighbors' with the Salary Survey.

Less is more. Sometimes much more.

Which blurb below has more punch? Both are fine; one is finer.

Be All That You Can Be - Today! Our new 15-minute workout gives you the toned and healthy body you've always wanted, in no time at all! Click to find out how.

Get Fit the Easy Way Look your best in 15 minutes or less. Here's how.

One more thing: Some people will insist you use directives like "click here" while others will tell you to never use them. Be wise and let the context decide. "Click here" is fine for banner ads and the like; some users might not be able to tell a linked graphic from a static graphic. But if your blurb is plain text and contains copy that is clearly hot, avoid "click here." It sucks up space you can use for more compelling copy; more importantly, it has nothing to do with the promise you're pushing.

CONCLUSION

There's a saying in the theater: "Ninety percent of a production's success is in the casting." In other words, a play's success or failure is determined long before opening night and no amount of rehearsals will change this. Web content works the same way.

When you develop your content before you write the blurb, your content is often OK'd before it contains a real user benefit, is developed without a unified direction, and is forever unclicked and therefore unseen. Pretty darn sad. Let a solid, short, to-the-point blurb be your casting director and your content will be the smash you always hoped it would be.

# # #

Bill Cook is a freelance Web consultant living and working in New York City. Previous to his consulting gig, Bill was a senior producer with Vividot.com, SmartMoney.com and Cox Interactive Media. He can be contacted via his Web site, billcook.com, or via e-mail at mailto:bill@billcook.com.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: There Must Be a Better Way ... Document Object Model (DOM) Requirements Startup aims to encrypt all Web traffic

>There Must Be a Better Way ...

Are you tired of searching through the folders on your PC to find files? There is a solution. http://www.thestandard.com/article/0,1902,23643,00.html

>Document Object Model (DOM) Requirements

Follow the way of the DOM. http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/WD-DOM-Requirements-20010419/

>Startup aims to encrypt all Web traffic

Are you worried hackers are stealing your credit card numbers? You should be, but security is on the way. http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20010417S0049

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com update@webreference.com

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