We love to see outstanding content. xkcd is a “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” by American artist Randall Munroe. It has been one of the most successful webcomics of the past few years. Munroe decided to do something out-of-the-ordinary.
He created “Time” – a 3,099 panel comic that updated one frame every 30 minutes, later hourly. It began with two people building a sandcastle and wondering why the water level is rising so quickly. They go on an obscure and difficult to understand journey where not a lot of note happens.
It was completely impractical for anybody to follow the comic in real-time, and previous panels were not made available on xkcd.com. When the comic was finished, it was left to fans to extract them and compile them into gifs, videos, and interactive pages such as http://geekwagon.net/projects/xkcd1190. The fact that xkcd had a highly successful forum helped greatly.
The comic generated a lot of discussion and publicity for its sheer ambition. There was nothing else like it out there. After some time, Munroe did an interview with Wired explaining that it took place in the Mediterranean Basin 11,000 years in the future, and pointed to various clues to its location within the comic.
xkcd: Time panel 1067
This is anexample of content not created by examining analytics or user needs. A great piece of content was created and it worked. What can you do that’s as ambitious?
Ok, so for the launch of the Cycle Ireland app, I wanted to create a video promo for my homepage. I decided it had to fit within the following confines:
- It had to be short – 20-30 seconds
- It had to have a simple message – it’s not a how-to video
- It had to be exciting and generate enthusiasm
I had 100 videos from which I could use footage. Very quickly I decided that I wanted to intercut rapid-fire clips of them with my core message – “Exploring Ireland by bike made easy”. The variety of routes in Ireland is a big selling point. The details of the app belong in another video.
I wrote out my script for the video promo:
Cycle exploring app on iPhone and Android
Cycle exploring app on iPhone and Android
Cycle exploring app on iPhone and Android
Cycle exploring app on iPhone and Android
That made a 20 second video. I started selecting my favourite 1-second clips from a variety of videos. Then I decided to order the clips from slowest (speed of the camera) to fastest in order to build up excitement through the video.
Video promo music
Sound would be crucial. Resources were limited. I found a piece of music I could use for $40, but something didn’t feel right. It was suitable, but I could not find anything that did not seem very generic, which is understandable on a budget. Something was holding me back…
Then I watched the film ‘Breaking Away’ – the story of a teenager in 1970s-era Bloomington, Indiana who is obsessed with cycling, and with Italian cycling in particular. Great film, and the use of classical music in the cycling scenes was inspired – and reminiscent of this famous video…
So I decided to keep things simple and use the same piece of out-of-copyright music - Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183: I. Allegro con brio – by Mozart. The length of the piece I wanted to use was 22 seconds, so I added an animation to the logo screen at the end.
Once I edited the clips and put my message in it, all I needed was my logo and the app store logos.
And here we have it:
Who is Miles Fisher? He is the prototypical actor of the future. Is that too extreme? Ok, let’s try again. He is a talented and successful actor who approached the business from the off with a hardnosed mindset. In this video he talks eloquently about how he exploited the possibilities of online media to carve out a career for himself.
‘Even before I made the first video that really popped off, I was in dialogue with people that were doing it on a bigger level than I was’. He didn’t make something and hope that it went viral, he researched the area intensively, planned his impact and made his first video.
‘We went all out – I took a little bit of a risk, I paid for it out of my own pocket’ – on his first video – he committed to it fully.
‘Be a good consumer – always looking around’. Being a good consumer is almost his first rule of being a good creator of online content.
‘I want to create a very-high production value, very cinematic-type videos that come out less often, so they are kind of an event.’ This is his way of differentiating himself from the surfeit of video blogs which often use webcams and are weekly – he was not content with following the crowd.
‘I put a lot of emphasis on everything I do – I think about not what the marketplace wants right now but where it’s going down the line and what sixth-graders (12-year-olds – LOC) are doing right now. And it’s not so much what they are watching but what they are making is amazing… and it’s only going to get more and more.’
‘Boredom has just evaporated… there are so many things to do now.’
‘Prove over and over again that you are worth people’s time.
Miles Fisher on Youtube:
Miles Fisher: How a Viral Video Star Is Reinventing the Acting Biz
This Must Be The Place (NSFW)
Don’t Let Go
As you can outsource virtually any part of the web development process, so it is with freelance web content. This can be a really good idea if you do it right – let’s look at the pros and cons:
Pros of freelance web content:
- You get access to a level of experience that you may not otherwise be able to afford
- You can get talent even if the role is not a full-time or permanent one e. g. for a microsite.
- You can be flexible and try things out without committing to the cost of a full-time member of staff.
- You can get a fresh perspective on the site – if you get someone good to do this it can save you a lot of money.
- You need to efficiently plan your content to be sure that everything will go smoothly.
Cons of freelance web content:
- The freelance content writer does not cultivate the familiarity with your business that a full-time content producer/manager would have. They won’t know your products or customers in absolute detail.
- An in-house content producer may (not always) offer a greater likelihood of imposing a consistent voice on the site.
- They are always available, even if that is only in theory.
- You can train them more easily in the needs of the business.
- Physical proximity to your team/business/products can be an advantage.
Freelance web content checklist
Define your site’s tone of voice – this should not be longer than a couple of paragraphs. Link to three or four examples on your site that best exhibit this voice. This will be the introduction for any writer to your site.
Write a biography of your customers/users. Outline their issues, what they are looking for, why they choose you, how they find you, what they complain about. Keep this short and to the point.
Web content writing requires a lot of discipline. It is natural to write a lot of text on topics that you find interesting, but you must carefully examine whether it is necessary or not.
Are your users used to long articles? Some bloggers never have a word count below 1000 and that’s okay when their readers expect that. If you have an unusually lengthy article, most readers’ natural reaction will be to scan it for the relevant parts.
You must continually remind yourself of website users’ low attention span. They (usually) don’t pay for your content. They don’t feel compelled to give it a chance to impress them. All of their favourite time-wasting sites are a click or two away, constantly calling them.
You don’t want to spend any more time than you need to on the piece that you are writing. You don’t want to spend a lot of time deleting hard work on re-edits. So keep the following points in mind when writing for the web.
- Do I need to say this? If you stop and think, you will sometimes find that you are actually going off on a tangent from your main point. Keep these to a minimum.
- Is it coherent? Have you got enough paragraphs and are you writing the piece in a logical progression? Scribbling down your main points before you begin writing will help you to keep on track.
- Am I using cliches and tautologies? These really slow down the flow of a piece.
- Are my links worded clearly? If you link to a bus timetable it is better to write ‘Dublin – Cork Bus Timetable‘ than ‘here’s a way to get between two cities quickly’. Keep it tight.
Web content writing is all about discipline
You need to know precisely what you want to say before you begin, and then focus on that as you write. Cut out the fat and you should end up with a meaty piece which gives your user exactly what they want.
So you want to start blogging? How do you avoid your blog (which is going to be amazing) becoming part of the 90% of blogs which fall apart and die within a few months? That’s not an official statistic, by the way, I just made it up to make a point.
Most people take enthusiastically to blogging – for the first few fevered posts anyway. Then they slow down a bit and the posts become more infrequent. Then they seem to run out of things to say and switch to once-a-month posting. The last couple of posts look like orphans, separated from their families by several months of inactivity, and the topic is usually how the blogger is going to become more disciplined again. And then – poof!! – it’s gone.
Here is how you avoid that:
Decide your approach
The 404 error message is a small thing in the bigger picture, but you want to make sure that it fits with the tone of your site. You have several options for how you approach this:
Web Content Planning can be tricky to pin down accurately. Creating a new page can take an hour or a day or more, depending on how well you know the subject and on what exactly you need to do. Here is a method I have been using to finish the content required for the launch of the Cycle Ireland App – a process which has lasted over 6 months.
I mentioned Workflowy as a great project management tool and a way to keep everything in one place. But I found it lacking as a task tracker. For this I will use trusty old Microsoft Excel.
In July of 2012 I got my logo designed for cycleireland.ie. I had put the task off for a while as I was nervous about ending up with something that I didn’t like, and I felt that a bad logo would leave the whole project looking about as attractive as a tramp in a heatwave’s underpants.
#1 Don’t stress over it
That was my first mistake – I attached too much importance to it. Logos can be amended, improved and changed at will. It is not the most important thing in the world. There is a very clear process to follow. If you end up with a bad result just examine what went wrong, change what you need to change and start again. If you don’t have time to do that, review it an appropriate later date and keep that in mind when you are doing any printing work.
#2 Verbalise what you want
Some people have the idea that they don’t want to influence their graphic designer and would prefer that they come up with a blue sky idea. If you are one of those people, you are a designer’s nightmare, and they are only working with you because better people won’t hire them. You don’t want to be in this situation.
Contact forms are simple. They are a relic of the old days when people used email clients such as Microsoft Outlook. The idea was to save the user the hassle of opening up a separate program.
That day is gone. Now most people use web-based mail, and more of them have their email open more of the time. Contact forms are misused in two main ways.
Contact form abuses
1) Content managers ask for too much information. Look, you don’t need my telephone number ,and you aren’t getting it. So if this is the only way you are allowing people to write to you, I’m not doing business with you.
2) The user is left without the ability to send a copy to themselves. The more complex the typical query, the more important this feature is. If they send an email, after getting a reply they can instantly check the original message if they need to.
Contact form – keep it simple
The most important thing about using contact forms is to include your email address as well. When someone emails you they don’t have to write out their name and email address, or risk spelling their email address wrong. Make it as easy as possible for people to contact you.
Oh, and once the form is on your site, do test it.