Website promotion: How to comment on blogs without sounding like a spambot

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party, and you spot someone you’d love to talk to. This person is a future collaborator, client, employer, mentor or friend. You want to leave a good impression on them.

So what’s your next move? Do you:

A) Walk up to them, throw your business card in their face, and walk away?
B) Walk up to them, say, “Hi, you’re an interesting person,” throw your business card in their face, and walk away?
C) Wait for them to look away before slipping your business card into their pants pocket or purse?
D) Pick the right moment to approach them, politely introduce yourself, and participate meaningfully and respectfully in any public discussion they’re currently having?


Landing Page Design Problem #2: Unprofessional Use of Ads

Picking up from the last post on landing page design, which focused on textual density at the top of the page, this one looks at the issue of ads.

China Unicom now even serves illegal pop-up ads

It’s generally fine to have ads on your landing pages, but you need to give serious thought to what kinds of ads you allow and how they appear. Here are some problems that could drive away your website visitors:

  • Pop-ups. Pop-ups are irritating. People usually just want to swat them away when they show up, and many turn on their browser’s pop-up blocker to avoid dealing with them. You should think carefully about having any pop-ups at all. They can cause browsers to crash and interfere with how people engage with your webpage. If you’re determined to have pop-ups, try not to have more than one. A swarm of them won’t just annoy people; it will make you look spammy and disreputable.
  • Ads everywhere. When someone visits your site, they might be trying to research a topic or purchase a certain product. You have to make it easy for them to know where to click and where to look on the page for the information they want. Too many ads on your page will distract visitors and make it more difficult for them to navigate your site. With ads everywhere, your page also looks spammy and cheap.
  • Nauseating ads. A political blog I occasionally visit used to have ads about toenail fungus that would crop up between posts and feature close-ups of yellow, crumbly toenails. Eventually, they got taken down after enough visitors complained and the blog manager figured out how to disable them. When you put up ads, be mindful of what they might show and listen to feedback from website visitors. You may not always have control over what your visitors see, as ads could be based on their personal search history, but if visitors keep complaining about your ads, look into the issue.
  • Distracting ads. You hope that visitors will click on your ads, sending some revenue your way. However, make sure they don’t overwhelm your site’s content. This can happen even if you only have a few ads. Maybe they’re huge and garish, clashing with the tone of your page. Maybe they expand over your content as you move the mouse across them. Whatever the case happens to be, don’t let them detract from your content.

A poor use of ads is a serious landing page design problem, making your site look unprofessional. Take care with the kinds of ads you choose and where you place them on the page.

– Hila

(Image links to source: Marc van der Chijs on Flickr, with this license)

7 ways to make your writing less stiff and unnatural

Is your writing mechanical and stiff? Does it resemble the Tin Man, trying to speak through rusted jaws?

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an informal post for your blog or an article explaining complex technical concepts. What you write needs to flow and have vitality. The following are seven ways to make your writing less stiff and unnatural.


The balancing act of web content writing

Recently, came out with a list of “10 Tips for Writing Better Online Marketing Content.” The advice on the list is solid. It also suggests a balancing act that you undertake when writing content for the web (not only for marketing purposes, but more generally).

Stúlkur sýna æfingar á jafnvægisslá á Melavelli, 1911

  • Most readers are looking for specific information or wish to accomplish a specific task, so you need to make sure they can quickly find what they’re looking for on your site and give them the content they want… at the same time, you hope your content is also catchy enough to grab the attention of strays – people who are either idly browsing or didn’t start out specifically looking for what you can offer, but are intrigued enough to suddenly take a look.
  • Writing that’s informal and conversational tends to work best in most circumstances… at the same time, you need to make sure you look professional in all of your communications; no sloppiness, no thoughtless remarks. And in some situations, you’ll need writing that’s more formal; just keep in mind that ‘formal’ doesn’t have to mean ‘dull’ or ‘condescending.’
  • Overall, people do quite a bit of reading online… but at the same time, they generally want to read as little as possible when visiting any given site. There are, however, some exceptions; occasions when they would like to read in-depth, finding out more about a topic or a product. Will the content offered on your site accommodate both skimming and closer perusal?

Accommodating the needs of your readers while remaining true to your own voice and vision requires a deftness with words. It also calls for an ability to put yourself in the shoes of web users, particularly the people who are most likely to be your customers or loyal fans.

– Hila

Landing Page Design Problem #1: Textual Top-Heaviness

Wall of text from

When people arrive at the landing page of your website, what do they see? If it’s a wall of text, they’ll most likely hit the back button. You’ll be losing a new visitor: a potential fan, customer, future colleague or employee.

Take care with what’s above the fold

You can use every trick at your disposal to get people to come to your site, but they usually won’t stay long when confronted with dense text. On the web, people mostly scan instead of read. As such, the topmost part of your webpage – the section above the fold – should convey with as few words as possible what visitors can expect on your site. It needs to grab them with a catchy title, tagline, well-selected graphics, and clearly labeled links pointing visitors to other pages on your site.

Even if visitors don’t immediately hit the back button, but instead stick around to peer at the dense text, you’re still stuck with a landing page design problem: Heavy text tends to bury what’s around it, such as your call to action, other links, or a special feature you wish to highlight on your site.

What about the rest of your landing page?

Below the fold you can include more text if you need to. However, keep it from appearing dense. Format the text with bullet points and lists. Keep paragraphs relatively short and use headers. Site visitors should be able to quickly scan and pick up the main points, and then settle down to read more closely if they wish to.

If you’d like to share a lot of information with visitors, break it up into sub-pages and link to them from your landing page. Try not to cram everything onto one page.

Scanning, then reading

The bottom line is that visitors will scan first to get the gist of your site, or to try to quickly find what they’re looking for, such as a link to a certain product or your CV. As far as text goes, it should be organized for easy scanning as visitors make a first pass through your site; of course, everything still needs to be clear and well-written for those who decide to stick around and take a closer look.

– Hila

*The image links back to its source (Wikipedia).

How much jargon is too much jargon in a conference paper?

Several years ago, three MIT students pranked a conference by sending in a paper produced by an automatic paper generator they’d programmed. (Give it a try – I just generated a paper co-authored by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers called “On the Emulation of Systems.”) Rich with jargon strung together in meaningless sentences, their paper passed muster and got accepted to the conference.

Although few would replicate this prank to see just how much nonsensical jargon-stuffing they can get away with, a common issue confronted by people who are writing up abstracts or papers to send in to conferences is the use of jargon. On the one hand, some jargon, used judiciously, might show that you’re in your element, knowledgeable in your field. On the other hand, too much risks a loss of clarity; in some cases, it could suggest that you’re trying to mask weaknesses in your work by papering over them with fancy terminology. So as you’re working on your writing, you may wonder how much is too much jargon; especially if you’re in grad school or otherwise haven’t had much experience in preparing these submissions, you might worry that your writing comes across as awkward or unclear in part because of this issue.

There are no definitive rules, but here are some points to consider:

  • Read previous conference submissions, paying especially close attention to the ones that strike you as well-written.
  • Ask yourself who the audience for the conference is, and who would be judging the submissions. Does the conference involve only people who work in a narrow, highly specialized sub-field in your general research area, or is it broader in scope? Would the use of too much jargon alienate a part of your audience in some way?
  • Is the jargon mangling your sentences? Is it interrupting the flow of the writing? Read what you’ve written out loud, and have others read it; don’t choose only people who are familiar with your work.
  • At any point in the writing in which it’s used, does the jargon convey your ideas most clearly and succinctly out of any other word choice? Or are you using it only as padding or to show off?

– Hila

Three types of Pinterest captions that get people to click

There’s more to Pinterest than captivating images. Re-pinning and liking images is important, but you don’t want the site’s users to stop there. If you’re using Pinterest as part of your marketing strategy, and linking different pins to pages on your business website or blog, you’ll want to give people a compelling reason to click on a pin and make their way to your site.

This is where a well-written Pinterest caption comes in. Along with the striking image, which can be anything from an artistic, sepia-toned photograph to a clever infographic, include a caption that hooks people’s interest. Consider the following ideas for Pinterest captions:

1) Lists

People love lists (‘top ten’ lists, ‘five best’ lists, etc.). Given that most people browsing the web prefer skimming to perusing, a list offers them something fun to run their eyes over. If the caption promises a list on a topic that’s interesting, informative, and/or entertaining, chances are they’ll click through and have a look.

2) How-to content

Pinterest has a strong practical element to it, as people share tips on a wide range of topics: how to make the best sangria, whip up mouth-watering omelets, give their front porch a vintage look, or teach their kids about science. If you’ve got a how-to blog post or page for your business site, the caption should make it clear that you’ll be giving visitors useful information.

3) Info relevant to purchases

If you’re offering a certain product or service at a discount, mention this. In general, even if the product you’re displaying isn’t on sale, you should consider having a succinct caption with relevant details (e.g. brand name, available colors, price, etc.) reminding people that what they’re seeing is more than a pretty picture of a pair of high heels or a pashmina shawl; it’s something they can purchase for themselves. People use Pinterest boards in part to construct dream lives for themselves; one board is devoted to home decor, another to wardrobe, and others to delicious food, the “perfect body,” dream vacations, and collections of books and movies. Offer them a piece of their dream.

Additional tips for Pinterest captions

Keep your captions brief, ideally no more than a line or two. They should really convey what they need to at a glance. The one exception may be in pins that are meant to be more informative. For instance, if the image displays a great athlete or a pioneer in art or science, you could have an interesting mini-bio accompany it; but even then, don’t ramble on until Pinterest’s character limit cuts you off. You can also underscore your topic using hashtags.

With this advice as a starting point, potential customers will do more than just like or repin what you put up on Pinterest; they’ll also want to see what you have to offer on your site. So be sure you don’t disappoint them… - That moment when you find the most awesome recipe or craft or beauty tip on Pinterest......... and the link leads to nothing.

Is your business too boring to write about?

Young scholar (boredom)

If you’re starting up a blog for your business, you may be second-guessing yourself and wondering if your products or services are too uninteresting to write about. They may be useful, even necessary, but would people want to read anything about them? How could you ever compete for attention with posts on celebrity scandals, political ruin, or best-selling erotica?

Your posts couldn’t really compete, no.  But they wouldn’t have to.  And the writing could still grab people’s attention.


Welcome to Words in Bold

Good writing is indispensable to professional success.

In this blog, the topics I explore will include:

  • The substance and style of good writing
  • Different kinds of writing, and their skillful (or misguided) use in various contexts
  • Advice for professional success

I look forward to sharing my own insights, making referrals to great books and other valuable sources of information, and hearing your thoughts.


In the meantime, consider: Are you in need of good writing?

Maybe you set up a blog for your business website, but it hasn’t been updated in months. Maybe you want to submit an article to a journal or magazine in your field, but you aren’t sure how to get past the first draft. You have exciting ideas about an e-book you want to write on a topic that’s sure to boost your professional credibility, but you’ve only got an outline so far.

Writing takes time, inclination, patience, and skill. Regardless of what kind of work you do, enlisting the services of a strong writer will help you attain success.