When language obscures clarity

Quick, what’s the difference between “avoid” and “use sparingly?” Not so fast, cowboy — think about that for a minute.

The first means “keep away from” or “refrain from.” The second means to use with “careful restraint.” Argues one editor I know: “They’re basically the same thing.” Yet another opines, “The first implies you shouldn’t do something. The second says you can do it sometimes.”

Why does this matter? Because the team is collaborating on an editorial style guide and the directions above will apply to word usage. My question: If even the editors can’t agree on meaning, how will a writer interpret these guidelines?

My advice: Just use plain English. If you don’t want someone to use a word, say exactly that: Don’t use <word>. If you can use it once in a while, say that. But don’t confuse everyone by trying to get all concise and clever.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

A disproportionate amount of my time as a content strategist tends to be spent convincing clients that they should translate their messaging from “business-speak” to plain old English. Even better, make it friendly English — interesting or even (gasp) enticing.

Yes, the message is the same , but how you say it makes a difference in how it’s received. Often, a big difference.

For a real-world example of this, check out how Cebu Pacific now has its flight attendants convey the standard (read: boring) safety information in a more engaging, user-friendly format.

AdWords isn’t a simple shortcut to SEO

I’ve worked with so many clients who ignore my suggestions to optimize their content for better search-engine ranking. They argue that they don’t need the organic search — because they have an SEM plan that uses AdWords. (cue the angels singing)

I think AdWords is great. Used correctly, it can definitely help generate traffic. But it isn’t the magic bullet many folks think it is.

New York Times blogger Adriana Gardella pointed this out recently in a post about the difficulty of tweaking AdWords to get a decent return on investment. A fledgling retailer sank thousands into AdWords spending and made several adjustments — picking different search terms, tailoring display hours, setting spending limits — but still got very little in terms of conversion. Then she realized that one of the keys to getting better traffic was better content. (Too bad she didn’t engage a content strategist straight off the bat — would’ve saved her a lot of time and money.)

She improved her keyword placement on her pages, began interacting with industry blogs, and started using social media. The result?

In June, the company spent just $30 on marketing, but had sales of $6,053 — up more than 50 percent from the previous June when Ms. Hill spent almost $14,000 on marketing.

Goes to show: there’s no shortcut to SEO, and content is always a sound investment.

Read the full post:

Trial and Error with AdWords and S.E.O.