A primary goal in all your online marketing initiatives should be to make it easy—not tricky—for your customers and other interested parties to connect with your organization. Which is why I was shocked to come across an advertisement in Car and Driver magazine for Purolator oil and air filters. At the bottom of the full-page ad for was this sentence:
Save up to $6 by logging on to www.purolatorautofilters.net/Pages/PromoA.aspx
Seriously? How many people will type in that URL? And what percentage of people who try will make a spelling error that will prove fatal, such as typing “.com” instead of “.net,” or “.asp” instead of “.aspx?”
A better way for Purolator to have handled this would be to use a simplified URL such as http://www.purolatorautofilters.net/cd (to indicate the campaign source as Car and Driver). I’m guessing there were minor technical issues that made it easier for Purolator to implement it the way they did, but that’s not the point: they should do the extra work to make it easier for their customers, not make their customers do extra work.
Another approach to shorter, easier to use URLs is using one of the many free online shortcut URL services, such as tinyurl.com, budurl.com, or bit.ly. Using budurl, for instance, the long Purolator URL would become a much more manageable budurl.com/7xux. Moreover, these shortcut URLs mask bizarre or hard to spell company names. Another key advantage of these short URLs is that they’re easy for your customers to spread virally, such as in Twitter updates, in emails, or in status updates on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Help your customers help you!
Writing for the Web is not fundamentally different than writing for something that will appear in print. However, following a few simple best practices can make a dramatic difference.
1) Break it down
Webpages are typically skimmed, not read. Few visitors will read your Web copy carefully, nor will they read it all. It’s therefore important to break down Web copy into easily-digestible “bite-sized chunks” (paragraphs) of no more than five sentences each, each with a meaningful section heading to help readers easily find the information they seek. Keep your writing concise.
2) Get the meat above the fold
Most website visitors won’t scroll down, so make sure the most important information on each webpage is above the fold, and preferably in the first two paragraphs. Keep in mind that different screen sizes and different browser-enabled devices (like the iPhone) preclude any consistent definition of just where the fold is. Still, most people will view your webpage using a desktop computer with at least a 17” diagonal screen at 1024 resolution.
3) Don’t ignore SEO
You want to make sure search engines will pick up your copy in organic search results. To that end, it’s important to use keywords and common phrases or industry-specific jargon in the copy that people might search for. However, loading up the text with meaningful words and phrases should never be done at the expense of writing clean, meaningful and readable copy.
4) Make it action-oriented
One of the great things about the Web is that taking an action—such as downloading a white paper, contacting a salesperson, or signing up for an email newsletter—is always one click away. Actions like these help companies acquire sales leads, and good website copy should encourage readers to do something after reading it.
5) Practice good Web style
I’m amazed how many websites have underlining or colored words or phrases in their copy, because these are easily mistaken for hyperlinks. If you must emphasize something, use bold or italics instead. Also, indents are not good style on webpages—left-justify all text, and leave the right unjustified.
The mailto tag in HTML provides a simple way for a website visitor to contact you by email using a hyperlink. For instance:
<a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">Email John Doe</a>
Unfortunately, if your website uses this tag — and most do — automated web crawlers will eventually find it and add your email address to their library of spam target lists.
document.write("<a href='mailto:" + emailname + "@" + emailserver + "'>");
document.write(emailname + "@" + emailserver);
document.write('Email John Doe');
This code breaks apart the elements of a typical HTML mailto line of code in a way that spam crawlers can’t re-assemble. Voila, you now have an email hyperlink that spam crawlers won’t find!