Two Great Ways to Send Your Readers Fleeing into the Night

One piece of advice you’ll see over and over again (yes, from me too) is to engage your audience with blog posts, newsletters, email, Twitter and Facebook. This means writing in such a way that your ideas are communicated clearly to your readers.

(Puts on hat of Mrs. Spurlock, fifth-grade English teacher)

Grammar counts!

I followed a link this morning to a blog post that looked interesting, on the subject of making your WordPress installation hacker-proof. The first two sentences read:

Today there is more and more security breaches than ever before. Web browsers seems to fall behind faster than they can spell to themselves and this really makes an online business or venture quite hard work.

Web browsers spell to themselves? Who knew?

The entire article was unreadable because of numerous subject-verb number disagreements. Simple homonym problems such as “boarders” when the author meant “borders.” Not to mention the usual suspects of “it’s/its” and “you’re/your.”

I must be fair. Since there was no contact information on the site, I looked up the domain name WhoIs to find out that the site was registered in Sweden. English is obviously not the writer’s first language. On the other hand, if he is writing for an audience who will read in a language not his own, it seems reasonable to have a fluent speaker review and edit the article. This reads like he ran it through Babelfish.

The writer of this blog post failed in his most important task — he did not communicate his ideas clearly. He was so muddly, in fact, that I have made a note not to follow any links to this particular website in the future. It’s just not worth my time to try to puzzle out what he means.

Spelling counts too!

CBS42.com, which really should know better, recently ran a story about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and his ongoing battle with the courts over hidden assets.

Attorney for HealthSouth shareholders John Somerville was quoted:

”[The] IRS back in 2003 documented some 300 million dollars worth of property he had and that frankly a lot of it is missing. All the jewelry, 21 carrot diamonds, artwork is missing…”

Although the meaning of the sentence is still clear in this case, the absurdity of the mental image completely stopped this reader’s train of thought.

How many readers are you potentially losing because of unclear writing or poor spelling skills?

Who Unfollows You on Twitter (and why should you care)?

I’m not obsessive about keeping track of my Twitter followers, but I do tend to keep an eye on the total number. If I see a big jump all at once, it’s likely that the spammers are out in force again, and I go check to see who I need to block. If I see a big drop all at once, it might be that Twitter is cleaning out the spammers that I didn’t catch… or… was it something I said?

I may regret this, but I just signed up with a service called Qwitter.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The correct URL is UseQwitter.com. If you try to go to Qwitter.com, you’ll end up on a soft porn page.

You don’t need to give your password, just your Twitter ID and your email address. Qwitter watches your followers list and sends you an email like this when someone unfollows you:

John Gruber (gruber) stopped following you on Twitter after you posted this tweet:

What’s the difference between Arial and Helvetica?

I say I may regret it because it might crush my ego that people don’t like me (sniffle), but on the other hand, it could be good information about who thinks I am boring or offensive (although I’m not nearly as potty-mouthed as some of the bloggers I know. Okay, I’m not really potty-mouthed at all. Don’t want to raise false hopes either). This could help me post more useful information for those who do like what I write.

I’ll report back after I’ve had a chance to collect some data. In the meantime, do you keep track of your followers, or let ’em fall where they may?

Another Security Breach in the News: How to Choose a Secure Password

Over the past two days, hackers have posted the stolen login information and passwords for thousands of email accounts at GMail, AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo. While Gmail has taken steps to remedy the problem, there are some things that you should do immediately to protect your accounts:

– Check your email account for suspicious activity
– Reset your password NOW
– Don’t use the same password for every login you use.

I’m not going to lecture on why it’s a bad idea to use your first pet’s name as your password. I’m just going to show you one way to choose a secure one that isn’t easily cracked.

If you have other methods, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Quilt Market /Festival are coming! Are you ready?

In one of my earlier work lives as a quilt book editor, I went to just about every major quilt show and festival held each year. We looked for great examples of quilting art and craft to feature in magazines and books… and like everyone else, we shopped a little while there.

Only a little. Those rumors you heard about my not being able to see out the rear view mirror coming home are completely unfounded. I promise.

Because I was there on business and had to maximize the use of my time, I had to develop an efficient way to see everything and then to whittle down to things I was most interested in. I also have a mild sensory integration dysfunction, which means that I get overwhelmed really easily. I needed to create a checklist to keep myself on target.

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When is it spam?

Recently I had an unpleasant experience with a quilting retailer. My personal email address ended up on a list that I did not join. I have never had any business dealings with this company and I suspect my address was harvested from a two-year-old trade show list of attendees.

When I asked politely for her to unsubscribe me because I hadn’t signed up for her list, she replied that I had to go to her website to unsubscribe myself, and then accused me first of lying about not signing up for her list and then of trying to use other peoples’ problems to increase my own web design business.

Obviously this person has some serious customer service issues, but let’s deal only with the email debacle.

Was it Spam?

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“Talk to the Hand” is not a customer service policy.

talk-to-the-hand

Not a friendly way to deal with your customers!

This morning I received a blog post notification email. If you have a WordPress blog or have ever followed someone who does, you know what I mean — you can subscribe to receive an email when an update is posted. It’s a great way to keep up with blogs that you might otherwise forget to check on a regular basis.

Only one problem… I had never even visited this blog, let alone signed up for email notifications.

Make that two problems: The blog owner didn’t provide an unsubscribe link in the email. While this isn’t required by the 2003 CAN-SPAM act that regulates all commercial emails in the US, it is modern standard practice, and people expect to be able to hit the “unsubscribe” button and delete the email.

So I replied to the email with a polite note: “Unsubscribe, please. I have never visited your blog and certainly never signed up for your email notifications.”

To which I received a fairly chilly reply that this person doesn’t subscribe individuals and I should go to the main website page to unsubscribe myself.

This is not my responsibility.

Even if were not required as a matter of law, as a matter of courtesy the site owner should apologize and immediately remove the name from the mailing list.

Oh, but then it got worse. I went to this website to find out that it was using an outdated version of WordPress, known for almost two months to be subject to a serious scripting vulnerability. I notified the site owner that the WordPress installation was unpatched and that the site was possibly being used to send out spam. I received a rather ill-tempered response saying the site was not compromised, and again telling me that I needed to go to it and unsubscribe.

Even if I were interested in this site’s products, they’ve lost me as a customer forever. In addition to which, I’ve now written about it (although without naming the company) and several thousand more people now know about this bad customer management practice.

Be courteous not only to your customers, but to those who might be customers as well. It’s only good business!

UPDATE: I have received one additional email from the company’s spokesperson. I signed my last email with my full name, website address, and “webhosting and web design services” to indicate that I knew what I was talking about. The final email accused me of going out to look for other peoples’ problems in order to build up my own business. Definitely some ill temper going on there. And definitely some customer service problems.

Eye of the beholder

Jesse Chambers at Birmingham Weekly just posted

We stumbled across another cool green web site, called www.grist.org. Based in Seattle, Grist is a clean site, displaying a lot of content without looking too busy. Grist bills itself as having β€œthe most recognizable voice in environmental journalism: funny, opinionated and intelligent.”

On looking at the site, my first thought was “Gah! CLEAN??!!

Jesse, unless you are looking at a different grist.org than I saw, I don’t see how you can call a site with a 300-pixel-high header, two banner ads across the top, three horizontal menus, a double column of ads, links, and stuff down the right, and no breathing room around the elements “clean.”

Not to mention the horrible orange/green mustache image and the naked woman with painted boobs front-and-center on the page. (Ok, now I just sent them 1,247 more pruriently curious visits.)

While I’m at it: I did not post this comment at Birmingham Weekly because their comment system requires joining Disqus, which appears to track all your comments across all sites to “allow you to manage comments in one place.”

Come on, Birmingham Weekly. Even Blogger gives you the option to post using name and email address without registering — and without such a direct invasion of privacy. Don’t make people jump through hoops to share their opinions.

One sure-fire way to get people to open your newsletters!

I’m on quite a few newsletter lists. Like most people, I tend to sign up for them and then lose at least some interest in the company. If a newsletter comes in that happens to offer something I am looking for right now, I will probably click on it. Otherwise, I’ll skim the email and delete, which is most of the time.

So this one from American Science & Surplus really caught my eye this morning. (Highlighting added; click to enlarge photo.)

First 250 to click on this link are added to special customer list!

Did I click on that link? You bet I did! I mean, who doesn’t want 25,000 bonus frequent flyer miles if AS&S ever buys a surplus airline? πŸ˜€

If I were running this campaign, I would add anyone who clicked to the preferred customer list and just let them all believe that they were in the first 250. I’d have a special landing page that the link goes to, with my very best product deals on sale. Customers have to click on the email link to get the deal — anyone else pays regular price.

Now I have no immediate need for a boxed set of Cosmos DVDs or a robot hamster wheel, two of the items on the sale landing page. But clicking the link got me to their site, where I might find something else I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it on sale, and reminded me again that browsing AS&S is just plain fun. And who doesn’t need a chuckle now and then?

What a great marketing tool!

American Science and Surplus

How can you use information like this in your next customer newsletter?

Review: 30 Essential Tools for Web Designers

Tripwire Magazine posts a useful list of tools for web designers. Some, like the font makers, may not be everyday needs, but others, like templatr (template maker for blogs and web pages) and Browsercam (screenshot capture for numerous browsers and mobile devices — unfortunately, rather high-priced) could be very useful and deserve to be considered as part of your design toolbox.

Not mentioned in the article is the Web Developer Add-on for Firefox, a compact and extremely useful tool that replaces the last two sites mentioned: W3C Link Checker and Markup Validation Service.

All in all, this article is a good start. We’ll be adding to the research in the coming days.

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Introverts, Networking, and Social Media

Introverted man with paper bag over head
Yesterday the New York Times published a piece called Networking for the Shy Entrepreneur. It covered the basics: don’t try to sell, be yourself, think of it as “relationship-building” instead of “networking.” Nothing much new there, and nothing that really helps an introverted IT professional when he or she is dragged to the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Here’s another tip.

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