The power of nuance and why words really do matter on the web

When redesigning a site for a client, our team works hard to get sign-off on improving content quality — especially the language used. Getting this level of influence is often a challenge. Large sites usually have many content “owners.” In our experience, few of these domain experts are also experts in optimizing online content, either for readers or search engines. These folks can underestimate the importance of nuance to the success of their content.

Frankly, I don’t blame them.

Until the advent of the Content Interest Index, there really hasn’t been a way for content managers to gauge success. The best they had were more global, site-wide metrics.

NOTE: This Tools + Tips post on GrokDotCom provides an excellent run-down of some existing engagement metrics for overall site performance.

In other words, in the well-worn words of Tom Peters, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Without measurements showing the effect that content quality has on readers, many domain experts overlook the power they wield.

This is unfortunate. I’ve seen small content changes make impressive differences in response. Here is a quote from the web site of Thom Pharmakis that sums it up well:

I own a decades-old Italian car that is so highly strung, the valve clearances need to be checked every 3,100 miles … just .001 inch out-of-tolerance will cause a discernible lag in performance. Selling copy is that sensitive. Every word, every paragraph space, the placement of every comma or ellipsis or dash is meticulously considered. Little alterations have drastic effects. Which makes the difference between blistering performance … and sitting stranded by the side of the road.

Here, here.

Another Way by Thom Pharmakis

As a side note, it takes more than a phenomenally gifted writer to score a bulls-eye on the web. Thom’s statement is displayed on his site as nothing but a graphic (shown above, and found on his site). That means his wonderful metaphor is impossible for search engines to read and index.

Even when your audience is non-human — and is in this case a search engine robot — it’s not so much what you say but how you say it!

Generation C stands for co-creator — or perhaps chaos?

I don’t envy the marketer of the not-so-distant future who faces a world where the really good alphabetic generations are taken. In the meantime, several “Gens” after Generation X, we’ve circled back to the other end of the alphabet. Or so it appears with the emergence of Generation C. I’d frankly ignore the label, and its vague “official” definition, if it didn’t so accurately describe the group I and my team are spending time with. They are a powerful group.

This gen, although it seems to span more than one formal age group, is united by being “digitally native.” They have embraced Web 2.0 as a given — perhaps even a birthright — and are behind much user-generated content. In other words, they participate in the co-creation of products and services.

I see my role as straddling two worlds. One is populated by those who use networked technology only when they must, and who comprehend little of its potential. Perhaps this is only common sense, because the potential for benefit to this group of peers is minimal. After all, if a network consists of other non-networking “nodes,” it is no network at all.

By contrast, the other world is a vital, teeming network. Although it is smaller, it is far more measurable in terms of behavior of its inhabitants.

If you are responsible for a brand, and you aren’t a member of Generation C, you need to realize that it is possible your brand is being manipulated (co-created) at this very moment. This may not be a big deal for your brand. If the majority of your consumers are not Gen C’s, there could be no potential for harm. But if they are, and you aren’t there to observe and comment on the process of co-creation — watch out.

In last year’s Diet Coke + Mentos Experiments, Mentos immediately “got it.” They recognized the value of this product co-creation. Coke was far slower to grasp the opportunity, and in the process looked sadly out of touch in the eyes of their Gen C audience. The Ford Tahoe debacle is even more extreme in its backwash of bad publicity.*

Generation C stands for something neutral, like Content or Co-creator. But it can also be construed as an older generations’ worst nightmare: Chaos.

*Update: A far better example was posted after this. Apple gets it. Oh yes.