Thursday, December 11, 2008

Viewer Beware of the HD Scare

TV Stations Are Switching to All-Digital, Not All-HD!
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

I learned something interesting today and I think you might find it interesting, too. All that hoopla over changing from analog TV to digital TV on February 17, 2009? And everyone bothering to switch to High Definition TV (HDTV) as a result? Well, the switch at local television stations isn't necessarily to high definition (HD), it's to digital. There's a difference.

Our family bought an HDTV as a family Christmas present this year, and today I had it set up by the Geek Squad. Afterwards, I went into my AT&T Uverse DVR schedule to reset recordings from standard stations to HD stations and discovered that not all programs on the HD channels are in high definition! Not by a long shot.

Even more interesting, the local stations that have been broadcasting the required notice of the change to digital broadcasting don't even offer local programs in HD. The news and other locally produced programs are in standard definition! I don't know if it will change after February 17, 2009.

And the networks don't carry all-HD programs, either. For instance, ABC-TV carries Ugly Betty in standard definition, not HD.

So before you go to the expense of buying an HDTV because of the conversion to digital, give it second thought. Oh, it will be wonderful to watch high definition programs on it. But when so many programs are still in standard definition, you have to wonder in today's economy if now is the time to junk the old TV when a $40-$70 converter box and set-top antenna will get you through. And certainly, if you have cable TV or satellite TV, are you gaining much for the expense right now?

Maybe you are smarter than I am and already know "digital" doesn't automatically mean "HD." But I'm willing to bet that there are a large number of consumers out there thinking the move to an HDTV will be getting them more than it does. My Geek Squad technician tells me this is a common misconception. Viewer beware.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Chance Encounter with the Sounds of Urban Iceburg Calving

City's Snowplow Services Break the Still on a Cold Sunday Morning
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

It's 4:30 on a Sunday morning and not a soul is stirring in Grand Rapids. Non except this sleepy inhabitant of the Northeast Neighborhood and his whining puppy and all the snowplow services in town.

Dogged entrepreneurial-types with plows on their pickups are clearing up a day's worth of heavy, wet lake-effect snow. In the stillness of dead quiet air, you can hear the clang of the plow hitting cold cement, the rumble of it being dragged or pushed out to the street, and the beep...beep...beep of the automated signal warning that the vehicle is backing up. Like city iceburbs calving in a sea of urban ice, it comes at you from all around, first to the west, then the south, then west again, then the northwest, suddenly to the east. The air is clear, or you might also see the glow of yellow flashes from their warning lights like an urban borealis.

I wonder if it might not have sounded something like this the night the Titanic sank to the poor souls looking for signs of life, listening to iceburgs calving nearby. Alas, no wimpers of suffering souls nor choruses of "Nearer My God to Thee" this night, just the refrain of a dog insistent on going out at the unGodly hour of 4:30 in the morning.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Writing for SEO Value Vs. Writing for the User

Click Here, Link Here, and Other Linking Terms
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

I had a discussion over Web copy linking terms with a client recently, and it's shown up again in a LinkedIn discussion. The question is, is it ever okay to use "click here" or "link here" or "go here" calls to action when linking the Internet user to another Web page?

The client discussion involved SEO value, and my client's theory was that Google, now responsible for about 75% of search engine traffic, gets to know how you use terms like "click here" in relation to the content you're sending the user to, and as long as it understands that "click here" is relevant to anything you're linking to, there's SEO value in it. I personally don't buy it, but he likes the idea.

In the LinkedIn discussion, the common argument was that "click here" (and by proxy, similar terms) are outdated and have no SEO value. I would probably say "quaint" and "not well thought out" and, yes, have little SEO value.

First, as a writer, you need to give significant thought to user standards. If a user sees "click here" or "link here" (and so on) often, it becomes a gut reaction to take that link whenever s/he sees it, so it can be a useful call to action in sell copy. The problem comes when it is so overused, when scanning copy users glance over it and miss it, and it has no value whatever. Most writers rightly feel these are overused and trite.

Second, such phrases don't tell the reader anything that motivates him or her to actually take the action. Where does "click here" actually lead? To an ad? To a full article? To a synopsis of the article with still another link to the full article? To a splash page? Subconsciously, you're giving the reader more clues and motivation to take your link if you provide a context to where s/he is going, such as when the link contains the title of the article or keywords or phrases about the article.

Third, even if Google allows some SEO value to such terms because you consistently use them for links, that value doesn't begin to match what you get by using phrases containing relevant keywords. So a link like "link with relevant keywords" is going to be far more valuable to you than "click here." It's also going to motivate the reader far more to take the link that leads to valuable content.

When I construct a page, I prefer to create links with SEO value. However, I sometimes also like to provide links that nudge the reader a little. So for a home page for this same client, where we use short introductory blurbs for fuller articles that then link to the full articles, I usually provide both SEO-rich links and call-to-action links like "Read the full story". It's more than the cryptic "click here." This works for a news index page, but not necessarily for home pages with lots of keyword-rich text.

Feel free to jump in with your thoughts in the Comments section...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Away to a Distant Place

Taking a Journey of the Mind Through
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

Someone once asked in a LinkedIn question how writers "get away" or relax between projects.

I thought it was a good question. LinkedIn is a professional networking site, so it's a good place to share not only connections, but also ideas. I told about sitting on my screened-in porch and enjoying the quiet of nature behind our home. Or going on the Tivo/DVR and cleaning out the clutter of old programs.

One of the non-work projects I was involved with that is resurfacing is It started in 2007, completed to compile its data and submit scientific papers, and is now going into beta for phase 2, and so it's become open for people like me who find it not only interesting science but also an interesting diversion from work when you need a break.

Galaxy Zoo is a collaboration between UK and US astronomers to compile classification data about galaxies through human observation of images. They originally took existing images and tried to have computers classify galaxies, but it turns out that computers aren't nearly as adept at it as humans are. So scientists opened the work to everyday people like you and me. They expected a few hundred to a few thousand volunteers, but in the end 150,000 became involved. We viewed a million galaxies.

The original project -- Galaxy Zoo 1.0 -- asked us to decide whether a galaxy was either a globular cluster or a spiral, and if it was a cluster if it spiraled clockwise or anticlockwise.

The new project -- Galaxy Zoo 2.0 -- is more complex and more challenging. We will look at shape, tightness of sprial, number of spirals, bulge density and shape, and whether there is anything "odd" about the image. It's under development and I've begun working with the beta site, and it's going to be great fun!

Why would a business writer want to spend time sorting through galaxies? It's very relaxing, challenging, entertaining, lets me enjoy my fascination with astronomy and science, and it allows me to contribute to science without devoting my career to it. And it gives me a brief break from work for as long or as short as I want.

I suppose you should be an astronomy geek to try this, and you should have a good set of eyes. But most important, you should also have curiosity and a sense of wonder at the distant universe, because these galaxies are a long way away. Come join the fun!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Helping a Client I Helped Myself

Making the Most of an Amazon Associate Account
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

In trying to help a client set up an Amazon Associate’s account to earn passive income from her book recommendations page, I learned a little something that may help myself. This is a good example of lifelong learning and the concept of advancing by applying the things you learn along the road of life (or work). (Because I’m benefiting from this I’m not charging my client for helping her, by the way.)

In 2004 or thereabouts, I set up an online bookstore. My initial idea was that most bookstores have a business section, but most booksellers don’t know much about business – they mostly know about books. What Grand Rapids needs is a good bookstore that caters to business people, someone who’s been in the business world and worked among books enough to know how to help them find what they’re looking for. So I set up as a way to meet that need.

The engine that drives is I know about books and I know a fair bit about business, but Amazon knows a lot about books and book distribution, so I’m letting them handle the warehousing and delivery while I handle the marketing.

My client is an executive coach. She helps executives and companies become better executives and better companies. I’m writing a website for her and she wants to recommend some books she thinks will benefit her clients and make them readily available. The easiest way to do that is to provide links to an online bookstore where they can find the book, add it to a shopping list, and have it shipped directly to their door. No fuss, no mess. For making a recommendation and for making a referral, my client can also make a very small percentage on the sale. Voila!

When I created, I programmed all the links by hand. Today there’s “
astore,” which allows you to set up a page very easily by category. It doesn’t allow you to customize as easily as by creating the links manually (which you can still do at Amazon, by the way), but it allows you to simplify creating pages of book recommendations that fit into a category. The Business section of my bookstore is set up by category – management, leadership, biography, investing, real estate, etc. – just like in a real bricks and mortar store. So this actually fits in with my format, which is how I benefit. It doesn’t fit so easily with my client’s. But that’s okay, because her list of recommendations is fairly short. Some day she may want to expand her associate program to do what astore allows her to do, however.

Just about anyone with a website can set up an
Amazon Associate’s account and sell books online. If you’re a business person in a profession with books to sell, this is a good way to make a little money on the side (passive income) just by referring your readers to Barnes and Noble also offers a similar program. And there’s at least one other:

Alan Eggleston is a Web writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Makes a Useful Newsletter?

Newsletter Content, Part I: Print
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

A LinkedIn question recently asked, “What makes a useful newsletter?

In the 10 years I spent editing five corporate print newsletters, two ingredients made them valued:
timeliness and newsworthiness.

Timeliness is important because no one wants old news. Sometimes current news repackaged or looked at in a different way can work, but old news is old news, and more important, news printed as new when it occurred but delivered old because of production or distribution issues is a killer for a newsletter.

Newsworthiness is important because that’s what newsletters are all about. You don’t buy a newsletter for its sidebars or opinion pieces, although a newsletter can have both. Instead, you buy a newsletter to get news you can’t get anywhere else or presented in a way you can’t get anywhere else.

Not every inch of a newsletter can be news. And the reader needs a break from just news. So there are other things that add value to a newsletter or that can make a newsletter useful.

  • Facts presented in an easy-to-digest format, such as graphically (see USAToday Snapshots)
  • Information presented as a game or puzzle that challenges the reader to find it
  • Data or interesting facts presented as fillers
  • Photo captions that present extra information
  • Charts, graphs, and tables with facts and figures
  • Short biographies, geographies, or other featurettes
  • Lists related to that issue’s theme or topics
  • Bibliographies or reading lists

Just as useful to the newsletter reader as subject matter is the newsletter’s format and layout. A newsletter should be a quick, easy read, something the reader can pick up and glance through and pick out detail but not worry about getting bogged down in yet can lay down and pick back up at will. So pieces should be short and pithy. Headlines should be short and punchy. Use lots of subheads to break longer pieces into bite-size chuncks and to help the reader pick through details at a glance. Use bold and italics sparingly but effectively to highlight keywords the reader may value to find information.

Finally, use design to punctuate the newsletter, to make it lively and fun to read. I did a lot with two colors, between colors and screens in print. You can, too.

Alan Eggleston is a writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Makes a Useful e-Newsletter?

Newsletter Content, Part II: Electronic
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

A LinkedIn question recently asked, “
What makes a useful newsletter?

Electronic newsletters are much different than their print cousins.

For one thing, they have much different space requirements – more freedom – but readers are less willing to read on a screen, resulting in additional restrictions. So while you don’t need to worry about run-over of an article, you do need to worry about losing your reader to eyestrain. So, to make your electronic newsletter useful, create a shortened “mail-able” version with shorter articles that link to extended versions.

Another important difference, you need to worry about download time, which means you can afford to use fewer and smaller visuals. Most electronic newsletters are e-mailed, so you don’t want to send a newsletter to someone that will make them wait a long time to open (they will wait for it to open while it downloads the visuals). To make your newsletter useful, minimize the number and size of graphics, including artworks and images.

In addition, most electronic newsletters feature short several short blurbs. The copy may be news copy or it may be promotional copy, either way it’s meant to attract you to going to the full-length article. To make your newsletter useful, provide enough detail and news to make it worth opening and reading your blurbs. Too much tease and they won’t bother to open it the next time! Keep the copy short and to the point, the headlines short and snappy – all of it easy to scan.

Finally, it’s an electronic medium, so provide links. Links to articles. Links to more information. Links to background information. Links to contact information. And don’t forget giving the reader a way to opt out of receiving your newsletter in the future, a requirement in the electronic world.

Some things in common
There are things print and electronic newsletters share in common:

  • Newsletters need to contain news
  • News needs to be timely and in electronic newsletters, it had better be hot off the press
  • Some if not most of your news should be unique to you or presented in a unique way
  • “News” can include biographies, interviews, features, and spotlights as long as they are first-runs

Some things to avoid
Things to avoid in an electronic newsletter:

  • Filler – space isn’t a problem so you don’t have to fill it
  • Games and puzzles – unless there’s a compelling reason to include one to impart information
  • Long copy – don’t overwhelm your reader; give him something quick to digest then move on
  • Long sentences – don’t get your reader bogged down in lengthy content of any kind
  • Scrolling pages – Keep It Short and Sweet (KISS)

Alan Eggleston is a writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What I can't do another Alan can!

Alan Eggleston on opera's Alan Eggleston

I'm not musical in the least. I can carry a tune, but I can't remember the lyrics and I get too caught up in the sentiment of the lyrics to hold the tune for very long. So being in a choir or any kind of musical event was always out for me. You can imagine how amazed I was when I discovered through my Google Web Alert that there is an Alan Eggleston who can carry a tune.

Turns out there was an Alan Eggleston at Indiana University's Jacob School of Music during the academic years 1985-1988, and he appeared in some of the school's operatic productions.

I don't know how good he was, but he must have been fairly good because he is credited with roles in five operas:
  • Franciso, Court Gentleman in The Tempest
  • Antonio in The Marriage of Figaro
  • The Buffoon in The Legend of Tsar Sultan
  • Hobson in Peter Grimes
  • Satyr, god of the woods in L'Orfeo

Just goes to show, what I can't do another Alan can!

Who am I?

Alan Eggleston on Alan Eggleston

There are at least a dozen men in the world who go by the name Alan Eggleston. There is a senator in Australia, a wrangler out West, and financier out East. I am a writer and editor who lives and works smack dab in the middle, in Michigan.

On a whim I did a Google Web Alert on my name and at least once a week -- often more frequently -- I get a report on someone or something about an Eggleston, sometimes an Alan Eggleston, who shows up on a Web page. I'll do my best to tell you about the Alans and any of the occasionally interesting other Egglestons worth bragging about.

But this page isn't just about me or my name. It's also about the profession I love, which is writing and editing. I'll write about it, too. One of the things I like to do is hang out on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. I like to ask and answer questions there and I will likely expand on them here as I mentor other writers, editors, and Web professionals. What's the good of knowing something if you can't share it with others. I believe in lifelong learning -- all aspects of it.