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...