Trolls: How to Deal with Trouble in Social Paradise

By Alan Eggleston

Troubled by trolls? They permeate the social spaces like raisins in a cookie. But if you post adequate guidelines and moderate your space judiciously, they needn’t be a big problem.

First, you need to know what a “troll” is. It isn’t simply someone who disagrees with you. A troll is someone who comes to your social space to disrupt and offend. He or she craves attention, and when you respond to his distractions, you simply encourage him to continue.

Second, you need to know that how you respond to a troll will totally affect your relationship with him or her thereafter. What you should do depends on the basis of your relationship and the form of his messages.

Usually, a true troll says something inflammatory or controversial meant to incite a reaction, either from you or other readers. That’s true of any troll. (Another form of troll comes to your social space with an agenda, including complaining and spamming with messages or links.)

But keep in mind, both as a keeper of the social space and as a reader, you don’t have to put up with trolls. There are steps you can take.

Here are some examples.


First, where you can, post guidelines on using your site, especially about making comments (such as on blogs) and posting (such as in forums). Here are the guidelines that I post on my business blog as an example. Once you post them, enforce them fairly and equally. You may want to consult a Netiquette site for ideas.


As web editor you own the blog space and you should set the rules. Post guidelines and make sure everyone follows them, including you. Respond respectfully to everyone who comments, but don’t be afraid to put someone in his place if he is disruptive.

Most blogs allow you to moderate your comments, which many bloggers don’t like to do, but if you have a problem with a troll this becomes an option that allows you to check him before he can take charge of your social space. You can refuse to post a comment that doesn’t meet your guidelines, and if a troll provides a valid e-mail address (a requirement in my guidelines), I will open a dialog with the troll through e-mail giving him a second chance to re-post with a less offensive comment.

Some trolls, including spammers, are frequent visitors who don’t take no for an answer. You can permanently block them through your blog settings. You can usually block by keywords, e-mail address, username, IP address, and other means. Spammers are a constant battle and they use devious tricks to mask their spam.

Some trolls may be former stakeholders with a stake to grind or grudge to hold. If your site is a commercial enterprise, you may need to address a troll in a social space in which others will see the exchange. In this case, it not only affects your relationship with that stakeholder but many others. Your best effort is to be respectful but try to take the conversation to another venue, such as e-mail or phone, or get him to the right person to help him address the issue. Blocking him in this particular space may force him to show up in other spaces. If he is simply an unmollifiable disgruntled stakeholder who just wants to hurt you in your social space, blocking him and alerting legal resources for damages may be your only other option.


With Twitter, you don’t own the space as much as you often own the conversation (trolls like to descend uninvited into the conversation or onto your comment). And trolls are easy to block on Twitter (just go to their profile, look for the silhouetted icon and arrow next to “Follow”, click on that arrow and choose “Block”. If they’re spamming, choose “Report for spam.”).  Don’t be afraid to command the conversation – after all, they dropped in on you uninvited. You have a right to suspend the conversation.

You may also find that through interaction he or she becomes a troll in a conversation that you then both own.  You can always try to ameliorate the relationship, “agree to disagree” (usually the first to say that is showing defeat), or simply let the fool go on his way. Again, you can always block him.

My best advice on Twitter trolls, however, is:  Don’t Feed The Trolls (DFTT). What they usually want is attention. If you engage them, you are giving them the attention they seek and they will just come back for more.  If you ignore them, they often lose interest and drift away.

If you swoop down on someone else’s conversation and they become abusive, although their behavior is trollish, they own the conversation. Back out gracefully and, if they won’t leave you alone, block them.


On Facebook, you own your personal page and your fan page plus any group page that you administrate. You have the ability to remove comments and block users as well as filter who reads the pages.  If you run into a troll on someone else’s page, you can only block them.

To block someone on Facebook, click on their name (which takes you to their profile page), look for the “Message” “Call” button next to the “Friends” button under the cover photo, and click the down arrow and at the bottom of the dropdown list click on “Report/Block”.

If your fan page is for a business or organization, treat them as an interested stakeholder until it’s apparent they aren’t interested in working things out. You have a duty to them, but you also have a duty to other users, so don’t wait too long to mollify a potential troll before deciding they are a lost cause.


I have honestly not run into anyone trolling on Google+ although I am not yet an avid user. I love Google+ as an interface, but most of my friends are on Facebook, so I gravitate toward it. Still, a lot of other people do use Google+ and as more and more people use it, trolls will find it useful for getting attention (if they don’t already).

The ownership rules should apply to Google+ that apply to Facebook.

To block on Google+, just click on someone’s name or photo. If they’re in your circles, a small profile “card” will pop up with an “x” in the upper right-hand corner – click the “x” and they will drop out of your circles. If they aren’t in your circles, you will go to their profile page and beneath the photos of people in their circles, in the middle column, is a link for “Block (name)” and for real abuse, “Report this profile.”


Whoever administrates the forum discussion owns the page and the conversation, so if you host a forum, make sure your administrators are aware of trolls and your policies on treating them. Post guidelines and apply them to everyone. If someone routinely breaks the rules, you would be well within your rights to kick them out. Check with your software for the process to block users and remove offensive comments.

More Reading

Next Up — Redesign and Usability Testing

You can go into a website redesign thinking you know what users need and want, or you can test for it. It’s called Usability Testing, and it ensures your redesigned site is way more than the sum of your design team’s assumptions. Join me.


More on Quality Content

by Alison Lueders

Last month, I enjoyed Gazalla Gaya’s post listing 4 keys to quality content:

  • Original
  • Well-written
  • Simple to understand
  • Educational

It’s a short, memorable list that’s easy to use in practice.

As I write for my clients on sustainable business issues, I realize that there are 4 more qualities that I try to incorporate in my content. They are:

  • A positive tone. There are plenty of climate change stories that are full of gloom and doom. They are accurate, but it’s hard to take a steady diet of “hell and high water.” Understanding the facts is essential, even if they are gloomy. But if I must write about gloomy facts, then I go to some trouble to share information about successes and progress being made. There is actually quite a bit of good news, if you look.
  • Action-based information. With green issues in particular, it’s easy to overwhelm people with both the size of the problems and the multitude of possible solutions. No one can put out the Colorado wildfires or stem sea level rise singlehandedly. So I include simple actions that people can take to move in the right direction. The old proverb, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” underlies this approach. People feel better if they know what to do about a situation.
  • More story-telling. In business, there is sometimes a bias towards “just the facts, ma’am” writing, and that’s appropriate in some contexts. As I work with clients, it often makes more sense to tell the stories of their green and sustainable businesses in a less formal way. Well-told stories can grab attention, make a business concept concrete, and win over customers who recognize themselves in the stories of these entrepreneurs.
  • A global view. Sustainability issues affect everyone, whether they know it or not. So I explicitly link local business stories to national and international trends. It broadens people’s perspectives, lets them know they are not alone, and offers valuable information they might otherwise miss in the press of everyday business.

Do these attributes resonate with you? Do you have an explicit content quality checklist to which you adhere?

SEO Shapes the Web. Should It?

For me, two of the most valuable aspects of the web are:

  • how accessible it has made mass communication—bringing it within reach for individuals and small, independent businesses
  • how simple it is for communities to develop around shared interests, no matter how small the niche and regardless of geographic boundaries

These are ideals—the promise of what the web can be and occasionally is.

The Web Now

The reality is that the gems are buried in the avalanche of low-quality, spammy, and boring content—the duds. But why is so much of the web piles of duds and so little of it gems? Can we change the ratio?

Setting aside the obvious types of web duds, the spam-like/scam-like and the anonymous and trollish drivel, I think another big category of dud pages are the marketing-driven “templates,” designed to appeal to the masses.

It recently occurred to me that search and SEO play a role in this deluge of duds because bots can do algorithms really well, and lots of them. So we get huge volumes of pages written to formulas, which is great for marketers. They get a lot of data to measure and “templates” for generating standardized content.

The gems online, however, are usually narrow in focus, addressed to smaller audiences, and focused on quality rather than quantity; they need the right readers more than they need a large number of them.

SEO and Content: Two Takes

A memorable talk I went to a few weeks ago got me thinking about the ways search and SEO influence which WWW we have now (mostly duds) and which one we’ll end up with (mostly gems?). Search, SEO and content strategy were the topics at the talk; the speakers were SEOs and the audience was mainly content strategists. The focus was on bridging these two disciplines, often seen as poles apart on debates such as writing for bots vs. writing for people.

The Traditionalist

The first speaker walked us through how to write with SEO in mind:

  • Write headlines that front-load keywords, that are specific, and that answer readers’ questions.
  • Immediately—in the first line of body copy—deliver on the expectations promised by the headline.
  • Use subheads, also with keywords, and white space to break up walls of copy.
  • Include keywords in the prime real estate: titles, SERP description copy, links, etc.
  • Make sure your CTA is above the fold.
  • In fact, try to get everything above the fold.

All well and good.

The Heretic

The next speaker got up, and right off the bat we knew it would be different.

She complimented the other speaker’s presentation, and then said her take on the topic was completely different. “I’m a heretic,” she said.

The heresy? Write whatever you want, however you want.

  • Write long. People will scroll.
  • Write in your natural voice. Your tribe will find you.
  • Write well, and write for real and living readers. The search bots will catch up; they are already quite savvy and improving at an astonishing pace.

Refreshing, even exciting.

The Web to Come

Until the heretic gave her speech, I hadn’t realized just how uninspiring the traditional methods are. But on further thought, it makes sense that traditional methods will wear thin quickly because those methods are tuned to the ways robots (web crawlers) can quantify what humans read and respond to. It needs to be formulaic, algorithmic, and appeal to the masses—bots can rank those things.

On the other hand, if we can write for people—if the robots are now sophisticated enough to accurately index human writing for other humans who search for it—we may just end up with a web with a lot more gems.

Comments welcome.

Website Requirements and Giving Stakeholders a Voice in Redesign Priorities

By Cathy Hodson

The logistics of a website redesign and migration can strike fear into the most experienced web editor. It’s not for the faint of heart.

As a web editor, to have a successful content migration and website redesign launch, you have to be incredibly organized, know your content and your website backwards and forwards (and backwards again), be able to represent the varied requirements of your company’s content, and remain calm through some of the most stressful weeks or months of your professional career.

Something you need to consider at the outset of a website redesign are the requirements for your next site – what do you need to have from your new website that either doesn’t work well on your current site, or that doesn’t exist there right now?  What needs updating? Could you use a better search engine? Could you streamline or reorganize your navigation? Do you need more graphics and visual presentation to break up vast quantities of text?  Do you need more interaction with your audience(s)? What will help improve your website, make it the best it can be, and most importantly, make it worth all the effort you and your team are about to expend in improving the company website?

It helps, in gathering this information, to talk with your many different stakeholders: fellow staff members, members of your audience(s), students working toward your profession, even someone who has nothing to do with your business or your profession. How well does your website perform for someone who knows nothing about what your company does? If you tell them to find three specific things, can they find X, Y and Z? Does your navigation make sense to them?

Prioritization by Stakeholder
You can gather together and ask your stakeholders to help prioritize desired features into the various stages of the redesign process. Perhaps some of the features you are considering include building a meeting registration module, or developing an area of the website where members can update their own contact information, check their continuing education credits or provide feedback to the staff. You can divide a piece of paper into quarters, and mark the upper left quadrant as High Cost. Mark the lower left quadrant as Low Cost. Mark the upper right quadrant as High Priority. Mark the lower right as low priority. Give each stakeholder a copy, or break the stakeholders into groups and give each group a copy of this breakdown. Use sticky notes to show the location of features that have a high cost and are a high priority. Which ones have a low cost and a low priority? Put them in the appropriate slot on the grid. Which features fall in the middle?

In this manner, you can determine prioritization. Perhaps by consensus the high priorities and low cost desired features will be slotted for Stage I of the redesign. Perhaps lower cost, lower priorities would be slotted for Stage II or even Stage III of the redesign.

Of course, there is the old adage that too many chefs spoil the pot, but having all of your stakeholders represented in these early stages can also help foster buy-in to the final result. They have been able to have a voice and be represented by their peers. Their concerns and interests have been voiced. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go by what they project are your priorities, but at least they can say they had a voice in the process. Very often having a few points of view outside of the staff’s point of view helps bring some perspective to the project. Staff remember who the website is truly there for, and begin to see what is important to their audiences. The same holds true for the stakeholders – to see what the staff recommends or can explain as their rationale.

Perspective and decision
There can be situations where this can become contentious between stakeholder factions. Many people feel they know best which features would serve the various audiences, or they insist on the priorities of their own special interests (i.e, come with an agenda) – this includes the developers and even web editors. What can help is to have an independent voice – a consultant or someone outside of staff (a project manager, perhaps) to moderate or even police this process. In the end someone has to have the power to make a final decision. Whether that is the CEO, the executive director, the president or a board of directors, at some point a decision has to be made – hopefully based on recommendations from the stakeholder group, the staff, a consultant, or a combination.

There may not always be a meeting of the minds, but sharing opinions and having the opportunity to explain those choices can provide a well-rounded project where more options are considered and discussed, and ideally, the best solution comes forward.

Next up: Taxonomy – Say What?

Links: An Editor’s Look at How Many Is Too Many

By Alan Eggleston

How many links are too many? We are told we need outbound links, inbound links, internal links, but does anyone say how to tell when enough is enough?

Actually, there are articles on the Web, and probably the most important ones are by Google’s Matt Cutts and the Google Webcentral. Both say 100 links on a page should be a limit, although not necessary the limit. Let me explain.

It’s All About the User

To a search engine – any search engine – the user experience is the most important thing. That’s true whether you’re gauging the experience conducting a search or reading a page. So when a Google or Bing or Alta Vista index your website, they consider the experience you’re giving your user or reader. That’s true for any part of their indexing algorithm. It’s also true of gauging your links.

The Trouble with Excessive Linking

So what variables might search engines consider in the user or reader’s experience when looking at the number of links on your page?

How about the number of words? If you have few words but lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “link spamming” (or spamdexing)

How about your anchor text? If you continually use the same anchor text for links on a page, with lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “keyword stuffing.”

What about small or average amount of words, but most of your links are in lists or involve one source or one type of site, such as an affiliate marketing site? Then it can be perceived that you aren’t serving your reader as much as yourself and, so again, link spamming.

And let’s be sensible: Unless your reader is doing in-depth research on something, it’s very unlikely they will follow 200 links, let alone 100. So giving your reader 100 or fewer solid, quality links is way more important than 150-200 flimsy, low-quality links. And the search engines can tell the difference.

What Happens if You Overdo it?

The dangers of having too many links are many. An appearance of keyword stuffing may give your site the appearance of low-substance content and trigger the Google Panda filter. An appearance of spamdexing may give your site the appearance of spamming in general and trigger the Google Penguin algorithm. Too many structured links may make your site look like a “doorway page,” resulting in a penalty. Finally, there’s the whole design element: a page full of links looks less inviting and can be harder to read that one with fewer links.

A Goldilocks List of Link Criteria

What’s the “Goldilock’s Number” of links then? There isn’t a number, but there is that maximum of 100. And there is using links sensibly to serve your reader. You just can’t go wrong serving your reader. So here is what I would make sure I included in those 100:

  • At least one high quality link for each keyword early on the page with a second one at the end if possible. These are probably external links.
  • A high quality link for other important concept words on your page – these may not be keywords but may be words your readers want to know more about. These are probably external links, but if you have a site glossary they could also be internal links.
  • Additional links for keywords to separate quality external sites using different anchor text and that serves the reader understanding or interest – simply adding different links to the same anchor text can be seen as link spamming.

Example: Mulptiple articles about neutron stars using their titles or publication titles as the anchor text. Same keyword (neutron stars), different sources (various publications)

  • Make sure you link to internal pages within your site as well and include those in your numbers. They may be for major keywords or important concept words.
  • Internal links for each hypergraphic and hypertext in your main navigation, top and bottom.
  • Internal links for site subnavigation and external links to outside entities.

Example: Association sites, awards sites, universities, companies you are associated with, etc.

  • Links in sidebars or secondary articles that may be internal or external which may include keywords for this page or for the overall site such as in universal inclusions.
  • Links for headlines or article titles elsewhere on the site, often under the subhead “Also of interest.”

Count any link as a separate link, including advertising links and those double underlined links that used to be for definitions but have turned into advertising links. Those aren’t counted in your ranking, but they do contribute to site litter.

A note about design: A page to be readable needs white space punctuated by dark notes. The more dark notes (words) and blotches (lines) the eye sees, the more disorganized it is and the harder it is to read. So use bold, italic, and underline (links) wisely and sparingly. That may be the most useful guide to building links. If you have a page full of links, you may have an unreadable page.

Which looks more readable:

A page more like this with only some words highlighted and punctuated by bold, italic, and underline?

Or a page like this with most words bolded, italicized, and underlined in an effort to give importance to every single word?

Point made?

Next Up – How to Handle Trolls

Troubled by trolls? What bridge or blog or news comments section is without them? Next time I’ll take a break from optimization to take a swing at handling trolls. Join me!

Web Editors: Are You More Creative or More Productive?

Does your role as web editor demand more creativity or more productivity? Many of us come from a writing background and many web editors still write as part of our duties and most of us edit content at some point. In addition, part of our skill set requires a certain attention to design. And we are continually challenged to find imaginative ways to be flexible and cooperative in our daily challenges. So creativity would seem to be an important part of our daily work. It’s interesting, then, that a recent survey by Adobe found that 80% of UK creatives felt pressured to be more productive than creative, according to MacVideo online. “Three quarters of people (78%) surveyed by Adobe think that creativity is key to driving economic growth, but a massive 80% feel that there is increasing pressure to be more productive rather than creative,” said the article. It also contains a bevy of other interesting results gathered from the survey.

Do you feel pressure to be more productive than creative? How does that affect your ability to meet the requirements of your work?

Mobile Apps in Publishing

By Jennifer Ford

Is your publication already ahead of the curve with mobile apps? Many larger publishers have long-established mobile apps. One visit to the Newsstand in the iTunes store and you’ll get a better grasp of the kinds of publications that are already in this publishing space.

But maybe you’re still waiting to jump on the app wagon. Maybe you don’t have resources to build an app in house. Maybe you can’t spend the money on hiring someone to build one for you. Or maybe your readers aren’t there (yet).

Any way you look at it, though, mobile apps are a growing facet of publishing and they’re something I keep an eye on. Considering approximately 67 million iPads have been sold to date, it might be time to start considering a tablet app to be a priority. The publication I work for is in the process of building mobile apps, and to edify myself on the subject of publishing and mobile apps, I attended “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps,” a webinar hosted by FOLIO: magazine, presented by GENWI, a mobile app developer. I found it to be pretty interesting and thought I’d share a recap here.

Sean Brown, digital creative director for Fairchild Fashion Media, was online to share his experience with building a mobile app. He is also past interactive creative director for Condé Nast Media. Some mobile projects he’s worked on are The Daily W, the Epicurious cooking app and GQ for the iPhone (which has been replaced by the GQ iPad app).

During decisionmaking about creating a mobile app, Brown and his colleagues ask themselves several questions:

  • What’s the best interface?
  • How can we capitalize on the device’s functionality?
  • How do we get content onto a mobile app?
  • What will be the best user experience?

The key, for Brown, is identifying what each unique publication has to offer and optimizing it as something interesting and different for users. Each publication has its own brand, and  as an editor you need to find your goal and then figure out what device will work best for your app. The most important offering from Epicurious, for example, was recipes, so they created an app that showcased their recipes in an easily searchable app.

PJ Gurumohan, cofounder and CEO of GENWI, talked about his product, too. Theirs is one of many cloud-based mobile app products. I do not pretend to be a developer, but I do know that cloud computing is cool. The way these mobile apps work is you upload your content to your content management system, and the app (once all its parameters have been set) pulls from that to deliver it automatically in the right way on the right mobile device to the app users.

“Mobile is a completely different beast” from print and web, Gurumohan said. GENWI was able to create the Daily W app for Condé Nast in two weeks, which seems to be much faster than the norm. My theory on the fast turnaround for that app is that the publisher already had a content management system that was compatible with the GENWI platform.

Both Brown and Gurumohan talked about an “engaging” experience. You’re no longer competing with other magazines, said Brown, “you’re competing with users’ time and availability,” so a mobile app can reach people at times when they can’t read in print or on a website. A mobile app should be utilitarian, content rich, targeted to readers, informative and personal. From the developer perspective, Gurumohan added that touch activation, real-time content delivery and analytics are ways that a mobile app can benefit your publication.

The draw for a mobile app, said Brown, is that a tablet bridges the gap between a standard website experience and print. Gurumohan added that many publishers lost an emotional connection to their readers by switching to the web, and the tablet is a way to regain that connection. For publications supported by advertising, it is great news that users can be more connected and that ads can be more intuitive and less obtrusive to users.

One question asked by the audience that I thought was particularly important was, “How do smaller publishers with less money enter the game?” And unfortunately, it seems, if you want to create an app, you’re going to need to spend some money, unless you’re already a developer. Another good question was, “What analytics are important to look at after launching an app?” Important analytics are somewhat similar to your web analytics: number of downloads, number of articles read, location of readers, whether an article was shared on social media. Pay attention to those analytics to deliver more targeted content. Also, Some generic content management system apps like Blogger (Blogspot) allow you to automatically render your content into mobile, so smaller publishers might want to explore those options.

A video of the webinar is available for FOLIO: subscribers at “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps.”

Share your thoughts below! Does your publication have a mobile app? Are you considering developing one? My next post will be a Q&A about content strategy.