When Commas Aren’t Commas

by Alan Eggleston

Possibly the most misunderstood punctuation mark is the comma. I have seen it used, misused, abused, and confused over the years by all levels of writers – and, presumably, editors. But imagine the case of the Official Corporate Comma added on the approval route by General Counsel.

For years, this particular corporate general counsel reviewed every last page of content that might see the outside light of day. He was the final stop after everyone else in the corporation reviewed it. Copy would come back to our writers full of all kinds of changes – claims from Marketing, refinements in claims from R&D, remarks from Sales, and on and on. General Counsel always seemed to add commas. We would often negotiate language changes with various groups, but we knew the placement of a comma could make or break a legal statement, so we faithfully adhered to his changes.

One evening I happened to share a table with the General Counsel on a corporate flight to an event. Many things were discussed on the long trip, but in particular, I joked that he often seemed overly generous with commas on corporate copy. He thought a moment, and then responded offhandedly, “Oh, those! That’s how I mark my place when I am interrupted.” Reading copy wasn’t the only thing General Counsel had to do on a busy day, and he must have taken a lot of calls and handled a lot of visits, noting his place with a simple curved tick. Here we were printing them all!

Admittedly, most of his commas were fine, and his tick marks were usually placed at sensible places – at phrases or in series or other places where it was plausible to place a comma. But once in a while you would see a comma placement and scratch your head, “What was he thinking?”

It pays to question even attorneys on their editing to decipher when commas really are commas.


When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

As I reflect on my web editing work this year, I note that some clients are asking for pictures to go with the written content I provide.

While I think of myself as more of a “words” person, I want to be responsive to my clients. So I’m asking you, my fellow web editors:

Do you usually provide pictures with your written content, or does that responsibility lie with someone else? If you DO, then in your experience:

  • What are the best sources of photos online? 
  • What’s the simplest way to wrangle them into the text? If I have to copy, save, crop, resize, etc.is there one particular tool for that or several? Are my Microsoft Office tools sufficient for that, or should I really consider using another tool?
  • What are the “gotchas” of working with pictures? Are there technical constraints to consider? Are there permissions to worry about? Are some file formats (.jpeg, .png, etc.) better than others for the web?
  • What is the best source of information about using pictures on the web? It may be a book, webinar, YouTube series or something else.

In the spirit of reciprocity and collaboration, what is your biggest web editing question or challenge from 2012? What areas would you like to explore with the help of this group? Thanks in advance for your input, and if there’s a web editing topic I can help you with, I am more than happy to share.

It’s been a treat writing these posts this year. I hope you have found something of value. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2013!

The Web Editor Job Description

By Jennifer Ford

Recently I started a new full-time job that includes a web editor title. I got to see first hand how similar and yet how different web editor jobs can be, even in the same industry.

The overall goals for the web editor are always the same: Help increase traffic to your site, showcase quality content, and make the experience an excellent one for website visitors. In both my previous and current roles my web editor title was shared with another editorial title, which goes to show how flexible the role can be. One reason for this may be that some employers who haven’t employed a web editor before aren’t sure there’s enough work for a full-time position. I have found that there’s never enough time to do everything I want to do, but I still enjoy the variation of my dual roles as managing editor and web editor.

If you’re looking for web editor jobs, you’ll find a standard set of responsibilities in the job descriptions. They include planning an editorial schedule for a website and collaborating with other editors, designers, web developers, and marketing and sales staff. The web editor creates content – either by writing or acquiring it – and publishes it to the website’s content management system. Web editors also manage a websites’s blogs, polls, news, events calendar, social media, multimedia, e-newsletters, and any special projects like surveys or microsites. A web editor needs to keep on top of best practices for websites in terms of SEO and user experience, and needs to become an excellent content marketer. It’s increasingly helpful to have a handle on the basics of HTML, too. Here’s Princeton Review’s take on the web editor job description. And here’s a web editor job description from the UK-based creative professional company Creativepool.

A few things changed for me when I started my new job. I began using a different content management system, for example, which in principle is the same but in practice required some relearning. And I began editing and producing the videos that I shoot when doing interviews. I also use design software to lay out articles myself. But in general the basics have stayed the same as far as web editor duties.

In the end, although the web editor’s job responsibilities have become fairly standard and the position is becoming more familiar to employers, eventually it will be a given that “web” is part of an editor’s title, and all of the web editor responsibilities will be lumped in with any editor job description.

(Side note: There’s been discussion on the Web Editors LinkedIn group about salaries being lower for web editors. Take the Web Editors group poll on salary, if you’re a web editor.)

Website Redesign: Keep it Simple

How you reach the final design of a website is such an important part of the creation or redesign process, it cannot be overstated. So much rides on how your website looks, acts and feels to the visitor. The design or aesthetics is tightly tied into the functionality and structure of your site, and the three must really be tackled together and work together seamlessly.

The companies with the best websites have put a lot of thought into what they want to get out of their site. Sitting down to really think about what the company wants to accomplish (business reasons for the website), and having a plan for the site will be invaluable. What has been a challenge with the current site? Is the new design flexible enough to add new features without having to overhaul the entire site as the company moves forward? What do you really need from your website and how can you best attain that?

Let’s take a look at three key elements of a website design that can help any company attain its goals: structure, functionality, and aesthetics.

There is the classification of your content (taxonomy), and then the physical structuring of your content. Which sections can you group together in the menu? Are there clearly delineated categories and subcategories? Which should be publicly available and which should be restricted (member) content? The content of your menus and the placement of your navigation is extremely important, and needs to be discussed at an early stage. The whole development of your website hinges on how your site will be set up.

Do you want your navigation to be across the top of the page, which would then free up the left side of your content area – either for sub-navigation or more content? Or should your navigation stick to the left or right sides and either expand below each category via more choices or in a dropdown or flyout menu? There is even footer navigation, which is generally used as a global (entire site) navigation. Which of these is right for your site’s content?

Some structural considerations:

  • Navigation placement
  • Log in placement – is it easy to find where your audience needs to log in?
  • Logo and branding – is your website identifiable with your company? Is the logo presented with enough emphasis or is it unclear who the site belongs to? (Hint: size matters.)
  • Search – is it easy to find where the search field is? Does the website’s search engine return the expected results?
  • Social media presence – do you use social media icons to link to your respective accounts, or would you have your social media feeds represented right on the homepage?
  • Real estate. Homepage real estate is at a premium – which content is a must have versus a nice to have?
  • Advertisement placement – are there advantageous places to put advertising on the homepage or internal pages without compromising your content areas yet still please the advertiser?

While it is easy to get caught up in new colors, fonts and a pleasing design, it is imperative that web editors keep an eye out so that a website’s design or redesign is not prohibitive to the functionality. Can your audience find what it needs to? Is the navigation intuitive? If you have to explain your navigation, back to the drawing board! If you click on something, do you get what you expect or is it unclear on where you need to go? Are the labels for the navigation buttons clear or vague?

Keep it simple. This is the best advice anyone will ever give you for website design or redesign. Just as you would not put up obstacles in front of your company’s business so that people could not reach the actual building and services inside, so too you must provide clear and easy access to your website’s information and content. On the other hand, your company’s expertise must be available, but not overpowering to what the customer is looking for. What questions does your audience come to your website to find answers for? These answers should be readily discoverable.

How do you know if your audience can find what it needs? Having your audience help you test your website pre-launch can be invaluable. After all, they are the people who will be using your site. Can they find what they are expecting to find? Here are two great articles on that topic:

Are the colors, fonts and overall design pleasing aesthetically to you and your audience? Stay away from blinking icons or annoying colors that are hard to read against the background colors. Is there enough contrast between body text and the background – consider the color blind or visually challenged. Does the color scheme enhance the navigation (are the navigation buttons all the same color? Does content that should be grouped together “hang” together visually?)?

Look at the design critically – what stands out in a good way? What stands out like a sore thumb? Leave enough time in your design process to refine features. Does text slam up against your images or graphics? Or is there some “white space” between images and text? Is the design easy to look at or do people squint or grimace when they see it? Is your content cluttering your pages or is it neatly organized and easy to digest?

The Best Site for All
Keeping these three elements at the forefront of your website design or redesign process will help you make your site the best it can be. Finding the right balance and making these elements work together cohesively will only serve you and your customers better. Keep it simple!

Removing Roadblocks to Quality SEO

One of the unsung rules of search engine optimization (SEO) is: First, put up no roadblocks to efficient indexing. Of all the things you can do to optimize your website, the thing you have the most control over is how easy you make it for search engines to index. This article is about the most typical roadblocks and whether you choose to set up or tear them down.

Heavy Programming Before Any Content: Look at your source code: If there is a lot of code – multiple lines of code – before any headlines and body text, you have a roadblock. It’s usually java script or CSS programming, which can be written in a separate file and referenced as a single line of code for the browser to find instead. Doing that doesn’t involve a significant delay for the browser and it improves SEO significantly.

Content Positioning: The best SEO occurs when the first thing a search engine spider sees after the <head> tag is content. Move your headlines and body text as close to the top of the page as possible. Insist programming and CSS code be separate files referenced as single lines of code to alert the browser and then get to the content.

Flash Programming: A major roadblock to SEO is Flash. It looks nice on the page, but search engines do not index Flash, and if that’s where your message resides, no one will be indexing it – or finding it in a search. Overrule designers and go for the indexing instead of the sex appeal. (Yes, search engines can index text in Flash, but most Flash does not involve text.)

Graphic-Heavy Pages: A page of graphics and images or a page heavy in graphics and images instead of text is not indexable. A search engine needs text to index your site. Designers like to build graphic-rich pages and place images high on the page for the visual impact, but they won’t do you much good if no one can find you! (And words in a graphic or image are not indexable text.) Alt tags with keywords for each and every graphic and image will help but are not adequate substitutes for body text!

Drop-Down Navigation: Navigation done right provides good internal linking, but drop-down navigation built with java script is not easily indexable and is a roadblock. Again, it looks sweet but it won’t serve you well in a search. There are other ways to build drop-down navigation without using java script.

Inadequate Content: Search engine spiders like at least 250 characters of body text to determine keyword relevancy. Can you use less than that on a page? Certainly – but it’s a roadblock to optimization. Do yourself a favor and provide enough content to index.

Inadequate Links: Search engines follow links and determine a site’s subject matter and authority based on its links, both internal and external, both inbound and outbound. Links are a roadblock when there aren’t enough to help build your site’s reputation. You don’t need a lot of links all at once – in fact, it’s probably best to build links over time.

Bottom Text Links: Search engine spiders read from the top of the site and from the bottom, so a set of text navigation links at the bottom help reinforce your internal links. In addition, if your navigation at the top features hypergraphics or java-script drop-down links or other roadblocks, bottom links can become the only way a spider has to follow content into your site and determine relevancy for your pages.

A subset of roadblocks to SEO are slowdowns to good SEO. They are comparable to having access to the Interstate highway and driving the minimum speed. Here are some examples that will help you drive closer to the maximum speed and make the most of indexing.

H Tags: Using H tags for headlines (H1 for the main headline, H2 for the next level of subhead, H3 for the next, etc.) helps not only establish the hierarchy of importance, they are also a signal to search engine spiders of the importance of the text in the headlines and subheads – like using the <strong> tag in the body text to highlight or bold important words. Not using the H tags represent a slowdown because these are tools you should be using that aid the indexing of your site.

Strong or Bold and Italic: Other tools you should be using to highlight keywords, this for body text, are the <strong>, <bold>, and <italic> tags. Using these with keywords is like waving your hands at the spiders and saying, “Here’s another important word on my site!” If you don’t use them – judiciously of course – you are driving in the slow lane.

Keyword Positioning: Search engines think the closer to the top and front of a page a keyword is, the more important it is to the page. So it will place more importance to that keyword when it has key positioning. In a race with a competitor in search results, the one with the best positioning (among other factors) will get the best ranking.

Top and bottom of the page: You should use your keywords as close to the top of the page as possible and again at the bottom, because that’s where the spider expects to see them and where it assumes your most relevant words will be.

Front of the paragraph: Use your keywords in the first paragraph as close to the front of the paragraph as possible to show search engines this is what your site is about.

Front of the sentence: If possible, begin your first sentence with your keywords. If not, use them as early as possible in the first sentence or within first couple of sentences – the sooner the better. Make it read naturally, of course, but bring it up quickly.

These adjustments, all considered “white hat” actions, should help you remove roadblocks and slowdowns so search engines get a better, quicker read of your site.

The State of Copy Editing

How many copy editors are there in the state of Oregon? Apparently about 1,571,269, the number of people there who voted in November 2012 on the proposal to, in effect, copy-edit the state constitution.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Measure 78 called for a change in the terminology for the legislative, executive, and judicial parts of state government. These three are henceforth to be known in Oregon, as elsewhere, as ‘branches,’ not ‘departments.’ And the Legislature will have two ‘chambers,’ rather than two ‘branches,’ bringing Oregon in line with other states.” They will also change “references to the secretary of State to more gender-neutral ones,” added the Monitor.

The measure passed “by a landslide,” 1,129,688 votes to 441,581.

What We’re Talking About Now in the Web Editors Group

Among the many discussions addressed currently in our Web Editors LinkedIn Group:

Our members hail from all over the world, including Fernando from Argentina, Joanne and Jennifer from the U.S., and Antonella Benedetti from Italy, who has posted a number of articles and links in Italian. If you want to learn about the world of web editing, join the Web Editors Group on LinkedIn.