6 Tips for Managing the Content Chase

Web editors usually edit other people’s content. Depending on your particular business, that content may come from people for whom producing content is not the primary focus of their job. In fact, it may be 84th on their list of 10 things to do today. But for you, the web editor, the publishing deadline is approaching and without the content, your blood pressure is rising.

Does this sound familiar?

Here are 6 tips for managing the content chase:

  • Use an editorial calendar – Create it, publish it, and keep it front and center with your content producers. You shouldn’t hear “I didn’t know” from a content source. The best result to to never have to chase people in the first place.
  • Send reminders – Being polite but persistent is a pre-requisite for being a web editor. Reminders shouldn’t sound like nagging or threats because most people are just really busy. Give them the benefit of the doubt and remind them. I occasionally use the words “Friendly Reminder” in the subject line of an email for such a situation to set a positive tone.
  • Be an accountability partner – This is a much more evolved version of reminding. If possible, establish yourself as a partner who is helping your clients succeed. Producing good content on time is a building block of their success. It can motivate more responsiveness from your sources if they see what’s in it for them.
  • Have a backup plan – If your content producers are routinely late, it pays to have alternative content that will work regardless of time frame. Then again, if you have announced to the world that the “blitzheimer gadget” will be launching on date certain, and key content fails to appear by then, you can’t talk about the weather instead. Have a realistic Plan B.
  • Call the boss – In my knowledge manager days, there were rare instances when lack of timely content could potentially damage the firm or waste significant money. These situations can be delicate, but if you are down to the wire with missing content, clue in senior management. One phone call from the “right” person can magically produce content in minutes. Don’t blame anyone, empathize with everyone – and get the content out!
  • Recognize good behavior – From a simple “thank you” to a short note to the content source’s supervisor to a monthly “Content Hall of Fame” report to senior management, there are many ways to reward content sources when they come through. Yes, it takes extra time, but it also builds relationships and can be a simple way to make someone smile. Those are opportunities you should seize every day.

Is the content chase an issue for you? If so, how do you avoid or address it?

Battling “Unnatural” Links

by Alan Eggleston

Battling "Unnatural" Links

photo (cc) creative commons license by cogdogblog

Have you received an email notification from Google alerting you to “unnatural” links to your site and wondered what that was all about? It’s pretty simple, actually. Someone has set up inbound links to your site that don’t make sense to Google and they don’t trust the links for ranking. But instead of being so cryptic, Google is trying to help you identify and remove them. Search Engine Land, a leading media voice on search, recently reported on it, including a video by Google’s Matt Cutts.

The first step has been to send you an email notice of the problem, including some samples of the unnatural links. Also coming through Google’s Webmaster Tools are downloadable lists of the most recent links to your site, which will allow you to identify more unnatural links if more exist. They provide downloadable lists of domains that have links to your pages, more sample links, and the most recent links. This may become easier to find as it is rolled out, but here is how I found it:

Webmaster Tools > Website Dashboard > Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who Links to You Most (then More)

Unnatural links may affect the ranking of only a specific page or, if the unnatural links are more common throughout your site, they may affect the ranking of the whole site. So it is important that you pay attention if you receive an email notification from Google and try to eliminate as many problem inbound links as possible. Some examples of types of links that Google doesn’t trust include widget links, paid links, spam links from reputation management firms, and aggressive article back links (examples).

You may not even be aware of the inbound links others are creating to your site, which is another reason the most recent links list is valuable. They may be others in your organization conducting marketing you are unaware of, outside groups hired by others in your organization to do link marketing, or even competitors purposely trying to lower your ranking (so called “negative SEO“). Email notifications and Webmaster Tools can help you manage it to help you protect your ranking.

Questions and Answers with Heather Ratcliff

The Web Editors blog would like to introduce you to some of the incredible talent we have in the LinkedIn Web Editors group. Today we present Heather Ratcliff, Web Communications Specialist, U.S. Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C.

Thank you for letting us peer into your professional world. You are the Web Communications Specialist for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. How long have you been there?

I’ve been at the Museum since June 30, 2008.

Can you tell us a little about what a Web Communications Specialist does?

I am currently a Web Communications Specialist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I divide my time between managing a variety of web projects that come into our department (Digital Engagement) and strategizing about what web content is needed by looking at the objectives of a project. I also help with many aspects of social media, including anything from writing posts about events to researching strategy and policy. I am currently also working on our website redesign.

How did you enter into the web world? How long have you been a Web Communications Specialist?

My experience in the web world probably dates back to 1999, when, after getting my undergraduate degree, I started an online magazine in Connecticut. That was around the time when everyone was starting their own online venture. I returned to school to get a Master’s in Journalism, with a concentration in new media, where I helped create a couple of websites. After some time reporting in Connecticut and a short stint in Cambodia, I returned to school for another two years.

When I graduated, I worked as an Information Manager at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that worked with community-based organizations around the world. I communicated with our partners and fellows in countries around the world to write and edit news releases, as well as provide social media and technical support. I also oversaw a website redesign, developed a plan for online website promotion and helped train our fellows in the field. Then, in July 2008, I began working at the Museum.

Have you ever had a mentor or someone who guided or inspired you in the web field? I’ve had a couple of awesome professors who have helped me.

Did you work in print journalism, communications, public relations or marketing before you became involved in the web? I have experience working as a print and online journalist, as well as working in public relations. Most of my experience can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/heatherratcliff.

Which style (AP, Chicago, APA, AMA, etc.) do you use on your organization’s website?

We use the Chicago Manual of Style, but we also have our own style manual for items specific to the Museum.

How many people work on your organization’s website editorially?

We have a small online editorial team that is divided between several departments. We have one editor for the online encyclopedia and web translations sections of the website, and another editor for the rest of the website. We also have a few other editors who serve as backup support for the main site, and work on our three microsites (World Memory Project, Remember Me?, and our 20th Anniversary website).

In your work for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, what special challenges have you encountered?

One of the challenges we’re facing at the Museum is that we’re working on a redesign of our current website. Our current site was built in the 1990s, and has had one significant redesign and one refresh since then. For the past several years, there has been massive content growth, but we have just continued to build on the old structure. We do not use a content management system (CMS). Instead, most of our pages are generated using html, php, and some Javascript and Flash. Now we are moving most of our content into a CMS, and completely redesigning the website. We are hoping to launch this by the middle of 2013. We’re also working on setting up a web governance policy. These two projects alone have been very challenging.

Do you use a content management system? If so, which one?

We are in the process of moving all of our web content into a CMS (Expression Engine; http://ellislab.com/expressionengine) for the first time.

Do you have a workflow (approval process) established for your organization’s website?

We have different processes in place for different areas of the website. For example, I manage a variety of client requests that come into my department from around the Museum. For these projects, I work with our editor, developer, and designer to optimize the content for the website and then I check back with the client to ensure what we’ve created meets his or her objectives as well. Nothing is posted live without final editorial approval.

The Museum’s online encyclopedia and podcasts are produced by our education department, which has its own processes in place. We also have three microsites, as I mentioned previously, and these also have their own separate approval processes.

As the Museum moves to a CMS and new website, we are working on an overall web governance policy.

Is any of your editorial work outsourced? If so, what do you outsource?

We outsource some of our email-campaigns, however, we still work very closely with our vendor in shaping the message.

Which resources do you read regularly to keep up with what’s going on in the Web world? (blogs, e-newsletters, magazines, books, etc.)

Here are a few interesting sites I read (no particular order): http://wearesocial.net/, http://socialchange.is/, http://www.copyblogger.com, http://mashable.com.

For podcasts, I’m also a huge fan of BlogcastFM, a podcast where Srini Rao interviews entrepreneurs about their online business.

For social media and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Beth Kanter and Claire Diaz Ortiz.

For writing and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Ash Ambirge, Mars Dorian, Megan Eckman, Ameena Falchetto, Alexandra Franzen, Alexis Grant, Penelope Trunk.

For travel, fabulous projects and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Scott Dinsmore, Chris Guillebeau, AJ Leon, Nomadic Matt, Sean Ogle.

For communications, marketing and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Tara Gentile and Seth Godin.

Do you attend seminars or webinars to keep up with your profession? Which one(s) have you found most useful?

In late 2012, I attended the Social Good Summit (http://mashable.com/sgs) in New York. If you search, there are a number of videos online from the event. I also recently attended the launch of Beth Kanter and KD Paine’s book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, and a presentation on responsive web design by Clarissa Peterson.

Along the same note, have you taken or are you taking university or other classes that helped you professionally, and what are they?

I have a Master’s in Journalism and a Master’s in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. In addition, I’ve also taken classes in CSS and html so that I can learn tips and techniques that I might not necessarily learn fast enough on my own. I’ve also taken several workshops in web content strategy, and I’m currently taking a course in copywriting.

Do you have any editorial pet peeves?

Of course! I’ve been an editor since I was an undergraduate student (studying psychology and journalism). I appreciate it wherever I work when there is either a style guide in place, or lacking that, if I’m allowed to create one (I’ve created two at previous jobs, and it is quite fun). Once a style guide and best practices are established, I generally follow them unless there is an exceptional reason not to. I understand that style can change over time. For example, AP finally changed Web site to website within the past few years. But generally, I like to follow and stick to one style once it has been established.

What would you advise someone just starting out in the business?

Consume as much as you can — either by reading or listening. I’ve noticed recently that I read and listen to more blogs and podcasts than I ever have before. Network and talk with as many people as you can until you figure out exactly what you want to do. Along those same lines, try and find people in your field who are willing to act as a mentor.

Also, I’ve lately read the following advice from a couple of bloggers, although I can’t quite remember who off the top of my head, but I fully support it. I believe that it is usually best to over deliver, especially if you are a freelancer. No matter what you are submitting, always go beyond what they are asking for.

What do you like to do outside of your profession to relax?

Outside of my full-time job, I work on a number of projects. I volunteer with a growing guiding business in Arusha, Tanzania. I help Diamond Glacier Adventures (www.diamondglacieradventures.com) with its communications strategy and website. I also joined the local chapter of Amnesty International this past year, and have worked on a couple of projects with my local chapter. I read a lot of adventure stories (a great deal on mountain climbing), fiction (like Jasper Fforde, Walter Moers, Deborah Harkness), e-books by some of the entrepreneurs I mentioned earlier, or something more in-depth (like an autobiography by Ingrid Betancourt or a book on genocide by Samantha Power).

What was (one of) your greatest successes (so far) as a Web Communications Specialist?

As part of an independent project at the Museum, I researched how organizations engaged in work similar to the Museum’s genocide prevention efforts are using social media. The goal was to assess which tools these organizations are using, which lessons they’ve learned from using them, and how they are measuring outcomes. You can read about some of my findings here: http://online.ushmm.org/blogs/socialmedia/index.php/site/social_media_tools/.

If you have one lesson learned to share with our readers, what would it be?

Try and consume information or talk to people outside of the current bubble that you live in. Regardless of how much you read online and how many countless emails you respond to, try and find time at least once a week to read or learn something completely new. I try and click on something once a week that, at first glance, I have no interest in. If you do this, I think you will be surprised at how isolated we are online sometimes and at how things that are completely different from us can sometimes relate to us.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Do you have anything else to add?

Not right now, but feel free to ask me anything else that comes to mind!

Thank you for joining us and letting us walk in your shoes for a little bit, Heather. If anyone has any questions, please add them in the comments below.

How Do You Use Current Events?

By Dawni Everett

Everyone wants their articles and blogs to be read. We all look for ways to improve our site visits and user interactions. I’ve read hundreds of articles on ways to increase traffic and most of it deals with finding ways to make your posts and website relevant. Search Engine Land recently published an article discussing the Link Apocalypse, obviously tying into the Mayan Apocalypse. Last year, even our own Web Editors Blog had several posts dealing with graduation in the month of May.

I’m sure you have all read the same articles as I have about using current events, however I was never able to get it to make sense to me. Most of the articles out there are for travel sites, or hotels, or restaurants. My company sells rubber stamps. How could I possibly use current events in anything I write to help increase our visibility?

About a month ago I finally read an article where someone explained it in such a way it finally clicked with me.

Follow in the moment trends and hot topics to inspire content ideas for your blog. For example, if you’re in the restaurant business, you could have monitored the web for relevant stories and possibly stumble upon the  great syrup robbery in Montreal. Once identifying this story as something you can leverage, a great way to generate traffic and potential press would be a blog post called: “10 Great Recipes for someone with $20Million worth of Syrup”. It’s a story that would be edgy, relevant and most importantly, a story worth sharing.

While it didn’t have anything to do with stamps, this time it showed how using something (the theft of $20 Million in Syrup) that has absolutely nothing to do with your business (restaurant) can be used and it provided an actual example (10 Great Recipes for someone with $20 Million worth of Syrup). This is a fun, tongue-in-cheek sort of way to use real time news and it is exactly the sort of thing I love.

It got me thinking about the different things we use stamps for and even some of the more outrageous stamps we’ve seen ordered here at work. I am currently working on an article for President’s Day that will introduce Where’s George (stamping dollar bills) with the title “Celebrate President’s Day with Dead Presidents” and I’m looking forward to publishing it.

Do you work in an industry where the “common” knowledge that everyone else talks about doesn’t seem to fit? Maybe the trick is learning to see it from a new perspective.

Personally, I cannot tell you how excited I am for the next celebrity divorce.  “The Top 10 Stamps (couple’s name here) Should Use on their Alimony Checks” will be published the very next day.

What are the best real-time news ideas you could you use with your business?

A Single Exclamation Point Is Like a Whump! with a Shovel

by Alan Eggleston

We have all been obligated by a client or higher-up who demanded something that didn’t make sense. It may have been an obsession that only made sense to them, perhaps an idea they simply couldn’t get out of their head, or it might have just been ignorance masquerading as expertise. It can take all of our ingenuity to talk them out of doing it to keep them from looking like a fool.

Misguided Marks

Let me use as my example the misguided overuse of the exclamation point. As a corporate writer, I occasionally had to meet with our VP of Communications, who would look approvingly at something I had written, then add as I would walk away, “Add lots of exclamation marks, for some extra excitement.” Many is the time I would see copy come back from Marketing sprinkled with exclamation marks, and to this day, I still see Web pages and emails with extra exclamation marks or – grammar gods forbid – multiple exclamation marks at the end of a tagline!!! Whither the embarrassment?

One day, I explained the overuse of exclamation points to an exuberant client this way:

Remember in the movie, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” when Harry and Marv finally cuff little Kevin into Central Park? Harry and Marv are covered in paint and stain and goop, when the bird lady throws a bucket of bird feed at them and the two baddies are attacked by a horde of pigeons? The attack of the pigeons is what a page full of exclamation points is like. It’s probably attention-getting, but it’s also overwhelming. You miss the point.

He nodded with a smile, and I followed up with:

Now remember in “Home Alone” (the original); after all that Harry and Marv had gone through, there were no horde of pigeons, just an old man with a snow shovel. When senior neighbor Marley discovered Harry and Marv in the flooded house, he whumped them with the shovel. The whump! with the shovel that knocked them out is like a single exclamation point on the page. You get the point.

See the difference? He nodded his head. We went with one “!”

Weak Sequels

Another way to look at multiple exclamation points on a page is movie sequels. Although there are certainly instances in which movie sequels are good (Home Alone 2), there are many instances in which movie sequences are not good (Home Alone 3, Home Alone 4, Home Alone 5). The problem with movie sequels as with too many exclamation points is that beyond the initial case, it gets harder and harder to sustain the drama and interest the more you use.

Editors aren’t just doers. We are also leaders, skilled artisans leading others in the use of language. It’s often our job to keep others out of trouble. Sometimes that comes in a discussion over exclamation points. Sometimes it is offered as an entry in the company style guide on maintaining tone and voice, to ensure the organization’s website is consistent with its publishing standards. Always it is based on knowledge and experience and a touch of talent – the reasons they hired us.