Blog: Content writing and content strategy insights

Search engines are only as good as the content

Beagles are the search engines of the airport. Unlike Google, they sniff out the bad stuff, like drugs and explosives.

"Google is good but it's not God" says Gerry McGovern. He reminds us of the old cultists who cried in the wilderness for an intranet portal, guaranteed to solve all problems. He sees a new cult today that believes in a magic search engine that will eliminate all need for navigation and classification -- even write quality content and remove out-of-date content.

Nice thought. One click and you're done. But nope: hard work is required to make content and metadata search friendly. Moreover, a search engine is never enough: humans use both search and navigation to find the content they want.

Search engine cultists believe you should write for the search engine, and hey, if you're lucky the audience will like what they find. Wrong! All search engine optimisation gurus emphasise the primacy of valuable, carefully constructed content as a search engine magnet.

Jill Whalen, veteran SEO guru, said in her [tagWebstock08[/tag] workshop :

Search engines give weight to important content. Speak to your audience: solve their problem, answer their questions. Write for users first, and keep search engines in mind.

This is not new. It has always been thus. But the idea of a magic SEO trick is so seductive, the truth needs to be repeated year after year. From Gerry:

It's down to that old computing adage: garbage in, garbage out. If your website is full of badly structured, poorly written, out-of-date garbage, then the first result, the second result, and the third result from your fancy new search engine will always be garbage.

There's no one-shot magic spell for search engine optimisation of intranet content. But CONTENTED courses come close, training you to write content with a structure, focus and language that search engines love.

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E-government horses for courses

E-government as a word has been around since about 1996, but there's no universal agreement about what it means. That's not surprising, because concepts of e-government vary considerably according to each country’s political system and internet coverage, and they are changing as fast as you can blink.

The possibilities have multiplied with Web 2.0 technology, and the social and political reverberations are massive. At the very least, e-government includes putting most government-to-citizen services online, integrating government services, and improving efficiency and transparency. Some countries’ visions for e-government emphasise citizen involvement and satisfaction, others the potential of e-government to enable surveillance of corrupt public servants. Some countries see e-governance as a sub-set or consequence of IT development, the driving force behind a new prosperity.

In the west it's all about us us us. But Beijing city has different needs and therefore a different plan:

The vision of E-Government is to reduce the administrative hierarchies, reform the modes of government affairs, optimize the government business process, clarify the administrative work, improve the quality of government service and management, enhance the collaboration of the internal departments and the interactions between the government and the public, and finally to construct an honest, diligent, transparent and efficient government using technology as a means to the end.

I realise this quote is a few years old, and it's about a city, not the nation. What is China's vision for e-government now?

Beijing E-Government Vision and Framework, May 2004


Behind the something* door

Intranet surveys are twice as interesting as web site surveys, because intranets are hidden from outsiders. Web sites are public, intranets are private.

The 2006 Global Intranet Survey Report from Jane McConnell is especially welcome for that reason. (The report came out in October, but hey, Contented is only a couple of weeks old.) It surveys intranets of 101 organisations, mainly international, ranging from under 5000 to over 100,000 employees.

Here's a quote: 'The intranet or what some call "the organisational lifeline" is at a key turning point for the majority of organisations.'

The report is illustrated with heaps of excellent graphs and pie-charts, and findings are clearly summarised. I'll mention a few that directly affect content writers.

Unaware of just how essential the intranet is for everyday business, senior management seems to be out of whack with most employees. This distorted perception inevitably cramps budgets, slows decision making, and tunnels vision.

The old intranet concentrated on communicating content one way, from the top down. The old intranet was somewhat static, and lacked integrated applications.

But now intranet 2.0 is upon us. The most forward-thinking organisations actively promote the use of wikis and blogs within the intranet. Smart organisations increasingly use the intranet as a channel for collaboration and two-way discussion of new ideas, new projects, and new content on the intranet.

Also relevant to content writers is the trend towards feeds to PDAs and other hand-held devices. All online content should be concise: when pumped to Palms and Blackberries and mobile phones, that content must be minimalist in the extreme.

Read summary of Global Intranet Strategies Survey
Ask Jane for the free Global Intranet Survey Report

*Help me out here please. Mahogany? Corporate?


Using the Web to persuade

Interested in how Web 2.0 services persuade people and change their behaviours? Then this message from the renowned BJ Fogg, Director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab is for you.

'My Stanford students have created short videos (averaging 2 minutes) that show how Web 2.0 services persuade people and change their behaviors. The videos are interesting -- and sometimes funny. I'm inviting you to help evaluate some of these videos before December 4th. You can rate one video or twenty. The choice is yours.

'The videos with the highest rating will be featured in the Captology Film Festival on December 7th at Stanford. You're invited to join us at that event. For more info, see .

'To watch and rate the videos, go to:'


Don't put the Web in a glasshouse

Mark Ottaway, Managing Director, Nielsen//NetRatings, New Zealand, hammered this point during his presentation on Internet metrics and trends at the TUANZ Business Internet Conference (21 November 2006).

In fact he said it three times. I wonder why? Could it be something people cannot and will not hear?

'Don't put the Web in a glasshouse. The Web is not special. It's not new: it has been around since 1989. Don't hand web sites over to the IT department and wash your hands of them. Web sites are an important, integral, normal part of business.'

That's what we have been saying about web content for quite some time...

'Don't put web content in a glasshouse.'

Business writing is web writing. Business writing is web writing. Did you hear that? I'd better say it again. Business writing is web writing. Your business depends on your ability to communicate online.


The purpose of books

What is the purpose of books? Not the same in every culture. A display of thirteen centuries of illustrated books in Japan shows books dedicated to catching the essence of a moment - a second - or even a nanosecond. One scroll illustrates a single day's journey. An all-night party by Hokusai produced 364 sketches. The books themselves were perceived as ephemera.

"When the evanescent is carefully contemplated, something timeless is revealed," says Edward Rothstein (New York Times). The exhibition is in the New York Public Library until 4 February 2007.

Ehon: The Artist and the book in Japan
Were these beautiful, strange, startling books the equivalent of a newspaper? Is online journalism the ultimate in ephemera, or a museum of fossils?