contentgrrl

I am conTENT. My work is CONtent.

Don’t Lose Visitors To SurveyMonkey’s Default Landing Page

Posted by contentgrrl on February 4, 2010

While SurveyMonkey.com is one of my favorite tools to collect feedback and information from various publics (readers), the default settings can be rather self-serving on SurveyMonkey’s part.

Especially when your visitor finishes the last question: By default, SurveyMonkey will invite them to create their own survey.

If you leave it at that, you’re losing your visitors. They’re a click away from leaving your site to sign up for a free SurveyMonkey account.

Why not take the opportunity to give your visitors one more call to action? For instance, you can direct them to related articles and testimonials on your site, or to relevant product categories, or to details about the contest they’ve entered just by answering a few questions.

The nuts and bolts of it are surprisingly easy, and here I’ll tell you how. (I will say the steps were a tad buried somewhere outside of SurveyMonkey documentation, which is why I felt the need to write this up.)

The instructions below assume you’ve created a survey, and have a landing page on your Web site ready to thank your visitors for completing the survey, and provide the next call to action that keeps them engaged on your site.

  1. On the My Surveys page, click the Collect icon for your survey.
  2. If you haven’t already, select Create a link to send in your own email message or to place on a Web page, and give it a title that makes sense for your purpose.
  3. Click the Collector Name you entered.
  4. In the warning: “Before you send out your link, be sure to review the collector’s settings and restrictions” click the settings link.
    • SurveyMonkey Collector Settings - ! Before  you send out your link, be sure to review the collector's settings and restrictions.
  5. In the Collector Settings page, set fields as follows and as shown below:
    1. Allow Multiple Responses: No.
    2. Allow Responses to be Edited: Yes until they exit.
    3. Display a Thank You page: No.
    4. Survey Completion: Redirect to your own webpage and enter a URL to jump to on leaving the survey.
    5. Save IP Address in Results: Yes (This can give you another way to count unique responses)
  6. Click Save Settings.

That’s it! I welcome your feedback. Stay tuned for more entries on different ways you can put SurveyMonkey to work for you.Collector Settings in SurveyMonkey to point to your own landing page.

Posted in community, marketing, persuasion, publishing, tools | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Why I Don’t Write Fiction

Posted by contentgrrl on October 27, 2009

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.‘ – E.L. Doctorow, author of World’s Fair (1985), Billy Bathgate (1989), and others.

The prospect of completely creating a fictional universe — around a protagonist, his allies, his family, his challenges, his antagonists, and all the little twists and turns of fate — frankly frightens me.

I do well enough to make a living as a technical communicator and content developer, and leave myself a little time to make healthy little forays into escapist fiction, television, games, and dreams.

Posted in culture, grrly, humor, publishing, reading, writing | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

12 Steps to Hatchet Mastery: Less Detail, More Dialog

Posted by contentgrrl on October 26, 2009

Less of just the right detail is more engaging to readers. That works for magazine copy, Web copy, and even proposals.

But in my geeky love for technical prowess and quotable professionals, I once was guilty of being too, um, prolific.

I wrote my first cover story for a trade magazine with an amber-on-black Tandy Radio Shack word processor, aptly dubbed the TRaSh-80. My ambitious draft was 24 screens of helpful detail and quotable quotes. My editor (Bless you, Blake!) said, “Cut it down to eight.”

It was painful, but I did it. I continued to hatchet down my own and others’ articles for years. I made “proof pages” bloody with red ink.

In celebration of Halloween, here are my 12 tips for hatchet mastery:

  1. Inverted Pyramid. Don’t bury the lead. Get to the point. Start with the crucial conclusion you want readers to take away, and sequence supporting details in order of their importance or relevance to the target audience. Fairly quickly, you’ll be able to cut the chaff.
  2. Raise questions. Leave some things unanswered. You don’t have to answer them all right now. That’s for you to do later in dialog/commentary, or for your sponsors and advertisers to do as they build the relationship, or in a follow-up story.
  3. One-Time Only. In some circles, they teach you to tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em. That works in speech and academic print publishing, but it won’t work in magazines or Web content. Just pick the best way to say it once with your key words. Save the lesser gems to polish for a future article.
  4. Select the Best Example. If you’re teaching or training, it’s a good idea to provide multiple examples. It gives your audience mental hooks to connect with you and learn new knowledge. Save such elaboration for the classroom or Webinar. Pick one example that shows off expert credibility, newsworthy timeliness, a picturesque analogy, or the audience’s deep-seated pain.
  5. Trade up for a Picture Worth a Thousand Words. Sometimes when you want to describe a thing, a whole and its parts, a process with inputs/outputs, the flow of a procedure, or an abstract concept, it’s better to illustrate it, which provides visual interest editors and visitors love. If you or your artist design the figure, chart, or photo well enough, you don’t have to reiterate much in the copy. I like short highlights followed by, “as shown at right” or “as shown in the figure below” — or even no reference at all. If it’s shown nearby, they’ll get it.
  6. Replace Lengthy Transitions with Brief Bold Subheads. Breaking up long grey columns of text with subheads shows off your organization, and helps the reader scan for what they want to know.
  7. Change Passive to Active Voice. When you clearly identify the actor and use active verbs, you can avoid the foggy rigmarole of “The prize was awarded to him by the so-called committee” in favor of  “He won the Nobel prize” — eliminating several words in the process!
  8. Shorten Sentences. Split up convoluted or compound sentences, simplifying statements to subject and verb when you can. Sometimes you can cut out “that” and “which” in subordinate clauses, as well as wordy correlative or subordinating conjunctions.
  9. Effusively Cut Adverbs and Fluffy Adjectives and strings of Prepositional Phrases. Do you really need to specify exactly where, when, how, why, which, and to what extent in every sentence? In some cases, that detail is superfluous or redundant.
  10. Bullet Lists. Sometimes you can get the point across with lists of things or short phrases instead of complete sentences.
  11. Fewer Syllables. “Utilize” is rarely better than good ol’ simple “use.” Try Thesaurus.com.
  12. Cut Articles Before Nouns. Unless you must specify which one, see how many instances of “a”, “an”,  “the”, “some”, and so on you can eliminate. Switching to plural may help. You may be surprised how many nouns can stand alone.

These 12 Steps of Wordyholism drill down to your substance, whispering promises of more.

Rather than lull readers to inaction, keep it short and succinct (KISS). Inspire possibilities and questions…Prompt them to action, and increase dialog between you, your readers, and your sponsors.

Posted in illustrating, marketing, persuasion, publishing, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Best Advice on Coding HTML Email Templates

Posted by contentgrrl on October 22, 2009

Sometimes, HTML emails just don’t work the way you expect. In my day job, I distribute HTML emails using a variety of applications, including Marketo, GroupMail 5, and a proprietary app integrated with our software issue tracker. Sometimes, despite my painstaking validation and link-checking, when I use the latter I get recipient feedback of broken links with all styles stripped, my link href URLs stripped and replaced with “/”, and other design nightmares.

The solution? You may have guessed the proprietary app, but it’s not necessarily the problem.   You have to design HTML email templates as if you’re stuck in the mid-90’s, ‘cuz that’s how standardized email clients are.

Anand Graves’s simple WordPress blog includes the most straightforward and comprehensive HTML Email Guide I’ve ever seen.

For everyone who sends HTML emails, here are a few highlights:

  • Much as we love/hate Microsoft Office — do not use Word or Outlook or even copy & paste from them. Office inserts a ridiculous quantity of hard-to-remove mso formatting tags. Thankfully, the WYSIWYG Adobe Dreamweaver ($$$) has a command to clean up Word HTML. If you don’t have the Adobe option and are collaborating with someone who insists on working in Office or Outlook, it’s worth it to paste into Notepad, which strips out all formatting, and then copy and paste into an HTML editor that affords highly clean markup. I invested in Adobe’s Creative Suite, but if i had to go without WYSIWYG, I also like Notepad++ (free). I also like the online WYSIWYG http://www.online-html-editor.org/ in a pinch.
  • Use tables for layout, nesting a narrower 580-pixel-wide table within a 100% table, where the outer table’s cell has a white background. This is to accommodate recipient email clients that ignore the body tag where you usually define the background, as well as email clients that will display your email in a narrow preview (like Outlook 2007, Hotmail, Yahoo, and the like, to accommodate their banner and skyscraper ads.
  • For images, specify both title and alt attributes for cross-browser display of the image description in case your recipient client doesn’t display images by default.
  • Get several Webemail accounts for testing, including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and AIM (AOL), and get desktop clients including Outlook Express, MS Outlook 2003/2007, & Mozilla Thunderbird.

Things I didn’t think of that Anand did:

  • Remove unnecessary HTML tags that will be ignored or removed between you and the recipient. Surprisingly, these include Doctype, HTML, body, meta, head, base, link, script, title, frames, and comments.
  • Instead of stylesheets (Unfortunately, body and head stylesheets are often ignored and replaced with client-specific styles over which you have no control), use inline styles in table cells to define the default font, font color, and font size for your content:
    <td style="font-family: Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10px; text-transform: uppercase; color: black">Content</td>
    
  • Use similar inline font/size/color styles in hypertext links, and use short URLs (extensively long URLs tend to get wrapped and broken):
    <a href="http://www.tinyurl.com/####/" style="font-family: Verdana, font-size: 11px; color: blue">blah</a>
  • Send the email as multipart/alternative, one part HTML, the alternative part plain text for the remaining recipients out there whose email clients don’t display HTML. I would rely on the email delivery software or service to be able to handle this (as advised by GroupMail and MailChimp), but Anand Graves’ HTML Email Guide has included instructions for doing it with PHPMailer, available under LGPL license.

Related Links:
http://spamcheck.sitesell.com/
http://www.mailchimp.com/articles/stupid-html-email-design-mistakes/
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/10/16/best-practices-for-bulletproof-e-mail-delivery/

Posted in marketing, persuasion, publishing, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Create Free Online Quizzes for your Blog, Site, Social Network

Posted by contentgrrl on November 12, 2008

OK, so I’m on my business system software company’s year-end task force. Every year for the last five years. The mission: to make year-end easier for both our customers and for our technical support team. That means publishing updated instructions, communicating tips, hosting customer Webinars, and conducting internal training.

This year, we were looking for a way to make it easy to hold other support techs accountable for setting up their test systems, practicing lab procedures, and acquiring knowledge & troubleshooting skills.

Oh, sure. I’d love to have a Learning Management System. But do we have the budget for that? No. Is there an LMS that’s easy to implement? Maybe.

Meanwhile, are there free alternatives? Yes. Bingo!

I found ProProfs.com’s  QuizSchool. Here are 20 reasons I think it’s cool so far.

  1. It’s free. Woo-HOO!*
  2. It’s very user-friendly. YAY!
  3. It’s easy to share/publish via iframe on your site, or via email link, or via widget for your Blog/Forum/social media.
  4. You can create multiple choice questions, including multiple answer and true/false. There’s a standard limit of 5 possible answers.
  5. You can create short-answer or fill-in-the-blank questions, and give the system up to 5 possible versions of the expected answer, typical misspellings, and so on.
  6. You can create essay questions, and set a maximum character count.
  7. Although each question will accept any text, picture, logo, video, or media widget you want, the answers at the time of this writing are strictly text.
  8. For all questions, you can add explanatory feedback for display post-answer and/or on the detailed score report.
  9. Scoring is instant for multi-choice and short-answer questions, as long as you set the correct answer.
  10. For essays, although you can’t have the system automatically score it, the test author can review score reports with pending answers after a student has completed the test, and select how many points the essay answer has earned. The system automatically calculates how many points each essay can earn based on the number of points assigned to the entire quiz. Interestingly enough, somebody’s apparently using this as part of the process for conducting job interviews.
  11. You can customize the quiz banner with any text, picture, logo, video, or media widget you want. Same thing with the end-of quiz message.
  12. You can randomize the quiz questions to fight cheating.
  13. You can set the time limit up to 180 minutes (divide by 60, that’s three hours).
  14. ProProfs.com QuizSchool Score Options

    ProProfs.com QuizSchool Score Options

    You can customize the scoring criteria as shown here.

  15. On the score report, you can enable the display of scores, answers, and certificate of completion. The individual score report also allows students to enter comments and suggestions about the quiz.*
  16. You can set up a quiz as public or protected by password. *
  17. You can require that each student enter a name and/or password.*
  18. Each quiz’ score report shows each user’s attempts at a quiz, including their IP address, city/state, country, time taken, and link to their individual score report, with an option to delete attempts or entries.*
  19. Each individual score report lets the quiz author assign bonus points to add to the total score for any student’s attempt.*
  20. The quiz stats provide numerical and graphical representation of scores and pinpoint the locations of students on a world map.*

* Update May 2010: features marked with an asterisk (*) are available in Educational and Commercial versions that track scores/analytics and hide ads.

The only three things I have trouble with is:

  • There was no online help when I authored my quiz, and I had to experiment with a few things.
  • I worked for several hours on a number of questions without Saving Changes and lost it. Lesson learned: Save often.
  • I couldn’t find a way to limit the students to taking the test only once. (subject to change)

Word of advice: Save Changes after every question.

And although I keep forgetting my password (that’s user error, I kept forgetting whether I capitalized something) the Forgot Password process is super fast.

I’m looking forward to completing the 50-question Year-End Tech Support Knowledge & Troubleshooting quiz in a few hours. For the test data system setup, we’re using a checklist using the forms available on SurveyMonkey, where our company already has an account (SurveyMonkey, by the way, does not offer automated question scoring). For actual procedural lab work, we’re using a worksheet where you can compare before & after; I may eventually find the time to build a tutorial/exam around it.

I’m also looking forward to including a couple of quizzes right here in my blog. Should be fun.

Posted in community, games, learning, publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This Means Something … Generational

Posted by contentgrrl on October 3, 2008

Today I told what turns out to be a generational joke, and for the first time in my life it it went flat due to an age difference.

The department where I work brought in Babe’s for lunch today from Roanoke, TX (I highly recommend Babe’s, but you can only choose chicken fried steak or fried chicken. Those are the only entrees on the menu.).

We were in line serving ourselves, and the guy ahead of me had a plate laden with a mountain of mashed potatoes, which — in preparation for Babe’s wonderful country gravy — he was molding with a fork.

“‘This means something,'” I quipped.

No reaction.

“You mean you’re too young for that one?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m ’83.”

I thought he might mean class of ’83, which would certainly put him in movie theatres when that infamous quote was around.

“That was Close Encounters. You’ve never seen it?”

“Was that from the 70’s? I don’t even remember when ET was out.”

“Oh, you were born in ’83. Wow.”

Oh, he’s young. I don’t always get those one-liners in at the perfect time. I know, that one’s done to death. With people my age, who are in the know ;^), It would get more groans than chuckles. But I started to be proud of myself for a funny, and ugh! fell flat on my face.

Well, this is a first for me. Is it all downhill now?

Posted in community, culture, humor | Leave a Comment »

Email Disclaimers Can Make Signatures Silly

Posted by contentgrrl on July 10, 2008

Many emails in the business-to-business world discuss how to solve a business problem, information that could be dangerous in the hands of a competitor. So I’ve been a stickler for the confidential & proprietary disclaimer:

This electronic transmission contains information that may be confidential or proprietary. If you are not the intended recipient, be aware that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of the contents hereof is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify [email address here].

The “email address here” for my employer is an email alias for an admin assistant. When the former admin left, we had trouble defining exactly what should happen if the new admin got any notifications to that address. It looks like we never actually got any such notifications. I suppose we could send it to our legal advisors, but hopefully they wouldn’t find a way to punish the whistleblower.

In my employer’s exercise of rebranding, we’re instituting a common look for our email signatures. I was looking for a disclaimer much shorter and simpler (better not be too sweet about it).

What I found was this:
http://www.goldmark.org/jeff/stupid-disclaimers/

The Goldmark article discusses why they’re stupid, gives a list of the most stupid disclaimers, along with some silly ones. My favorite:

Your eyes are weary from staring at the CRT. You feel sleepy. Notice how restful it is to watch the cursor blink. Close your eyes. The opinions stated above are yours. You cannot imagine why you ever felt otherwise.

The Goldmark article also makes a suggestion…

Email from people at your.domain.here does not usually represent official policy of Your-Organization-Here. See URL-Of-Policy-Document-Here for details.

… with the caveat that perhaps it’s so weak it’s not worth having at all, but at least it doesn’t make silly unsupportable claims.

I like the reference to the policy online, because the legal counselors can say whatever they need, and it’s just the one page.

Let’s try something even simpler:

This message may be subject to nondisclosure, copyright and privacy policy (URL here).

What do you think? Better than having a signature that’s so long it overwhelms a simple response of “OK.”

Posted in marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

SuperShadow Star Wars Trilogy Disjointed, Disappointing

Posted by contentgrrl on July 2, 2008

When researching Leia: the heroine’s journey through hairstyles, I found a SuperShadow plot synopsis of what is supposed to be George Lucas’ upcoming trilogy. I am disappointed, for several reasons:

  • Leia’s son is named Anakin, and Luke’s son is named Ben. Namesakes smack of laziness, and make for confusion among fans (Did you mean Anakin Skywalker or Anakin Solo? Ben Kenobi or Ben Skywalker?). I’d rather see a creative wordplay honoring both Padme/Amidala and Anakin (Padkin? Dalkin?)
  • There’s no character growth. The focus is on the aging Luke, Leia, Han, and so forth. As much as I want to see Leia grow into the matriarch she’s born to be, and a Jedi in her own right, Lucas makes her and Han minor characters.  Sure, their children have to step up and do them proud, but there’s no real drama here, or tension.
  • There’s no romantic tension. Oooh, one scene tossed in with Ben and his girlfriend on the Kessel Run, but it doesn’t add to the story arc.
  • No interesting new world being explored, except maybe an old Sith stronghold.
  • The thought that Jedi would even think about using a weapon that unleashes a black hole on a system turns my stomach.
  • More clones, but not all that sinister. More Sith, but I found myself almost rooting for them as underdogs.
  • Out of the edges of space comes a new enemy pouncing to conquer the Republic during a post-rebellion turmoil. I wonder that it’s not that dastardly Trade Federation again.

Next, I’ll look at what I think are better ideas.

Posted in culture, heroes, heroines | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

the secret behind lorem ipsum dummy content

Posted by contentgrrl on February 6, 2008

For the latin text that supposedly served as the source of the “lorem ipsum” dummy placeholder content, see lipsum.com.

According to this site, it’s from The Extremes of Good and Evil by Cicero in 45 BC:

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

There’s even an English translation:

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

The site also has an application that generates so many paragraphs of the stuff from the source. You can use these generated paragraphs in your template layout designs to test styles and image placements, without  distracting your reviewers with the actual content. At least until they approve the design and the real content can take its place.

Posted in culture, learning, project management, publishing, reading, tools, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

wii steps closer to virtual reality in your living room

Posted by contentgrrl on February 1, 2008

o mii gosh! My husband found this video on YouTube, where Johnny Chung Lee, a grad assistant at Carnegie Mellon U’s human-computer interaction department, has adapted the Nintendo Wii remote to serve as a digital whiteboard and head tracking for VR displays.

It’s amazing what he does with some hardware driver programming, a PC, the Wii remote controls, and some basic items you can pick up at your local Radio Shack.

With head tracking turned on, the TV actually looks like an entrance to a real room. Just like in real life, when we move our head around, we can look behind objects. As you look closely, some targets appear to be floating off in front of the screen, reaching into the real world. As we get closer to the screen, we get closer to the objects, and even get behind the ones floating in front of the screen. (Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays using the WiiRemote on YouTube, 2:43)

Tom Cruise, Minority Report, finger LEDs, computer interfaceThe finger tracking technology is the future now. Remember how Tom Cruise flipped through images on a virtual interface in Minority report?I would love to see some games where you can look around corners like I always want to in a race or a stealth mission.

I’d also love to use that whiteboard, since you can “draw” right on the wall, and it can record your notes for later. Oh, collaboration!

Posted in games, heroes, office, tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »