Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blogging for business: 7 tips for getting started

By Jeff Wuorio

A Web log, or blog, can be a boon to your business. In an accompanying article, I offer reasons why business owners and managers might want to establish themselves as bloggers.


But now comes the inevitable question: How do you get started?

Here are seven tips to get your Web log up and blogging.

1. Identify your audience. A basic precept of any business is just as essential with your blog. It's critical to pinpoint your audience and, in the process, decide what you're going to say that will make them read what you write. "It's really a process of elimination —what's not being covered by someone else?" says Scott Allen, co-author of the upcoming book "The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Using Online Social Networks." "What's your unique spin? If you don't have an original voice, why is anybody going to read it?"

2. Decide where your blog should live. Next up is determining where to locate your blog. There are numerous software packages that let you add a blog section to an existing Web site. A more automated and perhaps easier option is a blog hosting site (with a link from your Web site bringing visitors over). Here, the setup is easy, as the site usually provides preformatted designs and other options from which you can choose. In particular, watch for features that may be helpful in building traffic, such as trackers that identify recent posts and the most popular message threads. (See sites such as for reviews of various publishing platforms. One easy place to create a blog is on Windows Live Spaces.)

3. Start talking. At this point, bringing your blog live will mean little more than placing your thoughts, observations and insights into the blog for others to read. But to really kick start your blogging traffic, don't just vent marketing-speak about how great your business is, or chatter about news and current events for which you offer no expertise. Instead, aim for a fresh, unique take. Provide a perspective that is heartfelt, compelling, and has the potential to help you market yourself and your business.

One way to get up to speed on what to say is to read other blogs and, in turn, offer your own viewpoint on an industry or business topic for which you know something about. "It's not a matter of competing with other blogs," Allen notes. "But one way to attract other bloggers to your site is to start reading other blogs and commenting on what they're writing about."

4. Get into the practice of "blogrolling." Getting regular visitors to your site isn't just a matter of fresh, insightful commentary. Building traffic between blogs is another central element to luring repeat visitors. Here, "blogrolling" is an effective tool. This, in essence, is a set of links on your blog site that identifies other sites on the Internet --- related to your business, industry or expertise --- which you find valuable. Developed in conjunction with a fresh voice, blogrolling encourages a steady back and forth between various sites, including other blogs. "Write commentary about what other bloggers have written, then link to them," Allen says. "That really gets you into the overall bloggers' pool."

5. Emphasize keywords. Search engine hits are another element of generating traffic. One strategy to attract search engine interest is through careful use of keywords in both your headlines and blog copy. For instance, if your topic focuses on marketing a business overseas, use of the words "marketing" and "overseas" as often as possible and in varied permutations can help push your blog site toward the head of the search engine line. "Stay on one topic, so your content is focused on keywords," advises Sally Falkow, a Pasadena, Calif., brand strategist who uses a blog in her business. "That, and link to other blogs on the subject."

6. Keep it fresh. One cardinal snafu that can bring down even the best intentioned of blogs is stale content. Nothing is more discouraging to prospective readers than returning to a blog site to find old or outdated material. So, be prepared to work at keeping your blog as fresh and current as possible.

That doesn't necessarily mean regular entries as lengthy as a Michener novel — indeed, many engaging blogs are built of short, concise messages. But make a commitment to update your blog on as regular basis as your schedule reasonably permits. “You need to develop what I describe as a ruthless persistence toward posting, particularly if you disseminate the blog's address, and customers or suppliers come to depend on the information," says Rich Hanley, director of graduate programs in the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. "People view blogs as daily information vehicles, not once in a while musings on a stray issue. Think of blogs as a conversation, and that will help with the daily focus."

7. Watch your traffic closely. Don't make the mistake of feeling locked into your blog's initial topic. Monitor the amount and quality of the traffic you receive. If things seem slow or stagnant, don't be gun-shy about varying your themes or subjects to boost interest. But don't stray too far from your business or expertise. Also, advises Falkow, "Investigate how effective the [publishing] platform you choose to blog in is. I have tried several that did nothing for my search visibility."

Jeff Wuorio
Jeff Wuorio is a veteran freelance writer and author based in southern Maine. He writes about small-business management, marketing and technology issues. Send Jeff an e-mail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

6 tips for quick results from pay-per-click ads

By Monte Enbysk

Your Web designer seemingly has done everything right. You've got a search engine-friendly Web site that is skillfully optimized for your keywords.

But then you do a keyword search and … nothing. Your site is not even on the radar of Google, MSN or any of the other search engines you've spent prayers and time on.

Life is not fair. And neither are search engines. They pick up what they pick up, but there are a number of factors involved — and competitors. Well, just maybe the site wasn't optimized as well as it could have been (see Microsoft's Submit It! for details). Or maybe the site was No. 1 last month -- but nowhere to be seen today, because the search engines changed their formulas for ranking Web sites.

Do you want guaranteed positions in keyword searches? Then buy them.

Major search engines such as Google, Overture and allow advertisers to bid against each other for the placement of ads tied to keywords.

No, this isn't something only big companies can afford to do. An account for your business can be opened for $5 to $50, and bids typically start at 5 cents or 10 cents per click. Paying one penny above another advertiser moves your listing above his. Beyond the account set-up fees, your credit card is charged only for the clicks on your listings. So, the more you pay, the more ad viewers are clicking through to your Web site.

Rated best ROI in study

According to Jupiter Media Metrix study released in August 2001, pay-for-placement advertising offers a greater return on investment than all other forms of online advertising, including opt-in e-mail marketing, banner advertising, and paid inclusion in search rankings.

"Pay-for-placement advertising does not replace search-engine optimization," says search-engine marketing expert Catherine Seda. "Both strategies are necessary in online marketing today.

"But pay-for-placement is a short-term strategy that can have immediate results and benefits," she adds. "It's an instant way of boosting qualified site traffic and sales. Search-engine optimization is more of a long-term strategy for a business." If your optimization efforts aren't paying off, or you want to test a new promotion now, she says, it's time you considered buying your way to the top.

Seda operates a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based online marketing agency ( that offers search-engine marketing seminars and campaign management for businesses. Her 2004 book, "Search Engine Advertising," is considered by many search-engine marketers as an authoritative resource on what is now the hottest category of online advertising.

Strongest growth in online ad sector

Online advertising as a whole generated $7.27 billion in U.S. revenue in 2003 and is expected in 2004 to eclipse its previous high of $8.09 billion in 2000. The sharp rebound is largely due to the success of paid search listings, which have been available since the late 1990s. They accounted for 35% of all online advertising revenue in 2003, the strongest growth of any sector, as well as for about 95% of Google's $1 billion in annual revenue.

But, as you might expect, search-engine advertising isn't a brainless activity. "Your watchful eye is needed to make sure you're attracting buyers and not browsers," Seda says, "because browsers can dilute your return on investment."

Here are Seda's six tips for getting strong results using pay-for-placement advertising.

1. Create a marketing foundation.

This may sound like a boring task, but it is essential to getting your ad campaign ready, Seda says. So, write down your marketing foundation, which includes:

Your mission statement (what does your company do?)

Target market (whom does your company serve?)

Unique selling points (why your company?)

Calls to action (what should prospects do on your site?)

Identifying these will help you choose high-performing keywords. This overview also will give you copywriting ideas for ad listings and landing pages. And, yes, that means writing a mission statement for your company if you have yet to do so.

2. Choose popular and narrowly targeted keywords.

This is crucial. Type one of your keywords into Overture's free search-term suggestion tool (, to see the related phrases that include your keyword, and how many times those phrases were searched last month.

It's natural to want the keywords with the highest potential traffic. But hold on. You don't want to end up buying junk traffic. "Insurance," for example, can refer to "health insurance," "auto insurance" or "life insurance." Unless you offer all forms of insurance, the single keyword could bring the wrong audience (expensively so) to your site. (On a spring day in 2004, the bidding on "life insurance" was at $8.20 per click, a seemingly steep price, but the payoff might be well worth it to the competing advertisers.)

Likewise, "travel" and "tickets" are expensive keywords not likely to perform for your business. Phrases such as "discount airline travel," "cruise vacations," or even "Alaskan cruise vacations," are more targeted and will perform better.

3. Write compelling ad listings.

What sets you apart from your competitors if you're all bidding on the same keywords? Your ad listing.

Write an ad title and description that includes a benefit that your business provides to clients, and offer an incentive. Study your competitors to create a more persuasive call to action. For example, if all auto insurance quote providers promote "Reduce your car insurance rates " get a free quote," then you should be able to attract more attention with a few more details: "Save hundreds of dollars on car insurance " free rate comparison quote."

Make sure the keywords you bid on are in your ad copy. Your ad will appear relevant to users' searches, which help you achieve a strong click-through rate.

4. Use landing pages on your Web site to close the deal.

Once ad viewers have done a keyword search, read your ad and clicked on it, they're a step closer to becoming your customers. The page they land on plays a significant role in whether they move into the ordering process, or leave your site.

Don't send people to your home page. They've been promised something specific in the paid listing, so take them to the page in your site that gives it to them. That means either a product or offer page, or a special landing page designed just for that ad. Many businesses create a special landing page just for search-engine ads, Seda says.

To invite the sale further, put all critical information "above the fold" of the landing page. "You need an information-rich page," Seda says. "Put whatever you've mentioned in the ad listing right on the page, making it easy to see." Reducing navigational choices on your site also can be helpful toward closing the sale, she says.

5. Test, test, and then test some more.

With the variety of bid management and tracking tools available today, you're able to see your results immediately. (Check out Microsoft FastCounter Pro, which tracks Web site traffic and conversions. Some search engines also offer conversion tracking services.)

Because you can change your keywords, ad listings and landing pages at any time, you have impressive control over the performance of your advertising campaign. You can delete components that aren't delivering sales. You can swap out ad listings and landing pages monthly to promote new offers.

Simply launching a search-engine ad campaign will drive traffic to your site instantly. Then you can continue tweaking your paid listings in an effort to improve your leads or sales at the lowest cost per customer.

6. Watch your budget!

You must monitor your pay-per-click campaign regularly, Seda says, to make sure you're getting results and not burning through cash faster than you expected.

"If an advertiser is paying $300 per month for the clicks, and not seeing any sales, that is probably a bad investment," Seda says. "It could be that the product or service isn't right for marketing on search engines, but it's also likely that something in the campaign isn't working." Try different tactics, perhaps a change in your keywords and/or ad copy, to improve the quality of traffic and increase your orders, she advises.

Pay-for-placement advertising has been called by some the most effective method of direct marketing today. "The results are immediate and very profitable for a lot of businesses," Seda says. "Those are two chief reasons why it's becoming a mainstream advertising vehicle."

Monte Enbysk
Monte Enbysk is a lead editor for the network and writes occasionally about technology for small businesses.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What kind of Web site does your business need?

By Joanna L. Krotz

If you've been putting off building a company Web site, I can sympathize.

There are so many options today. There are daunting design and technical issues. It's like that sit-down with a car dealer — you make the deal but it feels like you can't come out a winner.

Ah, but you can. No business can afford to keep ignoring the Web, as you surely know. Stop dilly-dallying. It's easier than you think.

The advice that follows will help you create an effective plan — and it could also help you if you have a Web site but aren't getting the results you want from it. How you respond here can make the difference between a Web site with the blahs and one with real buzz.

Site basics

First, register your domain name. Select a name that best represents your company and is not already appropriated by another business.

It's smart to also register variations or misspellings of your primary domain. For little additional cost, you can, for example, register as well as (.net or .biz, too), so customers who don't have the name quite right can still find you. If your business is associated with a high-profile personality, say, an industry authority or a popular speaker, register variations of that name as well, for instance and That traffic can be directed to the home page or to an internal page about the person, whichever you prefer.

Next, you need a Web hosting service, such as Microsoft's Web Hosting solutions for small businesses. These solutions provide a range of choices for features, disk space and bandwidth, and they will grow with your business.

When you're ready, you'll want to optimize the site so search engines quickly find you. This ongoing process can be automated with affordable software, such as Microsoft's Submit It!.

Site tour

Spend time reviewing the Web sites of your competitors, big and small. Jot down what you like and missteps you discover. Bookmark other sites that appeal to you and talk to your Web designer about elements and graphics that you want. (Along the way, check out this article to learn about working with clip art.)

Site mission

The next steps depend on your business model. You want a Web site that suits your enterprise as well as the growth stage of your business.

Think through these four questions.

1. What kind of information do your customers need?

"Every site decision you make should be thought about in terms of what your customers need," says Janet Jackson, co-owner of R2J2 Studios, a Web design company for small businesses. To meet visitor needs, she suggests choosing one of these three rough-cut styles:

Informational. This site is an online marketing brochure or branding tool that invites visitors to learn about the company and its offerings. It a good choice when you expect customers to call or visit after researching online.

Transactional. This, of course, is an e-commerce site. That can run from selling one product (a software program) to selling a service (online data storage) to a niche catalog that supports a brick-and-mortar shop to a fully functioning online store. Transactional sites are geared for a visitor ready to purchase. (For more about creating an online store, see this page.)

Relationship builders. This site works to develop relationships with customers over time. It encourages involvement and two-way communications, providing valuable data or expertise while requesting and capturing visitor information in return. Such sites offer educational or time-sensitive information and motivate repeat visits. That means you must invest in updating the content. These sites are designed for businesses that benefit or grow by interacting with their customers.

2. How will the Web site boost your offline business goals?

Saying your site should be "sales-oriented" isn't enough. You need to directly connect the site mission with your offline goals and marketing (including offline messaging and materials).

For example, a jeweler that doesn't sell diamonds online can motivate an online searcher to visit the store, says Ben Schwartz of Marcel Media, a Chicago marketing agency. On the other hand, a shoe store that does sell online should offer incentives that convert browser interest into online sales. "Therefore, the jeweler's online goal should be to promote the actual store while the shoe site should direct individuals to pages where they can transact," says Schwartz.

Businesses that combine goals can harness Web tools to provide tailor-made solutions. For instance, Marcel Media client Aeroshade, a Waukesha, Wis., manufacturer of porch shades and folding doors, was founded in 1912. The business was built by direct mail, distributors, and word-of-mouth. When, at last, it was time for a Web site, Aeroshade worried about costs and moving into impersonal territory. Its customers might be willing to review and price products online, but inevitably the customers prefer to talk to sales staff before placing orders.

The cost-effective result ( was a straightforward site with clear navigation. On every page, visitors can click on "Order Today," which takes them to a brief online form. They check the products that interest them and can request a call or e-mail from a company representative.

"The Web site has more than paid for itself and opened up a new direct channel of business," Schwartz says.

3. What are your budget and plans for future site development?

The fast pace of small companies often results in throwing up a Web site just to get a "placeholder." But slapdash sites can turn costly, eating up staff time, spitting out glitches, and squandering opportunities.

This is not to say you shouldn't think big. On the contrary. Just implement in phases.

Many times, site shortcomings are created because the company doesn't have enough money to take the site through every appropriate layer of information, says Lisa Holmes, co-founder of Yulan Studio, a Kansas City-area Web developer.

The solution is to do the best with less. "Start with a good top layer and add enough supporting info to make it clear that the company has the capabilities to do the job, whatever that may be, even though you may not support everything to the optimal extent," Holmes says. Then add to the site as time and budget permit.

Holmes points to client site PR firm Doc Communications ( as an example. "Its site has a really good top layer, and is supported to the extent that it's clear the company has got great credentials. But the content can be expanded greatly over time — as it needs to be."

If you don't invest in a quality top layer, you'll find that visitors likely won't return to check out the deeper pages. (For more tips on getting visitors to return to your site, see this article.)

4. How will your site serve constituencies and stakeholders?

If you have investors, there should be a channel that keeps them up to date and provides financial news.

If you court the media, make sure there's an obvious button to click for an electronic media kit, plus news releases, bios of your management team and other info about your company.

Don't forget employees. You can set up a private, password-protected part of the site to post company-only news. (For info on setting up a private Web site with restricted access to just employees or employees and selected outsiders, see this page.)

With a smart, relevant Web site you can significantly cut marketing costs, expand your customer base, create brand or line extensions and, ultimately, grow the business.

Take the time to build it right.

Joanna Krotz
Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She is the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

6 steps to help protect against click fraud

By Joanna L. Krotz

If you run any Web advertising at all — and who doesn't nowadays? — you no doubt know a lot about "click fraud," one of the latest bits of thuggery to hit the online world.

Like spam or viruses, click fraud can cause serious damage. It bears a watchful eye, a careful purse, and combat readiness. But it shouldn't keep you from leveraging the benefits of search engine marketing.

This article provides a rundown on what these paid search ad scams are all about, including fraudulent sources to guard against, and how you can help protect your online marketing efforts.

What is click fraud and why is it on the rise?
Click fraud is defined as someone who clicks on a paid search ad with harmful or dishonest intent. The click is made to artificially rack up fees rather than because of interest in your goods or services. As a pay-per-click marketer, you must then cough up the amount of illegal clicks on your paid listings but you gain nothing — not the sales or leads you seek.

Sadly, click fraud is the price of the Web's success. In rather short order, Internet advertising, including search engine marketing, has gone from a dot-com joke to nearly a $10 billion business, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. And growing. In other words, there's now real money in them 'thar clicks.

By 2005, the average cost of popular keywords had risen to $1.75 a click, with some hot industries even higher, including an average $5.39 per click for mortgage/refinancing services and $1.85 for telecommunications/broadband, according to the ZDNet Index. Multiply those numbers by thousands of illegal clicks and fraud can get costly.

Where do click-fraud artists come from?
Typically, there are four likely sources.

Your competitors. If your competition can neutralize your ad budget by fruitless clicking on your keywords, you lose and they win. It's hardly cricket, but it is happening.

Contextual ad users. Also called "content-related," these paid search ads are served up by an engine on selected affiliate sites to match a user's interest. For instance, you might pay to have your Miami rental car ad appear whenever users search for South Beach hotels. Engines like MSN, Google and Yahoo! pay site owners to run your ad on a per-click basis, charging you for the click. Shady site owners click illegally to boost their revenue payout. Some thieves are now developing sites for the sole purpose of clicking content-targeted ads for money. Either way, you end up the loser.

Software and hackers. Some scammers automate the fraud by using so-called "bot" software, which are robot programs to rack up thousands of clicks per hour.

Paid clickers. Companies, often based in places like Russia or Asia, pay low-wage workers to click. The Times of India recently reported on Indian housewives and college students who are earning up to $200 a month clicking on ads for a few hours a day, without really knowing it's fraud.

Increasingly, the large search engines are wise to such schemes. Google, MSN, Yahoo! and others are actively installing tools and safeguards to block click fraud. When the engines uncover illegal clicking, you get a refund. (BlowSearch, a metasearch engine that pulls results from some 27 search engines, guarantees its advertisers they will receive legitimate traffic — or their money back.)

But scammers often operate under the radar, and, anyway, you shouldn't depend on the search engine to find out if you're a target.

How can you prevent click fraud? To date, the dire warnings about a click-fraud plague seem overblown. "A lot of mainstream media are spooked about click fraud," says Greg Jarboe, spokesperson for the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). "And while it's a real issue, it's not a serious problem for small business."

For instance, a recent SEMPO survey of large search marketers and industry pros found that a quarter of respondents have indeed tracked fraud as a problem, yet only 6% said it was serious. Most respondents (45%) were concerned but had not tracked any actual fraud. A quarter didn't see a problem at all.

Still, forewarned is forearmed. You can minimize the threat of click fraud by taking these steps.

1. Combine paid and organic (free) search. Pay to learn which keywords work or to gain placement at certain prime times. But rely on free search as well, first optimizing your site pages by using tools such as Microsoft Submit It!

Review your traffic logs every day. If you get a lot of hits but visitors aren't hanging around, watch out. "Carefully monitor rapid drops in Web site conversion with corresponding spikes in paid search traffic," says Rachel Atkinson at Marketing Experiments Journal, a research group. "This type of rapid change in metrics could indicate someone or something is manipulating your search campaign." Tools such as Microsoft's FastCounter Pro make traffic analysis automatic and cost-effective.

2. Monitor Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. "An abnormal number of clicks from the same IP is another sign of click fraud," says Boris Mordkovich, developer of AdWatcher, an online tool for eliminating fraud.

3. Balance your ad budget. Don't put all your ad dollars into search alone. Smart marketing targets customers via different media.

4. Buy keywords that can inoculate you. Scammers have no incentive to click on specific phrases or keywords that sell for $1 or less, but either one can work very well for you. Same is true for misspelled keywords. Some experts estimate that one-fifth of all searches are input as misspellings. You can leverage that fact by buying common misspellings of your most popular keywords.

5. Hire a watchdog. A dozen or more fraud auditing services have sprung up to police pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. For example,, based in Chandler, Ariz., and founded in February 2005, already has 30 or more clients, according to Skip Pratt, one of the founders. The company offers an affordable monthly starter package for $30 for small to medium-sized businesses that covers one URL and 10,000 clicks per month.

"Small businesses don't have the time and can't spend time auditing their search ads," says Pratt. "We worked on our tool for over a year before launching and we promise to respond to any customer need within four hours." Other pay-per-click monitoring services, such as Atlas One Point or Keyword Max, run about $80 to $100 a month.


Report suspicions to the search engine. "Like spam, we believe much of the click fraud comes from just a handful of criminals," says Marketing Experiments Journal's Atkinson. The search engine's advanced screening tools can then go to work identifying the source of the fraud.

The smartest preventative for click fraud, of course, is vigilance. "Knowing one's site and how users interact with that site allows the company to better identify if there are aberrant activities and problems," advises Dan Noyes at Zephoria, a Web marketing consultant based in Brockport, N.Y.

Like all marketing, you'll get a better payoff from pay-per-click ads if you build in benchmarks and tools to track performance.

Joanna Krotz
Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She is the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

10 ways to make your Web site 'sticky'

By Joanna L. Krotz

If you've figured out the kind of Web site your business needs, a question I address in a separate article, it's time to discuss how to attract visitors to your site and to keep them around long enough to develop a relationship.

Back in the 20th century, we surfed for the joy of the ride. But nowadays the online experience is all about getting immediate right answers. As usability guru Jakob Nielsen has pointed out, all we care about anymore is how fast we find the precise page that delivers the exact information or solution we are seeking.

Rarely do visitors bother to begin on a home page and navigate from top to bottom. (The exception, says Nielsen, is a well-organized e-commerce site, where you move from shopping to fulfillment to confirmation.) So your work is cut out for you. Your mission is to:

Motivate visitors to spend time exploring your pages

Persuade customers to keep clicking from page to page

Prompt visitors to return after their first landing

Here are 10 ways to make your site "sticky."

1. Comfort your visitors with familiar items and navigation.
Think about walking into a department store or supermarket for the first time. Previous experience tells you where to go to find what you need because there are conventions — established and traditional traffic patterns for you to follow. Similarly, there are online standards now to help orient visitors, making them comfortable and ready to learn more.

In a recent study, Nielsen's consulting firm, the Nielsen Norman Group in Fremont, Calif., found the following page elements on roughly four out of every 10 sites.

The term "site map" for the site overview

A different color after links are clicked and expired

Shopping-cart links in the upper right corner

Left-hand navigation for peer-level links

Logos in the upper left corner

When used, search boxes on the home page

There may be other standards that apply to your business or industry. Check out competitive sites and, if you decide to flout convention, have a good reason.

2. Keep it simple. The faster and easier the navigation, the happier your customer will be. If you're launching an e-commerce site, it might pay off to outsource some of the complex management and tools you'll need, such as with Microsoft's Commerce Manager. And set up a plan to monitor every page periodically so that you catch broken links and make sure every page loads quickly.

3. Offer a guided tour. "Find out who your visitors are and make suggestions about where they might want to go," says Thomas Obrey, co-founder of PixelMEDIA, a Portsmouth, N.H., Internet services company, explaining that it can be done via navigational cues or by a click-by-click page tour or demo. "It's the same concept as a salesperson greeting you at the store, understanding who you are, and guiding you to what you want."

As an example, Obrey points to the ECCO shoes site (, which his company recently redesigned. "The site is 100% engineered to lead visitors around." It has a "front end that markets shoes and a back end that sells shoes," Obrey says.

4. Tell your story. "A Web site is like a mini-broadcasting station," says Terry Isner, creative director at Jaffe Associates, a Washington, D.C., marketing consultant. "It starts right on the home page, which should set the stage by telling a compelling story that positions the company against its competitors." Include clear, concise information about whatever differentiates your company in your industry or niche.

Having an "About Us" section enables you to present the human side of your business by profiling your management team and detailing your company's history. Also, a section devoted to company news allows you to announce new clients, new hirings, new products or features — through press releases you post there. These are "conventions" to many users. Don't discount their value.

5. Update your content as regularly as possible. If you want repeat visitors, you need an answer to every returning user's question: "What's new?"

Even if your site is not content-rich, a key to getting repeat visitors is to offer something new when they return — new graphics, new product information, new offers, new article links, new company news, whatever. If you sell products or offer services, updating your online catalogs and product or services pages regularly will let people know you're still active in the business. It also gives you a chance to vary the offerings you tout and test what resonates with your target audience.

Also, if your business caters to a particular community of users — such as outdoors enthusiasts, musicians, movie buffs, or even retail store owners — consider having a communities section on your site, or a blog. (For more on blogging, see this article.)

6. Say yes to archiving pages. When designing or upgrading a site, it takes little additional cost and effort to add an archiving channel for press releases, investor bulletins, media clips, company fact sheets, sales presentations, product announcements or specs, conference briefings, white papers and other content that you originally posted in more prominent places. You never know when a client will remember some data point or presentation you had on the site and return to forward it to your next prospective customer.

7. Test your labels and links.
Before signing off on copy or design, put it through a usability test. Watch a live customer click page by page through your site to see if it's intuitive.

You should also test all top-level site labels, suggests Marcia Yudkin, marketing consultant and author of "Web Site Marketing Makeover." "It's essential to learn whether the labels you've come up with make as much sense to your audience as they do to you." Also use phrases or call-to-action sentences instead of one-word labels for your active links. "Granted, longer labels can pose design challenges, but what's the point of an aesthetically perfect home page with options that perplex visitors," Yudkin says.

8. Always fine-tune your site after launching it. The most common mistake, say many experts, is doing everything right in taking the site live — but then walking away from the considerable consumer information it can yield.

You should be checking into your server logs to monitor visitor and consumer behavior and traffic patterns. What site or search engine does which kind of customers come from? How long do they stay? On which pages? How do they move through the site? What products or information do which customer segments focus on?

Inexpensive, automated software such as Microsoft's FastCounter Pro can quickly analyze Web traffic and provide you with easy-to-understand reports. Once you get these reports, do something with them! Use the information to edit your pages, fix the navigation, change links, change content, and alter your search engine marketing to respond to customer needs. (See this article to learn more.)

9. Establish trust in your users. Many consumers have now been burned by online experiences, so you must quickly establish business bona fides. Web design conventions (see No. 1 above) can help put customers at ease, but you must also establish individual credibility. The options depend on your business. For example, Richard Solomon, a New York State attorney and author, runs, which helps people learn about winning in small claims court.

"I post my television and radio interviews, in addition to book reviews. This shows visitors to the site that I have a product [a book] and a service [public speaking] that are recognized by the media," he says.

Other possibilities:

Prominent bio or expert credentials

Customer testimonials

100% money-back guarantees

Free or discounted shipping

Perks or discounts for second-time buyers

Generous and clear product return policies

Live chat online sales support; see Microsoft Office Live Meeting for details

Letting customers track their orders

Contact information, with a phone number, on every page

Online customer access to your inventory

Online client access to your appointment calendar, such as with Microsoft's Appointment Manager

10. Empower your visitors. Design your navigation and online applications so your visitors can find what they want. Yes, the site's overall look and feel is important and, yes, your copy and content must be assured and professional. But the main mission of your site should be to make each visitor feel that he or she is in charge of the experience.

That's the route to attracting customers — and motivating them to return.

Joanna Krotz
Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She is the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Is your Web site 'usable'?

By Kim Komando

Let's start with this scenario: You need to buy something and you decide to do some advance research online.

You try one company's Web site. It's plain, but it lists pricing information, the models it services, and its contact information. Then you try another company's site. It makes you sit through a three-minute Flash presentation before letting you explore the site. (There's a "skip this intro" button at the top right, but the button is camouflaged.) And, instead of getting pricing information, you have to fill out a form and wait for a salesperson to call.

You're probably going to call the first company, right?

As you might infer by our second example, a Web site's elegance is simply not going to win over users. If your site is not easily navigable and doesn't contain relevant and up-to-date information, you're driving customers away.

That's where Web site "usability" comes into play. According to Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, an internationally recognized expert in this area, "Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use."

Here are six things you need to do to make your Web site "usable."

1. Help your customers find their way. How easy is it to get around your Web site? When customers look at the home page, do they see a clearly marked navigation system? Or do they have to roam around clicking things until something happens?

Think hard about whether you really need to be a navigation trailblazer. If your navigation system is radically different than others, you'll confuse your users. A simple drop-down or tabbed menu using words is fine. It may not look as cool or trendy, but your users will be able to find what they need.

Let's consider a small bookstore's Web site as an example.

Imagine using pictures of books on the left-hand side of the page. When you mouse over the picture, the book opens and tells you the genre. It's clever but impractical.

Your customers don't want to remember that the third book down is the home-improvement section and the sixth book takes you to romance novels. And they don't want to wait three seconds for the book to open to find where that link will lead.

2. Say what you mean, and say it clearly. It's so easy to get caught up in marketing lingo and buzzwords. But they may well confuse the customer. If you are selling a product or offering a service, state it clearly.

There are countless Web sites filled with warm and fuzzy slogans that never get to the point. What exactly does "providing solutions to problems" mean? What are the problems? How are they solved?

And a user shouldn't have to click on the About Us page (you do have one, right?) to figure out what your business does. That information should be on your home page.

3. Keep it simple. A splash page — which is a special landing page for product offers, sale items or special features, often with lots of graphics and color — may be a great way for Web designers to show their talent. But for many customers, it can be an annoyance. I say, dump it. But if you must have a splash page, consider giving your customers a "Skip this" link (if you have the same basic information on another page).

Keep pictures, large text, flashing banners and the like to a minimum. Those types of gimmicks generally cheapen a site. They also make the Web pages take longer to download.

For example, I have reviewed many products from one particular company (that shall remain nameless). The products offered are of high quality, but the company's Web site is a flashing, gaudy mess. It makes the company look like it's peddling junk.

Your Web site doesn't have to be barebones. But it shouldn't be obnoxious, either.

4. Provide information, not marketing-speak. Think about why people visit your Web site. They go there to get information or to buy a product. Make it as easy as possible to find the information they want — not just what you want to provide. I personally dislike lots of advertising puffery and grinning people. Please, just tell me what you do.

One sure irritant is pricing secrecy. Don't make a customer fill out a form to find out how much something will cost. You'd be annoyed if you walked into a grocery store and had to fill out a form to get the price of milk.

Obviously, if you sell insurance, you can't publish a price list. But you can set up a page that calculates several variables and provides free ballpark quotes. Customers want instant information. Give it to them.

It's also important to update your site regularly. It does you no good if the contact information for sales is for someone who left the company months ago. Unfortunately, many companies throw up a Web site and then forget about it.

5. Test your site — again and again. There is one simple way to attain good usability. Testing, testing and more testing. But you have to test with the right people.

Your customers and readers are the best people to test a site. They are the ones who use your site.

Unless your core audience is Web designers and tech-savvy users, avoid using these people as your guinea pigs. What's obvious to them could leave the true users scratching their heads.

If possible, be in the same room as the tester(s). And test individually. That way you can observe and write notes as questions and problems arise. Don't answer questions. If something isn't obvious to users, you'll have to tweak the design.

It may sound like testing takes a ton of time and money, but it doesn't. For a small site, it should take about 20 minutes or so per user. Four or five users is a good sample to get sufficient feedback. After testing, changes should only take a day or two. You can always offer a free product or service — or perhaps a gift certificate to a restaurant — for the tester's time.

6. Be a usability advocate; it can pay off. Having a Web site with strong usability could boost your bottom line.

The Nielsen Norman Group ( conducted a study on the return on investment of 42 redesigned Web sites. Owners of those sites spent an average of 10% of their Web budget on usability. After redesigning the sites, site usability increased by 135%, the sales-conversion rate increased 100% and traffic increased 150%, according to the study.

Yes, it's easy to see why you need usability. But I will be the first to tell you that it's also difficult to attain over time, especially if you have a Web site that changes, grows and evolves. This is something that I struggle with on my own site. I am continually updating it based on user feedback.

Web usability does take time, money and attention. But it pays off in the long run.

Kim Komando
Kim Komando writes about workplace technology and security issues. She's the host of the nation's largest talk-radio show about computers and the Internet, and writes a syndicated column for more than 100 Gannett newspapers and for USA Today. Find Kim's show on the radio station nearest you, and send an e-mail to subscribe to her free weekly e-mail newsletter.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

How to make money from your blog: 5 tips

by By Jeff Wuorio

Many of the people who write blogs today simply want to share their opinion on something. But then there are the business-minded folks, who have found a way to use blogs, or Web logs, to bring in a little extra cash too.


I recently wrote a column detailing how to get a blog up and running to boost your small business.

If you're interested in taking it further — blogging for bucks, if you will — here are five strategies that could turn your blog into a moneymaker.

1. Sell advertising. This is likely the most common means of leveraging a blog to generate income. If yours happens to become a well-known blog, or one that is well-received in a particular niche, it's always possible to sell ad space on your own. For lesser-known blogs, services such as Google's AdSense or BlogAds enable bloggers to establish ad programs.

AdSense's — which lets you select several ads that are consistent with the content of your blog — pays you based on how many readers click on the ads for further information. Even better, it's free. BlogAds, on the other hand, hooks bloggers up with would-be advertisers and levies a commission in return for any ad placements that result. "The nice thing, too, is that the ads are relatively unobtrusive," says Scott Allen, co-author of "The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online."

2. Help sell others' products. Here is another click-through opportunity. Affiliate programs enable your blog to serve as a conduit between readers and online sites offering various goods and services. One popular choice is If, for instance, you offer book reviews or even just mention a book in passing in your blog, an affiliate program provides a means for your readers to click directly from your blog to Amazon to obtain further information about the book. If they break out the checkbook or charge card, you get paid as well.

3. Solicit contributions. Not every blog-related income opportunity involves hawking goods or services. As Blanche DuBois did in "A Streetcar Named Desire," consider relying on the kindness of strangers. Ask for contributions. If, for instance, your small-business blog supports a cause or issue in some fashion — say you repeatedly mention tax reform, health care or some other topic — you can always ask for reader support

Even if you've attracted a group of regular followers who simply enjoy reading what you have to say, they may be willing to underwrite their loyalty with a little financial help. Programs such as PayPal make it easy to establish a simple on-site contribution collection button. "There are lots of worthy 'cause' blogs that would qualify for donations from grateful members of the blog community," says Las Vegas communications consultant Ned Barnett.

4. Market your services in your blog. Many people associate blogs exclusively with a cyberspace-based soapbox — a place to shout your opinions and little more than that. Granted, blogs are an ideal venue to share your thoughts with others, but don't overlook their capacity to generate new business as well. When appropriate, work in references to what you do and, in turn, what you may be able to offer any would-be client or customer who may be reading your blog. That can spread your opinion and your business moxie at the same time.

"Instead of short commentaries that begin a dialogue with readers, as many blogs do, I write the equivalent of journal articles that demonstrate my abilities, strategies and perspectives on specific issues," Barnett says. "When it resonates, it means money. Since starting this approach, I have generated three new paying clients and brought in about $10,000 on revenue — directly attributable to specific blogs."

5. Use a blog to deepen your existing customer relationships. Nor does any marketing material inserted in blog content have to be limited to bringing in completely new business. By using a blog to regularly communicate with existing clients as well as other readers, you can take advantage of the opportunity to fully inform them about everything your business does. That may expand your readers' understanding of the full scope of your products or services.

"My blog has helped existing clients determine the range of my skills and services," says Ted Demopoulos of Demopoulos Associates, a Durham, N.H. consulting and training concern. "One client who had only used me for training in the past was surprised at my range of expertise and is now using me for a consulting project. Another who only used me on technical projects is now considering me for a more business-oriented project."

Jeff Wuorio
Jeff Wuorio is a veteran freelance writer and author based in southern Maine. He writes about small-business management, marketing and technology issues. Send Jeff an e-mail.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Help people find your Web site: 8 tips

By Kim Komando

Experienced Web designers will tell you, "Just build it — and they won't come." It's true. Simply putting up a Web site won't bring visitors. It takes work to entice customers to your site once, and even more work to make them come back.


One way that most people find Web sites is to use search engines such as Google accounts for nearly half of all Internet searches. Yahoo! and MSN are the next most popular search sites.

So, just in case you didn't know this already, good rankings in search results are essential to helping people find your site. Many people don't go beyond the first page of the results' pages. Furthermore, top is better than bottom on the list.

Search engines use sophisticated algorithms to order search results. Good page rankings do not happen by chance. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of creating Web pages that will garner high rankings.

Each search engine uses a slightly different algorithm. Moreover, most tweak their algorithms regularly. However, the basics of SEO hold true for all search engines. Although SEO is tricky, a carefully planned approach can increase traffic to your site.

Here are eight steps to successful SEO.


Choose keywords wisely.

Keywords are the words that customers use to find your site when using a search engine. The idea is to optimize your page for these words or phrases. You should choose keywords that accurately reflect your business. They should be specific enough to target potential customers, but not too narrow.

Of course, you'll probably have numerous keywords. The best approach is to pick different keywords for different pages. If your business' name is well known, use it as a keyword for the About Us page. But most customers will be searching for your product or service, not your name.

For help with keywords, check your server logs to see what search terms have worked for your site. Also, try search terms to see what works on your competitors' sites. Additionally, Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions (formerly Overture) has a free tool that ranks keyword popularity. Conveniently, it also lists alternate terms. It's at: (Microsoft Submit It! has a similar tool worth checking out.)


Use keywords wisely.

Your site's keywords should appear in each of your pages' "meta title." The "meta title" appears at the very top of the browser window, above the menu bar.

Also, the keywords should appear regularly throughout the opening Web page. It is especially important that they appear frequently in the opening paragraphs.

However, resist the temptation to overuse keywords. This is called "keyword stuffing." The search engines can spot it and will reduce your page rankings. Tools are available to help with optimal keyword density. However, avoid software that writes the site's pages. Search engines can sniff these out, too.

Here's the SEO golden rule: Never sacrifice quality of content for keyword placement. This will affect your page ranking. Most importantly, your site won't appeal to visitors.


Test keywords with pay-per-click advertising.

Google's AdSense, MSN adCenter or another pay-per-click advertising program will test keyword effectiveness. You will see if your keywords will bring traffic to your site. Also, you will ensure your keywords target paying customers.

Pay-per-click can be expensive. You must bid on keywords which generally start at 5 cents per click. However, used correctly, they will bring customers to your site.

Pay-per-click isn't a replacement for search engine optimization. It should be used in conjunction with SEO to help you evaluate keywords. If your results are poor, consider changing keywords.


Build up the links to your site from other sites.

Search engines view inbound links as a vote for your site. Therefore, the more incoming links, the higher your page will rank.

There are limits, though. The search engines must view the linking sites as quality addresses. Having disreputable sites link to yours can harm your rankings.

Offer to exchange links with sites that are related to your business. If they have a higher rank, all the better. Conversely, ask disreputable sites to remove any links to yours.

You can easily pull up a list of sites that link to yours. In Google's search box, simply type Link:yoursitename and click Search.


Keep your SEO campaign ethical.

Using deceptive techniques to boost page rank will have the opposite effect. It can even get your site banned from the search results. Once you're banned, it is virtually impossible to get back in. Therefore, it's important to avoid anything unethical.

Don't overuse keywords. Don't use hidden text such as small fonts or text the same color as the background on your pages. Don't create mirror sites — identical sites linking to yours. Also, make sure content varies significantly from page to page. Having similar content on multiple pages may appear deceptive to search engines.

Cloaking, or hiding a page behind your page, is also a no-no. With cloaking, two pages are built. The search site spiders will see one page that is rich in keywords. Visitors see the other page, which might not be related to the keywords.

There is an exception: If you have a Flash site, it's almost impossible to optimize. Search spiders don't understand Flash. In this case, you can build an HTML site that opens behind it. Just make sure it contains the same content as the Flash site.


Submit your site to the search engines.

You want to make sure your site is indexed by the search engines. If your site has numerous inbound links, the Web spiders will find it automatically. Web spiders "crawl" the Internet monthly and update an engine's database of sites.

If your site doesn't appear automatically, you can submit it for indexing, through a service such as Submit It! or on your own. The big three search sites have forms for submitting Web addresses. Here are the submission pages:

Yahoo!: (registration required)


Monitor the progress of your SEO, but be patient.

SEO doesn't happen overnight. It will take months to get good page rankings. Trying to rush your SEO campaign can lead to mistakes. And the consequences of these mistakes can be severe.

However, it is important to monitor your progress. Do searches with the major engines for your keywords to see how you rank. You might also be surprised to find you start popping up for related terms. That's icing on the cake.

Results will fluctuate. Rankings change daily or even hourly. Check frequently for an accurate gauge of where you stand. Don't sweat the minor ups and downs. But if you notice a downward trend, take action.

As your site traffic increases, so should sales. If sales aren't increasing, reevaluate your site content and navigation. Good copywriting and pointers go a long way in increasing sales.


Consider outsourcing.

Search engine optimization is an ongoing process, and can be a full-time job. Some companies specialize in SEO.

Hiring an SEO company to optimize your Web site will be expensive. Prices will vary depending on your site, services offered and for what length of time. Many companies spend tens of thousands of dollars for the initial SEO. Monthly maintenance can also run into the thousands.

However, the advantages might make it a wise investment. You are hiring experts who will achieve better results than you. And the increased business from good SEO hopefully will more than cover the costs.

Bad SEO can be more harmful than no SEO. So it is important to find the right company to handle your campaign. Ask to see the company's code of ethics. It should explicitly address deceptive SEO techniques.

Of course, the company should also have a good page ranking itself. But don't rely on this alone. Contact the references the company provides. Visit sites the company has worked on and note the quality of the copywriting.

Next, the company should be able to provide a detailed plan. It should include a variety of methods to improve your rankings. Of course, its methods — and pricing plan — should be clear.

Watch for companies that create unrealistic expectations. For example, if it guarantees a top spot in Google for a popular term, run. Also, if it promises fast results, it could be using deceptive techniques. (You should also read Google's advice for selecting an SEO company:

Before you consider outsourcing, however, you might want to try SEO management software. Microsoft's Submit It! is one such tool. It can help find keywords, submit pages, and track results. Also, it's less expensive than outsourcing.

Remember, though, search engine optimization can only do so much. Well-optimized pages might bring visitors, but only a good product will convert visitors to customers.

Kim Komando
Kim Komando writes about workplace technology and security issues. She's the host of the nation's largest talk-radio show about computers and the Internet, and writes a syndicated column for more than 100 Gannett newspapers and for USA Today. Find Kim's show on the radio station nearest you, and send an e-mail to subscribe to her free weekly e-mail newsletter.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mathematics of Communication

Philip Yaffe discusses what writing and public speaking have in common. Mr. Yaffe also breaks down the fundamentals of clarity and conciseness in effective writing.

The Mathematics of Persuasive Communication

At first glance, mathematics and persuasive communication - writing, and particularly public speaking - would seem to have little in common. After all, mathematics is an objective science, whilst speaking involves voice quality, inflection, eye contact, personality, body language, and other subjective components.

However, under the surface they are very similar.

Above anything else, the success of an oral presentation depends on the precision of its structure. Mathematics is all about precision. It is therefore not so odd to think that applying some of the concepts of mathematics to oral presentations could make them substantially more effective.

As they say in the film industry, three key factors go into making a successful movie: the script, the script, and the script. Likewise, three key factors go into making a successful speech: the structure, the structure, and the structure.

Not convinced? Then let's start with something less radical.

I think we can all agree that good speaking is related to good writing. If you can write a good text, then you are well on your way to preparing a good oral presentation. Therefore, if you improve your writing, you will also improve your speaking.

To simplify matters, from now on we will talk mainly about good writing, because in most cases the same ideas apply directly to good speaking.

Know what you are doing

Many commercial companies do not live up to their potential - and sometimes even go bankrupt - because they fail to correctly define the business they are in.
Perfume companies, for example, do not sell fragrant liquids, but rather love, romance, seductiveness, self-esteem, etc. Bio-food companies do not sell organic produce, but rather honesty, purity, nature, etc.

Automobile manufacturers do not sell transportation, but rather freedom, adventure, spontaneity, prestige, etc. The fact is, each industry, even each individual product, may have to determine what it is truly all about - and there are thousands of them!

Writers are lucky. There are numerous variations to what we do, but there are really only two fundamental types of writing. It is important to recognise this, because not only are they quite different, in some respects they are exactly opposite. So unless we clearly recognise which type of writing we are doing - and how it differs from the other one - we will almost certainly commit serious errors.

What are the two types? And how do they differ?

Creative Writing

Texts such as short stories, novels, poems, radio plays, stage plays, television scripts, film scripts, etc.

The fundamental purpose of creative writing is to amuse and entertain. Expository Writing
Texts such as memos, reports, proposals, training manuals, newsletters, research papers, etc.
The fundamental purpose of expository writing is to instruct and inform.

Essential attitude towards expository writing

Because the objectives of creative and expository writing are so different, before striking a key you must adopt the appropriate attitude towards the type of writing you are doing.

Creative writing attitude

Everyone wants to read want what you are going to write. After all, who doesn't want to be amused and entertained?

Expository writing attitude

No one wants to read what you are going to write. Most people don't like to be instructed and informed. They probably would much prefer to be doing something else.

The importance of recognising and adopting the "expository writing attitude" cannot be over-stated, because it can dramatically change the very nature of what you are writing. Here are a couple of examples.

A. Corporate image brochure

I was once commissioned to write a corporate image brochure. Two things are certain about these expensive, glossy booklets:
o Almost all companies of any size feel compelled to produce them.
o Virtually no one ever reads them.
Starting from the attitude that no one would want to read what I was about to write, I created a brochure that people not only read. They actually called the company to request additional copies to give to friends, clients and professional colleagues!

B. Stagnating product

On another occasion, I was commissioned to develop an advertising campaign to revitalise a product with stagnating sales. Applying the expository writing attitude, I discovered that three of the product's key benefits were not being properly exploited.

Why? The manufacturer felt that everything about their product was important, so for years they had been systematically burying these three key benefits under an avalanche of other information of less interest to potential buyers. The new campaign sharply focussed on the key benefits; virtually all other information was moved to the background or eliminated. As a result, sales shot up some 40% in the first year.

With some nuances, this self-same expository writing attitude can be - and should be - applied to speaking, as well.

Essential approach to expository writing

Because creative writing and expository writing have essentially different objectives and attitudes, they require essentially different approaches.

Creative writing approach

Play with language to generate pleasure. In other words, use your mastery of the language to amuse and entertain.

Expository writing approach

Organise information to generate interest. Clever use of language will never make dull information interesting; however, you can organise the information to make it interesting. Forget about literary pyrotechnics. Concentrate on content.

We are now going to leave creative writing, because most of what we write, and say, is expository.

What do we mean by "good writing"?

We are now ready to return to the notion of how mathematics applies to good writing, and by extension to good speaking.

When someone reads an expository text or listens to an expository speech, they are likely to judge it as good or not good. You probably do this yourself. But what do you actually mean when you say a text or a speech is "good".

After some struggling, most people will usually settle on two criteria: clear and concise.
Mathematics depends on unambiguous definitions; if you are not clear about the problem, you are unlikely to find the solution. So we are going to examine these criteria in some detail in order to establish objective definitions - and even quasi-mathematical formulae - for testing whether a text or a presentation truly is "good".

A. Clarity

How do you know that a text is clear?
If this sounds like a silly question, try to answer it. You will probably do something like this:
Question: What makes this text clear?
Answer: It is easy to understand.
Question: What makes it easy to understand?
Answer: It is simple.
Question: What do you mean by simple?
Answer: It is clear.
You in fact end up going around in a circle. The text is clear because it is easy to understand . . . because it is simple . . . because it is clear.
"Clear", "easy to understand", and "simple" are synonyms. Whilst synonyms may have nuances, they do not have content, so you are still left to your own subjective appreciation. But what you think is clear may not be clear to someone else.
This is why we give "clear" an objective definition, almost like a mathematical formula. To achieve clarity -i.e. virtually everyone will agree that it is clear - you must do three things.
1. Emphasise what is of key importance.
2. De-emphasise what is of secondary importance.
3. Eliminate what is of no importance.

In short: CL = EDE

Like all mathematical formulae, this one works only if you know how to apply it, which requires judgement.

In this case, you must first decide what is of key importance, i.e. what are the key ideas you want your readers to take away from your text? This is not always easy to do. It is far simpler to say that everything is of key importance, so you put in everything you have. But there is a dictum that warns: If everything is important, then nothing is. In other words, unless you first do the work of defining what you really want your readers to know, they won't do it for you. They will get lost in your text and either give up or come out the other end not knowing what it is they have read.

What about the second element of the formula, de-emphasise what is of secondary importance?

That sounds easy enough. You don't want key information and ideas to get lost in details. If you clearly emphasise what is of key importance - via headlines, Italics, underlining, or simply how you organise the information - then whatever is left over is automatically de-emphasised.

Now the only thing left to do is eliminate what is of no importance. But how do you distinguish between what is of secondary importance and what is of no importance? Once again, this requires judgement, which is helped by the following very important test.
Secondary importance is anything that supports and/or elaborates one or more of the key ideas. If you judge that a piece of information in fact does support or elaborate one or more key ideas, then you keep it. If not, you eliminate it.

B. Conciseness

How do you know that a text is concise?
If this once again sounds like a silly question, let's try to answer it.
Question: What makes this text concise?
Answer: It is short.
Question: What do you mean by short?
Answer: It doesn't have too many words.
Question: How do you know it doesn't have too many words?
Answer: Because it is concise.
So once again we end up going around in a circle. The text is concise because it is short . . . because it doesn't have too many words . . . because it is concise.
Once again, we have almost a mathematical formula to solve the problem. To achieve conciseness, your text should meet two criteria. It must be as:
1. Long as necessary
2. Short as possible
In symbols: CO = LS

If you have fulfilled the criteria of "clarity" correctly, you already understand "as long as necessary". It means covering all the ideas of key importance you have identified, and all the ideas of secondary importance needed to support and/or elaborate these key ideas.
Note that nothing is said here about the number of words, because it is irrelevant. If it takes 500 words to be "as long as necessary", then 500 words must be used. If it takes 1500 words, then this is all right too. The important point is that everything that should be in the text is fully there.

Then what is meant by "as short as possible"?

Once again, this has nothing do to with the number of words. It is useless to say at the beginning, "I must not write more than 300 words on this subject", because 500 words may be the minimum necessary.

"As short as possible" means staying as close as you can to the minimum. But not because people prefer short texts; in the abstract the terms "long" and "short" have no meaning. The important point is that all words beyond the minimum tend to reduce clarity.
We should not be rigid about this. If being "as long as necessary" can be done in 500 words and you use 520, this is probably a question of individual style. It does no harm. However, if you use 650 words, it is almost certain that the text will not be completely clea r- and that the reader will become confused, bored or lost.

In sum, conciseness means saying what needs to be said in the minimum amount of words. Conciseness:
o Aids clarity by ensuring best structuring of information.
o Holds reader interest by providing maximum information in minimum time.
C. Density
Density is a less familiar concept than clarity and conciseness, but is equally important. In mathematical form, density consists of:
1. Precise information
2. Logically linked
In other words: D = PL
Importance of precise information
Suppose you enter a room where there are two other people and say, "It's very hot today." One of those people comes from Helsinki; in his mind he interprets "hot" to mean about 23°C. The other one comes from Khartoum; to him "hot" means 45°C.
You are off to a rather bad start, because each one has a totally different idea of what you want to say. But suppose you say, "It's very hot today; the temperature is 28° C." Now there is no room for confusion. They both know quite clearly that it is 28° C outside and that you consider this to be very hot.
Using as much precise information as possible in a text gives the writer two significant advantages:
o Mind Control

Let's not be embarrassed by the term "mind control", because this is precisely what the good expository writer wants to achieve. He needs for the reader's mind to go only where he directs it and nowhere else.

Because they can be interpreted in unknown ways, ambiguous terms (so-called "weasel words") such as "hot", "cold", "big", "small", "good", "bad", etc., allow the reader's mind to escape from the writer's control. An occasional lapse is not critical; however, too many weasel words in a text will inevitably lead to reader confusion, boredom and disinterest.
o Reader Confidence

Using precise information generates confidence, because it tells the reader that the writer really knows what he is talking about.

Reader confidence is important in any kind of text, but it is crucial in argumentation. If you are trying to win a point, the last thing you want is the reader to challenge your data, but this is the first reaction imprecise writing will provoke. Precise writing ensures that the discussion will be about the implications of the information, i.e. what conclusions should be drawn, not whether the whole thing needs to go back for further investigation.
Importance of logical linking
Precise data (facts) by themselves are insufficient. To be meaningful, data must be organised to create information, i.e. help the reader understand.
There are two important tests to apply when converting data into information:
1. Relevance

Is a particular piece of data really needed? As we have seen, unnecessary data damages understanding and ultimately undermines confidence. Therefore, any data that do not either aid understanding or promote confidence should be eliminated.
2. Misconceptions

The logical link between data must be made explicit to prevent the reader from coming to false conclusions. For example: a specific situation may be confused for a general one; credit for an achievement may seem to belong to only one person when it really belongs to a group; a company policy may appear to apply only in very specific circumstances rather than in all circumstances, etc.

To ensure that a logical link is clear, place the two pieces of data as close to each other as possible, preferably right next to each other.

When data are widely separated, their logical relationship is masked and the reader is unlikely to make the connection.

What do you want? What do your readers want?

I frequently ask non-professional writers what they are thinking when they sit down at the keyboard to compose their text. The answer is usually something like, "How do I want to present my material?" "What tone and style should I use?" "In what order should I put my key ideas?" And so on.

However, if you start with the correct attitude, i.e. no one wants to read what you write, your first task is none of these. Ahead of anything else, you must find reasons why people should spend their time to read what you write.

In general, you cannot force people to read what they don't want to, even if they are being paid to do so.
For example, you produce a report defining opportunities for increased sales and profits. However, if it is not well written, even people who must read it as part of their job are unlikely to give it their full attention. On the other hand, if they immediately see their own self-interest in reading what you have written, they will do so gladly and with full attention. In fact, you probably couldn't stop them from reading it!

There are various methods to generate such a strong desire to read, depending on the type of readers and the type of information. Whatever the most appropriate device, the crucial thing is to recognise the imperative need to use it. Until this need is met, nothing else is of any importance.

Editor's note: Reading is an isolated activity and listening to a speech is a social one. Therefore, whilst the underlying principles of good writing and good speaking are constant, the way they are applied can be markedly different. In the 'I' of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional, Mr. Yaffe's recently published book, clearly explains these differences. It also offers several appendices with cogent examples and pertinent, effective exercises.