Good SEO doesn’t excuse bad writing

In the About Us section of the Speed Limit Studios website, someone wrote that the company is “a full-service web design firm.” But then someone wrote this in one of its case studios:

woman unmaskedWebPromote is an ongoing SEO service that involves continuous daily actions on and off your website, to constantly prove to Google, Yahoo!, and Bing that your website is the most relevant source of information for the keywords we are targeting. This isn’t easy. Google, Yahoo!, and Bing go to great lengths to keep their algorithms secret. Their algorithms determine which sites get placed above others. In fact, they constantly change their algorithms to control over-optimization and spam. At Ciplex, we constantly monitor search engines to adapt to the latest changes.

Did you get that?

  • The first sentence has 40 words.
  • “Algorithms” appears three times, as does “constantly.”
  • “Continual” would be more accurate than “continuous,” but I could give them that one; it’s a common error.

And worst of all, nothing about this copy makes me interested in this company.

SEO (search engine optimization) does not negate the need for good writing. In fact, good SEO may make good writing even more important. If you’re going to be effective at luring people to a site, then you owe it to them to make the visit pleasant.


What’s the most over-used word in organizational copy?

lazy guy on computer

Is the organization you’re writing about “unique”?

Please say no.

Here’s an example of the way too many writers overuse the word:

“Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s internship program is unique because we are able to match the needs of students with our needs.”

Is Keep Indianapolis Beautiful the only organization that can make this claim? No. Hence, no uniqueness.

But besides lazily relying on an overused word, the writer did this organization a disservice by missing an opportunity.

By interviewing a few interns and finding out just what their experiences were like, the writer could have used testimonials and intriguing copy to draw potential interns in.

The interns, employees and volunteers at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful ensure our city retains its natural beauty. As the Web site says, “Trees make the world a better place.” I wholly agree; my husband and I are still mourning the loss of our beautiful ornamental pear that snapped in a recent windstorm. We lost a friend.

So, KIB, wake up your writer and tell your story.

P.S. Have you planted a tree in your Marion County, Indiana, home or business? Register your deed and help KIB reach its goal of 100,000 new trees by 2017.

Keep designers and writers in the same room

Creatives working together

Creatives working together

Have you ever been in one of those team-building exercises where the group’s split into two teams and given the same project but with different parameters? For example, the audience for Team A’s widget will be males age 18-24, while Team B’s widget is aimed at women 35-49. It’s a great way to force people to think outside their own experience.

This must have been what happened with a recent Eliza Jennings Senior Care Network annual report.

Team A – the design team – must have been told, “Our audience is the children of elderly parents, so show our residents looking happy, healthy, energetic and playful.”

Team B – the writers – must have heard, “Our audience is the accountants of the children of elderly parents. Forget about the residents: Brag about the company.”

The disconnect between warm photos of residents and jargon-filled copy in this report is harsh and jarring. Next to a great photo of an older couple sitting in front of a white picket fence holding hands is this tidbit: “As part of our mission to deliver more customized care and services, Eliza Jennings Senior Care Network actively shifted its focus to concentrate on growth strategies, some of which included organizational changes designed to convert existing resources into new growth opportunities.”

“Core business,” “significant growth potential” and “expanding our revenue base” are on the page with a photo of a woman dancing with an elderly man who has to wear a helmet to prevent injury.

“Transformational change” pops up twice within three paragraphs. At least this phrase is on the page with a man using an exercise bike; maybe he’s making his own transformation.

Ten pages of financials and donor lists followed.

If I had only looked at the pictures, I’d have thought Eliza Jennings was a wonderful place for my mother. Once I read the copy, though, I was confused at best and put off at worst. This organization missed a chance to tell its story through the stories of those residents featured in full color.

Were they just window dressing? What was your reaction?

Corporate writing: The Toddler Syndrome

I would describe the trouble with much corporate writing as the Toddler Syndrome: It’s all about me, me, me. The audience (and communication) is irrelevant. Best Buy offers a perfect example: 

Best Buy Realigns Leadership Team to Accelerate Future Growth 

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 26, 2007 – Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE: BBY) today announced changes in its leadership team intended to strengthen the company’s ability to draw insights from employees, customers and partners in order to provide excellent customer experiences and solutions; provide clear accountability for each element of the enterprise’s growth strategy; and place leaders with strong points of view on how to generate growth in roles where they can bring those ideas to life.  Unless otherwise noted, all changes are now in effect. 

Seventy words in that first sentence, and what does it really say? It says that while the company may recognize some weaknesses in its management structure, it’s not quite ready to come clean about them. So how much faith can we have in the “clear accountability” promised?

Lilly Endowment Annual Report is a must-read

The next time you’re looking for a good book, pick up the Lilly Endowment’s 2006 annual report.

No, I don’t normally recommend annual reports for anyone’s reading pleasure. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll infer that I find most annual reports full of stilted language and business jargon intended to impress readers into putting them down before they’re actually read.

The Endowment’s report easily could have fallen into that category. The organization gives away millions of dollars each year to help individuals, groups and communities improve the world; its writers could have used the annual report as a forum for proclaiming its transformational generosity and unsurpassed greatness, etc.
Instead, its writers chose to show how the organization is leaving its imprint on the world through the compelling personal stories of the people who receive its money. Here’s the start of one:

In June 1966 John Sherman, a 2005-2006 Creative Renewal fellowship winner, left his cap and gown from Indiana University on a table after the graduation ceremony in Bloomington. That was on a Monday. By Saturday he was in Atlanta, Ga., undergoing Peace Corps training. A farm boy from rural Marshall County, Ind., Sherman recalls, “My parents always encouraged me to go out and see the world.” Good advice.

You’re immediately drawn in, and stay interested through the rest of the story. You don’t run into a stilted quote by a Lilly Endowment official anywhere. Here’s part of another:

“Just getting out the photo album and looking at the pictures has an effect on students,” Fancher says. “When they see that their teacher has worked in the field and done something unique, students see that teacher differently. The experience helps my students perceive me as a scientist as well as their teacher.”

Coupled with photos more journalistic than posed and art-directed, these stories personalize the organization’s mission in a way that no CEO ever could.
Sit down for an inspiring read.

Does Wal-Mart really like its people? Then it should say so.

Wal-Mart holds the No. 1 spot on the 2007 Fortune 500 list, so its Web site should be one to admire. And in many respects, that’s true; the site shares a great deal of information, including management’s approach to diversity, sustainability, outsourcing and community involvement. 

Wal-Mart associates in Indiana are avid fundraisers for Riley Hospital for Children, so I am particularly interested in how management views its employees. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I clicked on the People tab and found these cold, unemotional words:

“As in all things, in our people practices, we take to heart our core belief to strive for excellence. That means constantly looking for ways to improve, whether it’s connecting executive compensation to diversity goals or improving the supplier application process. Improving these vital relationships are key to a better Wal-Mart and a better world.”

Huh? What happened to all the care the company takes to call its workers “associates,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “colleagues, partners, companions, comrades”? Where are the individuals in all that jargon?

Allow me to translate.

(a) According to the Great Place to Work Institute, people practices are “ways in which companies further the development of Trust, Pride and Camaraderie in their workplaces.” The capitalization kind of makes you sit up a little straighter when you read those words, doesn’t it? Those words have power; use them.

(b) A core belief can’t be core if it’s not “taken to heart.” Redundancy without purpose is the first step toward boredom.

(c) Any reference to executive compensation being tied to anything is dangerous territory. Aren’t we glad to learn that Wal-Mart executives can make more money by hiring a diverse workforce? Could one infer that otherwise, they wouldn’t do it?

Here’s how I might rewrite that paragraph, if this is indeed what the company means:

Our associates are the heart and soul of Wal-Mart. We strive to make sure each team of associates reflects the makeup of the community in which it is a part. In the relationships we form with outside vendors and supplies, we strive to ensure that they, too, adhere to the highest standards of fair and equal employment and participation in their local community.

Now that’s wording associates could be proud of.