Readability – Nitpicker’s heaven, or is Yoast losing it?



Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam CO2I’m always fascinated by the theory of readability, the pedants, and the total lack of interest in actual content requirements. Yoast is no exception. Check out this, based on my “future of books” blog:

  1. Bad SEO score2 of the subheadings are followed by more than the recommended maximum of 300 words. Try to insert additional subheadings.
  2. Mark this result in the text Bad SEO score The text contains 3 consecutive sentences starting with the same word. Try to mix things up!
  3. Mark this result in the text OK SEO score 29% of the sentences contain a transition wordor phrase, which is less than the recommended minimum of 30%.
  4. Mark this result in the text OK SEO score5% of the sentences contain passive voice, which is more than the recommended maximum of 10%. Try to use their active counterparts.
  5. Good SEO score The copy scores 64.6 in the Flesch Reading Easetest, which is considered ok to read.
  6. Good SEO score None of the paragraphs are too long, which is great.
  7. Mark this result in the text Good SEO score3% of the sentences contain more than 20 words, which is less than or equal to the recommended maximum of 25%.

Note the minute deviations like 29% instead of 30%. No bandwidths. Not also the emphasis on “too long”, etc.

  1. …Yet the overall SEO score was “good”.
  2. 3 sentences on the same subject starting with the same word? The subject was “books”, so the subheads included books.
  3. A transition word or phrase: Transition words include “and”, “probably” and “maybe”…. So bloody what? These things are used in syntax, too. Or is syntax another subject never to be mentioned?
  4. Passive voice: Did an entire blog which scored 100% passive voice, and 98% readability. Tell you anything, pedants? Reading is about readability.
  5. Readability on Flesch is 64% but the overall rating is bad?

Do style guides have a clue?

In so many words, no. They’re a nitpicker’s heaven. The people who have nothing to do with generating content can sit there with a readout like this and pronounce judgement.

Passive voice is also usually narrative, the required, and largely unavoidable, story telling information between quotes, active voice, etc. Narrative, strangely, occurs in scientific papers, news articles, and reportage of anything. It even occurs in conversations to tell people what the bloody subject of the story is. No narrative? Gonna be some fabulous bit of communication, eh?


This is “narrative”, according to Google:

  1. 1.
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
    “a gripping narrative”
    synonyms: accountstorytalechroniclehistorydescriptionrecordportrayalsketchportraitstatementreportrehearsalrecitalrendering

    “a chronological narrative of Stark’s life”
  1. 1.
    in the form of or concerned with narration.
    “a narrative poem”

I won’t even begin to get in to the technical issues. Some content is written for timing, for perspective, contrast, or simply to add poise to a sentence. Written content isn’t the same thing as a bloody shopping list, clowns.

There are supposed to be a few things in any decent text:

  • Expression
  • Emphasis
  • Modes of speech
  • Syntax
  • Context

Without them, you’ve GOT a shopping list:

  • Now’s the winter of our discontent.
  • Made glorious spring.
  • 500g butter
  • Bread
  • Doritos

Try getting that delivered – Or getting someone to read it. Point made?

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

Hey morons – You call this slop web content?


Paul Wallis, Sydney Media JamI’m one of the lucky souls who has to clean up alleged web content writing. I’ve been doing this for a long time. The global standard is getting worse by the second. Given the nitpicking, ponderous and counter-productive nature of some web content writing organisations, it’s fascinating.

So many organisations put so much emphasis on attention to detail. They then prove conclusively that they don’t even know what that expression means.

It would be laughable, if large amounts of potential damage weren’t being done every second by lousy content.

Commercial web content writing basics

The most notable thing about lousy web content writing is the sheer lack of interest in quality of information. Content is King, and this rubbish barely qualifies as a pawn.

Let’s lay out the basics:

  • Anything you put online can be called advertising, particularly if it relates to products, services, or transactions of any kind.
  • Advertising is covered by law and consumer law.
  • These laws expose your clients to significant liabilities if information is incorrect, misleading, or otherwise false.

So, bunnykins, who would you say is liable for massive cluster slop fests in content production? Could it be you?

Interesting question, isn’t it?

Professional web content writing 101

Now let’s get down to the professional side of it. I’ll use small words so that the sadly educated and otherwise brain dead can understand what follows.

What you would you say constitutes professionalism in web content writing?

Could it be:

  • The slightest attempt to understand the subjects, the products, and the information required?
  • Some level of vague interest in whether or not what you’re writing makes sense?
  • Perhaps even some despairing attempt to punctuate and keep content in context?
  • Maybe even some wild, irresponsible attempt to find out what you’re talking about?

web content writingIf that’s too much trouble, get out of the game. You don’t belong here. You are working with other people’s businesses, their livelihoods, and God help us all, their futures.

If you don’t have the decency or the basic personal and professional integrity to try and get your work right, get lost, now. Go into Wall Street or some other mass murdering, insane industry where your skills, or rather the lack of them, are desperately needed.

Typos and grammar be damned. We’re not talking about trivial mistakes here; we’re talking about absolute crap. If you don’t know how to do a job, why are you doing it?

Why are you even pretending that you can?

I can forgive inexperience, lack of information, problems with gaga/illiterate clients, and the usual flora and fauna of web content writing. I cannot, however, see any reason why anyone would forgive writing at a level which even a grade school for cockroaches couldn’t overlook.

You’re also doing nothing for real writers or the writing profession. It’s no wonder that an organisation like Fiverr can charge peanuts for writing work. Expectations are so low, thanks to you clowns, that $5 is what people think web content writing is worth.

Frankly, I think that $5 is overcharging for some of the stuff I’ve been seeing lately. How the hell can anyone pretend to be a writer, and write rubbish like that?

Get your fingers out, try to take your writing seriously, (I’ll be interested to hear how that pans out) and do your jobs properly. This level of global slop is absolutely inexcusable.

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

Client knows best? Not in advertising


Ads_Cover_for_Kindle, advertising, online advertising

A tale of advertising, fun, and love.

It constantly fascinates me that people who aren’t in advertising consider themselves experts, particularly online. In online advertising, you’re not working with a “turnstile” audience.

This audience goes where it wants to go, watches what it wants to watch, and reads what it wants to read. (Forget FOMO, that’s for people who have no lives. Imagine not missing out on the latest Direct Marketing light opera.) Compulsory, whole page pop-ups simply annoy them. This is about as close as online advertising can get to old-style, compulsory TV commercials, which appears to be the point at which everybody stopped thinking about audience access.

It’s also obsolete. Modern audiences also only pay attention to ads which are of value to them. Like Claude Hopkins said in Scientific Advertising all those years ago, advertising is about customer values. It’s ironic, in the days of SEO as a science, that advertising is still a lumbering plodder in a highly specialized range of market segments. See also “YouTube couldn’t hit a keyword with a dictionary”, a slightly less than idealistic view of ad targeting.

It’s a matter of opinion whether any otherwise normal, rational, client really gets it about advertising realities. They’re experts in their own fields, know their markets, etc., and still miss the obvious. Online advertising is where the wheels fall off.

The immortal Celts in EnglandDealing with a discretionary audience is a very different business. Many people complain bitterly that their expensive online advertising isn’t delivering for them. Despite ridiculously complex algorithms, bizarre bidding rituals, pubescent fantasies about Facebook likes, and other fascinating dalliances with the futile, they don’t get conversions.

A dismal dribble is the usual result. It’s predictable, it’s expensive, and it doesn’t really achieve very much. Clients, bless their masochistic tendencies, understandably think that because they know what they want they therefore know what the audience wants.

It doesn’t work that way.

Let’s start with a very basic bit of LEGO-level psychology thoughtfully glued to a marketing no-brainer in shopping list form:

  • It is better for the market if motivated buyers can get to their goals ASAP.
  • Motivated buyers do not need to be told to buy products or services.
  • They need information confirming the value of their decisions.
  • They need hyperlinks, content, and straightforward purchasing options.
  • Anything outside this very simple, effective dynamic probably won’t work, simply because it distracts buyers from purchasing.
  • If you’re given 100 million alternatives when you only need two or three, your decision making process is not going to be very efficient, is it?

American Valhalla page 26… All of which calls into question the multilayer song and dance act which basic “get sales” advertising has become. Add to this the fizzy excitement which accompanies anything going viral, which is a synonym for thousands of times more information on anybody actually needs, and the process is truly stuffed. This is taxidermy, not advertising.

If you’re thinking that the fact is that competition naturally creates lots of alternatives, think again. In practice, the consumer is not going to go outside their comfort zone unless absolutely necessary.

The logic is straightforward, and irrefutable:

  1. For the consumer, simpler is better, cheaper in time and effort, and more convenient.
  2. The consumer will naturally gravitate to a simple answer unless there is a compelling reason to do something different.
  3. The whole process of marketing behavioural psychology is based on verifiable, measurable behaviours, not a lottery system of “Now I get to guess where I buy my groceries next”.

For online advertising to have any impact at all, it has to deliver clear values related to consumer needs and preferences. An online ad may attract some attention, but that’s back in the lottery zone. Even a cheap Google classified ad can have the same impact as a full page ad, in this environment.

… Which brings us back to the issue of your long-suffering, verbiage-besieged, client knowing best.

Let’s ask a few questions:

Didn't know that, eh?

Didn’t know that, eh?

Do you know why a potential customer will read an article containing a backlink? The actual backlink is usually just one link in a 500 word article. Why will that link get clicked, when thousands of online ads are simply ignored?

Why is an image considered high value, when a “spell it out” and is barely noticed?

What level of expertise does your client audience have?

Why are they interested in a particular piece of information, when you have a LEGO-like, dumbed down How To birthday card-type ad which tells them everything they need to know?

Short answer – You don’t really know what they need to know. You can’t. In keeping with the greatest traditions of lazy marketing, the assumption that the audience is comprised entirely of idiots is a massive own goal.

Freelance_writing-_C_Cover_for_KindleThe irony is that the online environment, with its endlessly irritating search capabilities has created another unequivocal demand – The demand for better value information. This is critical, and it is also a major driver for sales. This information creates motivation. It’s the exact opposite of the “People only want to read for 20 seconds” mythology.

When you buy a fridge, a TV, or any other major appliance, you won’t just swallow any old bit of information trying to sell you one of those items. You don’t have to. Quite rightly, you will take your time, look at your options, and get a better deal.

One thing I find hilarious with tech advertising is the assumption that adding bullet points regarding technology people have never heard of will sell that technology. The people who have never heard of it will simply skim over that information. People generally don’t do PhDs simply so that they can read an ad.

Anything may have meaning. Here's a meaningful question - Does reality have to spoon feed people and explain itself, like a lecture? Does it? There's a meaning there.

Anything may have meaning. Here’s a meaningful question – Does reality have to spoon feed people and explain itself, like a lecture? Does it? There’s a meaning there.

People who have heard of the technology tend to be experts, and are therefore much more critical of information of this kind. Ironically, they are more likely to be swayed by old-style price/value advertising than trying to tell them something they already know more about than the copywriter.

This is a classic case of “know your market”, and it is one of the primary factors behind functional online advertising copy.

From the copy and content creator/writer’s perspective, the most basic, and in this case the most ethical, thing to do for a client is to find the strongest selling points. I’ve had many incredibly productive conversations with clients about their business, products, and aspirations.

You can learn more from a client in five minutes on the subject of their business than you could in a 10 day workshop.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the client is an expert on getting hits on a webpage. This is the bottom line requirement, and it will not go away, however bureaucratic, pedantic and culture-driven a company may be.

Advertising psychology

Generally speaking, another type of psychology applies:

American ValhallaPeople are driven by an image of what their content is “supposed to” look like, usually a mediocre, “industry standard” which is simply an average. Average content tends to get average results at best, and to be completely ignored at worst.

Even corporate marketers, who know much better, tend to lean to a minimal image of their content. Standout material is a second thought, rather than the first priority.

I could literally write a book on this, but let’s keep it simple:

  1. Your logo tells people everything they need to know about who the company is.
  2. From that point onward, the client is looking for information.
  3. That information has to be useful, has to provide a valuable perspective, and has to make sense in terms of client needs.
  4. Explanatory information is far more valuable, and certainly far more functional, than “exciting” babble, which is classified as meaningless by default.

OK, now a practical exercise – Try to sell yourself some clothes pegs, in 500 words. Try to make this information interesting, something worth considering. You can use images, videos, and its many hyperlinks as you like.

Paul Wallis books, sydney media jam

This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas.

Next, try to make the content enjoyable and as painless as possible for the customer, preferably a lot of fun to read and watch.

Now try to get somebody else to pay attention to all the content, and actually agree that they would like to buy the product.

(Yes, the clothes pegs can be worn on the nose but be careful- You don’t want too many deaths from your product, and it is just a bit predictable.)

The reason for choosing the clothes pegs is that this particular type of product is considered so banal, and so unworthy of attention that there is almost no commercial advertising. Clothes pegs, in fact, are theoretically obsolete. It is a fairly tough sell.

…But it can be done, and relatively easily- If you know how to do that sort of content and copy.

So here’s the question folks – Do you know best?

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books



The writing game – Where there’s no compromise at all


democracy, sydney media jam blogThe writing profession is weird. I’ve been writing for many years. What I see online is the product of bureaucracy, not inspiration, opinion, or actual thought.

Some of these guys can actually write.  It’s not that they’re bad writers, at all. The trouble is that they don’t. They’re writing recipes, not content. They’re writing “the way you’re supposed to write”, which is a surefire recipe for being ignored by readers, if not publishers.

The mere theory of writing doesn’t create great reading. It creates good structures, good technical writing, but not stories, ideas, or the sort of fantastic experience reading can be.

There’s a theory that “modern readers”, the poor, truly starved bastards, are different. They want sex, action, character models, and, well, everything. Well, thanks for the mouthwash, clowns. If that was the case, nobody would read the news, non-fiction, or anything else.

The media theory of writing

My books, oddly, are about endless different realities. No wonder they don't sell.

My books, oddly, are about endless different realities. No wonder they don’t sell.

The compensating theory for that situation is the interestingly futile theory, promoted by publishers these days that they don’t read at all – They watch media. That’s partly true. The visualization is done by media, meaning the audience doesn’t get a chance to do any visualizing of their own. It’s grade school again. That’s one of the reasons that so much you see is instantly forgotten. The brain didn’t have any role in seeing it, so the memory is vague at best.

It’s also a big step towards genuine illiteracy. Literacy means understanding what you read, and the meanings of ideas. Literacy isn’t a parroting exercise.

However – Even the reality TV trash factories use writing. They don’t really recognize ideas; they just tell a story. Girl meets boy in a ridiculous environment, then guess what happens. It’s trivializing human experience on a colossal scale, but that’s OK if you’re a real idiot.

For writers, however, writing trash gets on your nerves. I made a decision, decades ago – I won’t write for morons. I don’t. I write for people who at least have the balls to do their own visualization. I know a lot of people don’t even have the guts to be themselves, but to hide from a book? That’s getting way down there.

The very first line of my very first book is “The fungoid looked pleased with itself”. Now visualize – What does a pleased fungus look like? I thought it was a pretty simple joke.

You see where this is going in terms of writing preferences. I can describe a pleased looking fungus, do a graphic and call it a pleased fungus, or let the readers think for themselves. Also to the point – I have to look at descriptions like that, if I write them.

All of which is leading up to this – Some things aren’t simple. Some story ideas aren’t simple. You need to be able to visualize. It makes reading a lot more fun, too, but try finding that in writing theory.

Catch 22Some books are real world shakers. Catch 22 was one. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and back then people had enough vocabulary to discuss it. They even knew how to enjoy a book. A movie was made, bravely enough, and the visual media couldn’t deliver the same effect as the book.

If writing doesn’t get inside your head and make you visualize, it’s missing the target, or the target is missing the point. Visualization is a critical part of life and of human history. Fire and the wheel were the result of visualizations. So is every other design ever made. Anything you’ve ever used or worn was made by visualization in some form.

Case in point – Horror – Horror stories are scary because of a type of visualization. The unknown is scary enough, but if you happen to have a Thing/Blob around, it’s a lot scarier before you see it, because of that type of visualization.

What’s a compromise, and how soon can I shoot it?

If I can’t write stuff for readers to visualize, I can write the easy way and make it look difficult – This pathetic arse wipe of a culture wouldn’t know the difference. The pity of it is that I’m not lazy enough to do it that way.

Industry standard takes less than 10% of the effort of top quality work. A chimp could write to the usual Grade 7 level if it could stay awake. Even these “Heil Everything” publishers could do it.

But writing like that would be compromising with something I truly despise. I want to write something worth writing, and not just for the money. There can be no compromise. I’m currently thinking about something right out of the ball park for “modern” media (it’s a macro from circa 1950) which might work on my terms.

… But if I see any compromise with We Heart Crap, it’s shootin’ time.

LOGO with Sydney Media Jam edit 300PPI

The Four Ts of Advertising, and why it doesn’t work


Wasp2If marketing has the “Four Ps”, advertising in its current form has the “Four Ts”- Turgid, tragic, tired, and terminal. Advertising is trying to be an end in itself, and it’s blowing it, badly.

Saturation advertising only makes real sense if you’re trying to get a campaign across. Even then, you don’t need to eat up air time. 90% of the audience won’t be interested after the second ad. Those interested don’t really need to be told the same thing endlessly.

Yet, in the “turgid” category, that’s what happens. Enormous sums are spent to tell people something they already know, and more to the point, know what they think about it. Even direct marketing doesn’t sink to these depths. Continue reading