It’s Typo Tuesday: Explain Yourself!

Earlier this year, we began the series of Typo Tuesday reports to illustrate how often punctuation, grammar, and word choice goes haywire. Now, on the last Tuesday of 2014, we would like to look back and consider what we have accomplished and what remains to be done. Hey, that’s the sort of evaluation people do this time of year, right?

Our Typo Tuesday articles have usually been good for a chuckle—sometimes good-natured, and sometimes (we’re sorry to say) a little mean-spirited. Pratfalls are inherently funny, even metaphorical pratfalls where someone fumbles a bit with language. It’s also too easy to feel smug when a professional fails publicly in his area of expertise. Going forward, we’re going to remember that communication is hard to master and even experts sometimes make mistakes. Our resolution for 2015 is to be more compassionate when pointing out other people’s mistakes.

We’ve also been too timid. It’s easy to point to errors on bathroom signs, in elementary school hallways, and on fortune cookie messages. Under the principle of Don’t bite the hand that’s giving you cookies, though, we have shied away from blunders made in online marketing. That ends now.

Briefly Tell Us What You Mean…

Our SEO experts have spent a lot of time talking about strategies to get website content high rankings on search engine results. Unfortunately, that takes you only halfway home. Any grocer will tell you that you can put your fruit in an enticing spot, but it still won’t sell if the produce itself isn’t appealing. It’s the same way with web content: appearing on page one of Google doesn’t guarantee readers will open a page.

To complete the transaction, you need to show potential shoppers that this work is something they covet. We do that by giving each article an interesting name and a capsule summary on the search results; regular DSS users know these as the title and meta description fields. They are a potential reader’s first introduction to your point of view. Well-written titles and descriptions pull in a reader and convince him to open your page—the first step to gaining a new customer or client.

But recently the way people conduct online searches has shifted dramatically, and many website owners have failed to keep up. Every year, mobile searches (those conducted on smartphones and other portable devices) grow in number, at the expense of desktop searches. Search engine companies, of course, recognize this shift in demand and have imposed limits on those crucial titles and descriptions in order to guarantee that search results will be legible on mobile devices.

Functionally, this works as a character limit for your titles and meta descriptions—and that’s the dilemma for you as a website manager. Brevity is the watchword now. You want lush and powerful descriptions to attract readers, but bad things happen if you’re too wordy. Bad, bad things.

…Or March Off to the Guillotine!

If your descriptions aren’t concise, they’ll truncate on a mobile device.

  • For titles, Google now only displays the first 512 pixels of text (although it will evaluate the full text to determine placement on the results page). Because some letters are wider than others, that limitation is roughly 50 to 60 characters. We advise users to write titles at most 60 characters (including spaces) long.

  • Google no longer uses meta descriptions to create search engine rankings. However, these short paragraphs are vital to let people know the nature of the written content. If you omit a description, Google will pull random text from your page; the result is usually awful. If you fail to describe your content in an enticing way, you won’t get readers to open the page. If your description is misleading, readers will learn to avoid your site deeming it as untrustworthy. You need a perfect description expressed in 150 to 160 characters.

If you exceed the allotted space, the search engines perform a process called truncation: the excess is chopped off and not displayed. This can be worse than having no title or description at all. The reader sees incomplete thoughts and fragmented ideas, and concludes that you cannot communicate effectively—and poor communication skills have been proven to drive away readers.

A Word to the Wise

Typo Tuesdays aren’t only about mixing up plurals and possessives anymore: they will also be looking at the strategic opportunities (mostly, alas, missed opportunities) in marketing communications.

If you’re the one responsible for an effective website for your medical practice, law firm, or small business, you know that customers are a judgmental bunch. They believe you’re only as good as the worst item you have ever posted. For 2015, we hope your worst mistakes are all tiny ones.


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