Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, email techniques, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability,  and consumer psychology.

Writing “Basic” with a Global Reach

Contrary to popular belief, I did not land here speaking any human tongue. It actually took me a few days to get the hang of English, which happens to be the language used by about 80% of all Web sites. I did read somewhere it could be Chinese by the year 2007.

But for now, the lingua franca is English. So what do you do if your business has a more global reach and you have to make sense to non-native readers of English? You write basic!

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"What a wonderful site! You know how to put the powerful academic principles of marketing and sales into practical language. A great asset for getting past the current day hype in marketing."
Professor Allen Weiss,

Now, I make no bones about it. Do NOT use my stuff as a model, ‘cause the last thing I’m about is writing basic English. You get me as I am. And that’s a perfectly acceptable model - you gotta figure you’re never going to appeal to all the folks all the time no matter what you do. Sometimes you choose to “target” your writing.

But I know some of you out there need to communicate effectively with those for whom English is a second language (hi, Faith!). So here’s what you do:

· Use short sentences

15 to 20 words, and 20 words puts you close to the danger zone. Writing concise, direct sentences is most of the battle.

· Use simple sentence constructions

Subject - verb - object (if any), followed by any extra information. You start confusing folks when you insert lots of phrases between the core elements of a sentence.

· Use the active voice

When you use passive verbs, you risk making your meaning ambiguous.

· Avoid “phrasal” and “modal auxiliary” verbs

Phrasal verbs have two or more words, verbs like call up, pull in, pick away at and drop down. Choose a one-word verb that says the same thing.

Modal auxiliary verbs include stuff like should, could, can, would, might and may.

A representative should contact you within 48 hours.

Does that mean he will, he might not, he has a moral obligation to or that it could take longer than 48 hours? Native English readers understand these words based on context. They usually confuse non-native English readers.

· Use pronouns clearly

Notice the last two sentences in the previous section. The “they” in the last sentence refers to a noun in the previous sentence, but which one? Words? Native English “readers”? Or did I make a grammatical mistake and refer in the plural to “context”? See what I mean?

· Use simple, common words with clear meanings

· Use positive language

Stay away from negative constructions (which can be hard to translate) and negative images (which are depressing and can be insulting). “Don’t you just hate it when …” is a negative construction (don’t) with a negative image (hate). Double negatives (as in “not uncommon”) are doubly troublesome.

· Avoid clichés and slang

I wrote “I make no bones about it.” Can you imagine what that means to this audience? Nothing.

· Proof very carefully

Writing that is grammatically correct and free of typos is enormously important with this audience! These folks are generally good with English grammar and if you break the rules, you risk confusing them.

· Get some help

If you know people who speak English as a second language, ask them to read your copy for clarity and to help you identify potentially offensive language. This is especially important if you are using humor.

P.S. If you want to study a good model for International English, pick up a copy of the Herald Tribune, a newspaper that writes in English for a global audience.

P.P.S. About those flags, animated and otherwise … ditch ‘em. If you offer your site in multiple translations, use the correct name of the language instead of the country’s flag for identification. Which flag would you use for English (you can choose from USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore)? And which of four languages would you be indicating by using the Swiss flag?

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I want to apologize to all our readers who couldn't access our last article "The 10 Myths of Internet Marketing." We had such an incredible response to the last issue that our server got overloaded.

We just came back from Austin, TX where we enjoyed the company of a couple of dozen people for the first Wizards of Web workshop. What did our attendees have to say:
R.L. said: "3 days at WOW crystallized 7 years of marketing online. I thought I knew how to convert a visitor – but I didn’t – with WOW under my belt, I intend to conquer my little parts of the web world."

E.G. said: "All I can say is one word: WOW! I just got back from the Wizards of Web Academy in Austin -- which was 3 days of in-depth information on how to make your web site really sell. Up to this point I had been to many events, but had never walked away really satisfied."

We'll be offering another 3-day Wizards of Web workshop 7/31/02-8/2/02 and a 1-day workshop "Fundamentals of Conversion Rate Marketing" on July 15.

Let us know if you want to be included on our advanced notice list for events

Bryan Eisenberg
CIO, Future Now, Inc.

P.S. Do you have questions you would like to see answered here? Ask away!

A Marketing Marriage Made in Heaven

A (long) while back we talked about viral marketing, that online technique that harnesses the distinctly human tendency to tell others about their experiences and turns it to your advantage.

Course, you can sit around twiddling your thumbs hoping folks chat up your site to others. Or you can get your ducks in a row and create an extremely effective program that actually drives viral marketing and helps you build your qualified house list.

Guess which way is the Grok Way?

With all the buzz about email marketing list strategies, who do you think has the best (and cheapest) lists going? If you answered “Why, my delighted customers, Grok” then take two giant steps forward! Take a happy customer and her dense email address book, and you’ve got the raw materials for a marketing marriage made in heaven. Now you just have to help it along.

Remember the ducks?

Duck Number One - Delight!

I did say happy, delighted customers. Before you start directing people to your site, make sure the entire experience is going to leave them delighted. Viral marketing works both ways, except folks are much happier to relate bad experiences than good ones. The last thing you want is for your viral marketing efforts to blow up in your face!

Duck Number Two - Ask!

You are far more likely to get action if you ask for it. As a general rule of thumb, create an eye-catching graphic button for a Web site (remember: Flash is trash and animations irritate like crazy), a hyperlink for an email. Put one near the top (catch them when they are first engaged) and also at the bottom (catch them when they’ve gone through the information). Your referral tool must:

·Stand out from the clutter of the page without taking up too much valuable above-the-fold real estate

· Be placed effectively - at the point where your visitors or readers are most interested

· Embody a clear call to action

· Provide clear instructions on how folks can use it

· Provide assurance - it doesn’t need to be a fine-print legal document, but let the referrer know your intentions and your privacy policy

Duck Number Three - Reward!

Add an incentive to your viral marketing request and you dramatically boost the odds your customers will make a referral. Let’s face it … many browsers give folks the ability simply to email the Web page or forward an email to their friends, which doesn’t give you the names.

The key is to keep your incentive intrinsic to your audience, so the referral brings you a qualified registrant, subscriber or buyer. If you give away something everyone wants - say a television - you’ll get lots of names of people who aren’t the sort of qualified customers you’re looking for. Think Verdi-CD-to-an-opera-club, or free shipping on your next order or entry in a contest.

Generally, a coupon isn’t the incentive most folks think it is. To be an effective reward, the coupon has to be pretty compelling, like substantial savings for stuff your customers already buy regularly. And it turns out percent-off coupons work better than dollars-off (or whatever monetary unit you trade in) coupons.

Duck Number Four - Track and Test!

You are never going to learn which combination of elements works best in your situation unless you track all your results and test repeatedly. Tracking and testing will let you tweak both your referral tool and your incentives so you get the best bang for the buck.

My friends Bryan Eisenberg and Brad Powers summed up the power of viral marketing this way:

“When used properly, nothing can match the power of viral marketing. It is so effective because it is based on personal opinion, much the same way an editorial carries more weight than an advertisement because it’s coming from a trusted source. You trust your friends and colleagues to send you material that is interesting, useful and pertinent to you personally. Trust will always be more powerful than flashy design and expensive ad campaigns.”1

So what are you waiting for?

1 “A Power Viral Marketing Primer: Buttons, Links and Clicking - Oh My!” Brad Powers and Bryan Eisenberg. Adventive.


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click here for a printable version of this entire article

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They'll appreciate it. Forward This Issue To A Friend!

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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