Monday, March 27, 2006

Advice to corporate websites

Seth Godin's advice on making a successful brochure can be applied to corporate websites:

  • use less copy. Half as much.
  • use testimonials. With photos. Short captions. It's hard to have too many of the good ones.
  • make it funny enough or interesting enough or, hey, remarkable enough that people will want to show it to their friends.
  • show, don't tell. Don't say you have a tranquil setting... I won't believe you.
  • and most important, make sure you leave several obvious things out... so that people need to talk to you.

From the majority of corporate websites I have seen, the goal is not to convey information but to overwhelm readers, to somehow wow and baffle them into submission. This just drives readers away.

Given a limitless amount of information, I'm going to gravitate to the sites I can understand quickly. The moment writers start using words I don't use and don't understand, I leave. Web readers will not stick around unless you give them what they want to know.

If you are a writer for a corporate webstie, write a single sentence that describes what the company does. Now shorten that sentence to contain the least amount of words possible. That's the first sentence which should appear on the front page.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Next Code

Let's decode Next Code's intro text. It's short enough to analyze sentence by excruciating sentence:
Unnecessary. Also, nothing makes me stop reading as fast the use of all caps.

Instead of this, tell me how Next Code will do these things. If it's true, I can figure this part out myself.
Let Nextcode help you expand revenues from data services, launch new content and commerce offerings and better satisfy customers.
This is a restatement of the previous (unnecessary) sentence. Readers still have no understanding of the product being offered.

I suppose these first two sentences are included to build up a feeling of suspense in readers. As if people will be clamouring to find out how they can "expand revenues from data services." In reality, everyone glances over these lines and they barely register.
Nextcode’s powerful suite of barcode scanning solutions can work with any camera phone to transform the way consumers access and experience mobile content and commerce.
Ah ha! The mention of the word "barcode" in the third sentence is our first hint of what this company does. We're not sure exactly but we know it involves barcodes. This much we know.

The mention of "camera phone" later in this sentence is obscured by cluttering phrases like "scanning solutions", "transform", "access and experience", and "mobile content and commerce"." These phrases are the equivalent of finding a turd in your soup.

When I'm talking to my grandmother and she asks me, "What does your company do?" I don't say, "We are transforming the way consumers access and experience mobile content and commerce." It would sound stilted, phony, and weird. So why do people write things like this?
Transcend cumbersome keystrokes. Overcome complex menus.
Short. Punchy. Too many big words but these lines had potential. They were the first to tell me something. If I were to rewrite this, I would start here.

Companies should cut out the hype and lay it all out. The only question customers want answered is: What can your company do for me? In the case here, we still don't know anything about Next Code outside of "something involving barcodes."

These short sentences fall in the fourth and fifth slots in the paragraph. We can be assured that no reader has made it this far, except for the poor copy editors who were assigned to check it for misspellings and improper grammar. No one has read this article in its entirety since then.
With Nextcode, just an easy click can turn on a world of new offerings.
And now we come to the concluding summary statement which, as we were all taught in high school, consists entirely of a rephrasing of the previous sentences, which also told us nothing.

So the nebulous whole is drawn into one concluding summary statement which is as vacuous as a black hole. Sentences like these are where meaning goes to die.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Count the Buzzwords

Today I looked for the most buzzword laden paragraph I could find. In pursuit of this, I went to Google and typed in a few of my favorites - "deploy", "solutions", and "web-enabled."

I came across this paragraph from Synergex:
A portable and scalable framework from Synergex, Synergy/DE enables companies to develop and deploy multi-platform, Web-enabled applications that integrate with e-commerce solutions, ODBC-enabled reporting tools, RDBMSs, ActiveX components, wireless devices, and other third-party applications and data. Synergy/DE has a long track record backed by millions of end users worldwide and a substantial presence in a multitude of vertical industries. Through a structured combination of remote or onsite education and consulting services, in tandem with proven software tools and comprehensive technical support, Synergy/DE offers the ability to create dynamic, high-performing solutions to fit your vertical application needs.

I'd like to congratulate Synergex. I didn't think it was possible to cram so many buzzwords into one paragraph. Somehow they pulled it off. The only words that are not buzzwords are the short connectors like "and", "that", "or", "with", or "from."

Nothing kills readership quite like acronyms. Synergex does a good job of jamming in two obscure ones, ODBC and RDBMs. A very small percentage of the population could tell you what these mean and the rest are not going to stick around to find out. My mother is not familiar with either of these terms, so already Synergex has violated Dejargonator Rule #1 - Write it so your mom can understand it.

Can you imagine someone being sold this product and reading this? Try to imagine someone talking to their co-workers and saying, "Well, it is web-enabled and offers us the ability to create dynamic, high-performing solutions to fit our vertical application needs." I can guarantee this phrase has never been uttered to anyone anywhere.

Here's my attempt at translating:
Synergy/DE helps companies to create software. We also offer consulting services.

That's it. No ActiveX. No RDBMs. No "multitude of vertical industries." I threw them all out and this was all that was left. The final result was so spartan it made me laugh out loud.

It's only when you actively dejargonate™ something and throw out all the junk that you realize how vacuous these statements really are. This is the kind of writing high school kids do - puffing up papers that say nothing but meet the minimum number of pages.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

FDR: Great man, Dejargonator

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the inspirations for the Dejargonator project. The original memo from his office read:
Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal Government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination. Such obscuration may be obtained either by black-out construction or by termination of the illumination.

FDR dejargonated:
"Tell them that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something over the windows; and, in buildings where they can let the work stop for a while, turn out the lights."

FDR wasn't interested in impressing people by the use of "internal or external illumination" and "obscuration." He realized that the most important thing was that he was understood. The result was that he became one of the most loved presidents in history.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


The company description of WebLayers is unintentionally hilarious:

The current state of IT is comprised of corporate initiatives that are attempting to drive enterprise-wide development and integration strategies to align with the tactical needs of separate and diverse lines of businesses that, under the pressure to deliver projects on time, ignore these corporate directives. These types of dysfunctional environments result in silo-based projects that are costly to develop and maintain throughout the project life cycle, and result in delayed delivery of key projects that have no hope of meeting key strategic IT initiatives.

In order to meet these critical needs, WebLayers has developed a "purpose-built" enterprise-class, policy-based governance solution, WebLayers Center, that manages policies from the top down for both technical and business requirements. The WebLayers vision is represented by a technology that provides a practical, federated environment that allows organizations to independently develop projects without onerous day-to-day central control, but yet have the ability to seamlessly meet corporate policy standards. WebLayers vision for governance is beyond policies for XML artifacts. We have implemented the industry's most comprehensive artifact support for protocols, documents and configurations that reside in all enterprises. Finally, the WebLayers key vision is about automated policy creation, enforcement and verification that spans the entire life cycle of an IT initiative-and that does away with silo-based development and deployment.

Wha? I got to "integration strategies" before I was too bored to continue. Extra points go to WebLayers for the use of "federated" and "artifact support" which I've never seen before.

And the use of "XML"? Awesome. Nothing wows 'em quite like the use of the word "XML". What "Java" was in the 90's, "XML" is in this decade.

Here's my attempt at simplifying the above so people can understand it:
WebLayers' product, WebLayers Center, allows companies to more easily oversee and manage their existing technology.
I'm not even sure that is accurate. I am considering sending them email asking "What does your company do?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Case Study 1: FuelQuest

Here's another example of bad corporate writing:
"FuelQuest develops and delivers on-demand software and services to the Downstream Energy Industry. FuelQuest's web-based supply chain management suite and tax automation technologies deliver operational and financial value to petroleum suppliers, distributors, buyers, and commodity traders. The Company has standardized the Petroleum Industry in the areas of price management, strategic sourcing, logistics optimization, remote tank monitoring, environmental compliance, and fuel excise tax compliance."

This is the introductory text to their website. Nothing makes me want to run away screaming quite like the words "supply chain management suite" and "logistics optimization."

Here's my version:
FuelQuest provides software and service for the oil industry - including petroleum suppliers, distributors, buyers, and commodity traders.

Companies that can clearly express what they do are the ones that land contracts, get funding, and grow. No one is impressed that your product is "web-based", "on-demand", or "deliver(s) operational and financial value." Words like these drive away readers and clients.

Dejargonator Rule #1: Write it so your mom can understand it.