"The Yahoo! Style Guide": Meet the Editors and Learn How Editing for the Web Isn't Like Editing for Print

Date: Thursday, November 18, 2010
Forum speakers: Yahoo! Style Guide Editors Heather Hutson, Maria Cianci and Karen Seriguchi
Forum organizers: Karen Seriguchi and Jim Norrena
Summary notes: Karen Asbelle

With a great turnout for this relevant and timely topic, we welcomed three of the nine members of the core editorial team to discuss Web editing and the new 512-page, comprehensive "The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World."

The speakers presented a lively session that covered a range of concepts, with helpful explanations and plenty of examples. The following are some highlights of the presentation given by Heather Hutson, the guide's managing editor; Maria Cianci, a managing editor at Yahoo!; and Karen Seriguchi, copy editor and style guide aficionado, with discussion facilitated by BAEF Program Coordinator Jim Norrena.

Yahoo! decided to publish a style guide based on their own editorial standards and practices, to offer support to a growing number of print editors these days who are branching into Web projects. As one of the most visited Internet destinations in the world, Yahoo! has the cyber-standing and credibility to step forward and claim the space today, though there may be others to follow. As stated in the Guide's preface, "elevating content creation to the level of craft benefits everyone on the Web, and clear communication and high editorial standards are important no matter where or why you write." Now, who can argue with that?

The panel members affirmed they had a great team that worked well together—knowledgeable, expert and hard-working. Yahoo! had initially envisioned producing the book in six months, which necessarily turned into one year. The book has a companion Website that carries over 40% of the book's content and will be used to feature updates as they are developed. The mechanics sections and word list are on the Website and searchable, and additionally provide page numbers in the book where you can find further related information.

Why is Web editing different from print editing? Because people read on the Web differently than on the printed page. Here are some things to consider as you proceed with Web work:

  • 79% of people scan Web pages rather than read them. Eye tracking studies show that most people's eyes follow an F-shaped pattern when viewing text on the screen, which is why it's recommended to position the most critical content toward the left and toward the top, even if it extends a bit across the page.

  • Additionally, there is a lot that confronts the reader onscreen. For example, font variety, lower screen resolution, even flashing banners, graphics, and other distractions all make it harder to read and to focus, compared to reading a book. Plus, did you know an estimated 50% of U.S. adults read at an eighth-grade level or lower?

  • It was mentioned that only 21% of site visitors are loyal to a favorite site. And typos can reduce a site's credibility. In fact, content with errors—on a financial page, for example—can prompt some visitors to leave and go where they feel they can better trust the content. Therefore, you want to do as much "right" as you can to encourage people to stay on your site. Testing has demonstrated that the usability of a Webpage can be improved 159% just with better writing. Make it easy for people to get the information most important to them by using clear, concise text in a well-organized layout.

  • Consider your audience: it's important to know who you are reaching. A publication's online audience is likely not the same as its print audience. Large sites may even have different audience segments. As an editor, you may have access to a Website's visitor tracking data that can report the sources of its incoming traffic, who visits the site, how long they stay, and what sections they are viewing. How tech-savvy are they? Are you conveying the right info? Do you want your site to be sticky (i.e., encourage return visits) or to be viral (i.e., visitors sharing with friends)? Do you have a global audience?

  • Consider the "voice" of an organization's website. Content is not just words, but includes images, graphics, typeface, colors, and content selection, which work together to convey what that organization is all about. A strong and consistent voice is a means to distinguish it from its competition. Also consider how the site sections work together (e.g., business section, pop culture section). People should know what "voice" to expect at your site.

What is SEO and why is it important?

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the various techniques you can use to elevate the rank of your Webpage in search results. Search engines analyze the words on a Webpage and rate their importance as a way to interpret what a Webpage is about.

  • Search engines give particular weight to: page titles, headlines, boldfaced subheadings, links, bulleted and numbered lists, and the introduction and conclusion on each page. These are the places to seed your keywords so that search engines will accurately convey what the Webpage is about—and people will be more likely to find your content when they search. Writers and editors can make significant contributions to SEO by ensuring that Webpage text is well organized and rich in information.

  • What makes a good keyword? Think of words or short phrases people may type into a search box—usually everyday language. Spelled-out words are preferable because people don't typically search using abbreviations. Check out the Yahoo! free keyword research tool, as well as others, for lists of related terms that get the most results.

  • Aim to repeat each keyword two to four times in a 300-word story, including in subheads, as boldfaced terms, and in lists and link titles, while avoiding sounding repetitive or artificial. The Yahoo! team recommends drafting your article first, then fitting the keywords and keyword variations where you can.

  • A search engine considers a link on your site to be an endorsement. So, add only good links. A link to a less relevant site could result in a ding to your Webpage. And there is no SEO advantage to linking to lots of sites.

  • Headlines are important because they will appear in many places: in the title of your story, as the Webpage title (top browser bar), in the browser tab headings, as bookmark text, as search result headers, and elsewhere. Choose clarity over cleverness (because headlines may show up in search results without their accompanying photo or graphic). Ensure that a headline can stand on its own, without the support of a subhead, a photo or even the article itself. Expect that some browsers will cut off the ends of headlines. One of many headline rewrite examples: "State accuses Mercury Insurance" is better as "Mercury Insurance may have violated California laws."

Top 5 Tips for Web Text:

  1. Front-load your information: start your sentences with the most relevant words; start your paragraphs with the most relevant sentence.

  2. Use brief, keyword-loaded headings throughout your article. Can your readers scan the headings to get an accurate overview of the content? If it's confusing or out of order, rewrite.

  3. Break up long paragraphs: white space makes it easy for the reader to scan the page, and one long sentence can serve as a paragraph.

  4. Use bulleted or numbered lists when possible. They facilitate scanning and can be easily understood.

  5. Use active voice, whenever possible; shorter sentences can be read faster (though in some cases, passive voice may allow you to position critical info earlier in the sentence to be picked up by search engines).



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