Sorry for geeking out here, but I just discovered the solution to a longstanding problem and I haven’t seen a complete discussion anywhere else. So here goes…
The problem has to do with WordPress permalinks. A blog post’s permalink is the URL that search engines and directories use to find it on a WordPress blog like the one you’re reading. If a permalink changes for an existing post, the post disappears and searchers get a 404 error which not only is frustrating, but will cost you big time in the search rankings.
So why in the world would you want to change your permalinks in light of this risk? Because most of us made a mistake in the way we set up our permalinks to begin with. There’s a “Permalinks” tab in “Settings” on the WordPress dashboard and radio buttons to choose your structure and the default (as I recall) is to give each post a unique number like:
But instead I thought it was useful to reference the date (at the beginning of Otisregrets, I was using it primarily as a communications tool in my copywriting class so it was important to have everything in chronological order) so I chose this option:
There are two things wrong with that structure. First, it means that every time a search result lists my post it will include the date. And I think most people give more credence to recent posts since an older one may have obsolete information. Second, you may want to republish older posts (like the ones from the early days of a blog, when you had far less readership). You can’t simply cut and paste to create a duplicate post; the search spiders hate this. But if you change the publication date in the WordPress dashboard to create a new post, then all your indexing disappears.
What I wanted to do is change the permalink structure to
which means I can change the publication date (but NOT the title) and the search engines and indexes will still find it, yet it will be on the top page of my blog. And if you look at the urls of my posts now, that’s what I did. Here’s how.
1. Download your .htaccess file, which is in the top level directory of your WordPress blog. (Mine is in www.otismaxwell.com/blog for example.) This is the file which directs spiders and other indexing operations (including your own) as to where to find things on your site. You might not see the file immediately because many ftp applications hide “dot” files by default. I used Filezilla which has a setting under “Server” for “Force showing hidden files”; you want to check this setting and then .htaccess appears.
2. Make the .htaccess file visible on your local machine. This is necessary because neither Mac OS X nor Windows shows these files by default. In Mac it’s a simple matter of opening the Terminal and adding this line:
After you do this, close terminal and restart Finder and voila, all your hidden files are now visible.
3. make a copy of the .htaccess file you downloaded and move it to a safe place on your local computer in case something terrible happens.
4. Open the .htaccess file in a text editor (I used TextEdit) and insert a line under # BEGIN WordPress to specify a 301 redirect. DO NOT MAKE A MISTAKE HERE OR YOUR POSTS WILL DISAPPEAR. Web programmer and SEO expert Joost de Valk has kindly provided a script which will create the correct code for you; read the article then click “generate redirects” and follow the prompts to create your own like of 301 code.
5. Upload the edited .htaccess file to your WordPress directory, replacing the old file, then IMMEDIATELY go to the Permalinks tab on the WordPress dashboard and change the format to:
6. Test it by searching for a couple of your posts in Google or other search engine. The result should resolve to the new title of the post. You did it!
7. It’s a good idea to re-hide hidden files on your local machine so you don’t delete or alter one of these vital files by accident. To do this on Mac, just go into Terminal and enter the same instruction as previously but this time end it with “NO” instead of “YES”:
defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles NO
A couple I know bought a fancy camera before the birth of their first baby. It’s sitting in a drawer somewhere. Turns out that their trusty iPhone does everything they need: they can shoot a pretty good photo, touch it up with Instagram, and shoot it out to their friends immediately.
Instagram is interesting. Dave Kerpen wrote an article about it over on LinkedIn called “And the Future of Social Media Is” and the answer is… not Tumblr, just acquired by Yahoo, but Instagram. His 10 year old daughter and her friends used it to exhaustion on a recent weekend trip, adding insta-apps to expand the conversation as they went. As opposed to Pinterest, which sends lots of traffic to my food blog but seems mainly a scrapbooking application, Instagram really works as a fully functional social network–and it’s a lot easier to shoot and share a picture than to write an update.
One of those apps, Instafollow, allows users to automatically follow or unfollow up to 160 users per hour, up to an ultimate count of 20,000 users, simply by following followers of a user. That’s a lot more power than Twitter and a lot easier to execute. No wonder my own kid, who’s fairly responsible on Facebook, got me in so much trouble on Instagram that I had to delete my account. Snap a picture, slap some text on it, and you’re good to go.
I just put the account back up and already I’ve got new followers and a writing opportunity thanks to Instagram. My username is otismaxwell if you care to meet me over there.
Just finished watching “Young Adult” with Charlize Theron. The good news: great performance, solid directing. The bad news: it was free on Amazon Prime, barely 12 months after release. And therein hangs a story….
This movie is a downer. A ghost writer of “young adult” fiction gets a birth announcement for the baby of her old boyfriend. On a whim she decides to return to her small hometown and win back the old beau and in the process gets tangled up with a former classmate who was or was not gay but in any case was maimed by jocks who thought he was gay and now is as physically crippled as she is mentally. Are you laughing yet?
I wanted to see this movie when it first came out based on some trailers showing Theron trying to hide her dog checking into a motel and other deadpan moves. So did 8 or 9 other people but it didn’t work. The plot is incredibly depressing and you do not leave the film with an uplifted morale. So nobody wanted to see it except a very few who told their friends to stay away.
Moral for us copywriters is, nobody’s going to read something that makes them feel bad. Okay to turn on the spigots of negativity, but be sure to transition to that golden shower of redemption before you’re done… AND you need to let them know at the outset that said redemption is in sight. Make sense?
I pass this billboard frequently on a busy highway in upstate New York. It has multiple inspirational headlines stacked like cordwood: Driven/ Innovation/ Pass It On/ Values.com. To the left, a photo of Henry Ford (we know it’s him because there is a caption that says Henry Ford), driving (not being driven in) an early horseless carriage. The net effect is too much of a good thing, and I see it all the time, so I finally had to write about it.
Part of the problem is that the placement is a stone’s throw from Troy, NY, birthplace of the Arrow shirt, the cast iron stove, Uncle Sam and The Night Before Christmas among innovations. It sticks in our craw that they chose a non-local for their innovator. But the bigger issue is the multiple inspirational sayings when just one or two would do. It’s like too much candy on Halloween.
I headed over to Values.com to learn more about exactly what inspires them to inspire. It’s an interesting website. You can’t join them or give them money or get money from them; they’re doing this because “We believe that people are basically good and often benefit from a simple reminder.” Fair enough, and a good reason they deserve a little gentle nudging to make sure those reminders are effective.
There’s a section on the website called “Billboards” and on it you can create your own values billboard and look at it online, or look at billboards others have created. Each has one photo, one headline and one value and works a lot better than Values.com’s “Driven” effort. Give it a try. (But be sure your inspiration is not something naughty like “beer” or you’ll get a server error.)
By the way, what the website does not say is that Values.com is apparently funded by evangelical Christian Phillip Anschutz, who according to Wikipedia has also funded a think tank that criticizes evolution and a ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. If I were Mr. Anschutz, I would identify myself and make my case on the website rather than leaving it to the curious visitor to go googling and draw their own conclusions.
We’re back as promised to that corridor of horrors where tyro copywriters go to die. But this time we’ll focus on the context in which your headline/outer teaser is read and include a couple of positive examples.
First, some badvertising from Bose on the back of a Sunday newspaper insert… about as broad a demographic as you can find. “If you think watching TV is exciting, wait until you really hear it.” There are two things wrong here. First, the copywriter assumes universal agreement that “watching TV is exciting”. If it’s not a head-nodder then the reader is lost. But do we all agree that “watching TV is exciting”? Not likely. Second, there’s an intellectual contortion required to stay with the writer’s train of thought. When you switch from one action mode to another (watching… to listening) that’s some heavy lifting for the reader to do in their mind’s eye. Not likely they will stay around for the body copy, and neither shall we.
Wall Street Journal “welcome back”
Now look at this envelope from the Wall Street Journal: “Welcome Back”. Apparently I renewed after a lapse but don’t remember doing so; naturally, I’m going to open the envelope to see what I agreed to. And when I get inside it turns out this is their standard “professional courtesy discount” offer; they WANT to say welcome back and maybe I will feel a little guilty about getting an offer that maybe I’m not entitled to so you can guess I’ll jump on that. The two simple words “Welcome Back” do a brilliant job of framing the conversation and getting me involved.
Coke Zero “don’t read” banner
Same thing with this Coke Zero banner that ran during the NCAA championship game: “Don’t read this banner. There’s basketball on.” Well, of course I’m going to read it because I can’t not do so. But in this chest-bumping environment I will give you huge points for the apparent cool factor. Yet it actually ties perfectly into their tag line, “enjoy everything”.
The copywriters on the WSJ and Coke Zero projects thought about the environment in which the prospect is viewing the ad, and meet them on their own turf. The Bose copywriter asked readers to switch from what they’re doing to what the writer wants them to think about. Which is better and more effective?
I used a Citi “Thank You” card as my main purchasing vehicle for maybe 10 years. Its attraction was that it credited travel points for miles on any airline (at the time, unheard of) and I amassed some 300,000 points and paid the $75 annual fee each of those ten years. Then, about a year ago, I happened to have a question about my account and the telephone rep told me that virtually all my points were expiring in 90 days. I could purchase travel for a future date but if I didn’t buy something before the deadline they were gone.
So, my wife and kid went to visit friends in Germany in high season at a ridiculous price and we used more points on a family vacation. There were still tens of thousands of points left over so I transferred them to a new, no-fee Thank You card and cancelled the paid card. A few months later that card’s points are about to expire so I have been scheming to get some value out of them. It’s an expensive time to book travel so I’m looking to buy gift cards for places where I spend money. Meanwhile, from Citi’s perspective, I’ve transitioned from a presumably profitable customer paying a high annual fee to a fee-free and soon to be ex-customer.
While I’ve been spending way too much time negotiating with the Thank You folks, I have wondered whether there are any useful marketing lessons to be gleaned. Certainly the strangest policy is to let points expire without notifying the customer. It’s not like you get an AAdvantage statement where you can see that you need to book travel before a certain date to keep your old points; the whole procedure is invisible unless you log onto their website. Why in the world don’t they send me notices that warn, “your points are about to expire, here are some great offers from our partners”?
And about that website. You can check your points from your Citi card login which takes you to a rather promotional and unhelpful website, but there is a shadow thankyou.com website that you will never see unless you establish a separate log-in with a username and password that have different rules from your Citi card login. Yet this secret handshake is required for certain privileges, such as redeeming for Amazon purchases which they offered me recently (that’s how I found out about the separate website). And I don’t consider myself a web troglodyte. What happens with people who barely know how to log on, or still do their business by phone?
Thus, when I got an invitation to take a survey and say how happy I was with Thank You Points, you can bet I swooped down on it like a hawk on a chicken. A few days later I got an email from a certain [redacted], inviting me to call her and explain why I would not recommend Thank You to a friend. Apparently she had tried repeatedly to reach me by phone, which is peculiar because my cell is listed in my Citi contact information and there is no record of calls from unidentified callers. I called her back and left a message, also emailed her, and she did not return my call or respond to the email. But I was more than ready to share my opinion, so I am doing it here. [UPDATE: she finally did call me. See the comment for an update, plus why it took so long.]
What can marketers learn from all this? First, the points expiration seems ridiculous, but any expiration must be treated as an opportunity to contact your customer. Not doing that is just crazy. It’s lost revenue and lost good will.
Second, byzantine websites that require the user to decode your intentions are not okay. (If you want to book travel, the main reason I got the card, that link is buried in the bottom menu of the page of “rewards” below bubbly cross-promotions.) If you aren’t willing to meet your customer’s needs with clean and logical navigation, they will go find somebody who will.
Third, don’t play games by telling me you’ve tried to contact me when you haven’t and then not responding to my calls and emails. That’s middle school stuff.
To be fair, I haven’t reported some nice transactions with Citi folks on the phone trying to solve these problems but neither have I described every problem I’ve had with this program; there’s lots more. Also, full disclosure, I bought Citi stock when it was in the toilet and have made enough to pay for the points I lost. But not for the aggravation.
It’s been far too long since we’ve visited the Badvertising Hall of Shame… that corridor of horrors where unfortunate marketers teach us by example what NOT to do. Let’s begin with this outer envelope teaser from Fresh Air Fund.
This is a seasonal appeal I used to struggle with when doing work for Salvation Army… the “send an inner city kid to camp” fund. It seemed less urgent than putting food on the table or rescuing a child from the streets, and it was complicated because you’d have to create a word picture of why this was important before the reader got away. No missteps are permissible.
So look what Fresh Air Fund has chosen as its teaser: The buses are leaving soon… please hurry! What buses? Am I supposed to be on one? Why on earth does this not say instead, “The bus is about to leave for camp without me… please help!” (Singular better than plural because it’s more specific, and let’s mention the reason for the appeal for chrissake.) Also, while camps are universally recognized as a good thing buses are not. Seems like a terrible choice for the opening salvo in this appeal. Next.
Do you believe this?
From… I don’t know who because I never opened it… I have a blind outer with nothing but PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL printed above my name. Maybe I notice the “standard postage” indicia that spoils the illusion, but maybe I don’t; they’ve done a good job of designing something that looks like a real meter imprint.
But, look what’s above my name: PREPARED FOR: Okay, that’s too much and it’s also discordant with PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL which suggests a very individualized letter, maybe a collection notice, whereas PREPARED FOR suggests a mechanized process like maybe a refund. Either would have been good on its own, together they cancel each other out. The blind outer has lost its intrigue so out it goes.
When did the 72 hour sale begin anyway?
Finally we have this from Pella: OPEN IMMEDIATELY: 72-hour event ends soon. Well, is it 72 hours or isn’t it? If it is, it ends in 72 hours, not “soon”. The contradiction completely bursts the bubble of urgency and anticipation. Also, since this is clearly a piece of advertising mail, there needs to be more reader context, eg “Hurry! You’ve only got 72 hours to save” or “Open for your private invitation to our 72 hour preferred customer sale”.
That’s enough for today. Three examples in which the client or product manager is wondering why their mailing was not more successful, when in each case the fault lies with the copywriter who is probably making mischief on another campaign right now. I’ll have a couple more good ones in my next post.
Infographics seem to be the newest arrow in the art director’s quiver. Why say it with words when you can throw in a clever graphic? I’m fine with this as long as it enhances the communication, but recently I’ve seen some examples in which the visuals actually got in the way.
Here’s a simple infographic from Rovi (they’re my client, but I wasn’t involved in this) which demonstrates several best practices. The stat is about the effective life of different categories of device and it turns out the bigger the screen, the longer it tends to stay around. So the designer created a graph in which time is expressed by the size of the screen and is reinforced by the more precise timeline at the top. It’s memorable and instantly understandable. It pulls one fact out of a longer article which is particularly appropriate for visual expression.
Less good are infographics in which a legend is required to understand what the visual is communicating—in other words, there are design objects that symbolize something and then off to the side there’s a caption that says what they mean. This is a necessary feature with complex charts but an infographic is not supposed to be complex. If you need a legend to make your point, start over.
Still less good are infographics in which numbers are just translated into graphics with color and clever type treatments. This seems to be the most common type of faux infographic. Our friends at eConsultancy shared this classic from Google+ in “How Not to Make an Infographic: Four Examples to Avoid”. (Sorry it’s tiny; click through to the jpg then click on the magnifying glass to blow it up.) There’s nothing in these numbers that could not have been said just as effectively with simple words. The graphics don’t add anything; they’re arbitrary and don’t add the visual revelation we saw in the Rovi example.
Finally, at the bottom of the barrel, we find infographics that are actually incomprehensible. This is the kind of work I’ve seen from a couple of would-be infographics designers who pull out words or numbers that look important, then turn them into graphics and assume they will support the text. But it doesn’t work like that. An infographic has to work on its own as an element of the message.
None of this is news, of course. Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, first published in 1983, has great examples of infographics dating back to the time of Napoleon. I wish some of today’s would-be infographers would read it.
I love the new commercial announcing the US Airways/American Air merger. It’s stirring, and poignant, and on-message. Who would have thought that a corporate merger could make your heart swell with pride? They did it with an emotional tug at the appeal of new beginnings… an empty airport becomes filled with promise and we remember that flying used to be romantic and exciting. Here’s the script, as narrated by John Hamm:
It’s time to make a change.
It’s time to become better versions of ourselves.
To be greater than you expected.
And more than you had hoped for.
So starting now, we begin a new chapter.
One written in passion, and skill, ambition, and sweat.
One where two companies take the best of themselves to create something better.
And when all is said and done, we will not only have become a bigger airline
But also something so much greater.
So let’s introduce ourselves to the world…
Not again, but for the very first time.
The new American is arriving.
What’s even better is that the spot was completed on February 12 (per the slate at the beginning), the day before the merger was announced, so it would seem to have been produced in record time. How did they do it? Perhaps it was in the can in anticipation of the event (which had been publicly discussed for several weeks), but I like to think they (McCann Worldwide) quickly threw it together using footage from the recent “Change is in the Air” campaign which debuted last month.
That campaign, by the way, fails for me in the same way this new spot succeeds. All the people stopping what they’re doing to look into the skies seems manipulative and unlikely, and also brings unfortunate echoes of 9/11, especially the peek at the tail of the plane disappearing over the top of the building. The evolution from that campaign to this one is to be applauded. I also like the fact I’ll finally be able to use my AAdvantage miles, since US Airways but not American flies to my local airport. Well done.
I booked a hotel through Priceline’s Booking.com subsidiary where you don’t have to pay up front but do have to give them a credit card with advance notice required if you cancel. Then I did need to cancel and found it surprisingly difficult.
The email confirmation made no mention of a cancellation procedure. I went back to the confirmation page on Priceline and there was nothing there about cancellation either. I poked around with searches for “cancel” on the Priceline website without success. I emailed the hotel at the address in my confirmation email and got no response. Finally, I called the hotel and they had no record of the reservation. They said since it was made through booking.com I’d have to go back through them.
So I did go on the booking.com website and entered the reservation number and PIN I’d been given and it took me to the page shown here. Notice there’s no cancellation option, just the choice to “change” my booking. I chose that and was then able to cancel without further difficulty.
I’m wondering if Priceline has run the numbers on the effects of this process, which is definitely more sneaky than what I’ve encountered on hotel sites and also on other aggregators like Expedia. On the one hand, there are probably people who, faced with the difficulty to cancel, just say screw it, I’ll stay there after all. But how often does that happen? Don’t you generally have a good specific reason when you cancel a reservation?
And the net effect on me is that, similar to CarRentals.com with its deceptive pricing policy, I’m much less likely to use booking.com in the future. How is that a good thing for them?