Whether you are writing an online article or a publication for the Extension Catalog, the title you craft goes a long way toward helping readers find your content.

Most readers go online to find specific information, and most use some kind of search engine to help them. Your title is what they use to decide whether to read your full article. The Internet is crammed with content, of course, but your headline is a way to separate yourself from the pack.

Your title should be an accurate and concise description of your publication. A good headline is essential for social sharing and understanding. Anyone who clicks on your publication or article did so because the title compelled them to or convinced them that your article has what the reader is looking for.

Title tips

  • Your headline should never use puns or clever wordplay.
  • Your headline should focus on the most important element in your publication or article. Vague, overarching titles like “All you need to know about tomatoes” will not be as effective as a precise headline like “Growing great tomatoes in western Oregon.”
  • It’s a good idea to run a Google search for your topic before you write your title. That way, you can make sure your title is distinct from others and reaches the readers who will be searching for it.
  • Keep titles to six to eight words.
  • Ask a critical question in your headline. “How can I defeat the slugs eating my broccoli?”
  • This free Headline Analyzer measures your title’s readability, sentiment and SEO and gives you a score for each and an overall score. Try revising your headline in the tool to increase its overall score. Another great option: the free online Headline Optimizer.
  • Put your keywords at the beginning of your title and integrate as naturally as possible so your title sounds like people talk.
  • Avoid technical terms or jargon, even if you feel your audience will understand. Instead, simplify your title by using clear, unambiguous language.

For example, if you wrote an article about the best organic fertilizers to use on tomatoes, your title should accurately convey the topic of your article and use words a reader might use to search for that topic. You could title the article, “Use lots of fertilizer and water to grow big, beautiful tomatoes,” but an even better title would put the keyword ‘tomato’ closer to the beginning: “Want beautiful tomatoes? Feed and water them on schedule.”

Google will display only the first 50 or 60 characters of your title. If you go over 60 characters, your headline may not display properly on the search results. This bad situation can be made worse if you put crucial keywords toward the end of a long title. When that happens, your prospective reader won’t know for sure that your article contains the information they want, and they’ll go to a different web page.

Headings

Headings — those short titles, or subheads, that appear between sections of your story — don’t have the same direct impact on search as your title. But they offer several indirect benefits. For example, they make your text easier to read, and better text attracts readers, which then improves search results. If you’re trying to get featured on Google for a how-to process, use subheads to specify each step.

Clear, relevant headings are also vital for quickly skimming content by people who listen to what is on a webpage using screen readers or voice assistants. Good accessibility can also improve your ranking when a search engine returns results.

Good headings also reduce your bounce rate. If people can’t quickly find what they are looking for because your headings are vague or unenticing, they’ll bounce to another website. However, helpful headings ensure they will stick around longer. Search engines value that.

In the end, the proof is in the analytics. If your web article isn’t drawing the kind of traffic you think it should, consider a new title and headings. This is called “optimizing” your headline, and there’s nothing wrong with running a few tests to find what clicks with readers.

You can do the same thing with your newsletter, sending different versions of the subject line to different groups of subscribers to learn what readers respond to. If you use an e-news tool like Mailchimp, it has a way to do this called A/B testing.

We spend a lot of energy trying to inform readers. But when it comes to titles, sometimes readers inform us. It pays to listen.

Author: Jim Sloan

Extension works in so many different fields from public health to forestry to food systems. People either know us or discover us based on our knowledge in these specific areas. So it is not surprising, the topic menu receives the most clicks on the Extension website’s navigation.

Many of these topic pages could use some organizing by subject matter experts. Topic pages can fill the need to show your coordinated efforts. The educational resources you share every day with key audiences can be accessed in one place without needing to create a separate website on the topic. These topic pages will also easily connect visitors with Extension programs, events and experts across the state.

How topic pages are organized

If no one has curated the topic page, then it is automated to show any latest content tagged with the topic. Check out a topic that relates to your work and see if it looks complete or out of date.

If it’s not useful, then it may be time to connect with the point people from the different Extension program areas to help you quickly organize it. The Extension web team can help you get connected.

The point people will give you an excel sheet of the existing content on that topic page, then ask you to identify and mark related categories. This process also helps you catch content that was mistagged or should be archived.

Then using those categories, the point people can add content tags and set the topic page up online for your review. You can also make further changes on your own. Learn more in the web guide on Instructions for Topic Pages, including a how-to video.

Here’s some great examples of curated topic pages:

Next week’s blog post will highlight the best practices that the Youth education resources and Bees and Pollinators topic pages put in place.

New features: Topic categories

Until now, we had to use custom keywords to organize a topic page. Now it is easier with topic categories. The categories help to identify the top tasks that people often come looking for, and show up as main headings down the topic page.

The topic categories also show up as a way to filter “Browse Resources”.

You can add a topic category from your group page if you are a topic page facilitator. Then whenever anyone adds a topic tag to content, the topic category field shows up to fill in. This helps to remember to add these category tags, so any new content shows up in the right place on the topic page.

New features: Opt-in Form for visitors

In the past quarter, visitors to the Extension website has grown 63% in comparison to the same time last year. That’s a lot of people who may be interested to engage with us. A new tool that we are piloting allows people to sign up to get more information.

On the gardening techniques topic page, web visitors can sign up to get a gardening e-newsletter each month. This message “Join our email list for free gardening tips!” pops up from the bottom of the page.

If they decide they want our help for a healthy, beautiful and productive garden and click “Sign me up for the newsletter”, then they can submit their name and email. We assure them we are committed to their privacy and not sharing their information.

If they enter their information, they will get future newsletters.

On the garden vegetable and herb topic page, web visitors see a pop up from the bottom of the screen “Get your free essential guide to gardening!”.

If they click “Download the free guide”, then it gives them an opt-in form to email them the free guide.

If you are interested to learn more, then reach out to us and we can tell you how to try it out on a topic page that you organize.

During these times, we make the most with what we have. And sometimes we can do more with what is at our fingertips. In one-on-one web meetings or when auditing webpages now two years after launch, it’s clear that many of the helpful features of the website’s content management system are still new to you.

When things are new, they may be avoided or underused. So, explaining how these work more than once and in different ways helps. We have done a written web guide, blog posts and trainings. Some quick tips below will hopefully show you things you may have missed.

How do I make a page more designed or organized?

It can be hard to connect what you see on the back-end (where you edit pages) with what you see after you save it. Page sections are the way to layout your content and make information standout for a visitor on the webpage – whether it is a topic, county or program page.

Below is an excerpted video from a recent webinar. It switches back and forth to help you see: what each page section looks likes in edit mode and what it looks like once saved.

Click to play the video on page sections

As the video shows, page sections allow you to add pieces of content to a page in chunks, one section at a time.

There are different types of sections you can use to customize your page:

  • Standard: For typing in static text and for adding images or videos. These don’t fully use the content management system, since they aren’t shareable across the site.
  • Automated: For automatically displaying lists of events, program resources, or latest content. Once set up, you don’t need to do anything more. The content updates based on tagging or dates.
  • Selected: For finding content that others added on the website, and selecting it so it displays in a specific place. You need to remove it later if you no longer want it to show.
  • Designed: For setting up a page so content stands out (e.g. an orange stylized bar with icons to click). Also, it can make content formatted a specific way (e.g. content titles show and when you click the full text expands).

Not all page sections or advanced settings are covered in this video, so also read more in the web guide.

How do I stop an event or announcement from showing up?

You can now modify tags! This makes it easy to fix a piece of content that was mistagged. You can also add your county tag, topic tag or program tag to something to get it to show up. This can be useful for an online event that may be of interest to your audiences.

This short video shows you how to modify tags (click to play).

What’s happened to my content or page?

Sometimes you notice something has changed or isn’t how you remembered it. First, take a deep breath and realize two things: there’s an easy way to find out and it’s usually a simple explanation.

We are in this together. You each have a lot of access to do things you need to on the website, and that means many other people do too. It’s what makes this website platform function with the resources we have. Communication and a sense of calm can help most situations.

The easy way to find out what’s happened is to look at the “Revisions” tab at the top of any page.

The revisions page records who made the last changes, and you can compare to see what changes were made. It’s even better when everyone remembers to leave comments in the “revision log” field when editing a page. Those comments appear in the Revisions tab too.

If nothing looks out of the ordinary there, then send a quick email to https://beav.es/extension-support to ask us to look into it.

If it’s a technical issue, then we will get on it. If it’s a training issue, we can offer context to help understand the way the content management system or different team processes work.

What’s the benefits of the website’s content management system?

This efficient system has prepared us for the long term goals of integrating Extension content with other sites, social media, and client relationship management platforms. It will also be able to personalize content for visitors on the website. This is why the content is structured and tagged in the way it is.

Being in the same content management system helps to:

  • Show a more unified presence of Extension and the coordinated efforts within each of our programs, fields of expertise and regions
  • Track analytics and feedback for a more strategic approach
  • Avoid duplication of resources and use the tagging and page sections to share and show one piece of content in many places.

We are continually improving this behind-the-scenes editing experience.  We are working to simplify the way content authors add, find, select, translate and manage content. Stay tuned for more news and trainings later in the year. In the meantime, reach out to us now for a 1-on-1 working session to get up to speed on all that you can do.

Extension is all about the practical applications of science, and scientists love acronyms. But in practice, acronyms and abbreviations can cloud meaning and turn off the people we’re trying to reach.

An acronym is formed from the first letter of each word in a series. Writers often use acronyms to save space and avoid repeating a technical term or a long agency name. But consider that readers have to stop and decode each acronym, each time it is used. Acronyms impede comprehension and alienate readers.

Many of us were taught to follow a term such as Extension and Experiment Station Communications with its acronym, set off by parentheses: Extension and Experiment State Communications (EESC).

Oregon State University follows Associated Press Style, which frowns on this convention. The AP Stylebook explicitly states:

AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS: Do not follow an organization’s full name with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses or set off by dashes. If an abbreviation or acronym would not be clear on second reference without this arrangement, do not use it.”

Questions to ask yourself

This guidance poses a dilemma for those of us who write scientific and technical communications. Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether to use an acronym.

Can you say it out loud?

Acronyms ease communication when they are a shorter, easier way of referring to your subject. But acronyms no one can pronounce have the opposite effect. If you have to resort to a difficult letter combination, consider subbing in some shorthand language instead.

Acceptable:  WHB pest status is derived from the transmission of WHBTA.

Better: White horned beetles are deemed pests because they carry White Horned Beetle Transmitted Virescence Agent, which causes whopping disease in raspberries. The damage is caused by the agent, not the action of the pest on the plant.

In this example, the term “agent” serves as a substitution for the hard-to-read acronym.

Who is your audience?

If you are writing for a technical audience already familiar with your field’s terminology, acronyms may be acceptable. In these cases, stop and consider how you would explain such terms to new members of your audience who are just entering the field. You may want to add context to help clarify your meaning.

Acceptable: FSMA

Better: Food Safety Modernization Act or food safety act (on the second reference)

While many publications in the Extension Catalog qualify as technical documents, most are intended to appeal to a general audience. When writing for the Extension website or a newsletter, avoid excessive use of acronyms and overly technical language. Use plain language.

Is the acronym a familiar one?

Acronyms in common use such as AAA, CT scan, UFO, PTA and OSU are all OK. Avoid using unfamiliar acronyms.

How many times will the acronym be repeated?

If your entire story is based on subject XCT, it’s OK to use the acronym (after you have made clear its meaning). But be selective, and avoid sprinkling in additional acronyms. That can make the piece harder to read and understand.

If you use the term only once or twice, there is no need for an acronym.

What are the alternatives?

Changing old habits can be hard. Here are some techniques that can help readers grasp the meaning behind an acronym.

  • Repeat the term in full on each reference. (Admittedly, awkward.) United Aircraft Mechanics approved the deal early Thursday. Later in the day, a representative of United Aircraft Mechanics said the agreement had already been broken.
  • Use an element of the full term as shorthand on future references. “The mechanics” instead of “United Aircraft Mechanics.”
  • Use a synonym. “The group” or “the union” can sub in for UAM on subsequent references.

When is an acronym OK?

Yes, it’s still OK to use many common acronyms and abbreviations. Here are some frequent uses of acronyms in Extension publications:

  • Fertilizer: N, P, K.
  • Measurements: F, mpg, mph, GPA, etc.
  • Integrated Pest Management: IPM.
  • Names of pests, such as spotted-wing drosophila, or SWD.
  • COAREC and other experiment stations. (Spell out the full name on first reference.)
  • EPA, IRS, ODA.

What’s the right way to use an acronym?

Spell out the full term on first reference, and introduce the acronym within the same paragraph.

  • These producers employ a practice known as Integrated Pest Management. IPM uses a combination of strategies to control pests.
  • These producers employ a practice known as Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Producers who use IPM report better outcomes.

Punctuation: Avoid periods between individual letters unless the acronym would spell an unrelated word. Academic degrees (M.S., Ph.D., etc.) and some two-letter acronyms are an exception.

Plurals: Add s, no apostrophe. REIs, PHIs. Exception: Letters, such as A’s and B’s.

Can I use an acronym in my title?

Avoid the use of acronyms in headlines, titles and subheads, especially if the acronym is not in familiar use.

The upshot: Be conscious of any reading impediments embedded in all caps in your text. Make reading easier by keeping acronyms to a minimum.

What other questions do you have about acronyms? Leave them in the comments and we’ll get back to you!

Author: Janet Donnelly

Lately, people have been wondering how to share their recent Zoom recordings and handouts, and how to let communities know we’re still providing useful activities and resources. The website can play a part in this communication, alongside your emails, social media, newsletters and outreach to local media. We have some guidelines and examples and considerations to get you started and coordinated related to: Prepping recordings, Program pages, County pages.

County pages

The county landing page already is a spot to feature your current events, your newsletter and feature a few new pieces of content either from your county or statewide news and resources. You can also use announcements to share resources like Lincoln county.

This action of keeping your landing page fresh shows you are active. Featuring a couple pieces of new content could be done at the same time you are pulling together your newsletter.

If you have a lot of new resources, then keep your focus areas under “What we do” updated too. In addition to announcements, Lincoln county added a new focus area to encourage supporting local food, for example.

We’ve also had requests from other regions that they want one place to showcase all that’s happening across their program areas. In this case, an “Online resources and activities” focus area can be featured at the top of your What We Do section on your homepage.

Here’s an example that we will push out to counties later this week, which you can customize.

We want to elevate visibility and awareness of OSU Extension’s work with Oregon communities with particular focus on local and county-level impact and resilience in the face of COVID-19. Next week we’ll share another focus area template to help you in directing people on where to find local food, health and financial assistance too.

Program pages

Other than the event lists, program subpages are a good place to communicate with participants and volunteers in your program what new resources you have that they can do at home. The key is coordinating how these resources are added, although the design on the page can vary.

Here’s a short decision tree.

  1. Is the new resource only relevant to your local program in your county?
    1. Yes, add as a program resource to your local program group.
    2. No, see below.
  2. Is the new resource of interest to or being duplicated by other local programs in other counties?
    1. Yes, add as a statewide program resources and tag for the local county programs. This way it only needs to be updated in one place.
    2. 4-H Jackson county is an example that could be done this way since they have good resources that could be of interest to other 4-H county programs that are also adding new home activities subpages.
  3. Is the new resource of interest to other statewide programs and the general public?
    1. Work with related faculty to add through a content team as an educational material and tag for the program(s). This way it can show up on topic pages too.
    2. Oregon Master Naturalist is an example that shifted to this way.

Prepping and sharing your recordings

Content teams have shifted to giving virtual programming since the pandemic started. When giving your programming as a scheduled webinar, the recordings are posted in OSU MediaSpace within hours. You can use this recording in several ways, but there’s a few things you need to do first.

Make sure that you have informed attendees it is being recording and received the needed permissions from those attending. Please remember that recording meetings or events with youth is prohibited without express consent from their parent or guardians. See specifics on the Virtual Extension program delivery page.

To ensure we meet our ADA responsibility, please request captions for your Kaltura video, and proof and fix any issues. This will ensure the recorded content is as widely accessible as possible.

  • You may need to edit your Kaltura video to snip the beginning or end of your recording. You can find instructions here.
  • Check in if you have any branding for pre and post-production to be added.
  • Lastly you will need to share your video.

Once you have completed these steps, you can post the video on the website.

  1. Add the recording link to the event page (which can still be found by searching on the website after the event) along with any handouts. However, don’t share publicly “meetings”, especially that contain youth in the recording, on the website. See program delivery info on Zoom safety and security on our Virtual Extension website.
  2. Get the attendee list from your Zoom Oregon State report dashboard afterward and email it to them. Contact us for any questions on getting that list.
  3. Add the video on the related county focus area if the content is a webinar not meant for broader distribution (check with the appropriate content team first). See a Coos county example.
  4. See if faculty want to edit portions of the webinar to add as educational content through their content team. Visitors to the site often want quick answers not whole webinars when they find videos on the site.

You still want people to attend the program, rather than just wait to find the recording. The value of people attending the webinar live is that they can engage with you and other participants – a chance to ask questions and network. However, analytics on numbers of views of the recordings could be included in your Digital Measures reporting.

Web updates

It is important for our learners, stakeholders and funders to know that OSU Extension continues to actively serve, engage, respond and innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic—even while locations are closed and employees are working remotely.

To align with the current way we deliver services, we adjusted small but meaningful wording on the site:

  • We adjusted the emergency announcement from emphasizing we are closed to we are still here for you with related resources.
  • We made it clearer on the homepage how we are offering many online events from across the state.
  • We made sure that postponed events are now separate from active events.
  • We shared information on wearing a face covering on county sites.
  • We feature new resources on the homepage and COVID-19 topic page, like the new “Sewing cloth face coverings for beginners” educational gallery.

We also improved the speed at which you can enter and update content behind-the-scenes.

Across OSU Extension, email newsletters are used to educate, convey information to, and build trust and community with industry-specific, program-specific and general audiences. However, each newsletter within the division looks different, sounds different, provides varying levels of effectiveness and offers varying levels of brand alignment and accessibility.

There are best practices we all can adopt to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of our email newsletters. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out Extension newsletter templates to make it easier to tell our stories better. These templates will be designed to work on MailChimp and Constant Contact platforms. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, adopt the following best practices and we’ll make significant strides in readability, effectiveness and accessibility.

10 Best practices to adopt now

1) Write engaging and informative subject lines.

This is the first opportunity to make your audience curious about the content of your newsletter. Try to limit the subject line to no more than 50 characters (including spaces). Check out these websites for guidance on writing engaging subject lines:

2) Make the preheader work for you.

Preheader text is the short line of text displayed next to or just below the email subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. Preheaders are often overlooked opportunities to engage the reader and tell them more about what’s in the newsletter.

3) Build a clean list and remove unengaged email addresses.

If someone hasn’t opened any of your emails for a year or more, find out if they still want to receive your email newsletter. Send a “We miss you” email to see if they want to continue being a subscriber. A clean list will give you a more accurate email open and engagement rate.

4) Personalize your greeting.

Using the first name of your subscriber is more likely to capture the attention of the reader. This can be in the subject line or start the newsletter with “Dear {first name}.”

5) Keep content short, simple, personable and focused on the interests of the readers.

Think about what the payoff is for the reader. What’s the essential takeaway? How does the story reinforce the value of Extension to the community? Then write two or three compelling sentences as your lead-in to tease the reader into continuing to read the story by clicking on the call-to-action.

Limit the number of articles to three to five. Enough white space within the overall newsletter will make the newsletter easier to read. The Extension website is a good source for newsletter content: news stories, publications, event information and other content. Use links to encourage visits to the website.

6) Use compelling calls-to-action.

Instead of “click here” or “click this link,” use more actionable language, such as “Learn more,” “Download,” and “Register today.” If calls-to-action are images, use alternative text to make sure readers can click them even if images aren’t enabled.

7) Improve accessibility.

Increase font size to 12 to 14 point for body copy. Use the Georgia font for headlines and Verdana font for body text. Use alternative text to describe story images so that subscribers that disable images or those with disabilities know what you’re showing them. Do not use text over photos or PDFs embedded into the newsletters. Avoid text-heavy content.

8) Include links to social media sites.

This allows readers to share content easily. (And consider including a link to your newsletter in your email signature. Refer to email signature guidelines for the way to do it.)

9) Include an email signature.

People are more inclined to read and open emails if they come from a person rather than info@companyname or noreply@companyname.

10) Send your newsletters consistently.

Choose the frequency of the newsletter and settle on the day and time of delivery (this may take a little time to find the best day and time for open rates and click-throughs). Then stick to the schedule so your readers watch for and anticipate it.

Additional tips

Review metrics to see what content is of greatest interest to your audience.

During the Stay Home, Save Lives mandate and beyond, reinforce in headlines and body copy that OSU and Extension are here for our communities.

Set expectations when someone first signs up for your newsletter so that they know what to expect for frequency and type of content.

A/B test subject lines and calls-to-action between two groups of subscribers to learn what language creates a greater response. Read: Effective email marketing subject lines.

Segment your audience to appeal to their interests. The value of the content will be elevated if it’s of interest to the reader.

Add video and animated content to increase engagement with the reader. Also increase engagement and learn more about your readers by adding a quick poll.

Reinforce the personality of Extension with the tone of story selection and writing style. Personality characteristics for Extension are defined in the Extension Style Guide:

  • Collaborative – We’re better together
  • Conscientious – Aware, with integrity and conviction
  • Visionary – Creatively leading the way, taking on issues
  • Welcoming – Friendly, open to all and enriched by difference
  • Progressive – Pursuing innovative practices that lead to proven methods of thinking and doing
  • Helpful – Focused on service that meets the needs of our communities
  • Adventurous – Having the courage to seek out new solutions

 

Author: Ann Marie Murphy

 

Sources:

As you think about ways to engage the public from a distance, there’s new visual features on the website to try out. If you need quick ideas to fill out your newsletters, then a tool coming soon will give you ready-to-go content teasers and photos to use. Finally, we give a few tips about sharing coronavirus updates and content on the website.

New tools to try out for digital delivery of information

You often get asked how to identify a plant, a spider or many other things that people encounter in their homes or fields. Or how to build a raised bed or landscape wall. Content teams that need to share identification photos and descriptions, or step by step instructions, can do so in the new virtual “educational gallery” content type.

Learn more about how to set up an educational gallery in our web guide.

If what you need to share is more text than visual-based, then programs and projects also have the option to add collapsible page sections to their subpages. This helps people see the process at a glance, and expand to read more.

Here’s information in our web guide on how to add page sections.

In the coming weeks, our outreach may rely on our social media and newsletters for ways to engage with and deliver information to our communities. If you postpone or cancel an event, maybe there’s some good content online on the same topic to share in the meantime. When you log in to the Extension website, you will soon be able to access a “content bank”.

This will be an easy way to find existing web or video content that meets a need (e.g. blueberries is the top search on our site this week), and be able to download a photo, URL and short blurb you can share. This directs people to read the full article online.

Once this is ready, the content bank will be found on your My Groups page when logged in.

Also, check out the Virtual Extension webpage for other ideas. It is a growing resource! EESC will continue to solicit from across Extension more shareable content and engagement suggestions to share on this page. We’ll also continue to add tutorials, such as on how to do a video from your smartphone or set up Facebook Live, and the best situations to use those tools.

Adding web updates related to COVID-19

An emergency announcement appears in red across the top of Extension website pages to let the public know of recent decisions.

If you have specific updates for your county or program, then you can add a regular announcement that will show in an orange bar across your page. Make the title specific, so when people search the site the announcements are distinguishable.

Your county pages office hours now indicate that offices are not open to public traffic but that you can be reached via phone or email during regular business hours.

On event pages, you have a standard COVID-19 statement too that you can change as you know more about if the event will be postponed, canceled or done virtually.

The homepage directs people to the CDC fact sheets on handwashing and other important information in English and Spanish. If content teams add videos, web articles, or online resources from other places on hand-washing and topics related to Extension’s work, please select the keyword “COVID-19” so it can be compiled in searches. We may add a new tag, collection page or other ways to gather the information down the road.

You can always contact us through our beav.es/extension-support request system if you have a question along the way.

We write so that others will read.

No matter what we write — an email, a newsletter article, a research paper — we want people to read it and understand.

The key to understanding isn’t some complex formula. It’s actually quite simple: a form of writing called “plain language.” Plain language conveys meaning in short, spare sentences and simple words. Plain language is:

  • Accessible. Plain language helps us reach everyone, including people with learning or other disabilities, people whose first language is not English, and people who may be reading online while feeding a toddler and waiting on hold with the cable company.
  • Active. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action: “The mouse ate the cookie,” not “it is believed the cookie was consumed by the mouse.”
  • The law. Government agencies like the IRS and the state of Oregon have adopted plain language guidelines. OSU websites should follow web accessibility guidelines, including those on readability.

There’s an app for that

Oddly, it’s hard to write simply.

Thankfully, some great new tools can help us measure and improve the readability of our text. One we like is called Hemingway Editor.

Start with a rough draft. Call up Hemingway in your browser, and copy and paste your text into the home screen. You’ll see a screen like this:

Zero in on the figure that denotes the reading level of your text. If it’s ninth grade or higher, start working your way up the Hemingway rainbow:

  • Clean up everything in light red. Cut unnecessary words. Divide complex sentences in two. Sub in some active verbs.
  • After pink, tackle yellow.
  • Re-check the reading level. Is it lower? Good job.
  • If the reading level is nine or above, keep working. Most audiences — including academics — prefer to read at an eighth grade level or below. Great writers like Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and J.R.R. Tolkien all wrote at the seventh grade level or below.

Make reading easy

Many readers today don’t read but instead scan written material. They’re looking for solutions in a hurry. Here are some ways to help these readers out:

  • Avoid long paragraphs. Long blocks of gray text turn readers off. Limit your paragraphs to one topic — about three sentences.
  • Use bulleted lists instead of long sentences filled with commas.
  • Use bold-faced lead-ins and subheads to help readers scan your text to find what they are looking for.
  • Read it out aloud. Before turning in anything to an editor or colleague, read it out aloud. You’ll be surprised how many awkward phrases you’ll find to revise.

Writing is hard, but reading doesn’t have to be. Use the tools of plain language to tell your story, and your readers will thank you.

Editor’s note: This article is written at a fifth-grade level.

More blog posts to come:

  • Science writing simplified: improving the readability of complex topics
  • The ABCs of acronyms
  • Tempting titles that click with readers

Authors: Janet Donnelly and Jim Sloan

In Extension we work in a variety of fields and with many great folks all over Oregon and worldwide. If you’re looking to reach people where they are at, video is an excellent medium to consider. YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine(1), and an excellent way to reach 18-49 year-olds. 80-90% of that age range uses YouTube monthly(2)!

With all of these billions of questions being asked on a regular basis, we need some help to find out what those questions are and how to best address them. We are regularly looking at the analytics from our Extension YouTube channel to harness our past data to help inform a better future.

Knowing how people search

If you’re curious about what the world is looking and searching for check out Google Trends. This is a great place to start when thinking about creating a video. You can break things down by region, look at related terms or topics, view seasonal popularity, and more. It’s useful to think about the terms that your audience will be using and not what you might use in academia.

Here are some of the search terms that have brought viewers to our YouTube channel recently:

 

  • Blue: how to get rid of moss in your lawn (and other variations)
  • Light Green: insect collection (and other variations)
  • Purple: plant pathology (and other variations), quinoa (and other variations)
  • Dark Green: small farm (and other variations)

All of these are terms and phrases used to search on YouTube. These are just for videos we currently have, there are many search terms where we have either no videos or we could use something more recent. Consider entering some search terms your audience would be looking for into YouTube, Google, or Google Trends. You very well could find some gaps in relevant content or perhaps a topic that needs refreshing.

Some of the most popular uses of video, in the case of YouTube, is for How-Tos and trying understand the world or products(3). This is right in Extension’s wheelhouse! Here are some videos that are currently harnessing curiosity well on YouTube:

From left to right:

  • Pinning Butterflies and Moths,
  • How to Identify a Plant or Weed
  • Collecting Insects with Traps and Lights
  • Collecting Insects: Tools and Supplies
  • Sweep Net Technique
  • Using A Plant Press.

All of these were in the top 12 for views in 2019, and as you’ll see below they are also some of the best at holding the audience’s attention.

Holding the audience’s attention

Think about your current audience. What are the questions that are being asked on a regular basis? What kinds of skills or procedures could you show through video?

While explaining the research and science behind topics are great, most viewers are looking for a solution to a problem. Get to the point and then explain the reason behind the solution. Looking for the “I-want-to-do ___” moments in your area of expertise is a great place to start.

We use the Audience Retention metric to see how a video is doing at getting to the point and meeting the viewer’s needs. Views tend to have a steep drop-off after the beginning. It’s important to hook the viewer in right away and prove that the video will meet their expectations. The first 15 seconds are the most crucial. These videos are doing well at holding viewers’ attention:

From left to right:

  • Scotch Broom Removal
  • Income Opportunities from Logs
  • How to Make a Trap to Catch the Spotted Wing Drosophila Fly
  • Sampling for Varroa Mites from a Honey Bee Brood Nest
  • Sweep Net Technique
  • How to sample a lot of hay
  • Collecting Insects with Traps and Lights
  • Managing Moss in Lawns.

All of these have over 60% viewer retention (very good), and you’ll notice that each one does a good job at directly addressing a problem or showing how to do something.

Audience Retention is also important for another reason: Google uses this in their algorithm when showing related videos at the end of a video. Having a high retention rate increases your chances of showing up in viewers’ feeds.

How to approach creating your video

Video is an amazing tool at reaching audiences, but because it is so widely used, it’s important to approach creating a video with a strategic plan otherwise you risk being drowned out. Here are some questions to ask if you’re thinking of getting into video:

  • Who is my audience (both existing ones and new ones you hope to attract)?
  • What kinds of questions are you hearing regularly, and what does data from sources like Google Trends say about your topic?
  • Do any of these questions work well as a How-To or to help someone in that “I-want-to-do ___” moment?
  • Is this a topic that can be shown well visually?

Something else to consider is to use YouTube as a social media platform. If you are willing to check the comments and to make your video interactive, it can be a good space to have conversation and address other questions that might come up. These interactions can also inspire future video topics.

Author: Stephen Ward

 

(1) 54 Fascinating and Incredible YouTube Statistics

(2) The latest video trends: Where your audience is watching

(3) Many Turn to YouTube for Children’s Content, News, How-To Lessons

Occasionally, we still hear from Extension faculty or staff worried about people not being able to find things on the website. Extension does have a lot of content on the site, and we do care what audiences think. This year EESC will continue our work on website usability and use analytics to help improve the visitor experience. Yet, the design solutions may not be what you thought, and focusing on content may be a better approach.

Where you can worry less: the changing design trends

Forget the “three-click rule.” The idea that web visitors will get frustrated if they have to click more than three times to find a piece of content has been around for the last couple of decades. Logically, it makes sense, but how many times they click doesn’t matter(1) and can make for unruly menus. What matters is each time they click, the page should deliver something to get them closer to an intended goal.

Also, our home page isn’t as important as you think. Visitors to our website are less likely to land on our home page than in the past – approximately 3% of visitors. This is a common trend happening across all websites. Search engines and social media are a big factor, as they will link to whatever page is relevant on our site. People go to a page of interest and don’t see the homepage.

A greater focus on organized, well-titled content and landing pages (vs. home page and navigation) can give you more visitor retention opportunities.

What to focus on: the content most asked for or that meets your goals

Give people the good stuff upfront when it comes to landing pages. What do they often ask about? Feature it prominently anywhere on the page, and then direct them to related content that may be less intriguing but still critical information. EESC can work with you on how to surface these top tasks.

One Nielsen Norman Group study(2) found that, like general web readers, the professionals we serve want content easy to scan and digest. They differ in that most are looking for detailed facts, verifying the credibility, and comparing data or related findings. Overstating outcomes or having out-of-date content diminishes credibility.

Two types of information particularly attract their attention:

  1. New information that they haven’t considered or heard of
  2. Contradictory information that is contrary to their existing knowledge or beliefs

This may be one reason a web article, Branding: OSU working to settle the debate of the ages, surpassed others in the high number of pageviews recently.

Do you have emerging research to share on a long-standing issue or trending topic? Share with your content team to get their input and then add as an article online. Web visitors can leave you feedback on the article, and then you could potentially develop the article further into a catalog publication or journal submission.

After reading these popular articles on the Extension website, the majority of people then leave the site. What action would you want visitors to take or what could they read next to further their engagement? How can we work together to improve that?

If you find when looking at the new analytics dashboards that a piece of your content does not reach people as hoped, then let’s look into it. What can we try with the content or on the landing pages, or in the promotion of it, to help? Also, assess your goals (e.g. attracting new participants) and ask how your online content can help to better meet them.

These actions keep content, and the related strategy, at the center of what we should be worrying about on the website, and helps us to better support people in our online communities.

 


Extension website updates

Are people still having trouble finding information online? Tell us on our beav.es/extension-support form (click the last option).

Newsletters now have a button link that goes to a “past issues” page, so the list on the main page only shows the 6 most recent issues. This will happen automatically once you reach more than six back issues.

Want to see who all the members are of a specific content team? What about contacting all web group leaders, or reaching out to a specific member of your web group? You will be able to do this now through the content management system when logged into the website. Just look for the link to this on your My Groups page.


(1) The Three-Click Rule for Navigation is False, Nielsen Norman Group 2019

(2) Writing Digital Copy for Domain Audiences Nielsen Norman Group 2017