How to craft article titles for the digital age


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How to craft article titles for the digital age

In a time when a lot of content marketing is done on the internet, writers and editors must consider the specific needs of the reader who is accessing their articles online. Here are my top three tips for how to reach them with clear headlines:

1. Keep them as short as you can.

Writing for a print layout gives you the luxury of being creative and clever with your titles, such as by using metaphors, imagery and colloquial turns of phrase. This often manifests as what I call “university press style”—a general phrase followed by further context.

Example: “Playing with fire: Global climate change and the catastrophic rise in forest fires in the American west”

However, writing articles for the web means your title needs to be concise. It will be squeezed into preview boxes in social media and into modules on webpages. If the title is too long, the whole line won’t appear. This limitation can be good, though—it forces you to focus on the main point of your article.

Edited version: “Study shows climate change worsens forest fires”

Titles must often fit within modules on a website layout

Titles must often fit within modules on a website layout.

2. Make them describe what the article is actually about.

Making your title clearly reflect the subject of the article works on two levels. One, readers who are scrolling through content on their mobile devices or scanning a list of recent articles in an email digest are able to quickly see what content is available and to click on what’s relevant to them. Two, it’s good for SEO. Organic search terms will be reflective of readers’ keywords or questions, which tend to be very straightforward.

Be specific, and be factual, to reflect the news content or product you are writing about.

Example: “Leading with a sustainability mindset brings it all together”

Edited version: “Mayor of Anytown adds LEED certification to 2018 building code”

3. Listicles really do work.

The stats don’t lie. Our analytics have shown that readers love to click on pieces that break down a topic with a number, through titles similar to these: “Top 10 States for LEED,” “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels,” “3 reasons to earn your LEED Green Associate credential.”

You don’t want to do this for every article, of course, and you must deliver on your title’s promise, not make it mere clickbait. But it’s a good idea to use numbers where appropriate in your content marketing, along with other terms that trigger the same sense of “this sounds easy!” For example, “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels” could also be “How to install solar panels on your home” or “Simple steps to solar panel installation.” People google “how…” more than just about any other term. It’s all about making your content relevant to the reader.

Learn more about structuring articles for content marketing

Using data to advance PR campaigns


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Using data to advance PR campaigns

At USGBC, the PR and Communications team uses data analytics and insights to continually improve our media relations and external outreach strategy. I recently spoke on this topic during a PR measurement webinar for PR News, one of the prominent PR trade organizations, and in a series of follow-up articles for the PR News industry newsletter.

These articles discuss the ways we leverage data and measurement to inform our stakeholder strategy and how data’s importance is already inherent in USGBC’s culture and through the LEED green building rating system.

In the January 23 issue, I talked about specific tools my team uses to capture metrics, as well as our efforts to share data creatively, such as through videos and newsletters. Read the issue.

Then, in the January 30 issue, we delve more into the technological changes in PR over the years and how they have provided an opportunity to evolve and explore using data to better target specific local markets. Read the issue.

Learn more about growing PR reach

User experience: Resources for great UX design


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User experience: Resources for great UX design

If you’re involved with the web in any capacity, you’ve probably heard the term “user experience (UX) design.” It has become an essential element for any successful website. It can often be misunderstood, though, as “UX” can refer to different things, depending on the context.

The general term “the user experience” refers to every touch point a person has with a company or site—to the experience as a whole. However, the field of UX design tends to be more focused, because the user experience designer primarily works on research, planning, organization of site content and user testing.

UX design has existed in some form for almost as long as the web has existed. Designers (and the companies that hire them) have always wanted their websites to be useful and enjoyable. However, we made assumptions about what our users wanted, and a lot of times we got it wrong. We needed to establish best practices and find ways to test our theories.

Over the past decade or so, we have done just that, and UX design has grown tremendously. UX designers are in high demand. Our testing and organization tools are maturing, and you can find best practice research on the smallest details.

At USGBC, we work very hard to make sure we are putting our community’s needs first, so our web team is always looking for the latest UX research and tools. Currently, we are excited to start using InVision Studio. The tool has not yet been released to the general public, but it promises to help streamline the design and prototype process. This, in turn, will help us create more effective information architecture and make user testing more efficient, so we can make sure new digital product and feature launches delight our community right from the start.

Here are a few of our other favorite UX design resources:

  • The best UX book, in my opinion, is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. It’s a quick read that goes over UX essentials and user testing, which he highly encourages.
  • Norman Nielsonessentially writes the standards for UX. If I am looking for research, it’s the first place I go.
  • Smashing Magazine is also a great resource. Their UX collection really gets into the nitty-gritty, and I have found it extremely helpful.
  • Alistapart is an invaluable resource for all things design and dev from the godfather of web standards, Jeffrey Zeldman.
  • General Assembly provides classes and workshops from some of the industry’s best.
  • User Interface Engineering is another great place to read up on the latest UX research.

Learn more about UX

Working with a magazine editorial board


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Working with a magazine editorial board

Since 2014, USGBC has published a regular member magazine, both in print and online. USGBC+ runs between 60 and 75 pages as a perfect-bound publication, with a dynamic web presence to allow readers the option of perusing new and archived content at their leisure. With a focus on the people behind the green building movement, the magazine is a vehicle for longform storytelling and allows us to showcase member company successes, project profiles, current research and market trends.

I have had the privilege of managing the magazine production and content development process since 2016, and I have a few key techniques up my sleeve to share with you, especially in relation to working with an editorial board.

Internally, an editorial board of about 20 members of the USGBC senior staff develops our magazine. We also have the guidance of an expert team of content developers, designers and marketers from ContentWorx.

Here are my go-to strategies for successfully working with an editorial board:

Gather the right group at the table.

The first step in developing a productive editorial board is ensuring you have the right mix of voices at the table. For USGBC+, we invite several members of the communications and marketing teams, but we also select one high-level member of each of our functional or programmatic departments to join the board.

This approach ensures that we are hearing from the breadth of the organization and gaining the perspective of senior leadership who can easily draw connections between story ideas and organizational priorities.

Set expectations up front.

We know that our senior staff members are incredibly busy, and that they may not always be able to attend our editorial board meetings. To ensure we reach a quorum at each meeting, we set the expectation up front that if a member of the board is unable to make a meeting, they will send a member of their team in their place.

Additionally, we ask our editorial board members to reflect on the magazine theme in advance of each meeting and to come with fresh ideas for stories that are actionable—meaning they have the necessary information and contacts at hand to help our writers get started.

Finally, we ask our editorial board members to help us promote the magazine content when each issue goes live by sharing it with their network of contacts, posting on social media and following up with individuals who were interviewed to thank them for their participation.

Cultivate a sense of investment.

Because our editorial board only meets once every two or three months, it can be a struggle to create a sense of real investment in the process and the product, especially when our board members have so many other responsibilities and priorities. By maintaining regular contact with board members, sharing our magazine lineup in advance, running drafts of stories by them for input and making them the first to know when a new issue drops, we can help generate a sense of cohesion and commitment.

Celebrate and empower the group.

We have a habit of starting each editorial board meeting by sharing news about the most recent issue. We recap the stories that were included and give our board a hearty pat on the back for a job well done. It is no small thing to take a magazine from concept to reality, and our board deserves a good deal of credit.

We also empower our board to make strategic decisions by sharing information with them such as article performance, web traffic and audience survey responses. This leads to a greater sense of investment and, ultimately, better magazine content for our readers.

See tips about contributing writer guidelines

A primer on Google analytics


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A primer on Google analytics

Understanding how to use Google Analytics is one of the main skills you need to become an ace digital marketer. It’s a powerful tool that can provide comprehensive data about your website’s performance, but it can be confusing and daunting to a newcomer who isn’t familiar with the tech lingo.

In my daily work, I monitor analytics across all of USGBC’s digital properties to understand what’s working on a webpage and what isn’t; for inspiration on article topics (for instance, if there has been a spike in searches related to energy efficiency, perhaps it’s time to write an article about that); and to help other departments understand what content our audience finds most useful. The information Google Analytics provides a true north, if you will, in what I need to spend my energy and time on as a digital marketer.

If you’re just beginning to dip your toes into the digital marketing field or need a Google Analytics refresher, here’s what you need to know to get started in collecting data reports.

Navigating Google Analytics

Let’s say you already have Google Analytics installed on your website (if not, check out Moz’s guide on how to set up the tool). Once logged in, you’ll see an overview of your website’s performance regarding number of users, sessions and bounce rate—we’ll discuss these terms later on—and on the left-hand navigation bar, you’ll see several tabs, including “Real-time,” “Audience,” “Acquisition” and “Behavior.”

Real-time
This section will show you real-time data, including how many active visitors are currently on your website, how many pages they’re viewing, the most active pages and where your users live.

Audience
This is my favorite section of Google Analytics, because it shares useful information about your online audience on a macro basis. The Audience report will give you a ton of demographic data about your users, including their ages and interests, but it also will show you how many pages a typical web user visits after coming to your website, the average amount of time they spend, what devices they’re using and if they’ve been on your website before.

Acquisition
This section will show you where your web traffic is coming from, such as organic searches (if a user types “flowers” into Google and then arrives at a flower shop’s website, that’s an organic search), emails, social media or paid searches. If you’re analyzing whether your marketing campaign is effective at driving traffic to your website, this is the tab you’ll use most often.

Behavior
Curious how much traffic a web page is getting? Look no further than the Behavior tab. This is where you’ll find information about pageviews, unique pageviews and bounce rates.

Terms to know

As you work your way through Google Analytics, here are the common terms you’ll run across.

Pageviews:When a page is loaded in a web browser. If a user views a page multiple times, it’s counted in this metric. (If you’re looking for information about how many times a PDF document has been downloaded, those are designated as “events” and not pageviews, since they’re not HTML files.)

Unique pageviews: Unique pageviews essentially show how many times your page has been visited at least once in a given session. When a user views a page multiple times, each visit is counted as a pageview. With unique pageviews, if a user visits a page more than once during a session, this will only count as a single unique pageview.

Bounce rate: The percentage of users who visit only one page of your website. Learn more about lowering your bounce rate.

Session: A group of actions—such as a transaction, pageview or PDF download—that a user makes on your website within a given time frame.

Conversion: When a user makes a purchase on your website during a session.

Medium: Where your web traffic is coming from, such as Google or an email.

Resources

Learn more about web best practices

4 tips on structuring an article for content marketing


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4 tips on structuring an article for content marketing

Content marketing encompasses a range of formats: articles, blogs, infographics, videos and social media posts. What they all share is a goal to increase engagement or drive sales of a particular service, product or publication through providing information or storytelling that is compelling for the reader.

At USGBC, I work on the article component, creating and editing website content that shares information about our products, such as LEED. In 2016, we published over a thousand articles. We have a lot of brands and stakeholders, so we have a lot of content—and it needs to be prepared quickly. Here are the main four things I do to shape an article:

1) Highlight the goal.

When writing an article, make your headline and your call to action obvious. For example, our LEED Link series promotes products that our website users are already searching for and reading about. In bite-sized amounts, the articles share some of the details users need and ends with a button that leads them to further resources or products.

Even when an article highlights an individual or event, not a product, tie it back implicitly to why the reader should care. A simple example: “LEED credential holders make an impact as Pros, Fellows and Faculty” could have been titled “Meet our top LEED Pros, Fellows and Faculty,” emphasizing the personal. But readers may not know these influencers. What they are interested in is how they themselves can make a difference through attaining LEED credentials. Through that framing, they are more likely to click on the examples of the people who have attained this goal, as well as the ultimate call to action.

2) Keep it short, and break up the text.

Your customers are busy people, and they appreciate articles that get to the point. At USGBC, we recommend 300–500 words for most pieces. Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print, and the skills we learned in school about long-form writing need to be adapted to the digital world.

Add subheads and bulleted lists as ways to break up your text and allow customers to scan for the information they need.

3) Use images, graphics and interactive content.

Use a feature image or header that expresses your article goal simply and appealingly. Embed photos, quizzes, maps or infographics, as in our article on LEED-certified hospitality destinations, to further draw the reader in and make your topic more concrete and resonant.

One of our most successful posts each year is the Top 10 States for LEED, which includes an infographic breaking down the hard numbers and highlighting each state’s achievements.

4) Show how the customer belongs.

Whatever kind of business you have, your customers are part of a community that shares a common goal. At USGBC, the common goal is global sustainability and health through high-performing green buildings. Most of our articles recognize that sense of being part of something larger than ourselves and encouraging greater involvement.

This can be done in a playful way, as with our test-your-expertise quiz on green building, or a more serious way, as in our article on how building to LEED standards combats climate change. As you create your content, think about ways you can add a sense of community to your marketing in an organic way.

See our tips on writing for better SEO

How to create a great feature image for your content


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How to create a great feature image for your content

When creating a feature image for your articles, there’s a lot to consider. It’s important that you make something that catches the eye of your audience and entices users to investigate further. Here is a rundown of the most important things to keep in mind.

Know your context.

The first and most critical thing you can do is to understand the content you’re working with and its mood. Without understanding the context you’re designing for, you may miss key conceptual details that will create a disconnect between the text and the image. Take time to read the article, and if you need clarification from the author, don’t be afraid to ask.

Feature image for Arc webinar

Mood is important in a feature image. This example is an image for a webinar hosted by Arc. We wanted to draw attention to the program’s being online, while still presenting in a sleek and serious tone through use of typography and color. 

Stay up to date with trends.

Whether you’re creating images from scratch or using online resources, it’s important to keep in line with design trends. That’s why every week, I take just a bit of extra time to go online and look at what other designers are doing for inspiration. There are plenty of design blogs, and some do a great job of covering a wide variety of trends for the year. For instance, Behance has not only a vast array of portfolios, but also provides guidelines for keeping up with current trends.

Feature image about a YouTube playlist

This feature image for an article about playlists on YouTube integrates the YouTube color palette with one of 2017’s design trends.

Employ both consistency and variety.

Although it’s important that the image you end up with serves the story at hand, it’s also important that your feature images go together to some extent. As with any brand, consistency is key. When people go to your home page, they don’t want to be bombarded with chaotic, mismatched images.

30x30 Nature Challenge Wisconsin feature image

30x30 Nature Challenge Iowa feature image

The 30×30 Nature Challenge took place in several different USGBC communities, but we wanted all the branding content to be related. This was achieved through creating a work mark for the challenge and placing it on top of imagery from the state that was being highlighted in each article.

That said, users also don’t want to see too much of the same. Make sure you have a variety of colors, graphics and photos that look cohesive together, but also diverse enough to stand out from one another.

USGBC homepage design

It’s important that your images are consistent with another in some capacity; otherwise, your main page will look too chaotic.

Use the web for inspiration and resources.

Still having trouble coming up with ideas? Luckily, there are a lot of great sources online that provide free photos for commercial use, such as Pixabay or Unsplash. You can also look at Flickr’s creative commons for more photos. Other websites, such as The Noun Project, provide infinite icons for use for practically no money at all.

USGBC feature image

Although much of our content is serious, we also want USGBC to be fun and dynamic. Using bright colors and simple iconic imagery, we’re able to create clean works that still pop.

There is no one right way to create a feature image, but with understanding of your content, along with access to tools and trends, you’ll be on track to generating cohesive, eye-catching feature images for your articles. 

Learn how USGBC designs logos

Tips for creating an effective online customer survey


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Tips for creating an effective online customer survey

Wondering how well your content is doing? Just ask your customer. 

Online surveys are an easy way to gather customer feedback and research that helps you make better-informed business decisions. At USGBC, we recently launched a global language survey to see how we could enhance our international audience’s LEED experience.

Here are several guidelines to follow when launching a survey, from writing the questions to sharing the final results with coworkers.

Define your survey’s purpose, and write a marketing plan.

Before you get started on drafting any survey questions, ask yourself: What do you want to know?

After determining what information you’re looking to collect, write it all down by creating a marketing plan, which should include target audience and promotion tactics, to share with your team.

Our survey aimed to capture key demographic information about our international audience, so we could sketch a customer profile in terms of industry, job level, age, location and primary language.

We opted to keep the survey open for three weeks and distributed it through an article, emails and USGBC’s social media channels. We also leveraged our staff’s international contacts to help promote the survey.

Draft your survey questions, and share them with your team for their feedback.

Keep your questions as simple, direct and short as possible, so there’s no confusion about what’s being asked. Avoid any leading questions. 

Since we were looking for demographic information about our global audience, our questions centered on profession and industry, location and language. Some of our survey questions included:

  • What is your primary language?
  • What is your country of residence? How long have you lived in your country of residence?
  • What is your primary language? Are you fluent in any other languages Is English the primary language you use at work?
  • Which of the following most closely matches your job level?

SurveyMonkey has a great list of tips on writing effective survey questions.

After you’ve finished writing your questions, make sure to share the draft with your team for their input and pick a survey platform to use, such as GetFeedback or SurveyMonkey. Ask your team to do a beta test to get an average on how long the survey takes to complete and to determine if any questions need additional polishing. 

Reporting the results: Make sure to include key takeaways and charts.

After your survey is over and you have all the data, build out several charts and graphics to share within your company. Make sure to include within your report your survey’s duration, number of responses, methodology and high-level observations.

Our survey results suggested our international audience is fairly young, fluent in English and mid-level in their industries, with the top three being in design, engineering and construction. 

Spanish is the most popular native language, followed by Portuguese, English and Chinese. Interestingly, we found that the majority of our users preferred to use English resources in studying for a LEED professional exam or working on a LEED project.

Learn more about getting relevant data on your customers