Tag Archives: WordPress

For blogging success, phone a friend

A couple of years ago Hardy Wallace and I got into a debate about editing blog posts. His take was that a blog should be raw, from the heart, without the refining that happens when an editor gets hold of a bloated piece of wine writing. I, on the other hand, suggested that you can still show passion, but that an editor helps to make sure your “raw passion” is intelligible. I was speaking from experience. I am not, as I’m sure many of you readers know (and my laughing wife Gabriella is thinking right now as she edits this piece), the best writer.

Words for me are confusing. The rules of language are confounding. While I know some of the common errors, I do not always spot them when I re-read my own writing. I know there, their, and they’re all have different meanings, but when I read them quickly in an article, I understand what the author is saying so I don’t worry about which one is used. I really don’t care. Maybe I should. I know I should care enough to make sure my dear reader does not have to suffer my errors, so I try to get better every day.

What I want to say to all you bloggers, wineries thinking of starting a blog, or journalists who are leaving the edited newsroom and moving to the wild west of blogging: get an editor. Someone to read your piece before you publish it. Someone to look for the silly mistakes that you gloss over because of your emotional attachment to it. If it were not for an editor, this piece your reading write [sic] now would be unintelligible. You’re [sic] understanding of it impossible. Not to mention 3 times the length, with half the logic. 🙂

I remember getting an email a few years ago from a wine journalist whose books I have enjoyed over the years. That person has written books, news columns, and has spoken at wine events for longer than I have been legally able to drink wine. They were telling me they finally took my advice and started a blog. So I rushed over and quickly checked it out. What I found was proof positive that this person had benefited greatly from years of editors trimming down their ramblings. Editors help.

I’m not saying you need to hire a team of proof readers and have each article polished to perfection. A few minor slips are not going to hurt you, but you can ask a friend to read a piece first before you hit publish to avoid the bigger ones. Or, if you lack a friend with time on their hands to help you out, try simply reading it out loud to yourself as the act of pronouncing the words one by one can often show strange logic and awkward phrasing. Also, don’t be afraid to play with language. Some of us are better than others, but there is something to be said for freedom of expression, but if your writing style leaves the reader confused, you are doing something wrong. What we need in the end is legibility, and more communication.

If bloggers, journalists, tweeters and others hope to have their content published and taken seriously, then the first step is to make sure we know what you’re saying. I would also make a prediction and say that the future of wine writing online will be teams, and not just the ‘lone voice’ online we think of today.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out as time goes on.

Ryan

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Night time Montjuic, Barcelona

Better Wine Blogging 101 – Using Photos Correctly

Night time Montjuic, BarcelonaRecently, a newbie wine blogger contacted me through Twitter to evaluate their post for general effectiveness. I promptly agreed, generally trying my best to help the community whenever possible, especially with someone new to the field. Quickly clicking on the link, I encountered 2 of the largest mistakes I typically see with new blogs, not to mention, 2 of the easiest things to fix. But when trying to explain how to remedy the situation, I also learned that they weren’t obvious to your everyday blogger. So for the sake of helping a larger audience, I thought I would post some best practices here.

Basically what I’m offering is some standard SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Nothing advanced and nothing tricky, just some best practices to make sure you are optimizing your site to get the most traffic possible. With a few simple steps, your wine blog, or website, can be more effective. The irony is that these simple steps are DEAD simple and can give you big results. So let’s start! Today, I’ll focus on images and tomorrow I’ll focus on links.

Images: Images are great for explaining ideas and giving context. That said, if you don’t optimize your image, Google and the web in general, won’t see it. The robots Google uses to read content on your site are basically blind. They are great at reading content but not at looking at images. Therefore, we need to help them out. All modern web tools let you add images easily, and most will also let you add some key elements to those images that help your site.

For the sake of explanation, I’m going to use the WordPress blogging platforms tool as an example. See the image below? When you upload an image to wordpress, it allows you to add a Title,  Alternate Text, Caption, Description and URL. They key pieces you should be fill out and be descriptive are the Title, Alt Text and URL.

  1. Title: use a simple description. If you have a wine bottle photo, the title might be the name of the wine. If it’s a picture of a vineyard, name the vineyard and be descriptive. Just titling it “Vineyard” doesn’t help anyone. Better to go specific “Merlot Vines – Chateau Bleu”.
  2. Alt text: This is the text that will show up on a person’s computer screen if their computer can’t load the photo, allowing the reader to understand what the photo is supposed to be. So building on “Merlot Vines – Chateau No-Se-Que”, you might add here a description of the time of year: Fall, Spring, or maybe even the activity if any in the photo: harvest, pruning, veraison under way. In short, be descriptive.
  3. URL: make sure to link to the photos source or to the photo itself. This way you can credit the photographer, or you can link to a larger version which might help the reader to see the image better. I’ll explain more about why links are so important soon, but the truth is that the web does not exist without links. Make sure you use them!

How to insert an image into facebook

All that said, pictures make your posts look pretty! Thus, use photos that illustrate and help guide the story. A picture of a bottle is one thing, but a picture of the place the wine was made can be even better. Also remember that people’s faces can be very helpful. If you are talking about a person try your best to get an image of them.

Finally where do you get photos? Well you don’t steal them. Make sure if you post a photo you have permission first. It’s illegal to use photos that are copyrighted without permission from the photographer. A great tool you can use to find fabulous photos is Creative Commons. It’s a legally enforceable copyright that allows the artist/photographer to have their photos used in certain situations. I, personally, license all my photos this way, allowing you to use my photos as long as you do so non-commercially, and you give me credit.

Where do you find these? Well you can browse my photos here: Ryan Opaz’s Wine Photos on Flickr and you can search for other photos that are licensed this way here: Flickr’s Creative Commons Galleries.

Mind you, this is the short version of how to use photos in your posts. I could go on and on, but would rather you ask some questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you!

Cheers,
Ryan Opaz

Coming soon, linking for wine for wine bloggers…

Branding Tip: Gravatar

A big part of branding is consistency: making sure that when you leave comments and links around  the web, you do it in a way that creates a trail of similar information. When we consult new wineries who want to get online, we tell them to make a special folder that they keep on their computer with: a headshot, image  (of winery, vineyard, team, etc), logo, a text document with some cut and paste descriptions that they can use, and any other relevant “social information”. This very simple trick ensures that your information is relevant and consistent.

One other tool and one that is EASY and indispensable to getting online is: Gravatar. Gravatar stands for “Globally Recognized Avatar”. Avatar is both a 3d movie featuring agile blue people, and more importantly for us, a visual representation of yourself online. Usually Avatars are small square images that you see show up in the comments section in blogs, your photo in Facebook and your icon on Twitter. Using an image of your profile can go a long ways to helping people visually connect with you and your brand. Gravatar helps your brand be dispersed everywhere, without you having to think about it.

Check out this video for more info:

Hope you like today’s tech tip. Now go sign up for your Gravatar, and then test it out in the comments below by telling us how it went!

Ryan

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Does your website have a mobile version?

photo credit @Flickr .m for matthijs

It was reported today that consumers spend more time on mobile apps than on the web. Really this is no surprise. It is the way the world works, big things become smaller and smaller as technology gets better and better. If we could go back in time and start the computer revolution today, no-one would design a big box that sits in a special room in your house as a way to get online. If we started from scratch, we’d probably begin with something a bit more “iphone-like”. Small, portable and always connected to the web.

Laptops are shrinking into “pads” and desktops are more and more specialized professional tools, which brings me to today’s question:

Do you have a mobile version of your website, version that looks good on a small screen and is easy to navigate? Have you even checked?

If you’re working with an open CMS system like WordPress, or something even more cutting edge like Posterous, you are probably fine.

If you know what a wordpress plugin is, you might try one of these out.

If these don’t mean much to you, then go and check out your website on a mobile app.

Here’s a tip: if your site has pretty moving things on the screen when you look at it, it’s most likely using Flash. And what does Flash mean? It means that no-one with an iPhone can access your site, and many others will quickly lose patience and go elsewhere rather than watch your site load. If you’re using flash, get a new site.

Your customers are more likely today to find you while navigating on their phone, than on a laptop. If they can’t interact with your site you will be losing customers and fans!

Any questions?

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Wine research through a distorted lens

Last week, an organisation called Wine Intelligence put out a press release concerning the apparent lack of trust consumers had in wine bloggers. I can only imagine it was intended to bait bloggers and commentators into some sort of argument to create headlines.

Ryan Opaz and I talked about it and found there were simply too many questions raised not to comment on it. We’re not sure how else to explain some of the conclusions from an organisation that is trying to sell a research report “worth” £1,300.

A clipboard

Image via Wikipedia

Let me start with the headline:

Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the UK, USA and France, according to research published today, despite the growing importance of the Internet as a source of information about wine.

A headline worthy of tabloid newspapers, or even untrustworthy “independent bloggers”. Hardly the sort of interpretation that would make me trust an organisation that wants to sell me their analysis of the state of the wine “internet and social media”.

Who are these “independent bloggers”?

There is no explanation. Does it include blogs written by the same merchants that the “regular wine drinkers” apparently trust so much? What about the blogs published unofficially by their staff? What about the many blogs published by wine magazines, journalists, importers, wineries, and even research organisations? What about blogging wine personalities like Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Alder Yarrow, Dr. Vino and others? No?

I’d love to see the definition, and the carefully vetted segmentation applied to the 1000+ worldwide wine blogs covered by this statement.

Maybe it is just intended to capture all those individuals who don’t happen to work in the wine business, have not gone through standardised wine trade education schemes, and happen to be writing about wine for their own entertainment and education? The folks who have no “borrowed’ trust and must establish themselves individually. In which case they seem to be doing pretty well to be considered at all and we should salute them!

If that is how they define bloggers then they must realize that these blogs are word-of-mouth amplified by technology platforms, and as such they are trusted by certain very important people – their friends.

What do you mean by “least trusted”?

According to the research, focusing on the UK for now;

1 in 5 regular wine drinkers in the UK trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with the 50%+ who trust what they hear over the counter in a wine merchant.

AND

… just under half the wine drinking populations in [the UK and France use] the Internet for wine information and 16% using social media.

Let’s examine this.

If 16% of all regular wine drinkers “use social media,” they presumably mean that they are on Facebook, Twitter and (whisper it) read blogs. Let’s make the outrageous assumption that you can only trust, or not trust, something you have actually “used” – otherwise the view is not an informed one. The report is supposed to be about the sources of wine information, not the public perception of blogging as this would apply equally to anyone involved in it, not just the poor old “independent” ones.

I’d venture that the numerical similarity of “16%” and “1 in 5” means that bloggers might actually be trusted by the VAST majority of those who have bothered to check them out.

In fact, even the headline 20% figure means that a great many wine consumers DO have some trust in bloggers, and if you were to look at particular segments of the population who are heavy social media users, you might even find that they are a MAJOR source of trust. Why be negative about something so new and still developing?

Isn’t it actually more shocking that consumers think that 50% of wine shops are lying to our FACES? Bloggers are publishing stuff for lots of strangers to read/watch/hear that they may never meet. These merchants on the other hand are on the other side of the counter, and half of what they say is either wrong or are lies! Apparently.

Market differences

In the USA, websites run by wine shops, newspapers and smaller wine producers are the most used online sources, while supermarket websites rank below Facebook as a source of wine information. The UK tells a different story with supermarket websites proving the most popular online source, whilst in France the brand or producer websites are the most important destinations for consumers seeking knowledge

Does this shock anyone? In the US the vast majority of wine is sold by merchants and wineries, virtually none in supermarkets. The UK market is reversed. The only shock would be that people didn’t trust the people selling them the wine – oh, wait, we did discover that above, but we prefer to bash bloggers.

We considered ignoring the release, but one or two industry news sources decided to pick up on the story and as these things can easily become “fact” (interestingly a criticism usually aimed at bloggers), we felt it might be worth pointing out some of the flaws in the argument for the record.

I’m only able to base my response to the press release, there’s no way I am paying £1,300 for a research report (especially one that promotes itself with inflammatory headlines), so I suspect that SOME of these points may be addressed in the detail. If so, I look forward to hearing from anyone who has read it, … if they bother reading any wine blogs.

Oh! One final irony …

This Wine Intelligence press release, and other reports, were published on a WordPress blog platform! If  the market doesn’t trust bloggers, by extension should we not be trusting this report?

🙂

Robert McIntosh and Ryan Opaz

UPDATE: 07 Feb 2011:

Thank you to everyone for your comments, discussion points and feedback, we really appreciate it. Ultimately, the argument is not about research or how to write a press release, it is about perception of social media opportunities. I feel strongly that while other industries are adapting to take advantage of new ways of reaching customers, the wine trade will miss out if they don’t take it more seriously.

Separately, you might like to check out some of the articles that came out since we posted this, including a riposte by Wine Intelligence and some comments from a US perspective including some good research by @winewonkette

Wine Intelligence: Bloggers Bite Back
Vinography: Why trust a wine blogger
Another Wine Blog: Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release

There will also be something in the printed edition (and hopefully online) of Harpers this week (10 Feb 2011) as I was asked for a small contribution to the debate.

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