Thursday, July 5, 2012

Beware Shovel Ware


It’s been a privilege to participate in several excellent “Writing for the Web” training programs as part of NielsenNorman Group’s Usability Week.  It was there that I first heard about the term “Shovel Ware” as applied to marketing communications content.


In terms of marketing communications, the term “Shovel Ware” relates to marketing content and copy that is applied from one medium to another with little thought given to adapting it for use on the destination platform or medium, resulting in poor quality, and low usability – which translates to a low return on marketing investment.

Think of a printed brochure text that is cut and paste in its entirety and stuck on a web page.  Or website copy that makes it’s way into an eNewsletter or direct mail message.

Essentially one “shovels” the content from one platform to another.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
Shovel ware tactics are economical, but certainly not a best practice. In the example above, writing for the web comes with its own set of guidelines and strategies, as opposed to writing a press release or technical brochure.

From the content side, businesses often forget that web visitors are impatient and on their own “missions” – searching, snacking for info from a variety of sources…. they don’t want to wade through cutsie copy or scads of content better suited to other formats.
It makes no business sense to plug in long-form printed copy on a website, as research findings show:On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.”
Much in the same vein, the researchers find the following in this NNGroup report Writing Style for Web vs. Print.
“Web content must be brief and get to the point quickly, because users are likely to be on a specific mission. In many cases, they’ve pulled up the page through search. Web users want actionable content; they don’t want to fritter away their time on (otherwise enjoyable) stories that are tangential to their current goals…”

Back to Shovel Ware

Indisputable research shows that taking the time to rewrite (and redesign) for each platform improves better business outcomes for b-to-b organizations including:

  • Usability increases.
  • Users are more likely to accomplish their goals.
  • Conversion rates increase.
  • ROMI improves.


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