Convert Markdown to HTML with Sublime Text and the Markdown Preview package

I have been working with markdown for a couple years now and it’s a great way to save a ton of time getting content onto the web. But the more you use it, the more you look for shortcuts.

There are a bunch of web and desktop applications for working with markdown that give you a 2-up view. They show your markdown document on one side, and the final rendered HTML on the other. You can usually export the file as HTML , but I have noticed that a lot of these just spit out an entire HTML document complete with head and body elements. This is cool, but not that useful if most of the time you are just working with the code on an existing page.

A while back I discovered a good application for Windows called MarkdownPad. One thing I really like about MarkdownPad is being able to highlight any of your text, then right-click and choose “Copy as HTML”. This will copy just the selected HTML to your clipboard, without any extra code. It will simply be the headers, paragraphs and lists that you highlighted.

sublime convert markdown html

I find that apps like these are awesome for editing a longer document, because the 2-up view is really handy. But for small pieces of writing, I would rather not have to leave Sublime Text. After some searching, I found a way to do very fast markdown to HTML conversion so I can paste wherever the code needs to go, such as in a WordPress page or existing HTML file.

Getting just the HTML you want with no extra markup

This method uses a Sublime Package called Markdown Preview. The package does a couple things, such as generating an HTML page from some highlighted markdown text. With some tweaking of the user files, it can also become a huge time saver for just converting your selected markdown text into HTML without any extra code.

So this allows a lot faster workflow because you can type some Markdown, highlight it, run the command to copy into your clipboard, and then paste into your HTML file or into the WordPress editor. No more extraneous code, and no more having to switch apps.

markdown to html sublime

Set up Markdown Preview and Customize it

To set up Markdown Preview like I have it, you will have to make a couple edits to your user file for the package. Just a reminder — always make your edits to the user file and not the default, because that will wipe your changes if you update. The user file is safe from these updates.

This snippet will customize the output of the Markdown Preview package. You can access this file this way.

Preferences > Package Settings > Markdown Preview > Settings – User

Once you have it set up, you can access the command from the Command Pallete (CNTL-SHIFT-P) then typing “mark” to bring up the command to copy to clipboard.

command-palette

So now we have the command available, but it could be a little better if it was mapped to a keyboard shortcut.

It’s actually a little trickier to set up a Key Binding for something in a package, but I managed to find the proper code for it. This will go in Key Bindings – User

I have it mapped to CNTL+E+M (Control Export Markdown made sense to me) but you can change the key combo to whatever you like.

Other Handy Markdown Stuff

Also – While working with Markdown in sublime text, I use another awesome package called MarkdownEditing which allows you to get a little more visual representation of how your code will look, such as it will bold your headlines. It adds a little bit of style to the document without going overboard.

markdownediting sublime

Sidenote – if you are on a Mac, Marked 2 is a good native application for working with markdown. It’s also written by Brett Terpstra who wrote MarkdownEditing for Sublime Text.

Hopefully this saves you as much time as it does for me.

What should I do if I don’t want to list my prices on my website?

In a few years of setting up websites for people, I have learned that sometimes there is a little aversion when it comes to listing prices. People may not think it’s a good idea initially, but usually come around at least a bit.

The reason behind this is usually one of the following.

  1. they are afraid of being undercut by competitors.
  2. they don’t want to scare off potential customers
  3. “it’s just not done in our industry”

Most of the time when people make purchases in their daily life, they don’t have to interact with a sales person in order to get a price. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson when buying a car anymore.

With the way that the internet has changed the way we buy things, we like being able to ask a few questions, read some reviews, then leave – anytime we want. We don’t want to become “a sales lead” because of what that entails. This could mean being bothered with unwanted sales calls, or getting signed up for yet another email newsletter. Most of the time we don’t want to deal with that stuff, so we favor companies that don’t make us jump through those hoops just to get the price of something.

With even small purchases, people may do many hours of research on a topic before they make contact with anyone – especially if there is a big purchase being made. If your website provides them with the information they need, you will be on their shortlist of “good companies with potential”.

They are now usually at the point right before they pick up the phone and call, or send a contact form. They might be ready to do this now, or they might just be comparing various websites. Companies that have good information that includes prices are more likely to be bookmarked for later consideration. The companies that don’t provide that info get brushed aside. Your website will most likely be open in a tab along with several other competitors, and price is a factor. Other factors include having good design, and showing some recent activity or interaction with current customers.

As part of this comparison, a company that hides pricing information can look like it has something to hide. Saying “contact us first” can makes other companies seem more honest than you.

When you make customers ask you first, you are at the mercy of whatever fantasy number pops into their mind. If they think they can’t afford it, even if they are wrong, then they won’t stick around long enough to make contact.

If you don’t release your prices, you are opening the door to misinterpretation. you may not want to be undercut by your competitors, but you also don’t want to let them fill the prospects minds with gossip about your prices that favor their own. Often the the only way to stop this is to release your prices into the wild.

What if I Still don’t want to show my prices?

If it doesn’t make sense to show your exact prices, you can do things like say “starting at X dollars” or similar sample prices that at least establish a ballpark figure. You can give sample scenarios, give a range of some previous projects you have worked on. In most cases something is almost always better than nothing.

What you need to know when redesigning your website

Should you redesign your whole site?

Well, that depends. Redesigns are sometimes considered when the current design is outdated or when the owners are tired of the current design, which happens a lot. This isn’t the best reason to completely redesigning a website however; as it puts the focus on the subjective opinions of a few individuals and can sometimes override the facts. Analytics must always be part of the project, even if the only info available is – what pages are getting traffic? Which have a high bounce rate?

Redesigns are often attractive to the executive decision makers in a company because they make the website into a project, which has a beginning and end. The best websites are continuously improved, but that approach is not as common as doing a big redesign every few years and spending a lot of money. Why do people do this?

Sometimes it is easier to find a large sum of money for a big project than it is to allocate money and responsibility to consistently measure traffic analytics and make small changes. A lot of companies still think of their website as a brochure that is published; then updated every few years. The slate is wiped clean. This approach is old and will not provide much value on your investment.

Sometimes a redesign of a website is some kind of badge of honor for a marketing manager or someone else who wants to have a lot of projects under their belt. It is rarely about the customers who use it.

Redesigns are also more fun to work on, no question. The continuous improvement and testing of a website is boring. No committee meetings, no sipping of coffee while looking at mockups and there is rarely a “big reveal” at the end. The fact is that people love talking about the graphic design but hate talking about the content. The content is more important because people don’t go to websites just because they look pretty.

What can happen when you start over

SEO is put at risk

Unless your web designer knows what they are doing, a redesign can have a really bad effect on your traffic from search. If you have pages with inbound links from other sites, if they are not properly redirected with “301” htaccess codes then all the links pointing to the old pages will be broken. If the pages have been gaining SEO link juice over time, then if it suddenly loses a lot of those links – rankings will be affected negatively. There are WordPress plugins that can also help with redirection.

Current users were hunters, but now they are finders again

Users generally hate redesigns – especially if they consistently use a website and the navigation has changed. This can make them frustrated. Something that used to take them seconds, now takes longer because now they have to try and figure out the new site and what is going on. The people who use your website the most are often your most loyal customers. Always keep this in mind when approaching a redesign project. It’s always better to make a series of small changes and test along the way. If a redesign causes someone to discontinue using your site out of frustration that you caused, the fact is that they simply may never return.

Useful Resources

Dealing with negative customer reviews

Like it or not, what other people are saying affects your website

Customer reviews online have become a big part of how we shop online, and affect our decisions on who we want to do business with. Your company web presence should acknowledge this. It has become almost impossible to ignore these reviews.

Unfortunately you don’t just have to worry about the words on your own website anymore, you have to be aware of the words on other sites as well.

The way you deal with bad reviews and control the conversation will show a lot about your company’s customer service.

Knowing what’s out there

Simply knowing what the conversation is out there on the web is something that you need to watch. You should sign up with review sites and claim your listing in order to be alerted when new reviews are posted. You want to know when they come in, and if you need to take action right away. If you can’t get an account with a website that posts public reviews, you should have a recurring checklist item on your calendar where you go and check them manually.

Responding to bad reviews

Some websites such as tripadvisor.com allow the owner of a business to publicly respond to reviews posted on the site, once you create an account and verify that you are the owner of the business. This can be a good place for you to apologize, give your opinion or clarify your company policies that are related to the review. If you can – do this whenever you can.

The outcome may surprise you – if you show everyone you are respectful to customers even if they are pissed off – others will notice. It looks good for you even if you messed up and they are in the right.

Even if the person doesn’t change their attitude, it will still show you tried to make it right.

Don’t argue on the internet

Sometimes people are just "Trolls" and will say negative things to try to get a reaction, or in an attempt to get free stuff. If this is the case, ignore them. You should never engage in any combative dialogue with any customer in a public forum, as you will almost always regret it and it will reflect poorly on your company image.

Making things right

Not all review sites allow you to respond as the business. If you are unable to publicly respond to a bad review, you can try to contact the reviewer and try to make the situation right.

If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to do your best to encourage people who you know are satisfied customers to write honest reviews of your business.

Hopefully a number of positive reviews can help to bury negative ones, or at least dull their effects.

But then How do I get good reviews?

Happy customers tell a few people, angry customers tell everyone. That aint changing anytime soon either.

Someone who is angry or feels let down by your company is more motivated to write a review than a satisfied customer. This is why it is important to nicely ask that your best, satisfied customers create accounts on review sites and write positive reviews for you. Most often they will be happy to oblige. The trick is to build it into your customer touch points – tell them that you’d appreciate their help and don’t be afraid to give discounts as you would to someone who refers new business to you.

Get ’em off the Soap Box

While there might be some value in publicly apologizing to someone through an online review site, it does bring more attention to the matter in some ways. If possible, you should attempt to contact the reviewer privately and try to resolve the situation.

I have seen the results of both approaches with some of my clients. If someone complains about a negative experience they had with one of your policies, it can be helpful to publicly explain to them why things were handled a certain way. As long as you are not argumentative or trying to make them look stupid, then you can come out ahead.

Contacting them privately has advantages too, in that you have the chance to diffuse the situation before it turns into something ugly.

Fake reviews

It can be tempting to compensate the effects of bad reviews by writing good reviews for your business under a fake name. This is actually illegal in some places and if you are ever exposed of doing so – there could be a negative backlash from your existing customers and you will most certainly lose their trust which is an important form of currency.

Don’t Suck / Look like you Care

Not always, but sometimes a bad review is actually stemming from someone having a bad experience with one of your processes that you really should fix. If someone sees multiple reviews that address the same problem, their opinion of your company will be negative if they see that you are not fixing it and they might have the same experience.

Conversely, if they see a pattern that looks like you fixed the problem, it looks like you actually care. People are more likely to buy something or do business with people who care about providing exceptional customer service.

Outside Resources

So what is “Content Marketing“ and why is it important to SEO?

Content marketing is a term that you may have heard about recently, but what I have found is that a lot of my clients don’t fully understand the benefits of why they would want to expand the amount of content and pages on their website. Content marketing can really be a huge topic (mostly because of the sheer amount of things that can be considered “content”) but I will only be explaining the idea as it relates to adding pages to your website about your industry.

The more unique pages you have, the more opportunities you have to get traffic through the search engines. Therefore, expanding what is available on your site can be a good idea, as it will allow you to go after search engine traffic on an ever expanding list of keywords that are relevant to your subject matter. The trick is to make sure you don’t adversely affect the top tasks on your site by making anything harder to find or cluttering up the layout.

It’s not just about expanding for the sake of expanding, in that publishing crap content will do very little for you, and will potentially make good content harder to find and increase your bounce rate. You want your content to address your customer’s questions, give them valuable information and really just be there to solve their problems. At the worst case, a custom page about a certain subject will get a few more people finding your website. However if the content is really good, people will share it and blog about it which can exponentially grow your traffic.

Optimization is easier with more content

It is hard to go after a large segment of keywords when your website is tiny, or if your content is mostly centered on you talking about how great your company is. You can really only optimize a page for 2-3 keywords at a time effectively on given page. If your website only consists of a few pages; then your site has limited potential of what can be found by search engines.

Say your company has 5 different services you want to advertise. But you only have a “services” page that briefly lists everything you do on one single page. That means that all of the keywords relating to all your services are all fighting with each other for Google’s attention, which isn’t going to look as relevant to Google’s ranking algorithm as a page that is devoted solely to content about a particular service that you offer. Also, people don’t search for “services”; they search for the individual keywords pertaining to exactly what they are looking for.

Getting more specific won’t necessarily make your website more complex as long as you keep your content concise and to the point. People searching today have a lot of choice and will usually go with the provider that can give them the best answers to their questions. Search engines usually give results that are relevant to the terms people enter in the box. In order to be relevant, you have to be specific.

How do you write website copy that people actually read?

When I first was given the task of writing for the web, I went at it the same way as a lot of people. I thought that all I had to do was make web content that used the same big words as I read everywhere else. Words that made whatever the website was about sound important, well-to-do, and “corporationey”.

The world yawned…

That approach didn’t work then, and really nothing has changed.

I have assembled these tips to hopefully give you some insight on how to write engaging copy that gets people to do what you want them to. Good Luck.

Give your users something to do!

The ideal website will not only make you look professional and enhance your credibility, but will have a logical conversion path for people to take and perform the action you want them to. This could be filling out a contact form, signing up for a newsletter, or buying something. Every page on your site should have a call to action where people can complete the action that you want them to do and where you give them a reason to click on that link.

Be helpful, don’t just talk about yourself and how great you are

This is probably the most important thing to remember when writing your copy. While you want to explain what you do, resist all the urges to make you or your company sound big, important or "the best". This kind of copy makes people leave your website before doing anything. Readers are very good at distinguishing info that they need from "marketing" that they don’t.

Being helpful simply means giving answers to people’s questions, concerns and explaining complicated things to them in ways that save their time, make them bookmark your pages for later, and make them think that your site is worth sharing with a friend.

Do your keyword research

SEO is something of a complicated subject. A lot of people know they need it, but don’t really know what it is. Sort of like a vaccine. The fact is that while good on-page SEO is important in order to rank well, writing keywords into your copy needs to be taken into the grand scheme of what the page is meant to do, and what action the reader is meant to take after reading it.

Concentrating on creating really good content that people will likely link to out of merit is really the best traffic getting strategy you can have, which ultimately is what you are after with SEO.

Make it fun and interesting

If your audience are just normal folks like you, then they probably like to read the same stuff as you. With the growth of Facebook and social media, a lot of the rules of writing have gone out the window. Maintaining attention is priority number one. If you don’t particularly like reading dry textbook-like copy, your readers don’t really either.

In addition to just writing as if you were writing to one person, you can do things like add fun pictures to your posts or articles that break up large blocks of text and keep the mood light. Things like the meme generator can give your post original content and make it more fun to read. If you are going with stock photos, choose something interesting that relates to the topic. But as always, carefully consider what you want to accomplish with stock photos because if your information looks too much like marketing, they can also turn off your readers.

It boils down to what kind of voice you want your site to have – ideally it should fit within your own. Give people praise when thanking them for filling out a form, use figures of speech they understand in your messages, and make your copy sound more "real".

Don’t use big words just to sound smart.

On a lot of business websites, you wonder if the person writing the copy had a thick six-sigma marketing textbook at their side while writing out the copy. There are so many terms in that kind of material that people NEVER use in normal speech, other than when they are trying to bullshit someone into thinking they are smart. Best-of-breed, utilize (just say use), expertise, all your (X) needs, are all things that you shouldn’t have in your copy.

Think about your customers as they are first introduced to your company and to your industry. They’re uneducated in that stuff. They don’t know all the jargon and words that you use in your daily operations, and you have to find out what words they do use. You never want to go above someones head because the moment they don’t understand anymore, they leave your site and hop onto a competitors.

Spell check – some people won’t notice, but it’s a big deal to others

Spelling and grammar still matter, but not to everyone. People who are bad at it probably won’t notice or care when you make a mistake. People who are good at it will think your are some kind of idiot. It’s best have someone read through your copy who knows grammar well, and can make edits in that department for you. It’s not worth it to lose an educated customer who respects spelling and grammar just for a tiny error. People can be petty.

Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. People like websites that care about their time

While this goes for all writing in general, it is especially true on the web where attention spans are slim and distractions are plenty. The best thing you can do is write a lot of content to explain things as you would say them, then edit down that content to get the main points across in as few words as possible. There is a bit of difference between a blog post which would be more conversational, and a services page where people just want to understand what you offer in as little time as possible.

In general people like websites that respect their time, don’t try to BS them with frilly or extraneous copy, and never try to pull a fast one on them.

The web is filled with a lot of junk, but don’t be afraid to write something good

If someone likes and shares a particular post, then it will be a source of traffic for your site for a long while. The time you put into coming up with great content for your own website is not lost. It either gets you closer to writing the good stuff, or you hit gold with something that really resonates with your audience.