Web-attractiveness isn’t necessarily good design

Alice

Reading through the LinkedIn Groups a question grabbed my attention. It was a lady who was obsessed with setting up a series of fancy designed monetized blogs. As well as wavering on which kind of blogging platform to use, she was very concerned about the design, as well as keen to start making money.

Unfortunately the thing about monetized blogs is that they take some time before they start to yield decent results. They need to be attractive to readers in order to build up a suitable following that would respond to the advertising, and they need to be visited regularly before there will be enough readers tempted to click on.

And web-attractiveness doesn’t mean a fancy template, it means good, varied, consistent and practical content. Plenty of websites have spent a fortune on the design, only to be sorely lacking in the information they contain, especially if it is out of date. Large corporates waste money thinking that by redesigning their website it will enhance its performance, but most visitors don’t notice, only caring about the information they need and want. OK, cleverly designed buttons that encourage a mouse-click may be successful, but what about the stuff they lead on to?

What makes a website or blog successful is good content, coupled with excellent navigation that guides the visitor in the right direction. Visitors should enjoy their experience, be easily gratified by finding what they are looking for, benefit from the information gleaned and be suitably impressed to bookmark, subscribe and regularly return for more.

When a visitor lands on your website or blog, they immediately want to establish this is the right kind of website they are looking for, without stopping to admire the fancy graphics and beautiful colours. A good design enables readers to immediately find what they want, and doesn’t hinder or distract them from their purpose. The overall result should be readable, legible, uncluttered and easy to use.

And the content should also encourage a desire to return, react to the call to actions and succumb to the sign up forms. Although an excellently written book may be read many times, it can’t compare to a blog that is regularly updated with new content, satisfying both its human readers as well as the search engine robots, who play such a necessary part in promoting your content throughout the web.

What sort of thing can you write about in your newsletter?

Alice

In my spare time I read all sort of things, and one of them is the National Trust magazine. It has recently been redesigned, bright, colourful and modern, but the thing that struck me this morning was how informative it was about what the National Trust is doing.

There is also a broadsheet-style newsletter-featurette for the local area we live in, giving a more focused approach to the properties and gardens close to home. There always seems to be plenty of news about the new features that are being planned, have just been opened and renovations to existing treasures. The style is informative, educational and entertaining, carefully written to suit all kinds of readers.

I always want to read the National Trust magazine and its accompanying literature because of its positive manner and worth while information. There is never the idea that I would ignore it when it plopped through my letter box, even if I was really busy at that particular time, but it is something that could be put aside for further scrutinisation when I have time.

One of the reasons why I enjoy it is because it doesn’t sell to me. It provides material I want to read, fascinating facts and scintillating stories. It’s style is to entertain and educate, happily, authoritatively, colourfully and regularly. When the next magazine is due I start to wonder why it appears to be late.

This concept could be transferred to your own newsletters, whether online or on paper, when communicating to your readers and mailing lists. This is not a medium in which to sell. It is a place to tell those that are interested in you and what you do more information about yourself and your business that they didn’t already know, should or ought to know, would like to know, would benefit from knowing, and once they did know would more likely react favourably towards your business.

There is nothing more gratifying than being the first to know something before anyone else. It puts you on a pedestal above your peers. Treat your readers as if you were giving them advance notice about a new product or service, letting them into a secret that nobody else knows, educating them into a fabulous tip that would improve their lives or businesses no end, make them feel really special. Then your relationship with them will be increased greatly, which all contributes towards more collaboration in the future.

The importance of a personal email list

Alice

None of us like receiving spam. So considering we all hate spam so much, why do businesses still pursue buying lists of contacts to sell their wares? Why is it that they cannot wait to build up a personal communications list – is it because it takes too long, it is too much hard work and is therefore inconvenient?

But this is a world that is becoming increasingly more savvy to email marketing practices, particularly those on the receiving end. It’s not worth bombarding people who don’t want to receive your stuff, especially since, of course, there are mechanisms in place that weed out unwanted material and dump it in a spam folder.

Therefore you need to do it properly right from the beginning, and set up an opt-in email capturing service on your website. How fast you progress in building your list will depend on how much you work at it, how much you are prepared to provide good quality information that readers are willing to receive, absorb, retain and act upon.

The result is the list that you have accumulated is yours only, and nobody else’s. It will comprise of members who have signed up voluntarily, who want to read your newsletters, who value the information you give them, who look forward to next month’s issue, who will comment and leave feedback so you can improve what you provide, both in your business as well as your newsletters.

And why are you communicating with them? To win your readers’ trust, opinion, understanding and appreciation. You extend your expertise and increase your reputation, convince them of your qualities and give them what they desire. After you have won them round to your way of thinking, they are then more likely to buy your products or sign up to your services. Marketing yourself and what your business provides is all about building upon a relationship with your customers, whether they are past, present and prospective, to facilitate business or develop advocates to influence others – and so the list can continue to grow.

And growing your list is important, especially organically. Don’t feel dispelled to increase it with purchased lists, otherwise you’ll be taking several steps backwards. All that hard work to win the trust and build relationships will have been thrown down the drain. This is a case of less is more; what value is there in communicating to a large amount of people who aren’t interested, who only press the delete or spam button, who don’t know you from Adam, and who certainly don’t care a jot? Why should you pander to them, when you could be writing to a list of people who want to know more about you and what you do, because you’ve managed to convince them you are worth while?

One piece of marketing advice given out states it’s easier to sell to existing customers than to find new ones. Think about it…

Don’t waste your time writing that newsletter!

Chantal

I’ve just spent an hour catching up on reading newsletters. I often don’t have time to read them as they arrive, so put them somewhere safe and then read them when I have time. I copied a bunch of these newsletters onto my laptop, so that I could read them, while I sat in a coffee shop, between meetings. After a while I wondered why I bothered.

There were ‘newsletters’ that were pure sales pitch, telling me how great the company was. There was one that just said ‘you might like to read this’ with a link to someone else’s website. One of them was a list of articles that the sender had written over the last few months.

If you’re going to take the time to research and write an email newsletter and build a list of interested people to send it to, the least you can do is send something of use to your readers. Don’t patronise them and don’t waste their time, or they will delete what you send the next time!

Why boring adverts don’t work

Alice

Advertising is having a difficult time at the moment, as there is a ‘rumour’ going about that it doesn’t work. Well, that is true if your advert is rubbish, and believe me, there are plenty of rubbish adverts out there!

Chantal gave me one to comment on yesterday, which was particularly bad. For starters it was jam-packed full of words in a tiny font. Why do companies have the urge to stuff practically everything in to the ads that they think is important? After all, that’s what websites are for, and your advert should direct interested parties to a well-written landing page that is relevant to that particular advert.

Adverts should concentrate on a specific area of your business that you think your customers need or want the most. Do some research to find out what the biggest problem your clients have, and then tailor one of your solutions so it is ‘ad-worthy’, and base your ad-copy around that. The idea is to relate to your customers’ pain by empathising with them, provide a solution to attract their attention, and incentivise them take action to go to your landing webpage and make contact to find out more.

If you’re worried about not promoting the rest of the things your company does, that doesn’t matter. Once you’ve got the customer across your threshhold, both virtually or physically, then you can practice your sales patter to direct their attention to what else you have to offer.

As well as the tiny boring text within this advert, there were these unpromising aspects:

  • a particularly uninspiring headline – why not pose a question or statement that is attractive to a potential customers based around their problem?
  • unrelenting large blocks of writing – alleviate this by breaking the text up with bullet points for more emphasis; it can also aid those that quickly scan adverts as it highlights the most important elements.
  • don’t conform with a picture of a smiling lady, that is so passé it almost has the opposite effect it is intended for; that concept went out with the last century – good layout is better than inappropriate imagery.
  • stuffing a tiny unnoticeable version of your logo at the bottom – the position good, but make it larger and combine it with an equally large URL of your landing page with the incentivised call to action; giving your customers something to do as well as read all your advert will ensure a much larger response rate.

Are you stuck for something to blog about?

Alice

Finding enough content to write is always a troubling problem for bloggers. I constantly read on forums bloggers asking for inspiration about what to put into their blogs, especially since there is that constant nagging in their minds that they need to be consistent and frequent in their postings. This is particularly prominent if you have advertising and affiliates on your blog, as you rely on a constant stream of visitors to make such applications pay their way. 

I suppose it doesn’t help to say the more you post, the easier it becomes. It’s all down to practising, persistence and perseverance. Get into the habit of putting down your thoughts, even if it’s in draft form, to develop later into full-blown posts. Diligent bloggers may have plenty of potential posts in draft, waiting for that final finish.

Look around you for inspiration, there is plenty of ‘post fodder’ about if you know where to look. Look at the emails in your in- and out-box, especially the ones you write in reply. This is an excellent source of your expertise. If you are a prolific writer elsewhere, refer to past articles that you’ve written, and there is no reason why you can’t rewrite old stuff that may have got out of date, may have had more recent developments or needs a more prominent boost.

Refer to the internet for information: subscribe to Google Alerts with certain keywords that interest you or are relevant to your business, and you will get plenty of posts and articles other people have written. Use these not only to learn more about your industry, but rewrite these topics in your own style or in your own point of view, agreeing or disagreeing, adding to the subject matter or explaining a point further. This is not plagarism if you make your work totally different from the original.

Remember things that have been said or you’ve heard somewhere, such as networking events, or even when you are meeting your clients: ask them for ideas, or question them to get their point of view. They may ask for explanations on certain subjects, and their question with your reply could easily be adapted as a post.

It’s all due to you acquiring the right sort of blogging mind-set. This may sound pretentious, but once you do train your brain to start looking for posting material wherever it goes, content will start springing out of the woodwork! Start thinking in that frame of mind, and you might be pleasantly surprised…

Can blogs and newsletters exist side by side?

Alice

I’m often asked if blogs and e-newsletters can exist side by side. In my mind it is imperative, because to me visibility on the internet is paramount, and the more places you can publish your message the better. Worries about overlapping should be waved aside, as different people read different forms of media, so if you wish to increase your audience as much as possible, post your message everywhere!

What should come first, the blog or the newsletter? This appears to be like the chicken and egg question, but in reality it depends on you, your customers and your business. What product or service are you providing? Where will your customers congregate? How internet savvy are they? What is your subject matter? How easy do you find writing? How much have you got to say?

Newsletters are relatively easy to accomplish as you can get away with publishing only once a month, but they have the disadvantage of not being interactive. They will get read (hopefully), digested, maybe archived and then the reader will pass on. Only rarely will any bother to respond.

Whereas a blog has the advantage of your post always being visible, even if it has been superceded in the timeline or newsroll. There are archive processes in the form of categories for later research capabilities, and each post has its permalink to publish in later posts or elsewhere. Because blogs are interactive you will more likely get a response, even immediately, which adds to the conversation and interest factor from search engines.

And can newsletters and blogs interact? There is no reason why you cannot republish your newsletter article as a blog, if it is short enough. If not, then dividing it up into smaller sections as a series will certainly help increase your visitor ratings, as readers will want to come back to find out the next installments. That would certainly overcome the ever-ending question: “What do I write about?” and “Help, do I really need to contribute something so often?” You’ll probably find you’ll be able to say more in your posts about your newsletter’s subject, giving you a chance to elaborate and explain the subject more succinctly and in a fuller capacity.