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have spent a fortune on the design, only to be sorely lacking in the information they contain, especially if it is out of date.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.

The importance of interaction

Alice

When you’re dealing with social media, one of the most important things to consider is interaction.

Interaction is when your readers, audience, fans, friends or whatever are compelled to respond to your social networking activities. This will happen when you post up something that is worth commenting on, full of value, beneficial and helpful, entertaining or educational, or even controversial, just begging for a response to counteract it or confirm their approval or agreement with it.

Blogs thrive from comments. Spiders register a comment as new material, so it can enhance a post by making it more attractive to the search engines. It also adds to the conversation because the reader is presented with new ideas and concepts that contribute to the subject matter or interest factor. Ideally posts should be written to encourage a comment, or contain a call to action to remind readers to leave feedback or their point of view.

Facebook works on interaction, as every time you post on your profile, or ideally on someone else’s profile as a comment to their status update, Facebook sees this interaction and clocks it as a match. The more interaction you have with your Facebook friends, the more likely you are going to see your posts or blog feeds on their profiles. If you don’t partake in lots of interaction on social networking sites, it’s not only the search engines that deem you to be inactive, its the social networking robots as well, which can be detrimental if you want to create interaction to help promote yourself or your business.

Twitter is the master of interaction, of course! It is all about interacting with your fellow Twitterers, chatting, commenting, retweeting, sharing in real time – generally forming relationships with your followers as you interact and find out what they are doing. Really this is not a place to be doing business in the old sense of the word, it’s about communicating and making friends, networking by being sociable, asking after their health, family or latest event, having a giggle over a piece of news or notification from elsewhere, exchanging information about each other as if you were face to face and not separated by the web in between two computers. It is a place to find out information, learn from a blog feed, gain trust and credibility by giving and sharing, having a conversation with real people who respond readily – in other words, interacting.

Using social networking sites, and also social bookmarking sites, needs commitment to fine-tune your interaction with your followers and friends. It’s no good having a fantastic blast one day, and then forgetting to continue for the next few days. Even if your followers forgive you, the search engines and social networking sites won’t. Robots don’t understand like humans do, and they see inactivity as exactly as what it is, and immediately your ratings go down, you loose those slots on your friends’ profiles, your stats take a plunge and your Twitter streams are dark and empty.

I know it’s hard to keep it up indefinitely, so it’s worth working out a social media diary to help you keep the momentum going. Plan in advance what you are going to say that month, or week if you think short-term, so that there is always information available to use when your inspiration dries up. It’s much easier to provide content, leading onto to some beneficial interaction, if you have a focus, goal or objective towards your social networking activities – get more leads, raise your profile, extend your expertise, collect more fans or ‘likes’, increase your subscription rates, develop your visibility on the net – need I go on?

And above all – it’s so important to have fun!

It’s not good to make your website flashy

Alice

I saw a question on LinkedIn that asked how to optimise a website’s homepage that consisted purely of Flash. Flash is a programme that provides animation with images and graphics for websites, and you probably have come across many examples (I did the other day with a digital marketing firm) where you are greeted with a little ‘show’ of moving graphics that are supposedly meant to be impressive.

This particular website showed a graphic of a computer with a running newsroll describing in a totally unnecessarily cryptic message about how impressive their business was and why you should use their services. The other pages had graphics that moved if you moused over them, but were not immediately understandable with what they represented, and unless you bothered to use your mouse it was unlikely you would have an inclination to progress further.

Luckily someone else had already answered with the correct response to that LinkedIn question – don’t use Flash! – so I was able to confirm he was, in my opinion, quite right.

For starters, Flash, since it only uses images, is not picked up by the search engines. Internet spiders are programmed to only search for words, so will not be able to understand pictures unless they have a ‘alt tag’ attached to them which describes them, an attribute which is also useful for the deaf.

Therefore, since there weren’t any words on that index page that weren’t hidden within a graphic, it was unable to be optimised. OK, you could do the relevant keyword research and populate the meta tags appropriately, but if they were unable to correspond with words on the page associated with them, especially various H-tags, their impact would be severely impeded.

Another problem is that some Flash programmes take time to upload before they can run, which results in a variety of ‘wait’ messages while the process happens. Some websites provide ‘skip’ buttons, but if this is the case, why did they bother with Flash in the first place?

It is becoming a well known fact that the average time a new visitor spends on a website, before they decide whether it is the right one for them, is less than 3 seconds. If after a few seconds you are still waiting for the Flash presentation to start, you can guarantee the majority of visitors won’t bother waiting around.

And the whole point of a homepage of a website is to establish that this is the correct website for the visitor. Not only should they immediately recognise the subject or business type, but it should be made as easy as possible, with recognisable links or click buttons, to progress further into the site.

Not everybody has the inclination or time to waste fathoming out what to do next, it should be instantaneous! Websites are now mediums for finding facts and, more appropriately for Web2.0, interacting with the website’s owners, so the process should be inviting, encouraging, enthusiastic and obvious!

And that means being ‘Flashy’ with your website is, as well as being pretentious, sooo last century!

How WordPress.com can help businesses in the short-term

Alice

I read blogging blogs that exalt the virtues of WordPress and what a fantastic platform it is to create a blog. But what they are mainly talking about is WordPress.org, the sophisticated version that is independently hosted, and can perform in total synchrony with your website, or even become your whole website!

But its problem is its expense, it requires a webdeveloper who understands how the platform works, and it can take time to set up. Even so, once accomplished, the results are totally professional, collaborate extremely successfully with the search engines, and are very much worthwhile the expenditure.

This is all very commendable, but what about the blogging sceptics? There are plenty out there that are uncomfortable about starting a blog, are not sure of the expense, may be on tight budgets, or would like to find out more about WordPress before making a commitment.

Enter WordPress.com, the ‘free’ version hosted by WordPress that can be set up in minutes. Its minimal expenses are to activate Akismet, the ‘spam eater’, and if you want to convert the URL WordPress gives you to one of your own.

Here is a blogging platform ideally suited to enable you to ‘practice’ blogging before embarking into this section of social media properly. By creating a WordPress.com blog, you will be able to learn how to fully use the platform, discover all the tricks there are available, excel in the intricacies of blogging and enjoy producing a fully-operational blog with the minimum of fuss.

OK, there are some restrictions: you can’t put advertising or sell from a WordPress.com blog, as the blog police will close you down. Only certain forms of HTML are accepted (RSS, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc) so it is not a medium to make money, only to education, entertain and publicise your business.

But if you want to create a blog to practice blogging or to dip your toe into the blogging world before expanding into more elaborate and profitable realms, then WordPress.com is the platform to use.

And don’t forget, it is extremely easy to transfer the contents of your WordPress.com blog over to your new WordPress.org website without losing a thing! A perfect example of continuity to maintain consistency.

Ineffectual landing pages are a waste of time

Alice

This sweeping statement has arisen because I see so many examples!

In fact this covers two kinds of landing pages, since it refers to the webpage the visitor first lands on when visiting a website.  This can actually be any page on your website, not necessarily the index or homepage. This is because it may be the result of a visitor asking a question on the search engines, and your landing page answers the criteria or keywords within the question.

If each webpage is carefully constructed to act like mini-index pages for its specific subject, it should have been suitably optimised to respond to such searches, with the keywords strategically placed to activate such a response from the searched question.

The other kind of landing page is the squeeze page. This is also called a sales page and is the result of a email or online campaign where the prospect is directed straight to a specific page specially created to fulfil the transaction portion of the campaign.

This is another point of failure. In the States this kind of page goes on for miles and miles, and this is because the Americans expect that level of persuasion to enable their prospects to be convinced to take appropriate action. In the UK this is not tolerated, as we find it ridiculous that so much needs to be said to make a sale. But even if the British version isn’t constructed in such a manner, it still needs to take on a formula to succeed.

It should act like a story-board, driving the reader onto the next section. Each section should explain why the reader should buy the product, explaining all the benefits that will make their lives better, counteracting all the objections the customer may have towards buying this product, providing case studies and testimonials that will help promote the product in a much better light – and of course all this takes up space! Now do you see why the American versions are so long?

So the latest example I saw was a simple box saying ‘Buy this product’ with a ‘Pay now’ button underneath is certainly not going to work – there was no call to action or explanation why, and with such basic elements missing it hadn’t really got a hope!

Why you shouldn’t neglect your blog

Alice

All the excitement of creating or building a blog, the newness of it all, can be quite short lived. Many would-be writers avidly start their blog with great gusto and go through the settings and themes to get the ‘look’ they want, vowing to contribute posts regularly every week.

But the reality is different. My boss asked me to design a banner for one of her clients’ WordPress.com blog, and taking a quick look at the existing content I noticed that the style and subject matter were good, lively and readable, but he hadn’t posted since May. All that frenzied activity for the first month had quickly fizzled out, the enthusiasm had drained away, and a poor, neglected blog that appeared to have great potential languished before me on my computer screen.

This is the plight of so many blogs out there (the same is with Twitter accounts and other social networking profiles). A blog with no content might as well be a cheese sandwich! These self-editable websites are carefully designed to attract the search engines and their spiders, and thrive on consistently produced new material stuffed full of keywords and links that are so appetising to the internet bots who constantly roam looking for something to index. To forgot to regularly update them is as sad and unthinkable as getting a new puppy and then forgetting to look after him properly!

The adage “blogs are not just for Christmas, they are for life” may be scary, but this needn’t be so. If you are as diligent and full of enthusiasm as you need to be to make your business a success, then you need to do some sort of social networking activity, and a blog is an easy (and it is easy) example.  If you can’t write well, hire someone who can – there are lots of good ghost-bloggers out there who will do a good job. Even so, I’m sure whatever you write will be suitable towards promoting your business the way you want to. After all, who else knows your business better than you?

That is what the blog’s content should contain – all about you and your business.  Don’t submit irrelevant material like you find on Twitter, instead write about what you know. You must be a fountain of information and expertise about your industry, so why not share it with your existing and potential customers? Use your blog as somewhere you could record everything you think is important for your customers to know, a point of reference that can be fed into your social networking accounts, back-up links to affirm your points of view, a place to hold your latest revelations, fantastic ideas for the future, past successes with great clients, scintillating information that your clients would really benefit from…

So don’t neglect your poor old blog!  He needs visiting, reassuring, feeding – remember, he’s hungry for your knowledge!

How to perform a marketing follow-on

Alice

Last year I responded to my husband’s request for a metal watering can for his birthday.  That’s OK, it’s easy to go to Google, type in ‘metal watering cans’ and choose a website from the links that came up.

Having been thoroughly annoyed by all the inadequate links, including the sponsored ones in the shaded areas of the search engine page, I eventually found a website that provided exactly what I needed. Their concisely written pay-per-click advert directed me straight to a landing webpage that offered three metal watering cans. I didn’t have to wade through irrelevant pages, such as the website’s index page, to find out exactly what I wanted.

They made it perfectly easy to choose the one that fitted my requirements and to pay through an efficient shopping cart system. With the confirmation of my purchase I also received tracking information of my watering can’s delivery progress, which arrived before the time specified, and resulted in a happy husband on his birthday.

Having achieved my objective, I thought that would be that. But I should have known that a company that was so adept in compiling Google Adword campaigns that resulted in a successful sale and delivery to satisfied customers, they wouldn’t stop there. I have just received a nicely designed catalogue full of all the tempting gardening products they have on offer, just in time for Christmas.

As a marketer I immediately recognised the value of this exercise. Why stop with just one transaction? Their shopping card system gathered all the information they needed, my address, and they used this data to send their perfectly timed catalogue to me. They also thoughtfully didn’t send it for the Christmas immediately after my purchase, gauging that holding back would show respect and consideration.

Businesses who are marketing orientated work on furthering customer relationships. Any data gathered from transactions should be carefully used to promote the rest of your product range as unobtrusively as possible. This can be accomplished through a regular newsletter, a seasonal catalogue, an informative blog, participating on the kind of social networking sites the target market is most likely to populate, including offline networking groups, in fact anywhere where your customer will be ‘hanging out’ and your business can communicate with them in an effective manner that corresponds with their lifestyle.

And encouraging this relationship marketing goes with added value, incentives, special offers, improved customer service, recognising their needs and providing relevant solutions – making the customer the most important element of your business to create customer loyalty and continued purchasing prowess.