How to buy a new website

Chantal

You need a new website. You’ve asked a web developer to pitch for the job but you don’t speak fluent ‘tech’. How do you know what to ask for? Here are some questions you can ask, to help you get what you need.

Who owns the finished code? If the developer owns the code, you’re fixed to them. It can be more expensive to own the final code, but it gives you more flexibility if things go wrong – you could move the work to a different developer if you really need to.

Is the site mobile-ready? If you need it to be, make sure at the outset that your website will be compatible with mobile devices – that it’s accessible from Smartphones and iPads if that’s how your visitors want to view it. Recent statistics show that by 2012, mobile internet users will exceed desktop users globally so this is something you do need to consider.

Does the fee include support? Is the fee just for building the website build, or does it include development support and if so, how much? Having your developer on a retainer means they’ll be more likely to make any changes that you request as part of that, rather than trying to charge you extra for their time.

Will the website be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)? You are legally bound to make sure your website is accessible to disabled people. This includes making all functionality available from a keyboard (rather than relying on a mouse) and ensuring you do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.

Which browser will the website work best on? Sites don’t look the same in different browsers, so it’s important that yours gets built with your customers in mind. Built correctly, your site should work on most browsers. Internet Explorer is currently the most used browser (57%), followed by Firefox (23%). This varies by country, so look into it before you start.

Will the site depend on technologies such as Java or Flash? Your developer’s answer should be “no”. If the site’s usability is dependent on a specific technology, some people won’t be able to see and use it.  If the site is built on a Flash platform, make sure your developer also codes it for HTML compliance; the same goes for Java. While Flash can make your site look cool, it’s not good for usability or SEO.

How will the site be hosted? If the developer offers to host the site as part of a package deal, find out specifics: how often will the site be backed up? How resilient will the servers be to failure?  Most hosting packages guarantee a 99.9% uptime and backups should be daily if you have regularly changing data on your site.

When you’re talking to developers about your new website, ask them these questions. They will help you make sure you find someone who can provide you with exactly what you need, for now and for the future.

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Why SEO is untouchable

Alice

I was talking to someone the other day about SEO (search engine optimisation) and they asked me to send them some examples. Of course I instinctively said ‘Yes’, but then I stopped and thought about it. SEO is intangible, it is not a solid item I can ‘put in the post’, you cannot hold it in your hand like a leaflet, nor can you immediately ‘see’ it like a website.

SEO is the use and performance of keywords and keyphrases within website copy, and in the meta tags in the code. It can manifest itself in many guises: meta tags behind pictures, keywords in headlines, keyphrases woven into webcopy in such a way they are not noticeable to the reader, but stick out like sore thumbs to the internet spider. The browser title in the webpage could be carefully constructed to capture as much SEO as possible, and the (almost) invisible description tags that only materialise in search engine indexing so necessary to match up with visitor search criteria.

In fact, the best SEO should almost be invisible to the web visitor. It is not designed to be obvious, but like a cleverly constructed machine the cogs and wheels behind the system are not revealed; with the fancy exterior perfectly designed to distract the user, they grind away doing their invaluable and important work.

What he could have said was to send him something that showed SEO’s results. This would have to be done in report form, analysed from Google Analytics over a period of time, tweaked to increase performance and perfect the spider response required to increase visitor traffic and ultimately conversions into business (but that bit depends on a combination of design and psychology on the ‘shop front’, a totally different story to SEO tangibility).

Is a blog more than a marketing accessory?

Alice

Someone on LinkedIn asked a question if blogs are businesses. Many of the answers wittered on about affiliate and sponsored advertising, as if making money made your blog a business. I sometimes wonder how much money these blogs actually do make… I personally ignore all advertising I see on blogs and just concentrate on the posts.

There is also the old adage that a blog can help your business (and I’ve written plenty about that before), but have you considered how a blog could be adapted to become an integral element of your business, rather than a useful accessory?

You could adapt your blog to become a blogsite (a website using a blogging platform such as WordPress that is self-hosted) to become a more substantial business tool. The alternative to having irritating adverts would be to write the pages to incorporate e-commerce (shopping carts) for visitors to buy e-courses, products, services, etc, because the blog is self-hosted, you can include any kind of HTML or web-programming for money-making functions.

Your entire blog can be adapted to become a very effective website, suitably programmed to attract SEO, internet and audience traffic, and RSS feeds to social media and elsewhere. The blog news-stream will attract a readership which can be directed to the other pages on your blogsite, which in themselves should be transformed into effective landing pages for email and Google Adword campaigns. I note there are effective sales pages programmes available for WordPress now.

Why not take advantage of a blog’s ability to become a membership site. The privacy and password protected posts and pages will enable you to gain paid-for subscriptions for members to view certain elements of your business. You could also build up a membership or forum, like a sort of ‘Inner Circle’, or even provide individual page access for particular subscribers or customers. This feature is extremely easy to set up, even for a WordPress.com blog (see my e-courses on the sidebar).

This proves I don’t see blogs merely as somewhere to post up your thoughts, or even somewhere to put up advertising, but certainly occupying a viable position for making a business successful.

10 steps to succeed in online marketing

Alice

There are many examples of online marketing throughout the internet for all of us to see, and plenty of posts and articles from gurus and experts all saying how wonderful their versions are. So I have added my tuppence-worth to the fray to let you know what I think of this subject!

1. Understand exactly what marketing is. This may sound pretentious, but marketing should not be confused with selling. It’s important to know that marketing is all about nurturing relationships with your customers and also having the chance to spread your expertise to gain trust and credibility. Once your potential customer has really got to know you and your company, only then will they make the move to do business with you.

2. Understand how important customers are. It really is worth doing some marketing analysis on your customers’ profiles, activities, buying habits, lifestyles – not to mention their needs and wants. This means you’ll be able to provide effective solutions to their problems, as well as placing your marketing exactly where your customers hang out, saving time, energy and money. And when you write copy, always present it within the customers’ point of view, to make them think you really care about them and want to help them.

3. Do you have a proper focus? It’s not worth setting up a marketing campaign without a suitable end in sight. Lots of people happily spend time marketing their business and then wonder why nothing comes of it. If you aim your marketing towards a goal, not only will it be more focused in its approach, but it will help towards measuring your results and analysing whether you are going down the correct route, being cost-worthy and productive, as well as achieving what you set out to do.

4. The importance of keywords. Search engines thrive on both keywords and links. Concentrating on the former, performing adequate research into which keywords are effective, relevant and up-to-date, plus knowing how and where to use them correctly, could make or break your online marketing.  Successful search engine optimisation may be considered a ‘black art’, but even small amounts performed appropriately is better than messy misunderstandings in large scale operations.

5. Content is king/queen. A well known phrase which can be interpreted in many ways. What you write about should always be relevant to both you and your customers. It should be focused on your customers’ desires, or aimed at filling a niche gap in the market, or promote your service/product within your customers’ point of view. It should be entertaining, educational and enterprising. It should pander to the needs of both humans and search engine spiders, to both be read and interact with the internet. It should not mention your company to say how wonderful it is!

6. Be aware of social media use. Rapidly rising in online marketing use, this phenomenon should not be ignored. Blogs are, of course, the hub of social networking, as well as all your online marketing activities, as everything can be directed back to them and thence outwards! But social media is not necessarily somewhere to dump material hoping it will be read and acted upon, it depends on social interaction and sharing with like-minded and relevant contacts. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are facilities to collect a following and post notifications of what you are doing, whereas other social media such as StumbleUpon, Delicious, Mixx, Digg, Reddit and the like, rely on a voting system to promote your blog posts virally around the web. If you aren’t interested in what others are doing, how can they therefore be interested in you?

7. Gathering leads into lists. For some online marketers this is key. If you are able to collect a relevant and focused list of likely leads for you to market to, people who have willingly given their permission to receive information from you each month so that they can keep in touch with what you are saying, thinking or doing, being the first to know of any events or promotions you are creating, this is an extremely important source of marketing value. Email newsletters are big news because of their cost-worthiness in communication, and flexibility of use and transmission, and as long as they are used appropriately with the required focus, they are a very effective online marketing tool.

8. Using calls to action. Oh, how many times do I see online marketing with inappropriate or neglected call to actions! If you don’t tell your customers what to do, they won’t do it! And where you place these call to actions is also important: multiple mentions, within landing or squeeze pages within your website, with incentives and time-dependency, in postscripts at the end of communications – this little, much forgotten element of marketing could make all the difference towards success or failure. And the squeeze pages I mentioned before – another excellent marketing tool that when used appropriately can contribute much towards the benefits of online marketing.

9. How well are you performing? It’s no good undertaking a marketing campaign without knowing how well you are doing. Google Analytics for both your website and blog are vital to measure performance and analyse the correct procedure for future projects. Understand who is responding, why you got the responses you did, how to get more online visibility, what can you do to increase your conversions – all this is related to many of the points I mentioned above, plus a coherent understanding and focused appreciation to enhance your online marketing.

10. Nothing will happen overnight. Ignore all those marketing gurus who promise untold immediate wealth as soon as you sign up to their programmes. Online marketing is hard work, and you need to be in it for the long term. Many customers will read your newsletter and blog for years before they decide to take action, during which time they have been convinced of your expertise, have learned what you can do for them, and have formed a favourable opinion of you and your business to make the initial approach. If you show genuine interest in them (mainly through social networking) and gain a sizeable following of relevant, like-minded prospective customers, regularly communicating with them through your newsletter and providing them with valuable information that truly helps them, only then will your online marketing activities start to bear fruit.

Does blogging have an etiquette?

Alice

People have various concepts of what constitutes blogging etiquette. Of course there are the obvious ones like being nice to other bloggers, and much of these suggestions are just common sense, so no etiquette is set in stone and does rely on the goodwill of the bloggers themselves.

Here are some to consider:

1. Don’t be rude, show respect and be polite to other bloggers and commenters.

2. Don’t copy other content without asking first. If you are given permission, fully acknowledge the author.

3. Remember to link to your resources and expert sources.

4. Don’t expect anything in return from linking to others, it’s not compulsory.

5. Respond to your comments in a cheerful, positive and thankful manner.

6. Don’t leave spammy comments on other people’s blogs.

7. Use your identity when blogging, don’t hide behind a persona.

8. Own up to your mistakes, it makes you more human and therefore likeable.

9. Stick to the subject of your posts or blog’s niche, don’t go off at a tangent.

10. Use correct punctuation, grammar and spelling, avoid text speak or colloquial language.

11. Don’t pepper your post with jargon.

12. Don’t overdo using keywords for SEO purposes, less than 10% is acceptable.

13. Check what you say is true by researching your facts properly, and never lay claim to content that isn’t yours.

14. Share good posts liberally on social networking sites.

15. Remember everything you publish is on public display, so check whether you really want to say it.

16. Don’t swear or use bad words, it isn’t impressive and can offend.

17. Make sure your pictures are suitably resized, to prevent lengthy downloading of your overlarge images.

How many others so you know of?

Bring your business to your customers, not the other way round

Alice

Gone are the days when customers came to you. The internet may be compared to a massive shopping-mall, but it is, of course, so huge, there is no way anybody could possibly walk pass your shop (website) unless they knew it was already there.

There are some websites that capitalise on this phenomenon, due to their reputation. They may display a select niche unavailable elsewhere, or provide a service that is second to none. They certainly will have a select following who sing their praises, and word-of-mouth and referrals can be the backbone of a business’s survival.

The alternative, while you are trying to obtain these dizzying heights of recognition, or fine-tune your reputation, would be to increase your visibility. To confirm my first statement, you need to go where your customers are, as well as being very easy to find.

Of course the optimum place would be on the first page on Google (every Search Engine Optimisation provider’s objective), but this is notoriously difficult to achieve. Google positioning is as unpredictable as the British weather. Research into patterns of how visitors use search engines show that many don’t pan below the ‘fold’, the area underneath what is visible, and approximately 80% don’t go further than the first page of their search.

You could spend some money on a pay-per-click campaign (Google Adwords) to achieve your first page position, but bear in mind that only about a third of surfers look at the sponsored ads. And unless you know exactly what you are doing, a huge portion of your marketing budget could be whittled away, especially if you don’t know what your objectives are.

There are alternatives to raising web-visibility. Social networking sites (Facebook is the most visited website online; Twitter is aimed at increased PR and brand awareness; LinkedIn is aimed at professionals and their Answers section could certainly raise your expertise status), blogging (which should act as an interactive hub of your online presence) and YouTube (where adverts are watched far more than on TV, and are searchable for criteria and keywords) should certainly be added into the equation, and form a considerable part of your online-marketing stategy.

So my questions are: what are you doing to bring your online presence to where your customers are? And if so, are you reaching out to the right kind of customer, or are you frequenting the correct social media for your target market? (This sounds like a subject for another post – watch this space…)

Keywords and keyphrases: what, why and how?

Alice

I accompanied Chantal to the Build a Better Business event organised by The Late Breakfast yesterday, where Chantal was giving a talk about how to incorporate a marketing strategy into a business plan. I decided to visit the other seminars, and was intrigued by one which was called ‘PPC, SEO and the Long Tail’. Usually acronym-ed jargon like this would suggest something high-flying and technical, but actually it consisted mostly of common sense taken from a different point of view.

Keywords and phrases are words which trigger a response from the search engine spiders (mathematical robots that crawl the web looking for new content to index). They are effective if they are tuned into what people type into the search engines at this moment in time, and you can find this out through the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

Most small keywords or phrases have a very high response, which mean although there may be several thousands of people searching for it, there are also many thousands of websites containing those keywords. To narrow down the competition, you lengthen your keyphrases to include more elements that are relevant to your visitor’s ‘wants’. For example, ‘holiday cottages’ could be increased to ‘holiday cottages near Bath that accept dogs’, and ‘horse riding’ could lengthen to ‘horse riding stables that offer lessons for beginners near Swindon’.

These keyphrases containing many keywords combined together are more likely to trigger a match in search engine requests. It narrows down the field so you’ll find that there are less websites that offer these complete keyphrases. Do people type so much into the search engine status fields? Yes, they probably do, hoping that at least something will bring up a website that will help them.

But what do you do with these keyphrases? Each should be allocated their own webpage, which acts as its specific landing page. These webpages should be carefully optimised for their keyphrase, by including them in the page title, the metatags behind the scenes, the page’s title and within the words on the page. There are also clever ways to use keyphrases effectively and yet still make the page read well; after all, it’s meant to be for humans to understand and appreciate, not just search engine spiders.

These special keyphrase-induced landing pages should be marketed for full acknowledgement from the visitor, provide plenty of relevant information about the keyphrase’s subject, offer incentivised call to actions to encourage a response, and link up to other like-minded pages for further perusal of your website. In other words, there should be a series of pages that won’t be accessible from your homepage, but act as fly-papers to attract the spiders and therefore the searching visitors craving what you have to offer. Make sure you don’t disappoint them…