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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Getting lots of questions

Have you ever experienced a LOT of questions from your suppliers?

I aways lots of questions about new writing projects – less so for existing and long-term clients – and some people are amazed by that.  Usually amazed and appreciative, but amazed none the less.

Could you imagine going to a doctor or lawyer and not have them ask questions to clarify the issue and find the best solution? Would you trust a doctor who said hello and handed you a script?

As far as I am concerned, I like my suppliers to ask questions to show interest in the project (rather than the dollars) and to be sure they understand what I actually need.

As a writer, I don’t feel I can’t write good content if I don’t know much about the topic of the piece. I know I can’t write effective content if I don’t know who the target audience is or the purpose of the piece. So I ask lots of questions before I write or edit any content.

Although it make take you more time than you expected to hand over a project if the supplier asks many questions, it is usually worth it for the quality of the final result.

Some reasons to appreciate these questions are that the supplier:

  1. is interested in doing the project as well as they possibly can
  2. will clarify any parts of your instructions they don’t understand
  3. learns the purpose of the work and can tailor it to suit
  4. is able to make appropriate suggestions and recommendations
  5. has the knowledge to give a different perspective
  6. gets an understanding of you and your business as well as the specific project
  7. knows who to target the result at (if relevant)
  8. may notice other things you can benefit from (for example, when I read a client’s website to learn about them, I sometimes find a typing or logic error that I will point out so they can correct it)
  9. is being professional and showing attention to details which presumably will carry through into the project itself
  10. is gathering information from the best source rather than making assumptions or using less reliable sources

So be warned – if you ask me to write for you or help with a communications project, you will be asked a number of questions!

How about you – how have you reacted to suppliers asking questions in the past?

Do you respond differently to ‘dumb’ questions compared to a supplier gathering useful information?

Adding depth to your website content

Earlier this week,  we looked at how shallow websites are not as valuable for your visitors or your SEO efforts so let’s look at how to improve that situation.

Shallow content is giving the minimum so by default giving more is adding depth. Simple.

How can you provide more depth to your content?Tablet content form old books

  1. generally provide more information but be careful to not just pile on so much information people get overwhelmed – there is a balance between too little and too much that will vary between pages and sites
  2. link to relevant information (on your site and elsewhere) to enhance your content without cluttering up pages with too many words and facts
  3. consider adding fresh content regularly. This could be via a blog, a social media feed, a news feed, articles or uploading your newsletter.
  4. look at every page of your site and review the content to ensure it meets the purpose of the page and answers any likely questions people would have on that topic. For example, expand on your services so they are meaningful – ‘business bookkeeping and reporting’ is better than ‘bookkeeping’ – and give some background on your about us page.
  5. look for ways to add value to people. Some examples are a hair dressing salon adding hair care tips after each service listed, a legal firm linking to definitions of common terms for relevant areas of law, and a book store including guidelines to the age suitability of each book
  6. only create a new page when there is something to add – new pages created with the same information focussed on a different keyword is not adding value and is more likely to annoy humans and search engines
  7. where relevant, add reviews and testimonials to your pages as they provide relevant content from a different perspective
  8. if you can’t see how to add depth, but suspect you need to, get others’ opinions on various pages. Remember your target audience when choosing who to ask
  9. following the usual rules of easy reading (good spelling, grammar, flow and being concise) will make any value stand out better than a page of words that are hard to interpret – sometimes adding value is done by removing the junk!
  10. add tips and ‘how to’ notes where relevant – for instance washing instructions with every clothing description and alternative uses alongside certain products can provide true value to people and potentially increase your sales
What have you done to add depth to the content on your site? Do you think this is something to get help with or easy enough to manage by yourself?

Making your website interactive

While I don’t think making your website interactive is necessary for a successful website, it can be very effective for a number of reasons (and I guess that will be the next post in this series!)

If you are not familiar with the online world, making an interactive website may sound a bit overwhelming and very technical – but hopefully you’re brave enough to have kept reading anyway!

Making your website more interactive can be done in a number of ways and most of them are actually quite easy to add and run.

What is harder is maintaining the interactivity – people will only interact with you if you are seen to be willing to interact regularly and if you give something interesting enough to interact with.

So if you are adding interactive features to your site, I would suggest adding one feature at a time so you can establish it before learning the next one – spreading yourself too thin won’t help your business in the long run.

Making your site interactive can be done by:

  1. adding a blog and allowing comments – software is easy to use but it takes time to think of topics and prepare the content
  2. adding a Twitter feed – there are a few ways to do this but it effectively means people can read your tweets on your website. There is no work to run the feed but managing your Twitter account can take time
  3. adding a Facebook feed – again, your Facebook updates can be read live on your site for little effort other than keeping your Facebook page up-to-date
  4. other social media feeds can also be placed on your site
  5. adding a ticket system so people can not only tell you about issues but track progress simply. This is most commonly used for IT suppliers such as web hosts and software providers
  6. introducing a discussion forum can generate a lot of interest but also requires a lot of time and effort to get enough people involved to make it work, and then maintain it in an appropriate fashion
  7. add some live chat features so people can ask questions immediately
  8. feedback forms and rating systems allow people to give you input and are probably has one of the lowest time requirements in this list
  9. various places offer the means of adding surveys, poll and quizzes that can be purely for fun, to educate or to gain information for your planning. Remember to make the content and the wording appropriate, relevant and clear
  10. if you take appointments or run events, consider adding an online booking system – this will probably save you time as well as making it easier for people to book and change appointments. If the system updates a viewable calendar and can confirm times (rather than just accepting requests), it does make your site interactive.
  11. add a wiki or other shared documents to your site if you are doing research or gathering community input
Do you have any other suggestions for making a website interactive? What have you enjoyed on other sites?

Must your website be interactive?

In a series of 10 posts, we have looked at the steps required to get your business online. Hopefully you’ve seen that getting a website up doesn’t have to be hard or very expensive, and that it can provide a lot of value to your business.

Up to a few years ago, that would be all you’d have to do to get a website up and running – with good content and links, it would probably have done quite well.

Now you will hear that people have higher expectations and that static (i.e. simple web pages that are one way only) sites are not effective.

There is an incredible number of websites out there now so competing against them all probably does need an edge such as an interactive site (where others can provide content on your site). However, you will not be competing against all those sites.

If you have been running business for a while without a website, you probably don’t need thousands of visitors to your site every week to survive. Many service based businesses also don’t need large amounts of traffic as they just need localised traffic.

While an interactive site may be more interesting and may do better than an equivalent static site, it is okay to have a static site. Here are some of my thoughts on static vs interactive sites:

  1. a static site is fine for people needing basic information about your site (e.g. a friend referred me and I need to find your phone number)
  2. a static site is better than an interactive site that is not maintained and looks rushed or empty, so if you don’t have the time or expertise to do an interactive site a static site is still valid option
  3. content is king – having quality, relevant content is critical; keeping it updated and fresh will go a long way to making your site successful
  4. know the purpose of your site and the preferences of your audience – both of these answers will influence the need of more interactivity
  5. after you’ve had a static site for a while, built up some traffic and back links and have an idea of what you’re doing, you can slowly introduce some interactivity – it doesn’t have to be done all at once nor at the start of your site
  6. making your site interactive actually isn’t very hard – making it work well is time consuming and can be challenging
So what do you think – does your website need to be interactive? Do you think all sites should be adding interactive features?

Understanding keywords in 9 steps

Once you set up your website and start reading about getting visitors (traffic) to your site, you are bound to hear about keywords (and key phrases but keywords is often used to mean both).

Here are a few points to help you understand keywords, their importance and how you can use them in your website content (and other online communications).

  1. keywords are simply words that summarise your message – don’t get caught up that they are magical or fancier than that. If you are a plumber, your keywords could be plumber, pipes, gas fitting and domestic, but would exclude business, builder and accounts.
  2. when you enter words into a search engine to find something, you are effectively using keywords. The web pages ranking highest for those keywords are what you will see in the search engine results
  3. behind each web page is some information known as meta data. This is part of how websites and search engines work, so is another aspect of using keywords as you can add a string of keywords in your meta data.
  4. make sure you use keywords that your potential customers will use
  5. don’t use too many keywords as it gets hard to read and search engines may assess it as an attempt to trick them. Always write for humans so it is interesting and relevant, rather than writing nonsense just to get keywords on a page
  6. each page on your site has a different purpose and will have different content so don’t expect each one to have exactly the same combination of keywords. In fact, search engines apparently give better ranks to sites with varied keywords across the site.
  7. specific words (e.g. dresses compared to clothes) are easier to rank well for but they are likely to have fewer searches so you need to balance which keywords are most useful to you. Of course, less effective words can still be used but just less often than your main keywords.
  8. use keywords in your online ads and directory listings, social media profiles, etc – not just in your own web pages. When you have the control, get keywords in the text of links to your site, too.
  9. within the boundaries of writing for humans, remember that keywords earlier in a piece of writing and highlighted in some way will have more impact than keywords late in the piece. (By highlighted I mean placed in a title or heading, in bold font or in italics)

Keywords help people find your messageIf you used a good web designer in creating your site, they have probably added some keywords into your meta data, headers, image descriptions and so on. Likewise, if your content was professionally written, edited or reviewed, there are likely to be some well placed keywords on your site already.

However, it is an ongoing task to keep your keywords working effectively so worth understanding even if someone else manages it for you.

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content
5. Managing website design 101
6. Choosing a web designer
7. Basic web pages
8. Navigating your site
9. Making web content attractive

Hard stuff pays off

I really liked this comment by Hugh MacLeod:

Because Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

Ownership of your content is important, but I particularly liked the acknowledgement that sometimes you have to accept the harder option as it is likely to produce the greater rewards. Sure it s easy to have a static website, fill your blog with others’ content, or post self-promoting or vacuous content on Twitter, but a quality blog will give much better long term results.

Do you think the hard stuff generally pays off more in the long term? Have you ever consciously chosen to do then are stuff to reap the reward unlikely to come from the easier option?

Making web content attractive

As you work on your website, there are some key activities to making the site more attractive (and therefore effective) for both humans and search engines.

Of course the key feature of a successful website is providing useful information – great navigation and design won’t do much if the content is lacking – but the following activities will make the content more accessible.

1. write for websites

Website content is not the same as content you would write in a letter or a printed brochure. Our eyes work slightly differently on a screen compared to a page and people have different expectations so web content needs to be short and start with the most important information.
Website content also has the advantage of hyperlinks so it is easier to refer to other information directly, including defining words and terms away form the main content.

2. utilise keywords and phrases (we’ll cover this further in this series, too)

A keyword or phrase is what people and search engines look for to judge if a web page is relevant; so keywords for this blog post could be web content, content, website, effective and SEO.

In general, the more you use a keyword, the more your page will get noticed in relevant searches so it is important to know your keywords and put them into your content. However, you need to balance adding keywords with readability of the content.

3. tell people about your site (check on Friday for the next post in our series for ideas)

The best website in the world won’t bring in business if no one knows about it so get the message out there! Whether it’s telling your friends or paying for a TV ad, or a multitude of options in between, you need an ongoing process of telling people your website exists.

4. keep the site fresh and current

fresh apples or old

Fresh fruit & content has more appeal

Websites need to be updated and changed – you can’t just make it great and then leave it for years. While some content really doesn’t need regular updates (there’s only so many ways you can write “our phone number is 1234″!), frequently adding new content to your site gives people a reason to come back and makes it more attractive to search engines.

Some ways to keep your site fresh and current are to avoid unnecessary dates, removing old dates (e.g. for events in the past), add a blog or a feed (whether from a RSS feed or social media) and to add new portfolio items and testimonials.

5. link to related information

There are two main reasons to add links throughout your website content. Firstly, it can make things easier for your site visitors as they can find related information very easily. Being easy for your visitors gives them a good feeling about you and also means you can lead them along various steps to your action points.

Separately, search engines use links as part of their formulae in ranking your site against similar ones, so having more links to your web pages can help your search engine results – even links from your own site count.

 

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content
5. Managing website design 101
6. Choosing a web designer
7. Basic web pages
8. Navigating your site

Basic webpages

So now you have a domain name and some hosting, your initial web copy is live and you have a web designer working on the look of your site. But what do you say when the designer asks how  many pages you need or what is to go into the menu?

Planning the content of a site is only part of the story – you also need to decide how to divide it into page-sized chunks that people will find useful. You could write all the web content in one block and then divide it up, but I have found it more effective to decide what needs to be covered and how to group the information before actually putting the information together.

So the absolute basic pages you’ll find on most websites are:

  1. ‘home page’ is the first page seen under your main URL so it needs to welcome and captivate people
  2. ‘about us’ – gives some information about the business itself and the people behind it
  3. ‘contact us’ – gives a form and/or contact details so people can get in touch with you. This really is a necessity for building trust and having people act on your content
  4. ‘services’ or ‘products’ – a one page list of items is the absolute minimum to let people know what is on offer. This can be expanded to various pages about types of services through to a complete shopping cart for products.
Beyond these basics, you can choose to add any of the following as well:
  1. testimonials
  2. faqs (which stands for frequently asked questions and form s a good resource for site visitors)
  3. links
  4. blog
  5. articles or fact sheets
  6. useful downloads (e.g. forms, instructions, diagrams)
  7. discussion forums
  8. helpdesk or ticket system for support
  9. various tools such as calculators and apps
  10. surveys, polls and quizzes to offer fun and interest or provide information

 

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content
5. Managing website design 101
6. Choosing a web designer

Preparing your initial website content

Filling an entire website with content can be a bit daunting, especially when you are also trying to get the design and navigation settled. So the third part of our series on getting your business online is about some initial website content.

Rule number one – don’t put up a message like “under construction”.

Search engines don’t like it – and nor do humans for that matter! To me, it looks lazy as it is not much harder to put a brief message on a temporary homepage than to write those two boring words there.

Obeying rule number one, many people therefore don’t have anything showing on their site during the development phase. This seems like a waste to me – the sooner your site is up, the sooner you can send people there (i.e. you don’t have to delay all marketing while waiting) and let search engines discover it.

So my suggestion is to have an interim homepage that can go live very quickly, giving you and your designer a bit of breathing space.

Here’s what to include on that interim page…

  1. your business name! obvious but very important!
  2. your logo if you have one – don’t use a makeshift logo though
  3. some basic contact details. Top or bottom of the page or in text doesn’t matter as long as someone can find out how to get in touch with you. A message like “Our full website will be here soon but in the meantime please email us on xx@domain.com or call 1234 3456″ covers it nicely
  4. your tagline, if you have one
  5. your USP (and you need one if you haven’t already got one)
  6. some basic information about your business and/or website so people can determine if you offer what they were after in the first place. Sure many won’t come back but some will if they think you will meet their need. A paragraph or two or a bullet list is all you need
  7. if you have them and are using them for your business, add links (preferably via graphics than text) to social media profiles so you connect all your online presences
So with a domain name, a host and some initial content, you can have a simple web presence quite quickly. Does it feel a it easier to achieve now?
Although an interim page like this is not an ideal website, it is better than nothing so just taking this step will get you online.
If you still doubt the value or worth of getting online, get an interim site up (grab some monthly hosting and you can do it for under $50, too) and monitor your calls and sales for a couple of months. Let me know if the website makes a significant difference to your leads – or even if it gives you one more!
This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting

6 steps to getting a website online?

Welcome to the first in a series of posts about getting your business online. Even if you are not yet sure you will start a website, the aim is to give you the information to make an informed decision for your business.

Blank screen where your website could beSo let’s start with the basics of what you need to do to get a website up – and let’s make it a decent website that your business doesn’t need to be ashamed of! (We could get a website up in about 10 minutes but it may do more harm than good!)

  1. get a domain name – I suggest doing this even if you don’t add a website for some time. Keep the name for your use and you can use it as an email address even if there is no functioning website yet
  2. get a web host – this means you are paying someone for some space on the internet. There are many hosting packages available, covering various features and a huge price range – it is feasible to get hosting for under $100 a year so look around. We’ll cover hosting options later in this series, but I strongly recommend my host, Digital Pacific.
  3. get some information online – you can start with a very simple one-page site that explains who you are and how you cane contacted. You may be happy with that in the medium term, too, but it certainly gets you online while a full site is being developed.
  4. get your site designed – yes that means someone makes it all look nice but it may also mean getting the right programs in place to suit your business needs.
  5. add content to your website – content is critical if you want to get the right message to the right people, and if you want to do well with building your website traffic. Look through my blog for numerous examples of websites let down by poor content – I suggest you plan your content (we’ll cover this during the week, too, but make sure your key pages have great content from the start)
  6. let people know about your website – this is a big ‘task’ and will be ongoing for the life of your site, but there are some simple starting points to action straight away

Does a website seem a little less intimidating when there are only 6 steps? remember that you can (and probably should for many of the steps) get help with the actual implementation of each step.

As a website without a host is pretty hard to manage, the next in this series will be on hosting…