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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Choosing titles carefully

Maybe it’s just me, but I always prefer to learn things myself before I get a sales pitch from someone, so I always look at a company’s website before I speak to them.

I just received an email which was about a tool I could potentially use for one of my clients. So I went to their website to find out more about this tool.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find anything about the tool on their site – and I didn’t really like the site much to be honest, but that’s a different story!

Latest news

Spiders and webs over a news key

Old news doesn’t have the power of fresh news – be careful with the expectations you build

Whilst on one page, a comment about them moving caught my eye. It was actually a heading to a news item, showing as a news feed under the title of ‘Latest News’.

Next to the heading was the date of the news item – March 2012. Not exactly a recent move then!

All the other news items in the rotation were older, dating from late 2011 to early 2012.

Staying current

News that is over two years old isn’t fresh or current.

I get that keeping a website/blog/social media platform up to date can be hard work and takes a lot of dedication (hey, I know I haven’t blogged very often this year myself!)

However, it doesn’t look good to prospective clients if the supposedly fresh part of the site is very old. In fact, being years old can look worse than not having a blog or such at all.

The lack of freshness can be minimised though by a careful choice of title.

‘Latest news’ leads people to expect current stories – two year old stories looks unprofessional and made me wonder if the business could deliver promised digital solutions.

Some better titles may have been:

  • things of note
  • points of interest
  • our news archive
  • our blog posts
  • {company name} updates
  • {company name} news

Although the news and updates titles still give some expectation of fairly current stories.

My next blog post will give other suggestions for improving such a situation, but in the meantime, what other titles can you think of for an old news feed?

How would you react to such old news when assessing a potential supplier’s website?

Reviewing the usefulness of old content links

Old content can still be good or it can be out dated, depending on the topic and the opinions given.

Since May 2012, I have ended each month with a blog post referring back to some of my old content (from my newsletter and blog). I’ll list all seven posts at the end of this one.

It has been interesting to read things I wrote in the past and think about how relevant they are today and how else they can be applied to good business communications.

To be honest, much of my content does still apply as writing doesn’t change rapidly – had I written about mobile phones or social media it probably would have been a different story!

Did it work?

Looking back, reviewing old content each month:

  1. was an easy way to find new content I guess – there was some time involved in deliberately going back to that month of past years and I did have to think of what to write about the old content
  2. created easy posts to write in advance and schedule
  3. helped build more links within my site, especially bringing some of those older pages back to life.
  4. didn’t have any significant effect on the number of readers to those posts (compared to posts made around the same time, there was little variation in reader numbers – with the exception of making procedure manuals accessible which was 3 to 6 times more popular than posts within a week of it going live). Given only one post stood out, I’d say it was more about the topic than the old content link.
  5. also didn’t seem to have attracted particularly more or less discussion either
  6. took advantage of work I did in the past – leveraging is a great concept!

The biggest question to me, however, is what you thought of it.

Was it interesting to revisit old content? Or maybe I was too subtle and you hardly noticed that I was doing it?

Would you like me to continue this into 2013? If so, are there any changes you would like me to make?

My old content driven posts were:

May – planning future communications
June – making procedure manuals accessible
July – knowing the right terms
August – consistency over stats
September – reading efficiently saves money
October – accepting feedback graciously
November – dividing up business tasks
December – honesty in blog comments

Repeat annual report content?

Annual report coversMost annual reports contain the same general information year after year.

Whether it is an introduction, history of the business, outlining products, naming directors or key staff, there are sections of an annual report that don’t change much over the years.

Repeat the wording?

The fastest option therefore is to use exactly the same wording in those sections every year, just changing small details as necessary. The freshest option would be to rewrite all those sections.

There are pros and cons to both options, such as:

  1. if you assume most people don’t read annual reports from cover to cover, and probably don’t remember last year’s report in depth anyway, not changing the words would probably escape attention from the majority of people
  2. repeating the wording not only saves you time rewriting the content but also in gathering feedback and approvals on it – it was approved last year so will meet the criteria this year too (if major style changes have occurred, copying old content isn’t an option!)
  3. it looks a bit slack and old to anybody who does notice the wording hasn’t changed
  4. it is easy to make errors when you assume ‘oh it was ok last year so I’ll just skim read this bit’ and miss the reference to ‘our new office’ a year later or forget to update 2012-11 to 2011-12.
  5. content from the annual report can be copied and used elsewhere because it is approved, public information. Updating the content each year is a nice way to update basic information in numerous places so your profile is kept fresh and interesting
  6. depending on how your annual report is presented online, you could end up with what appears to be duplicate content on your site (if four pdfs are all 33% the same, for example, there will be a lot of repetition). Search engines do not like duplicate content and can penalise your site for it
  7. staff can get bored rereading the same words – new content gives them fresh wording to utilise in presentations and on phone calls, too

So what do you think – would you be unhappy getting an annual report that was largely the same as last year’s? Would you even notice?

Influencing search engine results

Having a website is of little business value unless it is getting seen by people, and preferably the type of people will buy your goods or service.

The March survey of small businesses showed that about two-thirds believe search engines is the key means of finding new customers. Now that may be more or less applicable in your industry or in Australia vs the USA (the survey was in the USA only), but search engines do account for a reasonable amount of website traffic.

Which means that making your website as attractive as possible to search engines is important. You can pay SEO (search engine optimisation is the term for making your site perform better in search engine formulae) or marketing companies to improve your site rankings, but there are also things you can do quite simply. In fact, I’d say some of the simple tasks should be done even if you are paying someone else to help you with SEO.

Here is a quick list of the easy SEO tasks you can do to increase your chances of being found in relevant searches:

  • meaning of SEOuse relevant keywords in your web and blog content
  • provide quality and relevant content on your site – a blog is excellent for this
  • aim your web and blog content at humans – search engines are getting more sophisticated at picking out fake pages of keywords
  • make your content web friendly – search engines read headings, too so make use of them
  • add links to relevant information (on your site and elsewhere)
  • encourage links to your site as much as possible without getting into link farms or spam
  • ensure your web pages and blog posts have relevant meta data (background information about the page) – which means it shouldn’t the same for every page
  • update your site and blog as often as you can to keep it fresh and give people a reason to come back for more – fresh content and visitors both help your search engine rankings

Have promotional articles seen their day?

On Sunday I wrote about the value of promotional articles, but I thing there is another important question – have they be over used? are they just a waste of time?

articles form Word ConstructionsMy answer – no!

There are certainly a lot of promotional articles available, and many are not worth the time to read (or write!), but for a well prepared article there is definitely a return on the investment of preparing promotional articles.

A couple of reasons promotional articles are still worth considering to promote a business:

  • people still want content for sites, ezines and blogs – promotional articles save them time and provide a variety of information for their readers
  • things change so there is a need for current articles to replace out dated ones – for example, articles about employing staff in 2010 would not cover paid parental leave responsibilities
  • each topic has many angles so even if there are 50 articles on running a business as a parent, you may be able to suggest a different perspective or a new method
  • search engines and people want fresh content so even if Joe Blogs wrote a fantastic article on email marketing it could be time someone else wrote one so we don’t read Joe’s article in five different newsletters
  • we all have different approaches to learning so the way you explain something in an article may be a better way for some people to understand it

In short, the internet has put us into an information age and there is power to those who provide quality information. Promotional articles are an excellent way to share information so we have not seen the end of their value.

If you’re still doubtful, think about the last time you searched for information online – what were the most useful sources?

Keep your website looking fresh

Have you ever come across a website that is obviously out dated? What do you think of it when you do?

I recently came across two extreme examples of this…

  • under the heading of ‘latest investment news’ was a link to some reports with the most recent dated April 2008!
  • an online shop had banners and text stating ‘new version to be released mid 2009’

Those sites didn’t impress me at all!

While adding content regularly is good practice for a website, there are also some ways to avoid your content being obviously old:

  • avoid ‘page last updated’ foot notes – even if it is perfectly reasonable to not update contact details for example, it looks wrong to say that page is 5 years old! Add a date to the content itself if it needs the date for context
  • avoid adding a date to copyright symbols. Although your copyright applies from when you created the page, a date ages the page and it is easy to miss updating it each January
  • if you are unsure of when something will happen, be vague rather than specific. So ‘new version underway’ or ‘give us your details and we’ll contact you when the new version is available’ are better than ‘new version launched 1 July’
  • do a search of your site for ‘2008’, ‘2007’ and so on then make sure you update as appropriate
  • be careful of what tense you write in. For example, ‘from 1 July we will sell whatsits’ will be dated in August whereas ‘whatsits on sale from 1 July’ can be used in June and August. Adding a year to either sentence will date it if you leave the text for more than a few months, of course!

Blogs and trust

A few days I wrote about the Edelman Trust Barometer and the reduced trust in Australian business.

One statement made by Edelman that I didn’t mention was “Digital communication such as blogs and social networking sites are not trusted sources of information. ” I left it for a separate post as I think it is worth more discussion.

I think that statement is simplistic, especially as it is not backed up with statsitics or specifics. For instance, are no blogs trusted or just those run by big companies? Does the style of blog or age of the respondent make any difference to their answer?

Instead of writing an essay on this topic, here are just a few of my thoughts, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, too:

  •  reading a blog gives you insights into the person behind the business, making it more personal and therefore more trustworthy
  • blogs doing things like overusing keywords, be ads trather than information, ignoring comments (especially negative comments) and not providing meaningful links are not going to build trust – but many others avoid these behaviours
  • blogs and social media are very different – and the perception is probably bigger for those who don’t use tweeter, FaceBook, and so on
  • regular blog posts show a commitment to the business and clients – much more than a website or promotional materials that are only updated once a year or less
  • blogs are a quick, easy way to communicate information quickly. I have a client whose customers requested more updates on the business and industry, and their web stats show the blog is attracting a lot more traffic. I believe it is building their trust as they know about changes well in advance of an annual report or quarterly newsletter

Do you trust blogs in general? Do they help you trust the busienss providing the blog ?

Blogging for promotions

Thanks to some external limitations, I found some time to catch up on some blog reading this morning.

Let me start by saying I do believe in blogs as a promotional tool in business – they are a great way to keep a site fresh, to build a relationship with clients and build your credibility. Yes, there are many social media choices now but I don’t think they are replacing blogs. Personally, I learn more from reading a good blog post than a tweet for instance!

A blog on your domain is going to give more SEO advantages than other social media options, too.

Des Walsh blogged about some survey results about blogs and business. He wrote “Companies with 10 or fewer employees are 30% more likely to use social media for public relations, branding and understanding customers. And they are twice as likely as large companies to use social media for lead generation.”

It certainly didn’t surprise me that small businesses use more social media than large ones – there is the obvious budget differences meaning small business owners need to find more affordable ways to interact with potential customers. I also think that many small businesses do well because they provide a personal service (no account managers or moving customers between departments, and a stronger sense of ownership) and social media depends on the personal side of a business.

If you are a sole trader, the approval process is easy; if you work in a large company, especially if it is heavily regulated, the effort of getting blog posts, tweets and so on approved can be huge – and the time involved takes away form the immediate nature of social media anyway.

From the blogs you read, would you agree that small businesses use more social media than their bigger counterparts?