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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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Considering an interactive website?

Having an effective interactive website is up-to-date, interesting and easy to set up but can be very time consuming, so why consider making your website interactive?

  1. it gives you fresh content which is great for SEO and getting repeat visitors
  2. you can get input and feedback from customers and visitors which can help you improve your business
  3. you can develop relationships which is good for you as a human being, puts a personal feel to your business and develops a group of people who trust you and may just recommend you
  4. build trust and credibility in you and your business by sharing information and encouraging a community
  5. it makes your site interesting and therefore gives people a reason to come back
  6. you can centralise information rather than promote various online profiles – for instance, if I can read your Tweets on your site instead of logging into Twitter I stay on your site for longer
  7. it can be an easy way to announce business news (new products, extended hours, more articles on the site, etc)
  8. you never know why you may learn from the people who decide to interact on your site – use the internet opportunities to positive effect
  9. it will certainly appeal to some groups of people and is unlikely to offend or upset other people
  10. it puts you into the ‘up-to-date’ minority, showing you have an interest inner technology and advancing your business
  11. it shows you are interested in other people and can accept their ideas

 

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?

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 from 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

Navigating your website

Part of establishing and managing a site is making sure that the information is easy to find – the design and content are important but with a poor site layout, they are not going to work as well as they should.

In short, navigation is about letting people travel around your site easily to find what they need.

While you may well link to various pages of your site within the content (and I strongly suggest you do!), this is not part of the planned navigation. Navigation is more about menus and major links (such as banners and graphics on landing pages).

For the most effective navigation, it needs to be simple and not offer too many choices so it is worth thinking about what people really want to know when they visit your site and what you want them to know. Once you have refined the key areas, you can put them in as menus and key graphics (either graphics that link to relevant pages or graphics that give the information directly).

Some key data to make easy to find includes:

  1. your contact information
  2. your physical location (especially if you want people to visit you)
  3. delivery information, including costs
  4. hours of operations (if relevant)
  5. what you do (and don’t do in some cases)
  6. prices and related terms (for example are your prices in AUD or euros? do prices include local taxes?)

Don’t be surprised if getting the navigation sorted takes a while – it is important to get right and can involve a number of steps. Once you have a draft navigation planned, I suggest the following actions:

  1. leave it for a a few days and then check if it is simple and effective
  2. test it – think of a question someone might want answered and try finding it through your proposed navigation
  3. ask your web designer and content writer what they think of it – their experience will provide good feedback
  4. get others to test it for you – if they find it confusing or distracting, change it even if it passed all other tests perfectly!
Before you get stressed or give up on your website at this point remember that you can change the navigation later (nothing is set in stone on a website) and good content with lots of informative links will compensate for some navigation weaknesses. You can work with good navigation while you aim for perfection!

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

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

Newsletter and website update

Just a quick post to announce my newsletter has been sent out this month (yes you can see it online but it’s much easier when it arrives in your letterbox or as a Facebook link!) I wanted to share the quote I included in the newsletter:

Your website is a window into your company.
Your website is the online equivalent of your office – the place people go when they want to do business with you.
~ Shama Hyder Kabani

 

I like the analogy of a website and an office – and it ties in nicely when my blog series on the establishment of a new website as the why is at least as important as the how…

 

Learn about web hosting

A web host offers you some space (memory) on a server that is connected as part of the internet so that anything you put on that space is available over the Net. You must have a host if you want a website people can access, although you can restrict that access on some or all pages if you want.

Where to start… there are a lot of web hosts out there so limit yourself to looking at a small proportion of them and getting a short list for detailed comparisons (see list below for things to consider). Here are some tips on finding some web hosts to look at:

  •  ask around other business people you know for their recommendations (positive or negative) – or use social media contacts for the same question
  • use a search engine to find some hosts, but narrow the search a little with terms like ‘business web hosting’, ‘australian hosting’ or ‘secure small business hosting’
  • look for mentions of hosts in your favourite blogs and social media channels
  • look around your networks (not just business networks) for any hosts you already know
  • if you belong to a group or support a charity, look at the list of recent supporters as a web host may be been generous
  • web designers often know web hosts and/or have arrangements with hosts to make it easier – in other words, your designer will set up the hosting for you and install the site as well. This can be convenient but be sure the hosting is accessible to you so you have control after you finish using the designer’s services

Some points to consider about web hosting:

  • Particular comparison points when choosing a package are number of email addresses included, storage space (how much stuff you can put on their servers), monthly data transfer (relates to how many visitors your site can manage), redirected domains and programs allowed (e.g. you need MySQL for most blogs and a means of gathering your stats).Read up on some terms before making comparisons might make life easier.
  • make sure the host has a reasonable or better level of security on offer
  • choose a reputable host with a good package rather than worrying about how local they are
  • you do not have to register your domain name at the same place as you get your hosting – I have seen a number of places discount one to hook you into the other under the implication you must do both. Likewise, you can arrange your own hosting separate from your designer
  • seriously look around – there are hosting suppliers who charge an arm and a leg for less than what others provide at reasonable rates
  • free hosting is on offer but it usually comes with hidden costs such as fewer features and a long, difficult URL – do you want to promote www.someonesdomain.com/yoursite or www.yoursite.com.au? For $60 or so a year, you can have your domain, many features and full control over your site so think twice and twice again before taking any free hosting plans
  • it’s ok to ask existing clients of a host about their experiences – I did this for digital pacific last year and was given multiple stories of good service and no downtime (i.e. the websites were not offline because of problems with the hosting)
  • most hosts will allow you to upgrade your package later so start with a low use package to get going and see what you need.

For what it’s worth, I have used MultimediART for some years and had great service but some down time and lack of notices, Digital Pacific with advance notices, no downtime and good service and Jumba with no issues (and no real test of their service). All Australian and priced for value.

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?

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…

Having a website helps more than you

A New Zealand study has just shown that businesses with a website are helping their economy – or more to the point, businesses without a website are missing an opportunity to help themselves and their local economy.

So do you have a website?

I’ve written before about the value of a website, and I think it’s importance has only increased with the growth of social media and mobile access and apps, but I hadn’t thought of it as a major factor for a national economy. Results showed businesses with an online presence had significantly more sales and profits – who’s going to argue with increased profits!

As great as it is to grow your business with a website, I found it staggering that 70% of those without a website have no intention of getting one. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with technology (but you can get people to set it up and mange it for you) and time is a big factor for small business (hey, I have four kids and a business!) but a basic online presence is just so important.

Over the next week or so, I will do some posts about how to get your business online to help business owners who are feeling a bit overwhelmed with it all – and to help the Australian economy!

If you have any questions about getting online, now is a great time to ask!