In an earlier post, I extolled the virtues of using a content management system (CMS) to build a powerful, yet low-cost web presence. These days, most organizations opt for this technology when building their sites.
But now a word of caution…
A colleague shared a recent experience with a security breach on his group’s website. A hacker gained access to the administrative password and deposited code into the CMS database that had the potential for causing trouble for unsuspecting site visitors. Google detected the problem, placed the site in its “penalty box,” and displayed a conspicuous warning message when visitors stopped by for a visit. Needless to say, it caused major alarm bells to sound all over the organization. It will take a chunk of time and money to clean things up and get back into Google’s good graces.
How could this nightmare scenario be avoided?
FIRST: Make sure that you have strong passwords for user access and encourage users to change their passwords periodically. This rule is CRITICAL for site administrators. Strong passwords have the following characteristics:
- They do not contain all or part of user account names, department or program names, or the Company’s name. They should not be a dictionary word, proper name, place, etc.
- They are at least seven characters long.
- They contain characters from three of the following four categories:
- Uppercase characters (A-Z)
- Lowercase characters (a-z)
- Base 10 digits (0-9)
- Non-alphanumeric characters (e.g., !, $, #, %, etc.)
- Users refrain from using the same passwords for website access that they use on other accounts.
- Passwords are not shared, printed, or stored online. They are not displayed or concealed (e.g., taped to the bottom of a keyboard) in the user’s work area.
SECOND: Make sure your core software stays up to date. While the development community works very hard to plug security holes, they’re battling thousands of miscreants worldwide who are intent upon finding cracks in their fortresses. When new methods of intrusion rear their ugly heads, the developers knock them down in the next release of software. [Think Whack-A-Mole.]
As the old saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I got a note from a colleague this week who’d seen my name referenced in an email regarding a grant proposal. He was understandably curious about the connection between my work and the grant applicant. But mostly he wanted to give me a heads up should the name-dropping prove unwelcome. It wasn’t… but I was grateful that he had my back.
That brief exchange brought to mind a point that I’ve raised with clients repeatedly. In a world in which everyone with Internet access has an open microphone to an international audience, we’ve lost the ability to control the media. Our customers, prospects, and competitors are free to publish commentary about us in blogs, forums, review sites, YouTube channels, social networking pages, and other Internet-accessible media. Some like to share their opinions and expertise to guide others in their purchase or use of products and services. Others need an outlet for frustration when they’ve had a bad experience or failed to gain their suppliers’ attention through other means.
A telling study by Maritz Research and evolve24 revealed that 49% of Twitter complainants expected companies to read their Tweets; only a third of them received responses. Of those for whom there was no follow-up, 86% would have liked (or loved) hearing from the company regarding their grievances. Yikes!
Fortunately, there are a number of free (or inexpensive) social media monitoring tools that can help you bend an ear toward the electronic universe and check for mentions of your name, your products/services, and/or your competitors’ products/services. Some examples include: HootSuite, TweetDeck, Pluggio, Social Mention, Addict-o-matic. Check them out!
Don’t miss the opportunity to address a customer complaint directly. And don’t let any seeds of discontent impact the future stream of business that you’d like to cultivate.
So you’ve seen data on the advantages of blogging. You recognize the potential for increasing traffic to your website and generating more leads. You’ll commit to posting blogs regularly. Way to go! There’s only one little problem: What are you going to write about?
It’s easier than you think to come up with topics to populate your blogging publications plan. Here’s a starter list to trigger brainstorming:
- Answer questions that come up in sales calls, customer service interactions, and/or third party forums
- Respond to common customer complaints
- Provide a perspective on industry trends based on what you’re seeing in the market
- Summarize third party research; add your two cents
- Conduct your own survey and share findings (with charts and commentary) in multiple posts
- Comment on recent news – e.g., changes in regulations, new players, mergers, product announcements, etc.
- Provide check lists, guides, best practices
- Share a recent experience
- Invite colleagues to lend their expertise in complementary products, services
- Identify great resources on the web; share links with your readers
- Write “How To” content; demonstrate your prowess in a video blog
- Offer customer success stories
- Respond to provocative editorials, articles, third party blog posts
- Write a provocative editorial!
- Amplify your recent press release
- Summarize content from articles or white papers that you’ve written; provide links to the source material
- Write a book report; help your readers decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to read it for themselves
- Follow popular industry blogs (or consumer review sites) and read the comments; summarize key themes
- Create Top 10 lists (or Top 7, or Top 12, …)
- Choose a long tail keyword for which you’d like search placement and work it into a blog
Are there other types of posts that you’d add to a publications plan?
I flew to San Francisco this week to attend a conference. At the airport, on public transit, and in the tourist hot spots, I was struck by the frequency with which I saw folks from all walks of life interacting with SmartPhones. No doubt they were texting, surfing the net, checking social networks, processing email, and leveraging entertainment options. When industry pundits predict mobile web access will eclipse desktop access, I believe!
Folks have been beating the drums about building mobile-friendly websites for quite some time. [They’re right!] But the explosion in mobile usage means more than an uptick in the degree to which small screens display content. It also means that folks are becoming even bigger consumers of – and contributors to – Internet content.
Every dull moment becomes an opportunity to fill one’s time with web content.
Every question (or debate) can give rise to a spontaneous web search.
Every purchase decision can be researched for competitive offerings, price comparisons, consumer reviews.
Every experience – good and bad – can become an on-line testimonial.
It’s well worth your time to think about the ways in which this sea change creates opportunities or presents challenges for your operation. Some questions to consider:
- Are folks posting reviews about your products and services? Your competitors? What are they saying? What are you doing about it?
- Do you have an on-line marketing strategy that draws people to your website when they have questions or need some information? Do you provide incentive to go from a drive-by visitor to a prospect or customer?
- Have you put the welcome mat out for people to interact with you on-line? Do you provide timely response?
- With whom should you forge relationship to share on-line referrals (a.k.a. your “trusted network”) and/or cross-pollinate content?
Traditional marketing channels (direct mail, print ads, telemarketing, trade shows) have been giving way to inbound marketing channels (blogs, social media, search engine optimization, paid search) for some time now. The proliferation of SmartPhones will accelerate that transition.
What changes are you making in response to the brave, new, wireless world?
If you want prospective customers (donors, members, et al) to flock to your website, then an old adage from academia applies: Publish or Perish.
Well-written content that describes who you are, what you do, how you provide products and services, and where you operate are “table stakes.” You need them to get in the game, but they don’t help you win. To up the ante, you must think like a publisher and figure out how to create a steady stream of content that will interest your target audience and keep them coming back for more.
Blogs are great tools for organizing and posting content. [And I’ve written quite a few posts about them!] But there are other things you can do to create a dynamic web presence:
- Add an “In The News” section to your Home Page; provide headlines with links to more information.
- Create an “Industry Update” page where you post news briefs, press releases, upcoming events, and links to topical content.
- Start a YouTube channel to record “video blogs”; provide links from your Home Page.
- Provide links to downloadable podcasts.
- Develop useful articles, eBooks, presentations, etc. that you make available on a “Resources” page. [Note: Individual blog posts can be combined into an eBook.]
Part of being a publisher is knowing that you do not have to create all of the content yourself. Ask colleagues to lend their expertise. [You get great content; they get exposure to your clientele.] Or provide links to third party content – e.g., research reports, white papers, blog posts, videos, etc. You’ll establish a reputation for being a “go to” resource when folks have questions or want information.
When you post content regularly (and follow some basic guidelines for search engine optimization), you’ll reap rewards in search results page placement. And that will drive more visitors to your site.
What’s stopping you from becoming you own publisher?
I’ve written several posts on WHY you should consider blogging and HOW to make the most of this tool. So it’s only fair that I help you avoid blogging mistakes.
Here’s my top 7 list:
- Uninspiring title. Readers make choices about whether to read blog posts based on titles. Make sure yours are engaging and descriptive.
- Too much content. Folks want “quick hit” advice. Keep your posts short (single topic) and use bold print to make the content scannable.
- Too much jargon. Write like the popular professor, not the class know-it-all. Use a friendly, familiar, respectful tone.
- No image. Posts with pictures get more play than ones without them. Make a connection between the image and the content. (Be creative!) Honor applicable laws.
- No invitation to engage. Your readers have ideas, opinions, questions, and comments that may interest others (and expand your horizons!) Put out a welcome mat to encourage contribution.
- No response to comments. Community engagement is a gift. If you’re lucky enough to get folks to enter the conversation, be courteous enough to return the favor.
- No call to action. If you’ve done the hard work of attracting visitors to your site, “make them an offer they can’t refuse.” The specifics will depend on your business model and their place in the sales cycle. Examples: free consultation, industry survey, white paper, product discount, gift card, etc.
Do you read or write blog posts? What are your “pet peeves”?
One of my colleagues posed that question during a promo for one of my workshops. He got a good reaction from the crowd (and yours truly). I didn’t hesitate with my response: “YES! Blogging is like jogging!” Here’s why:
It is good for you.
Folks who blog regularly get more inbound traffic to their websites and generate more leads from their visitors. People – and search engines – reward fresh, relevant content.
You need the right “tools” to give you the most benefit.
Creative juices and solid writing skills certainly head the list of effective blogging tools! Beyond that, you’ll need applications that help you:
- Choose long-tail keywords wisely
- Create, edit, categorize, and post blogs
- Engage readers in lively dialog (while filtering out the spammers)
- Make it easy for folks to share entries
- Track results
You must persist to reap the benefits.
You need to post regularly to get noticed by search engines and build an audience. The more you blog, the bigger the boost to inbound traffic and lead generation.
Scheduled work habits work better than random will power.
Establish a rolling 3-month editorial calendar that lists your topics, keywords, blog titles, calls to action, and target publication dates. With that in hand, make appointments with yourself to write and publish your posts. Absent this discipline, it’s really easy to put it off… and put it off… and pretty soon you’re not blogging anymore.
You need to develop a rhythm and style that work for you.
Blogging works best if it isn’t “painful.” If you struggle with writing, build a handful of templates into which you can weave your content. As you gain experience, you’ll get more creative while still keeping your writing time within acceptable boundaries.
So… are you ready to run?
As you look to the coming year, you may decide that it’s time to give your website a “face lift” if not a full body makeover. If that’s on your radar, here are some suggestions to help you get the job done.
FIRST: Design, color, navigation, and technology all have their place in website development. But if you want a site that advances your organizational goals and objectives, focus on substance before you get distracted with form. Work with an inbound marketing specialist to get clear on the content you’ll create, the offers you’ll make available, the means for encouraging repeat visits, and your strategy for optimizing search engine result placement.
SECOND: Engage a graphic designer to create a consistent visual theme for your website that will carry over into all other publications. Make sure it reflects current trends in web design and accommodates a user interface that suits the presentation of your content. [Ask for samples of the designer’s work!]
THIRD: Find a web developer who can build a site that aligns with your budget and maintenance requirements. Some questions to ask during “courtship” include:
- Do you understand my business model and how the website fits within it?
- What do you think works (and doesn’t work) with the current site? What improvements would you recommend?
- How do you design your websites? Do you use a content management system (e.g., WordPress, Joomla, Drupal)? If so, to what extent can you leverage templates and components to minimize development costs?
- Do you outsource any of the work? [Note: Web designers are not the same as web developers. Find out who will actually do the work and provide the long-term support!]
- Can you show me what I would do to modify the web content after the site is up and running?
- Where do you think I should host my site? Why?
- What level of support can I expect from you after the site has been built? At what rate?
- Could you supply a few references who’ll attest to the quality of your work?
FOUR: Once you’ve decided upon a developer, create a formal statement of work to outline deliverables, time frames, costs, and mutual responsibilities. List assumptions that affect the working relationship to make sure things don’t go awry due to unspoken expectations.
They don’t! They scan. At most, they’re taking in 20-30% of the words you slaved to create.
The following chart predicts the maximum amount of text users read during an average visit to a web page given different word counts.
So how do you make your web pages scannable?
- Keep it short and simple.
- Make your major point(s) early.
- Capture one idea per paragraph.
- Use bulleted lists.
- Highlight keywords to draw attention to important concepts.
- Provide meaningful sub-headings if you need to include a lot of text.
If you’ve read about search engine optimization (SEO) or attended workshops on improving your search engine results page placement, you’ve probably been introduced to the concept of long tail keywords. They’re a series of words or phrases that folks enter to narrow the field of results on Internet searches – e.g., “Portland Oregon movie theaters” instead of simply “movie theaters.”
Long tail keywords offer two important benefits:
- If you’re searching for information, you’ll increase the odds that you’ll find what you want quickly.
- If you want to get found, you’ll increase the odds that your web page or blog post will land among the first few pages of search results.
For example: A search on the word writer yields 527 million results. A search on Beaverton writer narrows the field to 1.1 million. Place quotes around “Beaverton writer” for an exact match and the field narrows even further to 600+ matches.
Of course, 600 matches = 60+ pages of search engine results. So what are the chances that your site makes it to the top of the list?
The search engine will weigh in on the total traffic to your site, the breadth of content relevant to writing and/or Beaverton, and the number of reputable links that deemed your content noteworthy. Absent a strong showing in one or more of those factors, you’ll need to choose an even longer string of words – perhaps Beaverton writer and editor – to get noticed.
But wait? Do I really want my on-line presence to be dictated by long tail keywords? Won’t it hamper my creativity, or make my writing stilted?
If you’re generating mounds of content for the sake of getting noticed by search engines, then you need to be attentive to long tail keywords. The practice of optimizing content for targeted phrases will improve your rankings and make it easier for your prospective clientele to find you!
HOWEVER… you want to impress your readers once they accept the invitation for a visit. Stilted writing is not attractive. Use your creativity to weave your long tail keywords into the natural flow of ideas.
I’m all for an effective SEO strategy, but you can’t overlook your responsibility to be relevant, conversational, and informative.