Category Archives: Website

Is Your Website Secure?

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…

watch outA 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.

Publish or Perish

If you want prospective customers (donors, members, et al) to flock to your website, then an old adage from academia applies: Publish or Perish.

publish or perishWell-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?

Four Steps to Update Your Website

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.

build a websiteSECOND: 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.

Good luck!

How Do Users Read on the Web?

They don’t! They scan. At most, they’re taking in 20-30% of the words you slaved to create.

No kidding!

The following chart predicts the maximum amount of text users read during an average visit to a web page given different word counts.

percent words read

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.

Do You Know Your Target Audience?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your web site isn’t about you or your mission or your products and services. [That is, assuming you’re not a Hollywood icon or a celebutante.] It’s about the people who come a-calling. It’s about their problems, needs, dreams, expectations, and curiosities and how your mission, products, and services satisfy them. So if you’re going to create a new web site or refurbish an existing one, you need to be a subject matter expert on the folks you plan to serve.

target audience

Here’s a simple process to structure your market intelligence:

STEP ONE: Name all the groups you’d like to attract to your site. This list will include key players whose participation in your enterprise is critical for success. For commercial enterprises, it could include prospects, customers, investors, suppliers, distributors, partners, etc. For non-profits, it could include donors, foundations, beneficiaries, members, partners, volunteers, students, voters, etc.

STEP TWO: Develop personas for each group and any associated subgroups. A persona is a hypothetical individual who embodies the characteristics of the collective as a whole. It’s a useful tool for helping you really identify with them – i.e., thinking like they think, feeling what they feel. Some key elements include:

  • Demographics (WHO, WHAT, WHERE) – e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, culture, age, education, disabilities, location, home ownership, employment status, mobility, et al. Focus on characteristics that affect your business and the manner in which you craft sales, marketing, and communications plans.
  • Psychographics (WHY) – i.e., any and all attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, opinions, activities, and/or lifestyles. Ask yourself: Who or what shapes their world view? What do they deem truly important in life? What are their goals and aspirations? What challenges and problems do they face? What are their immediate, near-term, and long-term needs? What criteria drive their decision processes? What makes them happy?
  • Behaviors (HOW) – i.e., what they do, when/how they do it. Ask: How do they spend their typical day? Where do they go when they need to solve a problem, find an answer, or secure advice? On what media do they rely? What words and phrases do they use? What style of writing appeals to them? What sorts of colors, images, and media strike a chord?

STEP THREE: Interview people to see if your perceptions jive with reality. Even if you’ve been working the same target audience for years, you’d be surprised what you’ll learn by encouraging people to talk about themselves. [For most folks, it’s their favorite subject!] Check to see whether your assumptions and beliefs hold true. Ask about recent purchase decisions – how they did their research, what options they considered, who or what influenced the decision process, and what factors determined their choice. Ask about the publications, web sites, blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc. they use and any opinions they’ve formed about them.

There are volumes upon volumes written about this topic. But I don’t want this task to seem so complicated that you avoid doing it. It can be as easy as sitting down with a pad of paper or your trusty computer and capturing notes on what you know, what you’ve learned, and what you assume. Rough outlines with bullet points will do. If you’ve got gaps in information, you’ll know what you need to figure out.

The payoff? You’ll start to get clear on what your web site and all other marketing channels need to say. And when you hire third parties to help write content or build your site, you’ll be in a position to leverage their expertise and get a much greater return on your investment.

Four Questions Every Website Owner Needs to Ask

questionIf you’ve invested the time and energy to create a website, then you probably have some notion that it ought to promote your organization and/or serve its constituents. Unfortunately, legions of websites fail to live up to their potential. If you want to avoid a similar fate, you need to ask 4 simple questions about your website design:

Q1: Is my site doing a good job attracting visitors with content that’s tailored to their needs and interests?

Believe it or not, your website isn’t about you. It’s not even about your products and services. It’s about the problems, needs, hopes, desires, expectations, and dreams of your visitors. If you want to have an engaging presence on the web, you need thoroughly understand your target audience(s) and why they might search the web to find you. Get clear on the questions they’re asking, the issues they’re facing, the futures they hope to create, and the words they use to describe their journeys. Armed with that knowledge, you can narrate your organizational story through their eyes using language that helps you get noticed by search engines and the people who use them.

Q2: Does my site inspire visitors to take action – e.g., purchase, donate, sign up, volunteer, vote, etc.?

Great content makes a great website. I hope your site is so content rich that it’s a natural magnet for prospective customers! But if all you do is attract them to your site, you’re unlikely to reap the benefits of your hard work. You want a relationship, not the anonymous, drive-by encounter. Encourage visitors to make contact or sign up for your free newsletter. Provide a compelling offer – a free product, service, or white paper. Give them a video to watch and ask for comments. Simply put: Find a way to start a dialog.

Q3: Does the site provide fresh and engaging material to encourage repeat visits?

In the best of circumstances, your “perfect customers” find you readily on the web and are dazzled by your content. But they might not be ready to make a purchase or even start a conversation. What can you do? Make sure you provide a steady stream of useful content that will keep them coming back. Each encounter gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your competency and increases the likelihood that you’ll (eventually) connect.

Q4: Have I established my organization as a trusted resource to which others refer their family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances?

If you’ve created great content (with superb navigation, of course) and provided the means for engagement, you’re on your way to “trusted resource” status. But you’ve got to promote your content and encourage folks to Like It, Re-Tweet, link to it, and tell everyone they know about it.

Are you ready to amp up your website?

Mobile-ize Your Website

mobile phoneI’m going to start with a confession… I’m a mobile dinosaur. While most of my friends and colleagues are among the 100+ million Americans who own smartphones, I still use a basic cell phone. I know, I know… my kind is doomed to extinction.

Smartphones have become “go to” devices. Pew Research Center examined mobile user behaviors over a 30-day period and found that:

  • 41% used their smartphones to coordinate a meeting or get together
  • 30% used their devices to choose restaurants
  • 27% performed Internet searches to settle arguments
  • 23% looked up sports team scores
  • 19% got help in emergency situations
  • 17% did most of their on-line browsing using their phones instead of their computers or laptops

Social networking is accelerating mobile usage. Mobile devices account for 85% of page views on Japan’s leading social network. Facebook’s mobile users are twice as active as desktop users. And 40+% of all Tweets are created on mobile devices.

Mobile commerce is BIG business. PayPal and eBay process billions of dollars in transactions from mobile devices.

Advertisers are jumping on the bandwagon by adding QR codes to everything from product packaging to highway billboards. Scan a QR code with your smartphone and it’ll go to a web page, send an email, open social media, promote an event, make a call, open an RSS feed, play a video, or open a shopping page.

Given this “sea change” in Internet usage, have you tailored your website for mobile access?

Unless your visitors have Superman’s visual acuity, they’ll have a difficult time sifting through all of your standard content on their pocket-sized screens. You need to do some “downsizing.” The good news: It shouldn’t take an army of programmers to give your mobile users what they need. Here are some tips to jump start your planning process:

  • Set priorities for what your mobile site will offer. Mobile users don’t want or expect to have access to everything. Stick with capabilities and content that they really need when on the move.
  • Simplify navigation… and make the buttons large enough for viewing and selection.
  • Expect intermittent connections. Make it easy for folks to return to the pages they were on when they lost data transmission. [They’ll be frustrated enough as it is!]
  • Test, test, test. See how the mobile site functions on different screens with different users. The smaller the screen, the more pressure to get the design “right.”

Have you got a great mobile site? Send me the link so others can learn from your fine example.

Affordable Websites

empty pocketsWeb sites are as commonplace as calling cards. Whether you represent a multi-billion dollar corporation, a government agency, a non-profit or a sole proprietorship, your constituents expect a digital presence.

Many small business owners cringe at the thought of putting up a website or making changes to an existing one. They fear the gaping hole in their bank accounts into which large quantities of hard-earned money might escape. They don’t believe having their own websites can be affordable. Such concerns were certainly justified years ago when even the simplest site required specialized programming and graphics expertise. But things have changed!

Today’s web sites are built on software applications called content management systems. These applications separate the technical elements of web design and development from the contents of the pages (text, images, videos, web links, etc.) Once a site has been set up, its owner can create, edit, and delete pages at will using a standard WYSIWYG editor. How great is that!

But wait a minute… Won’t it cost an arm and a leg to get the site set up? Answer: It certainly doesn’t have to.

Most hosting platforms let you install popular open-sourced content management systems (Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress) using one-button commands. Once installed, you can choose from a variety of free or low-cost design templates and then get about the business of populating your content. And because it’s open-sourced, you’ll benefit from a worldwide collective of developers who continually add features to the base application.

There are a bunch of proprietary content management systems that run on their own hosting platforms. They tend to be a bit more expensive than open-sourced solutions (although still very reasonable). Their competitive advantage lies in access to the developers should there be a problem with your implementation and/or a need for custom work. The major disadvantage is the hassle involved with switching providers should you find yourself dissatisfied with the arrangement.

If you’re a novice when it comes to all things web, you’ll absolutely benefit from having some expert guidance as you choose your hosting platform, install your content management application, populate the site, and learn the ropes. But the investment can trend toward a few hundred dollars versus several thousand dollars. And your results can be quite impressive.

Want to learn more about how you can maintain your own website using a content management system? Please get in touch!