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Seven Questions to Ask About Your Website

May 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

People usually call me for help setting up and optimizing their social marketing programs, but in the early stages of our engagement the conversation almost always takes another turn.

In about two out of three cases, in fact, we wind up focusing first on the client’s website because so many basic issues still need attention. Clients are sometimes frustrated by this. After all, they want to get started with the cool new tools and usher new business in the door. But if the most important source of new business – the website – isn’t doing the job for them, the new tools are a waste of time. After all, why would you want to bring new visitors to a site that does a poor job of telling your story?

Websites are developed by people who work at the company and who are very knowledgeable about the business. It’s natural for them to assume more knowledge on the part of the visitor than the typical visitor actually has. Messages are often focused on selling a solution rather than solving a problem, but people don’t care about your product; they care about what’s troubling them right now. That’s a fine distinction, but it’s critical to conveying an effective message.

A well-crafted message communicates understanding of the visitor’s needs and frames the solution in the context of relieving pain or creating opportunity. Focus on results rather than process. Here are some questions that can help you determine whether your website is hitting the mark:

Is the message clear and succinct? Ask a few people who are familiar with your industry but not with your company to spend exactly one minute on your website. That’s about the amount of time an average visitor will grant you. Then ask them to tell you what your company does, what problems you address and who the target customer is. If they can’t answer those three questions after one minute, then your message isn’t clear enough.

Are you optimized for search? Navigate through your website and look at the page titles at the top of your browser. Do they include the keywords that customers use to find you? Do some of your pages have generic titles such as “About” or “Services?” How about PDF documents? Are the titles and meta-tags clear or do they still have gibberish file names that machines generate? Are your images and videos tagged? These are simple things that mean a lot to search engines.

Does your message communicate understanding of the visitor’s problem? Put yourself in the shoes of a typical prospect visiting your website. Think about the problem that person is trying to solve. Does your message demonstrate that your solution was designed with that problem in mind? Or are you selling aspirin when you should be selling headache relief? Does your choice of words show that you’re committed to easing the visitor’s pain?

Are you using all the available tools? Many business websites are heavy on text, which may have been all that was available when the site was built. But 65% of people are classified as visual learners. If you’re not using all the media you can, you’re under-serving your audience. I’m not talking about stock photography but rather about illustrations that clarify and explain. Today it’s cheap and easy to point a camera at a product manager or engineer and ask the person to explain a product. Voice-annotated screen shows or PowerPoint slidecasts are also inexpensive ways to illustrate complex concepts.

Is it easy to join your list? Every page of your website should have an invitation for visitors to become prospects. These can be in the form of newsletter sign-ups, white paper downloads, requests for more information or invitations to view a webcast. Why would you want to miss any chance to turn an interested passerby into a lead?

Are your pages easy to share? Every page should also have embedded widgets that make it easy for visitors to e-mail, bookmark, tweet or otherwise share your content. In most cases, these are easy to add to a template and there’s no downside to having them.

Do you humanize your company? This is particularly important for b-to-b companies, which establish long-term relationships with their customers. Does your site include faces, biographies and personal messages? What do you do to create personal connections that increase a visitor’s comfort level with the people behind the product? Does your website have personality or does it read like a research paper? If you’re interested in social marketing, start with the social part. Let your people go.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things, so let me know your own thoughts in the comments section. What makes a business website work for you? (Valerie Everett graphic)

B-to-B Social Marketing Innovators

As Eric Schwartzman and I research our forthcoming b-to-b book, Social Marketing to the Business Customer, we’ve been recording many of our interviews with experts. Here’s a sample of new podcasts that have resulted:

Tip of the Week: Buying Collaboratives

We’ve written before about Woot!, a site that sells overstock and surplus merchandise at amazing savings. Now you can add to that BuyWithMe.com, a regional service that offers big savings on everyday services using an arbitrage model that guarantees the merchant a certain number of responses in return for the discount but changes the terms if enough people don’t apply. You have nothing to lose by checking it out, so please do so and tell us what you think.

Just for Fun: How Dogs Talk

Is a dog really happy when it wags its tail? It depends. Wagging to the right is a sign of positive feelings, but wagging to the left means Spot is feeling blue. This is just one of the fascinating insights I gained from this short article called The Secret Language of Dogs. I’ve owned pups since I was five and never knew that a paw slap is equivalent to a pat on the back or that barking really does have a language of its own. While you’re there, check out Why Dogs Do Strange Things.

Welcome to the Site-less Web

February 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

In last issue’s Tip of the Week I told you about Posterous, the new service that radiates a person’s social media activity out to a network of community sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblrand Delicious. Posterous is one of a host of new services that automate the once-tedious manual process of cross-posting information to multiple websites and social networks. Other pure-play entrants in this category include Ping.fm, Dlvr.it and the WordPress plugin Supr, but the basic capability to cross-post information across multiple social media is rapidly becoming a part of nearly every Web application. Google Buzz, which was announced just this week, has some of the same functionality.

These are the first ripples in a wave of new technology that will make the Internet effectively site-less. By that I mean that the metaphor of the Web as we’ve known it for the last 15 years is breaking down. The Internet is increasingly not about sites, but about content and people. As technology makes it possible for our online scribblings to appear wherever we may choose, the task of assessing influence will become considerably more complex.

The big change in the landscape is that information no longer needs to have a homepage in order to reach an audience. Facebook kicked off this trend when it created a service that was so popular that some brands found it was more desirable to use Facebook as a homepage than their branded websites. Honda is a notable example of this. The auto maker has started listing a Facebook fan page as the destination URL in its TV ads. The tactic is a bit of a gimmick, but it’s also indicative of a shift in marketer perceptions. As Coca-Cola’s Digital Communications Director Adam Brown told me recently, “Our philosophy is to fish where the fish are.”

Only it’s becoming more difficult to figure out where the fish are. As social networks integrate their content, the contributions of individuals will become detached from discrete websites. On Twitter, for example, conversations exist in a stateless form that finds a home on Twitter.com, TweetDeck, Seesmic, blog widgets or any other listening device that catches them. How do we assess influence in this environment?

In the early days of social media (and by that I mean 2006!), online influencers used their blogs as a home base and relied upon word-of-mouth, inbound links and search engines to deliver an audience. Today, the blog is almost irrelevant. With Posterous, a blog entry can be created as an e-mail message and posted automatically to a couple of dozen social outposts, formatted for the unique capabilities of each destination. Some of these services publish fan and follower counts, but others don’t. Determining an influencer’s “share of market” is a matter of picking through search results and the metrics provided by various channels to measure a person’s total footprint.

In time, services will emerge that make sense of this chaos, but for now this is a classic case of technology outpacing people’s ability to understand it. For marketers, the key point is that the website as we have known it is diminishing in importance, influencers are magnifying their voices, and the rules of engagement are being reset. The good news is that everyone can use these tools, so if you’re currently limiting your publishing activities to a blog or Twitter, consider expanding your scope. The bad news is that the influencer you thought you had identified and corralled is now blasting messages to a whole lot of different audiences. Only time will tell what the impact of that new reality will be.

Tip of the Week: Google’s Keyword Tool

We all know how we want people to find our website, but we don’t always know how they actually find it. Google has a new tool to address that. It’s called the Search-based Keyword Tool and if you enter your URL,it shows you a list of keywords that match the content of your site. It also shows the approximate number of monthly searches conducted on that term as well as the price you’ll have to pay to buy the term using Google AdWords. It costs nothing to try, and you just might find that the search phrases that are really finding you aren’t the ones you thought.

Just For Fun: Japanese Rice Art

I’m not a detail person, so the annual endeavors of the people of Inakadate, Japan baffle and amaze me. Each year, the rice growers in this town create elaborate works of art by mixing red and regular rice in special patterns. But to call these images merely “special patterns” doesn’t do them justice. They are remarkable in their detail and scope, and they must require months of planning, not to mention elaborate orchestration at planting time. All for artwork that can only be appreciated from the air. Visit this website for photos, including time-lapse images.