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8 things you don't want to do in web content

Posted by: in General on Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing and recreating content for our clients is one of my favorite things to do. (I’m totally a word nerd.) After all, content is one of the most critical aspects of a webpage. At least, that’s what I tell myself as a Content Developer. :) 

Because readers tend to scan online content rather than reading carefully, it’s imperative to optimize your content for ease of readability. This is especially important when it comes to the homepage, where you have a lot of information to cover with limited space (as the Genie from Aladdin would say, “Itty bitty living space!”). That being said, there are some errors you don't want to make, especially on your homepage.

Here are a few of my favorite (er...least favorite) things I see on website homepages. Without further ado, here are 8 things you don't want to do in web content.

1. Don’t be cutesy. 

I’m all for creativity, but don’t use clever phrases and marketing lingo that people don’t understand. It confuses them. Instead of “Dream then Go” on a travel site, “Plan a vacation” would be a more clear title. Every time you make people wonder what you’re meaning, you’re losing them. The more straightforward you can be, the better. 

2. Don’t be redundant.

I understand that you want to emphasize information by repeating it, but it actually reduces its impact. It equally clutters the page, which causes competition between elements. If you want to feature something, make it a prominent element in one place.

3. Don’t be inconsistent.

Not only will inconsistency drive grammar people like me crazy, it has the tendency to confuse readers. If you use sentence capitalization in a list but then capitalize every word of one entry, it adds undue emphasis. It also makes your site look unprofessional, which can make people question your trust (which is the last thing you want to do). Simple mistakes like this are easy to do, especially when you’re receiving text from multiple sources and don’t have a good editor.

4. Don’t use internal language.

It’s important to try to get in the head of your customers. Use language that’s clear to them, not necessarily internal lingo that you use within the company. Thus, you want to use customer-focused language and titles, ones that will make sense to your readers.

5. Don’t use exclamation marks.

We think it’s great that you’re excited about your product. However, exclamation points don’t really belong in professional writing, and they especially don’t belong on your homepage. Reserve them for showing excitement or emotion elsewhere, like a greeting card or on Facebook. “So when you’re happy (Hooray!) or sad (Aww!) or frightened (Eek!) or mad (Rats!) or excited (Wow!) or glad (Hey!)”  School House Rock, anyone? 

6. Don’t use abbreviations. 

It’s important to spell out abbreviations and acronyms so that their meaning is common knowledge. This is infinitely helpful for users, especially for anyone using a screen reader. For example, you might say, “I used the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) to find the meaning of the word.” Only abbreviations that have become widely-used words, such as DVD, are exceptions to the rule.

7. Don’t use all uppercase letters.

Capitalizing a whole word is not considered an appropriate formatting style. It’s hard to read, and it makes the reader feel like you’re yelling at them. And no one really likes to be yelled at. So let’s use our "inside voices" by utilizing lowercase letters (and, in doing so, make our Moms proud).

8. Don’t use spaces and punctuation inappropriately.

You might be tempted to use space or punctuation for emphasis, like S H O E S or S.H.O.E.S. Doing so sets those words apart, but it’s not going to show up in web searches for “shoes.” It also reduces scannability and would be equally difficult for visually-impaired users that use audio browsers.

Hopefully you’ve worked with a web-based marketing company like SpinWeb to create your website. (We love helping customers with this stuff!) But even if you haven’t, make sure you have your reader in mind as you craft your content, particularly for your homepage. And avoid these things you don't want to do at all costs. 

[Whiteboard Lesson] How to create buyer personas for inbound marketing

Posted by: in General on Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Before you can start effectively using inbound marketing, you need to define your buyer personas. Buyer personas help you fine-tune your messaging and give you a reference point that guides all of your campaigns.

In this whiteboard video, we'll explain why buyer personas are important and how to create them. The transcript is included below this video for convenience.

 

 Michael Reynolds: Hey, thanks for joining for today's whiteboard video. Today I'm going to talk about buyer personas. What's a buyer persona? Well when you're doing inbound marketing, you're creating campaigns or doing relating marketing. You want to focus on your target market. You want to figure out who you're talking to. Inbound marketing especially, is very content focused. What we're doing is creating content that solves problems for our prospective buyers. Before we do that, we need to figure out who those people are. Seems simple, but most people skip that step or hey don't pay attention to it. What we want to do is really spend enough time working on creating buyer personas so we can have that as our guidepost, so to speak, when we create content. What's a buyer persona look like? Well it's pretty simple. It doesn't have to take a whole lot of work. What we do is want to create a sample person or people. You can have more than one persona that represents that typical prospect that turns into a great customer for you. Buyer personas consist of a few elements. First of all, here at Spinway, we like to be a little bit silly with it. Have some fun and we give them a photo and a name. This is Bobby Buyer. We like to use alliteration. It just makes it fun. 

You want to put a little name up there. It helps to find a nice stock photo to put with it and make it look like it's a real person. It kind of helps humanize it and there's something about doing that that really makes it a little more effective an fun to work with. So I recommendation dong that. It may seem silly, but go ahead and pop in that photo, give them a fun name, go with it.

Then you want to start to fill in information about that buyer. You want to start with background. Who is that person? What are their demographics? Are they typically make, female, or a mixture? Age ranges. What sorts of job titles do they have? What companies do they work in? Those are the kinds of things you want to start with. Figure out their general overall background.

Next you want to dig into things like: hobbies, challenges, things they really like to hang out, publications they read, stuff they like to talk about, places they like to network. You want to figure out attributes, hobbies and characteristics of this persona. That helps you figure out what things they like to do, what they like to read and really get to know them a little better.

Next you want to talk about challenges. You want to figure out what challenges they have, what kinds of problems they are trying to solve. What are they scared of? What fears do they have? What do they feel like they have challenges in their business or their personal life even as well? Things that can really help you get to know what they care about. Maybe things like why they've purchased this particular product or service before, why that's important to them. Get quotes maybe. Take your real customers and interview them. Get quotes and say, "Hey, what things ran through your head when you were in the buying process thinking of working with us?" They'll tell you some really interesting things that can help you get inside the heads of your prospective buyers and open up that internal dialogue that really helps you figure out what things they might be thinking and even saying internally when they're having meetings with their team.

Those are the things you want to start to figure out as you're putting together a buyer persona. You could also take surveys. Maybe put a survey out to your customers and ask a series of questions that can start to gather the data and figure out why you could fill these attributes in. Get that data in a real solid fashion based on real people, too. That's really helpful. You can kind of use a mixture based on partly best guesses, based on experience, partly data. That works fine, because your customer service team probably can put buyer personas together pretty well just by the experience they've had working with people. That's really where you want to start.

What do you do with it once you have your buyer persona put together? This is really what's going to help you create content. So whenever you write a blog post, whenever you produce an e-book, whenever you make a video, whenever you put together an outline for a webinar, anytime you're creating content for inbound marketing. You go take a look at your buyer persona or one of your personas if you have more than one and you figure out, "Hey, who am I writing for? Is this content well tailored for that particular person?"

If you have three buyer personas, you want to pick at least one of them and say, "OK, is the content I'm writing perfectly suited for this particular buyer?" If it's not, you might be off track a little. You might not be on target as you're creating this content. You might want to tweak the content, or maybe scrap it altogether. Try something different because we always want to be very efficient and focus on our target audience.

Keep that in mind. Build your buyer personas. Give them names. Give them attributes. Put the photo in there. Keep it handy. Distribute it to your marketing and sales team and make sure everyone's on track and focusing the right type of content to the right type of people. Hope that helps. Thanks for joining. See you next time.

RSS feed vs. email subscription: what's the difference?

Posted by: in General on Monday, July 15, 2013

I was asked recently, “What’s the difference between an RSS feed and an email subscription?” To accurately answer, let’s take a look at what both are and the benefits.

What is an RSS feed?

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and it's just that - a way to syndicate your content to other sites or tools. RSS is simply a stream of data that consists of a lightweight subset of the content it is sourced from. It includes the article titles, summary, and link back to the original post.

If you look in the upper right corner of this blog post, you'll see a little orange icon under the email signup option. The icon has lines inside of it that make it look like it's broadcasting radio waves. This is the standard symbol for RSS. If you click this icon, you'll be given options for subscribing to our blog using the RSS reader of your choice. (Popular ones include Google Reader, NetNewsWire, FeedDemon, and Flipboard). These applications let you create a dashboard of articles using RSS feeds that you subscribe to.

What are the benefits of RSS?

Offering an RSS feed gives you the ability to embed your content on other sites. If you would like to share your content with other sites and allow them to publish your articles within their content, you can give them a link to your RSS feed and they can easily embed it. Whenever you publish a new post, it will also update their website in real time.

RSS feeds are easy to add, and they can be used for other types of content like events, news, etc., though the most popular use is in a blog. Having an RSS feed maximizes your chances that visitors will stay connected to your content. If you're not offering RSS as a subscription option on your blog, be sure to remedy this soon. You could be missing out on subscribers!

What is an email subscription?

An email subscription is when people subscribe to your new posts via email. This means that they receive notifications via email without having to actually visit your blog. It offers a valuable service to readers who don’t want to miss your posts. It’s a free service and is valuable especially if your blog is rarely updated since the content is pushed directly to your readers.

What are the benefits?

Email subscriptions are automated - meaning it’s hands-off. You don’t have to manually subscribe or unsubscribe readers; it happens all by itself. (The email comes with instructions in the footer for how to unsubscribe.) By having email subscriptions, you’re keeping readers in a more personal way. A high number of email subscribers is just as important and impressive as your monthly visits - plus, it shows a dedicated and involved readership. If your blog doesn’t have an email subscription box, I highly recommend it!

So what’s the difference?

The main difference is that RSS feeds go to your RSS reader, while email subscriptions go to your inbox. RSS feeds won’t get trapped in your email spam filter, and they have no file size limits. They are 100% deliverable and can include podcasts. Email is a bit more limited. However, some people prefer to have all information sent directly to their email inbox. 

Which do you prefer - RSS feeds or email subscriptions?

Landing pages 101

Posted by: in General on Friday, July 12, 2013

Are you looking to improve your marketing ROI? I’m guessing the answer is yes. (Who isn’t?) Did you know that the answer is right at your fingertips?

Now you’re probably thinking, “Michael, enough tempting! Tell us how!” Well, okay. But just because you asked.

The answer is simple - and most likely not what you might expect: Landing pages. If your business is not taking advantage of them, then you’re missing out since they are one of the most important elements of lead generation. 

So what is a landing page?

For those who may not be familiar, let’s go back to the basics. A landing page is a website that allows you to capture a visitor’s information through a lead form. In other words, it’s a place for you to have a tempting offer - something that your customer would really love. Maybe it’s an ebook or a case study - or perhaps you’re offering clients to sign up for a email campaign. Whatever it is, you dangle the carrot in an attempt to get people to give you their contact information via a form.

You will convert a higher percentage of your website visitors which you can follow up with. See how this works now?

What’s the big deal?

Here’s where you might be thinking, “What the big deal? I can just send my ebook out to my email list or post it on my homepage.” When you know that people are coming to your website for a specific purpose, you can increase the likelihood of converting that traffic into leads by using a targeted landing page.

Let’s say that you run a social media campaign offering a free digital evaluation. (We are if you’re interested!) If you send responders simply to your homepage, you’ve given them no follow-through...no direction for how to actually sign up for the free service. (Yes, it really is free if you’re interested!) Having a landing page in place makes it that much easier for them to complete the action (whatever that is that you’re having them do). The effectiveness of your online marketing will improve dramatically. Guaranteed.

What makes a landing page most effective?

There are several things you can do to make your landing page successful. First and foremost, make sure you have a valuable offer. If you do, your visitors will give up their contact information in no time. 

It’s equally important to make your offer sound compelling. Give a detailed description of everything they’re going to receive - but you also want to leave enough to their imagination so that they actually follow through by filling out the form.

Speaking of which, you want people to be motivated to fill it out. That being said, don’t ask 20 cumbersome questions, or people won’t do it. The shorter, the better. (We try to limit our forms to less than 3 fields. It’s tougher than it sounds!) This will greatly improve your conversion rate.

You’ll also want to enable sharing. You never know who will want to share this amazing deal with all of their friends. (Free marketing!) 

If you’re working hard at marketing and directing people to your website, don’t miss out on ROI by not taking advantage of landing pages. You’ll be glad you did!

[Whiteboard Lesson] How to increase website traffic

Posted by: in General on Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Most organizations are extemely interested in finding ways to increase website traffic. While there are no easy shortcuts, there are some proven ways to dramatically increase the traffic to your website over time.

In this whiteboard video, we'll cover some things you can start doing right away to help. The transcript is included below this video for convenience.

 

Michael Reynolds: Hey, thanks for joining today's Whiteboard video. Today, we're talking about website traffic. The first step in getting leads and customers in your business obviously is attention. People have to know about your company. They have to know about your brand. You have to bring them to your website. We are going to talk little bit about how that's accomplished. This is the top part of the inbound marketing funnel, where we generate traffic. As you can see, we have some different tactics that we use typically for generating traffic. Some of those tactics include blogging and social media.

All of those affect search engine optimization as well. It all really fits together when done correctly. Let's talk about blogging first. Blogging is one of the best ways to generate content and website traffic, because blogging solves problems. When people are searching through things like Google, when they are trying to solve a problem or they're trying to get answers, they search. They also go to social media sometimes and ask their peers and their friends. When you blog consistently, you now have content to provide fuel in the social media space as well as on search.

Google really likes fresh, relevant content that helps people and solves problems. When you blog, you want to blog not necessarily about your company, your products and services. Instead you want to blog about your audience. You want to blog about what's important to them. Solve their problems. Answer questions. Provide a list of things that are resources to them and how-to articles. All of those are great blog topics. You don't want to sell. You want to teach and you want to educate. 

Next, let's talk about social media. Social media is also a great way to generate traffic to your website and attention on your brand. What a lot of people do though is make the mistake of what I call chattering on social media. They just maybe ask a question or two or say something here and there. They really don't lead people anywhere else. They just post something out there and hope for the best. Instead, what you want to do is actually provide resources on social media.

This is where blogging comes in as a resource as well. When you have blog posts to share, suddenly you have fuel behind your posts on social media and you can lead people back to more information about what you are posting about. Also, great things to post on social media include things like infographics and photos. Whenever possible, you want to provide a link so people can read more about that particular topic ideally on your blog or somewhere on your website. That generates traffic.

The more value you provide on social media, the more people will come back and attach themselves to your brand by liking your Facebook page, following you on Twitter, et cetera. All of this also affects search engine optimization or SEO in a big way. SEO used to be about getting a few links, doing some technical work on your website and hoping for the best. It was putting some keywords in there and that was the end of it. Nowadays, it's much, much different. It looks much different. SEO is now focused primarily on great content. It's also focused on social signals.

Hopefully you can see now how blogging and social media really come together to help improve your efforts on search engines as well. Google really likes to pick up high quality blog posts and articles that teach and educate and provide a lot of value. Google also looks at social signals, things like Facebook likes and shares, Google plus ones and shares, conversations on Google plus, Twitter posts and LinkedIn posts. All of these things affect, in various ways, Google's weight on how it scores content.

When you put all this together, basically, the more high-quality content you create typically on a blog and the more you generate interest on the content or about that content on social media, the more people will share it and the more your search engine efforts will be improved as well. Those are all great ways to generate traffic. Doing one of them is a great idea. But when you put all of them together, it becomes much more powerful. This really how you generate website traffic and start people down that path, in the top of your funnel, where you can start to put them in your database and do more with them. But really the first step is traffic. Hopefully that's helpful. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.

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