Archive for October, 2011

The 4 Critical Elements of an Effective Business Website

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The first step in optimizing your online presence is making sure you have a website worth optimizing. That means creating a site that your target visitors will be glad they found once they arrive, and will spend some time with because the site provides the information they need in an easy-to-find manner.

It’s like planning a large event or party in your home. If you had a noisy furnace, an unfinished bathroom, or paint peeling on your eaves, you’d want to take care of those issues before you send out invitations. Your website similarly has to be in great shape before you “invite” visitors to it through optimization.

Four key elements of designing an effective business website are:

  • • Technology (Platform)
  • • Graphic Design
  • • Information Architecture
  • • Content

Technology

The first decision is the technology, or platform, the site will be built on. The options are almost endless, from custom code, to a development environment such as Adobe DreamWeaver, to hosted content management systems (CMS) options, to free platforms like WordPress. Among the key considerations to keep in mind when selecting a platform are:

Capabilities—will the platform support the sophistication of your design? Do you need extra features, like a built-in CRM system, the ability to easily integrate with external systems, create secure areas of the site, or manage ecommerce transactions?

Usability—does the platform make it easy for non-technical users to add or update content? Is it easy to add new pages and even entire new sections to the site?

Search engine friendliness—does the platform or tool produce clean, W3C-vaild underlying code? Is it easy to add meta tags and customize page URLs? Most modern CMS systems are relatively search-friendly, but this is a critical component for optimization, so do some investigation to make sure the platform you select is strong in this area. One way to check is to run the URLs of some other sites built on the tool through a tool like Website Grader to see how well they score (though keep in mind that factors other than just code quality can affect these scores).

Scalability—will the platform chosen support the planned size and complexity of your website, as well as providing room for growth?

Mobility—though website visits from smart phones and tablets currently accounts for only seven percent of online traffic worldwide, that figure is expected to grow rapidly. Make sure your chosen platform can serve up an optimized experience on both desktop and mobile devices (and automatically detect the visitor’s device) without a separate mobile development effort.

Make this decision carefully as you will be essentially “stuck” with your chosen platform until you reach a point where you need to redesign your site—depending on your industry and growth rate, generally two to five years. Avoid obscure platforms that force you to rely on a single consultant or agency for support.

Graphic Design

Effects Like Transparency and Typography Can Enhance Website Design

Effects Like Transparency and Typography Can Enhance Website Design

Though design considerations are often subjective, two key questions to ask when developing the overall look and feel of your website (fonts, colors, images and other design elements) are:

  • • Does the design reflect the “personality” of our brand (e.g. bold, conservative, leading-edge, safe, sophisticated, intelligent, friendly)?
  • • Will the design appeal to our target audience?

Special effects such as texture, transparency, typography and motion can enhance a design and provide a distinctive look—but these should be used carefully to enhance the user experience, not simply to “dress up” the site in ways that don’t help the user, or worse, that make the site seem complex and confusing.

Information Architecture

Possibly the most critical element of website design, this is the “map” of your site: what information will be included, where, and how different areas of information be connected. And the single most important consideration in developing your information architecture is your audiences: your website shouldn’t be about what information you want to provide, but rather about what information your key audiences want and need in order to engage with you.

The primary audience for most business websites is sales prospects. To determine their needs, first identify them as precisely as possible by title, role, industry and other attributes. Then put yourself in their shoes: why are they looking for information? What are their burning issues? What information do they need when they come to your site—at different stages in their buying process? How can you help move them through that process, and convert them into identifiable leads?

Secondary audiences may include existing customers, prospective employment candidates, investors, analysts (industry or financial), partners, and the media. Most of these groups are likely to have some information needs in common with your sales prospects, as well as some unique needs. Make sure your site meets the information needs of these audiences without detracting from the prospective buyer experience.

The output of this stage of the design process is an information architecture map, which may look something like this:

Generic Website Information Architecture Map

This information architecture map also serves as a guide for scoping out the work required to create the new site; establishing priorities; collecting any required images or website assets; and assigning content to writers.

Content

Content should be developed using two primary guides: the information architecture map (what to write), and keyword research (how to write it). Keyword research helps to identify the specific phrases your prospects most commonly use when searching for your types of products and/or services, as well to determine which terms have the best potential for optimization.

Knowing the keywords and topics, writers should be able to develop content that answers the five key questions every business website needs to address:

  • • Who are you?
  • • What do you sell?
  • • Who do you sell to?
  • • Why are you the best?
  • • How do I buy from you?

Once you’ve designed and developed a site that uses a search-friendly platform, is designed and written with your key audiences in mind, and answers the questions and potential concerns of your sales prospects , you have a site truly worth optimizing as the core of your web presence.

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Real-World Results from Web Presence Optimization

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

My last post, What is Web Presence Optimization, and Why Should I Care?, laid out the definition of and rationale for a web presence optimization (WPO) strategy. But what do the real-world results look like? Here are four case studies demonstrating how WPO does more than get a company or individual onto the first page of results in search—it helps them own the first page of search results.

(Keep in mind that search results change constantly; all of these examples were accurate at the time of the search screen captures.)

TAB Products – “Hybrid Records Management”

TAB Products is a provider of records management software, file folders and other filing supplies, mobile shelving, and health records management products through its AMES division. As shown below, the company dominates search results for hybrid records management (managing paper and electronic files together in a single system). The company has integrated its SEO and online PR efforts for WPO.

TAB Hybrid Records Management Search Results

Jill Konrath – “Selling to Big Companies”

Author and sales trainer Jill Konrath combines her website and blog with content marketing, online PR, social media and AdWords to dominate both sides of the front page of Google for the phrase “selling to big companies.” If you were struggling with how to effectively sell to large organizations, who would you call?

Jill Konrath - Selling to Big Companies

Kinetic Data – “Extend the Value of BMC Remedy”

Business service management software developer Kinetic Data builds products that extend the value of one of the top IT management platforms, and the company dominates search for that phrase by combining an optimized website with blogging, social media, online PR and content marketing activities.

Kinetic Data - Extending the Value of BMC Remedy

Workface – “Realtime Customer Engagement Platform”

Through a combination of SEO, online PR and social media, customer engagement platform vendor Workface dominates the first page of Google for that term along with “realtime.” Turning customers into fans always helps with WPO.

Workface - Realtime Customer Engagement Platform

Obviously, dominating the first page of Google in this manner is affected by factors (including Google’s ongoing changes to its algorithms). But being strategic about web presence optimization—utilizing SEO, online PR, SEM, content marketing and social media in a coordinated manner—can pay significant dividends in terms of search visibility.

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What is Web Presence Optimization, and Why Should I Care?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Web presence optimization (WPO) is the art and science of being found online. As indicated in the masthead of my blog, it has both an explanational definition (The fusion of SEO, search marketing, social media, reputation management, content marketing and social PR) and a reasonal one (Being omnipresent on the web for the search phrase that uniquely describes you or your organization.) It’s the evolution of search engine optimization (SEO), or alternatively,  SEO on steroids. It is a structured approach to getting your name, company, product or service found online when people are searching for what it is you have to offer. And getting found is the necessary first step to winning that business.

Graphically, it looks something like this:

The Elements of Web Presence Optimization

Why Does It Matter?

As Vanessa Fox puts it in the subtitle of her book Marketing in the Age of Google, “Your Online Strategy IS Your Business Strategy.” Consider the following points:

  • • More than 80% of considered consumer purchases (e.g. for high-value, high-involvement products) now start with search, and more than 90% of B2B purchase cycles begin online.
  • • Search is no longer just Google and Bing; the second- and third-largest “search engines” by volume of searches are YouTube and Facebook. The internal search functions of social networks LinkedIn and Twitter also have higher volume than most second-tier search engines.
  • • Your web presence is no longer limited to your website and blog (as important as those remain). Prospective customers may first find you on a social network, in a blog post written by a key influencer in your market space, on a content network like YouTube or SlideShare, in an online business directory, in an online news release, or in any number of other web venues.

For many businesses, particularly on the B2B side, if your buyers can’t find you online—you don’t exist. The web presence optimization framework provides a structured approach for maximizing your “findability” online.

 

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Six Best Practices for Email Newsletter Design

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The downsized economy has made everyone who’s still working busier than ever. Everyone is asked to “do more with less,” and that includes time and attention. At the same time, email marketing volume continue to grow, with 68% of b2b marketers planning to increase spending on email marketing this year. Effective email newsletters, focused on the needs of readers, remain a powerful tool for communicating with your customers and nurturing sales leads.

This means your email newsletter has only a matter of seconds to either engage the reader or make them hit the “delete” button–or worse, mark it as spam. Here are six best practices for making your email newsletter engaging and reader-friendly, and optimize it for viewing under different recipient email settings. These are illustrated using the popular iMedia Connection newsletter, one of the leading sources of marketing news and guidance. That’s not to say you should copy their template necessarily, just the techniques they use for engagement and readability.

Best Practices Newsletter Template

  1. Keep your masthead or any graphics near the top of the newsletter shallow vertically, so that readers using the preview pane with images turned off don’t see just a blank box. Make sure at least part of your text content is visible without scrolling.
  2. Use white space on both sides, or at least on the right side of the template, to improve readability and make the newsletter seem less “heavy.” This enhances the appearance of the newsletter whether images are turned on or off, and gives it a blog-like look and feel.
  3. For each content item, combine a small graphic, compelling headline, and 1-2 sentence summary to entice the reader to click through to your site to read more. Keep the graphic small so that the link and summary are easily readable even with images turned off.
  4. Incorporate a “share by email” or “forward to a friend” button to encourage readers to pass along your content. Also include a “view this newsletter online” option, with social sharing buttons on the online version, to encourage social sharing of your content. Posting your newsletters online also provides SEO benefits and encourages readers to subscribe.
  5. Include buttons for your social network accounts in the newsletter to build your following on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social sites.
  6. Make use of the footer to provide links to supplemental or less important content: upcoming events, popular past articles, additional newsletters you offer, etc.

Utilizing these best practices in your newsletter design helps increase reader engagement with your content and extends the reach of your content.

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