I am often amazed at how many people view their website as a necessary hassle. It appears that not a lot of thought is put into the process by businesses embarking on a new website, they seem to view their webiste as being outside their overall marketing strategy.
We are often struggle to get input from our customers, I think people still view websites as pretty graphics and splash pages not as extremely useful marketing tools. Many people are skeptical about the solid benefits of a web presence, and they have every right to be, given the history of the web is dotted with the splash paged, graphic laden, content poor sites described above. However, a website that is virtually your business represented on the web can offer incredible results.
Recently, we saw the results of a good collaborative relationship with a customer. We worked with the team at Southport Health Club to redesign their website. Their policy is to offer a free trial to all potential members and immediately, they were receiving about 5 enquiries a day from new customers – the numbers are incomparible to any other form of marketing they currently use.
The difference between their old website and the new one was the massive improvement in content and a site design that we were able to create to make the content really work.
Basically, like everything, if you’re going to do it, do it well. Don’t flick your web designers a 10 year old word document that we’re supposed to decipher and translate into a successful site, plan to spend some time, and bask in the glow of success.
When you’re part of a small business, you survive on credibility. Traditionally a large part of this has been pretending you are a lot bigger than you are… Adding an extra team member or two, getting the right offfice address (or PO Box to hide the fact you work from home), fancy business cards, etc etc. There are a lot of tricks.
One of our team members who does a lot of sales, recently saw a statistic about the proportion of a sales pitch spent establishing credibility, something like 90%. Talk turned to the importance of all the things described above.
This is the ‘information age’, do you think people really care whether or not a secretary answers the phone or will they just assume (probably quite rightly) that you operate out of a virtual office? Is credibility still formed on the basis of how big you look? Or is it now formed through a far more meaningful process of discovering if you know what you are talking about inside out and understanding that when you have a problem, the owner of the company will deal with it personally, immediately.
Obviously it’s important to be professional, whether your working out of a garage or a plush office building, but do all the gimmicks small businesses use to appear big actually add to your credibility anymore?
One of the best ways to maintain search engine ranking and visitor interest is fresh, informative content that people will want to read. If you’re used to writing lengthy business documents or academic essays and are appointed in charge of website maintenance, then this is for you.
People who read on the web aren’t like people who read off the web. The same person changes their reading habits dramatically if they are confronted with the local newspaper, a good novel or a webpage… So the content you offer has to alter accordingly.
A few facts about reading on the web
- Reading off a screen is way harder on the eyes than reading off paper
- People hate reading advertisments (or anything that looks like one, so hold off on the self-promotion)
- Like things to be short and snappy – get to the point quickly, then leave it. This is not the place for waffle
- Are extrememly goal focused – browsing the web is anything but what the name suggests, people read each page in order to get to the next point in reaching their goal
As a result, people don’t read your content word by word, they just scan it. This means you have to use text styles and formatting to help them along
Good Practise for web writing
- Write content in small snippets
- Seperate content using lots of informative headers
- Use lists instead of paragraphs
- Provide a lot of relevent links within or outside of your site
- Make everything informative – headers, link text, article titles, don’t try to be tricky or clever, just say it how it is.
- Good grammer and spelling are vital. Not for the same reasons they were at school, but because unless people can understand what they are reading they will not read it.
If this all sounds very fascinating and you want to find out more about how much the experts know about your web reading habits, read ‘Be succinct’, and ‘how users read the web‘, both by usability Guru, Jakob Nielson (in 1997!). Or (slightly) more recent ’10 tips on writing the living web’ by fellow usability experts at A List Apart.
I don’t want to write another article about what a blog is, a quick search in Google will uncover a few thousand answers to that question. What I do think is important though, is to outline a few, solid, tangible benefits of starting an ongoing dialogue with your customers/friends/partners/interested parties.
1. Cheap, easy, effective marketing
Even if you have a website, a blog is still a brilliant addition to your marketing strategy. Not only do search engines love blogs and reward bloggers extremely well (ie. Up your ranking), when you write regularly on a topic you know a lot about – your business, you stand to become a ‘thought leader’ in that area. A well done blog will get visitors from all over the show for all sorts of reasons and can successfully lead people from your blog and into your business.
2. Getting to know your customers
Static About Us pages are so 3 years ago… Everyone clicks on the About Us page because they are interested in you and your business, what they like even more is being able to interact with you to find out what’s going on and possibly add their own comment. Write regularly in a blog and you’ll build a community around your business where communication flows two ways.
3. Writing Down your ideas
Most people are full of half hashed ideas. Thinking about releasing a new product? Wondering about a new service? Get in the habit of putting down your ideas in a blog. You get a record of what you’re thinking, a place to develop your ideas and a community to offer feedback.
Unsure about writing a blog? Read this whitepaper with tips and advice from Business Logs
Most of our customers are small business like us, and like us, they take an active interest in everything that happens in or to their business. These are the customers who it is not unusual to talk to over a weekend, because inspiration is not structured around the 9-5 weekday.
There is a massive difference between the ‘culture’ of small buinesses and large businesses, the number of people it takes to get stuff done, the time it takes, the money it takes, the passion of the people involved. These factors are helping people increasingly value the power of a small organisation, targeting a niche market over their cumbersome large counterparts. While we may feel like a mouse under the elephant’s feet, dwarfed by the competition, the big guys are wary of the small, fast paced, irritant running between their toes. And they have every reason to be.
In the web space particularly, the optimal organisation now is seen as smaller than ten people, globally dispursed and focused solely on being the best in a small area of a market. The recipe for success is "don’t do much, but do it well", find one thing you love and make it better, more simple and more usable than all the other options.
Big companies have long since realised that it is virtually impossible to innovate within the confines of a large company structure, hense they realise their only way to keep up is by aquisition, not competiton. Microsoft, Google and Yahoo’s (to name just a few) product catalogues are littered with small company inventions, and as Boris from Fleck.com points out, what they are buying is not the product itself, but the small business advantage.