Web and Hosting Tips
Written by Taylor Hawes
Monday, January 13th, 2014
Everyone loves a party trick; those quirky little displays of skill that captivate us momentarily. But in the challenging world of online marketing, the clever, or “viral” rarely have much longevity to show for their efforts. Being memorable doesn’t take tricks, only a judicious application of some writing acumen, human psychology, and a pinch of humanity. In this post, we’re outlining seven essential components of an unforgettable blog post.
If your writing doesn’t accomplish something, then it won’t have an impact. Flowery language and eloquent phrasing can drive a point home, but only if there’s a point to communicate. Determine what action you hope to inspire from your readers, and what value you’ll deliver to inspire that action, and better copy will flow from that focus.
Talking points, abstract or backed by concrete evidence, resonate with readers better when presented in a story. At our core, we are hardwired to respond to stories, more easily constructing meaning and drawing conclusions from information presented with a coherent narrative. Tap into that side of human nature, take the reader on a journey, and let your goal plan the route.
The brain won’t venture down the path you’ve laid without a little gas in the tank, and it’s your responsibility to provide the fuel. A strong opening statement that promises value and piques interest will provide the motivation needed to keep readers following the story. Your writing is like a novel on a smaller scale: the length of a book seems much greater when the opening paragraphs fail to grab your attention.
Internet readers visit websites for answers, and writing that fails to promise just that will see the digital waste bin before it even has a chance to impress. Be matter of fact about what you’re offering. “12 Tips to Make You a Better Salesperson” will see a great deal more views than “Ways to Try and Improve Your Sales Pitch”, because the latter makes no promise that the information presented will be of value.
Beneath the magic of every home run blog post are strong writing fundamentals. This includes, and relies upon, a strong structure to break complex information into understandable chunks. To this end, bulleted and numbered lists are particularly beneficial when conveying your point, as both formats clearly define the substance of the piece and enable scanning.
But good writing isn’t comprised of rote recitation. Memorable pieces don’t permit the mental downtime that leads to distractions and, consequently, failed conversions. Connect each section of your piece with elegant transitions that keep interests piqued and tie separate points seamlessly to one another. Next to boring copy, nothing turns readers off like a jarring transition, and attention is a precious commodity.
In order to obtain “unforgettable” status, you’ll need to be, ipso facto, memorable. As a business blog, one of the most powerful ways to achieve this is through voice. Your writing should lend a human face to your business and letting your idiosyncrasies shine through is an excellent way to prove that you’re a human being, writing a post for other human beings. Don’t be afraid to let your personality show and remember the value of a little integrity.
With a tidal wave of content hitting readers’ eyes every day, standing out is a worthwhile goal. The backbone of an unforgettable post is solid writing and an understanding of reader needs and attention spans. Follow that up with quality writing and a little expression, and your next post can be, as we promised, unforgettable. After all, the top performers in any field aren’t the thrive on novelty, they’re the ones with the strongest fundamentals and a dash of personal flare.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, January 9th, 2014
There was a time when having a website was quite the accomplishment, but since the days of AOL and dial-up Internet, everyone from the pet shop down the street to the multinational conglomerate has a website. In this crowded ecosystem, it’s important to stand out, and that means building a strong first impression. In an increasingly web-based world, the homepage has become the “handshake” of sales, and a firm, confident grip and winning smile will do a lot to improve your brand perception and comfort customers in the process. In this post, we’re offering a few recommendations on how to make a better first impression on your homepage.
Creating a website is an excellent first step toward better contact with your customers, but it is by no means the end of your work. As a matter of fact, the presence of a business website actually establishes expectations for basic functionality and information that you’re required to fulfill in order to convert sales. Doing so takes many forms, from the rudimentary to the complex, but in all efforts, creating the understanding that customer needs will be met is job #1.
This begins with contact information. When customers view your business, they bring with them certain fears. Fears of buyer’s remorse, fears of being scammed, and fears of missed opportunity. As profound as this ordeal may sound, it’s very real and putting your contact information on the homepage of your website will help immediately quell them. This way, if customers have worries, they know how to get in contact with you, and that trust will go a long way in the future.
In addition to human contact, customers want to know that assistance will come even after business hours. For this reason, having a clear organization and working links to the information on your website on the front page will help allay their fears and improve their experience. With more companies recognizing the importance of quality web design, creating a site that’s usable will become just as important as delivering a quality product.
But quality is still a part of the picture, and using your first impression to communicate its importance to your business is excellent practice. The initial visit to a website, just as with first meetings with human beings, determines a lot about customers’ future perceptions, so establishing expectations prior to purchase will help sales conversion and develop customer relationships. This means using aesthetic and tapping into web trends to demonstrate that your company has an ear to the ground and a modern approach.
Start with eye-catching visuals. Inundated readers have become scanners, which means that our content, and our websites, must change to curry their favor. Attractive and descriptive photographs and graphics more effectively communicate information, and establish the kind of first-impression we’re looking for much more rapidly than text. What’s of note in employing visuals, however, is the importance of content. Irrelevant visuals, butterflies for a software company for example, are more likely to turn customers off than appeal to their sensibilities. Visuals should describe your business and set standards, not come off as contrive.
With the newfound nature of Internet readers, the front-page has evolved, from a gateway to more information, to the residence of your primary sales pitch. Instead of waiting for visitors to bite and click further down the site navigation, savvy developers have seized the bull by the horns and put key product specifications, demo videos, and testimonials of satisfied customers right up front for people to see. Doing so helps avoid the small, but significant, down time between initial viewing and product research, leading to better conversion rates and happier customers.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
At this point, you’re being asked to put quite a bit on the front page of your website. From visuals to product specs to copy, there’s a lot going on at first glance. In order to prevent this torrent of information from becoming an unintelligible mess, designers have developed ways to effectively organize content, gleaning the aforementioned benefits without taxing the patience of hesitant users.
Two methods have developed that have seen widespread adoption. The first involves what are called large “hero areas”. The term harkens back to the days of print media, when a large visual and accompanying typography presented a powerful first-impression, justifying the occupation of extra space with the resultant impact. These days, it’s not uncommon for the entire screen of a browser to be filled with a single image and impactful tagline. Doing so creates a strong impression, without compromising the integrity of the following content.
The reason this practice resonates is due to the accompanying, second method: scroll-based layouts. Conventional web design focused on dividing content between pages, but new designs are dividing pages into browser-sized sections, delineated by common typography, background color, and a large, distinguishing visual. By dividing your homepage vertically into sections, you can effectively deliver a presentation of your product or brand’s benefits without the risk of lost traffic, catching eyes and attention in the process.
Web design has grown by leaps and bounds since the days of dial-up, and with it, the expectations placed upon business websites. But your firm can keep up with, and surpass, the Jones’ with a little know-how and some modern design techniques. Make your company available to your customers with contact information and working navigation. Establish your first impression with optimized content and relevant information. Finally, consider implementing some higher-level design that keeps your customers reading and puts your site on the cutting edge of the evolving web. You’d wear a suit and carry business cards to a sales meeting, and applying the same concept to your homepage will have similar results, making the ironing and tailoring worth the work.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
For all of our marketing efforts and creative handiwork, sometimes engaging customers can be a real challenge. Even when our user profiles and psychographics hit the proverbial nail on the head, our work can miss the mark. This is not because of a lack of knowledge, but simply because the paradigm of customer engagement is shifting. Online channels, the new model of constant presence, and the need for creativity to cut through the din, are all contributors in an age where customer engagement can translate into better sales, better relationships, and a better marketing strategy. In this post, we’re helping you understand how to build your online engagement engine.
Starting the Conversation
Engagement comes in many forms, but perhaps the most effective means of doing so comes in the form of conversation. This doesn’t mean simply communicating with your customers; your marketing does that every day. What it means is leveraging the new rapid-response and feedback capabilities of the Internet to create a continuum of advertising and marketing that includes the customer in the process. While they certainly won’t be writing copy for you, the notion of involving your customers in the way your business presents itself allows your efforts to resonate in a way that drives both sales and return visits.
With Facebook and Twitter providing ample opportunities for communication, the greatest benefit to brands in the newly interconnected age is constant presence. When store hours are over and customers are sitting at home, you can still be a part of their experience by replying to comments on social networking, presenting informational and entertaining videos, and sharing photographs that strike an emotional chord. In this way, your brand never leaves the minds of the people you need most, which translates into better sales and increased advocacy.
The key to achieving this lies with owned media channels. Creating new opportunities for engagement is important when more conventional wells run dry, but using your existing social networking accounts and advertising spots to break new ground is fiscally prudent. Take a look at your social networking posts. If you don’t have any, make some. Reach out to customers with positive and helpful information and a human touch, gauging reactions and modifying activity based on what works. Doing so makes media responsive, and customers appreciate being listened to far more than sitting through an ill-conceived sales pitch.
But in order to start a conversation, it’s necessary to know what to talk about. As a business, the topics of your discussions and social media posts can’t be listless at the risk of wasting valuable time and money on fruitless endeavors. Your goal in engaging customers should be simple: further your business. This occurs in multiple ways, but the most effective among them is building associations that paint your products, business, and presence in a positive light.
What you’d like to accomplish is a perception that your brand is as much a part of a customer’s life as the products you sell. Pushing product out the door is one thing, creating repeat customers and ensuring future business is another entirely. For that reason, use your engagement to build the understanding that your business is a source of valuable information and helpful individuals. If you sell drills, talk about tool maintenance and provide DIY tips. If you offer pool-cleaning supplies, talk about safety and how pools can provide a family activity. In every breath, focus on establishing your reputation as a company who cares and wants deeply to help the customers that keep it open.
Keep in mind as you do so that customer love is predicated on choice. In no way can marketers force brand perception (otherwise the art would’ve been perfected long ago). This choice lies not only with the acceptance of your presented image, but also with the content provided. When utilizing a business blog, provide a range of topics that engage your core audience without pigeonholing your reach. Even choice built into ads, such as those that allow individuals to choose a different story or product to view, give the perception of engagement and control, which translates into dividends with potential and current customers.
In doing so, however, it’s necessary to consider the law of diminishing returns. While Facebook is a fantastic vehicle for engagement and distribution, your business is not the first, or last, to utilize it. What this means is that your company will need to innovate in order to reach its audience more effectively than the competition. This can come both in the form of adjusting current campaigns, and by changing the way the game is played altogether.
Social media and other modern engagement channels work for multiple reasons. As we’ve discussed, actual conversation is a big part of that. But what lies beneath this exterior is the capacity to rapidly gauge customer sentiment and reactions to particular campaigns/pieces and make adjustments on the fly. If, after months of attempting to blog unsuccessfully, you finally publish a post that goes viral, look at the topic and the method of presentation and apply that model to other content. This creates a perception of listening to consumer wishes, and means less wasted marketing dollars as content is better tailored to the desired audience.
And while these tried-and-true methods of engagement certainly have their place, never rule out the possibility of throwing a curveball. Traditional channels of marketing aren’t what they used to be; television ads, print ads, and books. Now, businesses are looking for ways to incorporate digital in a world of increasingly blurred lines between media. Grocery stores with QR codes to recipes and clothing retailers with digital try-on capabilities are changing our understanding of customer engagement every day, and making hay in the process.
When building your engagement engine, laying a foundation based on established methods is a great place to start. Use owned-media channels in order to listen to customers and start the conversation. Create a feeling throughout all interactions and materials that your company cares about their well-being and wants to be a part of their life through informative content. Finally, get creative and look for new ways to reach out once your foundation is established. Talking to customers is no longer a luxury in the digital age, and a little elbow grease and some Facebook comments can increase sales, perception, and market-share, all thanks to the ubiquitous interconnection that drives our lives, and now, our businesses.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Monday, January 6th, 2014
In a world existing increasingly online, web design is increasing in importance. But as the rate of development increases, staying ahead of the curve is essential to standing out from the crowd. From adaptive designs, to large-format media, to simplified experiences, 2014 promises to be a year of changes; changes you can, and should, implement.
If you’ve heard this term once, prepare to hear it many times again. From the Apple iOS redesign to a multitude of sites around the Internet, the benefits of flat design are being recognized and implemented ubiquitously. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, flat design eschews 3D and shading techniques, commonly used by designers in the past, for flat colors, simple layouts, and a less cluttered look. The effect of this design choice is a sleek, clean looking interface that hints at modernity and currently sits at the cutting edge of web design trends.
But the benefits of flat design are not simply aesthetic. By reducing the amount of visual clutter, websites become more usable, providing a better experience for site viewers (which means a better shopping experience for potential customers). This occurs because each piece of visual stimuli on a screen, whether links, images, or even shadows, requires some level of processing by the human brain, thus taxing tired eyes and minds. By simplifying the experience, the customer’s mind is free to think about purchase decisions or read valuable content, which means improved revenue and brand impact.
In the past, much attention was paid to creating websites with a comprehensive navigation tree, taking great care to segment each piece of content on its own page. The downsides of this approach included the need for users to exert the mental energy necessary to find information, and the unnecessary wait times associated with loading multiple pages. Fortunately for impatient web browsers, savvy developers have developed a new approach to the multi-page problem that incorporates an elegant navigation with a distinctive structure.
Instead of multiple page assets and redundant loading, websites are opting for a single-page look that differentiates content by changing background color and typography as the user scrolls down. in addition, users wanting more information without scrolling can simply click on links that move the page down to the desired section. The net result is a more coherent experience, that is aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use for even casual browsers.
There was a time when web designers were limited to repeating, simple (or solid color) backgrounds due to the limitations of dial-up Internet and resolutions of computer monitors. However, with retina displays and high-resolution smartphones dominating the marketplace, web designers are utilizing attractive, large-format photographic backgrounds for a number of reasons. But the range of devices upon which these are viewed require a little accommodation in order to optimize their aesthetic effectiveness.
Adaptive layouts are the growing trend in web design and their methods should affect everything from navigation to font size. But photographic backgrounds in particular require these same methods in order to provide a coherent experience between desktop and mobile sites. An image, presented in one format on desktop, should present in a similar manner on mobile sites in order to maintain brand and site identity. For this reason, implementing photography the smart and adaptive way is essential.
But images aren’t the only visual element seeing consideration. In the nascent days of the Internet, text was rendered almost exclusively in the system default font. Even after a greater quantity of fonts was installed on personal computers, designs were limited to the fonts available on those computers, as any font not available on the user’s system would not load. But, in time, solutions were developed that now enable us to load fonts for users, ensuring accurate reproduction of initial design on browsers, and more expressive typography as a result.
With this greater flexibility in design comes a greater responsibility on the part of designers to use the resources available to them. The availability of attractive web fonts means that your website now has a greater potential than ever to use expressive typography in conveying meaning, tone, and voice. Large, display fonts can make headers more attractive, while serifed body copy can make the reading experience easier. Wherever used, designers in 2014 are recognizing the importance of typography in conveying brand message and improving usability, and you should too.
Video (Instead of Text)
In stark contrast to this trend, however, is the growing prevalence of video as a replacement for text. Simply put, video has a well-established and enhanced capacity to convey meaning in ways that text simply cannot. Product demonstrations, a human face, and a greater feeling of engagement and conversation are just a few of the benefits of video, and for that reason businesses are seeing the value and making a change.
For many websites, the change is happening in a profound way. Landing pages may contain a single, large video at the top with supplementary text below, but the focus remains on the video. While more in-depth and researched discussions still require the capabilities and functionality of text, consider looking into video as a way of more quickly and efficiently demonstrating usability, convenience, and product value. With users increasingly making decisions on a momentary basis, a strong, well-crafted first impression can make the difference between sales conversion and boredom.
The web is becoming sleeker, more adaptive, and more informative in 2014. Flat design and single-page layouts are driving websites away from complex navigations and saving user headaches in the process. Effective typography and adaptive images are ensuring that effective websites are usable and pleasing on a psychological level. Finally, video is taking the lead as the most efficient means of conveying meaning and brand image, while engaging users in the process. Iteration and constant improvement are key on the Internet, and observing the dominant trends of 2014 can make your website, and your company, stand out in the New Year.