How to create great online content for your small business website

Content Marketing for small business

 

Great content is an essential part of a successful online presence. It helps drive traffic, build relationships, grow brand awareness, reinforce trust and support SEO. So, what makes great content and how can you as a small business owner ensure you are getting it right?

We take a look at how to approach content creation with 7 helpful tips on how to produce content that is top-notch.

1. Focus on your customers

When you are thinking about the kind of content you want on your website your focus should be on creating content that is relevant and of value to your target audience. It can be tempting to pack your website full of sales orientated copy, which of course has it’s place, but your key aim should be to produce content that your customers and prospective customers will find interesting and useful.

SEO also plays an important part in content creation, but the days of keyword stuffing practices are long gone. Instead spend some time researching your target audience and brainstorming the kind of keywords and key phrases they might use to search for the products and services you are selling and incorporate them naturally into your copy.

Essentially if you write content with your target audience in mind you wont go far wrong.

2. Create original content

The most important content for marketers is original written content (45%)

Search engines like high quality content of which a key characteristic is originality –  essentially content that is not already on other website. Hence duplicating content from other sites is not the answer (in fact such practices can be detrimental to your search engine page ranking).  So how can you ensure you are getting enough original content on your site?

Blogging: Posting regular blog articles are an excellent way to ensure original and relevant content is being added to your site on a regular basis. Writing blog articles requires time however in addition to providing you with original content, blogging also helps generate traffic, yield new leads, maintain customer relationships and build brand trust.

blogging

Curated Content: A consistent flow of original content is essential, however in reality small business owners are under huge time pressures and have limited resources.  Therefore there are times when curated content can step in. For example a weekly ‘news roundup’ of relevant articles in your industry can work well – just ensure you are adding your own, original commentary and opinion to it (and as we mentioned before don’t plagiarise or try to pass it off as your own!)

Product pages. Write your own product descriptions rather than simply re-using the information supplied by the manufactures.  Create your own original descriptions with your target audience in mind, making them user-friendly and relevant.

 

3. Make it useful

“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed“

Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

Think about what kind of content will be of interest and have a value to your target audience – is it informative content or entertaining content that will most appeal – or indeed a mixture of both? Useful, relevent content will help drive traffic to you website and keep people coming back for more. Some ideas include:

  • Free downloadable e/book or white paper
  • Infographics
  • Latest industry news and trends reports
  • Ideas and tips for using your products in real-life
  • Competitions or quizzes
  • Interviews with relevant industry figures
  •  Online videos such as useful tutorials, product instructions or demonstrations

4. Be visually engaging

Having great visual content is an essential part of successful content creation. As humans we are naturally drawn to all things visual , so think about how you can use visuals to create standalone content and support other content on your site.

visual content marketing

 

 

Engaging images: How can you make the images on your site more engaging? For example, instead of just using product images provided by the manufactures take your own photos – showing off products in relief scenarios.  Avoid using run of the mill stock images. There are some excellent online image libraries where you can source some interesting and inspiring images. Think about using software tools (some of which offer free services) like Skitch and Canva to add text to images. Essentially spend some time thinking about how you can produce your own interesting and engaging visuals for your website.

Video: If you can incorporate video into your online presence all the better. Video has become an important element of successful content marketing – indeed research indicates that 1 in 4 consumers actually lose interest in a company if it doesn’t have video.

5. Make content digestible

How you write and present your content online is important. Reams of unbroken text on a page is off-putting. you may have written something of huge interest to your target audience, but if they can’t grasp the gist of it in moments they aren’t going to bother to read it. Keep to the point and get rid off any unnecessary fluff and waffle.

Think about how you present text on the page – it should look inviting. Break up text into small digestible paragraphs, use headers, sub headers, text blocks, bullets points and of course engaging images.

When visitors look at the content on your website ensure it is visually appealing and that your content is displayed in manageable, easily digestible chunks.

6. Keep it fresh

It is important to keep the content fresh and up-to-date.  Go through your online content at regular intervals to ensure that there is no out-of-date information or broken links. Having old, stale content can make your site look unprofessional. And, whilst you are reviewing your content, make sure you are double checking for any typos and grammar mistakes.

Re-purposing or refreshing an old blog post with new updated information or updates is a quick way to freshen your content and add new original content to your site.

7. User generated content

Search engines like user-generated content such as customer testimonials, product reviews, blog comments and discussion forums. Moreover, this sort of ‘conversational’ content is a good way to keep regular, original and relevant coming into your site. Of course if you do go down this road, you will need to ensure that you are regular monitoring the content that gets put on, removing anything offensive or inappropriate immediately.

When you are creating online content for your business if keep your target audience in mind at all times, you won’t go far wrong. Content that appeals to your customers and is likely to keep search engines happy too. Focus on having a good variety of high-quality content that is relevant, interesting and offers value to your audience,

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience of creating online content, so please do leave a comment. 

 

 

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How small business ecommerce can improve their online content

Website sign postAs a small business owner how can you improve your online content?

Quality content plays a crucial part in the success of your ecommerce business and as such, it should be right at the heart of all your online activity. Good content should be the foundation of your marketing practice, search engine optimisation, web design and your customers’ online experience. Poor, ill-thought-out content can be a real barrier to online purchasing.

Despite its importance, we can all get a bit complacent with our online content and forget that it needs updating and refreshing on a regular basis. If you review and update  your content frequently then fantastic but, if like most small business owners, you are constantly juggling multiple roles and tasks, then finding time to review and plan content can be a challenge.

However if you can manage to schedule some time in your diary to follow some of the content suggestions we’ve outlined in this blog then it will genuinely save you time and money in the long run. Don’t forget quality content is at the core of a successful online presence – do it well and it will make all the activities that follow far more effective.  So, put some proper time aside to review your current online content and ways you can improve on it.

SEOSEO – customers should drive your content efforts.

“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed“ Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

Interesting, relevant and fresh content is not only what will bring customers to your online business and keep them coming back it is the back bone of search engine optimisation (SEO). As far as SEO is concerned the practice of keyword and key-phrase stuffing are well and truly over. Search engines are looking for quality content that is relevant to your market. The best way of creating just such content is to keep your customers in mind. Ask yourself –

  • What will my customers find interesting?
  • What content is relevant to my business?
  • What information is my customer looking for?
  • What information do they need to make a purchasing decision?

“Develop great content” may be the most oft-repeated suggestion in the SEO world. Despite its clichéd status, though, this is sound advice. Appealing, useful content is crucial to search engine optimisation….Crafting fulfilling, thorough content that addresses searchers’ needs improves your chance to earn top rankings.”  MOZ Beginners Guide to SEO.

Planning start pointThinking about your content in terms of your customers needs is essential.

Where to start?

Before you launch yourself into all sorts of new and exciting content ideas – you first need to get the foundations right. This means reviewing your current offering, setting goals and objectives , identifying content gaps and putting a plan in place. This will better help you understand the content needs of your business and provide you with a solid and realistic base for future content. It also means you are more likely to get it right!

Where are you now? Review your current offering

Take a long objective look at the content of your website.  Be honest with yourself and try to be unbiased (if you’re worried that you can’t see the woods for the tress then get someone you trust to review your content).

  • What are you current strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do you do well?
  • What could you do with a bit more of or less of?
  • Do you have a good balance of content? For example, is there too much lighthearted content and not enough informative content or vice versa.
  • Does your content read well?
  • Is your interesting and relevant to your customers?.
  • Have you had any feedback from customers – what would they like to see?

It is only by taking a really thorough look at what you currently offer that you can set yourself realistic objectives and identify any content gaps.

What do you want to achieve? Set yourself goals and objectives? What is it that you need your content to help you do? Are you looking to grow the traffic to your site, increase your sales conversion rates or rank higher in search engine results pages? Once you know your overall goals you can then set yourself some SMART content-related objectives.

Where are the gaps? What is your current content missing. Once you’ve reviewed your current offering you will better be able to identify content gaps. Think about the balance of content you have. For example is your content primarily entertainment – are there ways you can introduce some more informative content to your website. Conversely if you are business-to-business you may find informative and educational comes easily but you could do with a little more content that entertains.

Take a look at Smart Insights Content Matrix – it offers some excellent ideas to help you fill in some of those content gaps to give your business a better balance of online content.

How are you going to achieve your goals and objectives?  This is where you take all the information you have gleaned from above and put it into a workable content plan with a schedule of actions for the forthcoming year. If you have a content plan in place you are far more likely to stick to it and focus on achieving the actual objectives you have set out.

Content Image 6 practical tips for more effective online content

To get you started we’ve highlighted a few key areas you could  consider improving to help build your online content.

1.Product pages

Product pages can easily be overlooked but actually they are a critical part of your customers’ experience on your website. Your product descriptions are a good way to start improving your content. Make sure your product descriptions are written with your customers in mind. What information are they looking for to help them make that all important purchasing decision? Think about what keywords and phrases customers might  use when searching for that particular product.

Whatever you do don’t just use the product description provided by the manufacturer (search engines don’t like replicated copy).  Rewrite the descriptions to them to make them original and customer friendly – it’s a great way to provide some unique, fresh and relevant copy to your website..

2. Blogging

If you haven’t already started a blog for your business then it is time to think seriously about setting one up. Blogging is a great way to support your SEO efforts. A good blog provides you with regular, unique, fresh and interesting content. It also helps drive traffic to your site and increases engagement amongst your customers.

Still not convinced?  Then take a look at these impressive statistics from The Blog Economy:

  • Small businesses with blogs generate 126% more leads
  • Companies that blog have 97% more inbound links
  • Websites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages
  • 81% of consumers trust advice and information from blogs.

And, if you are not quite sure where to start then take a look at our helpful blog article ‘How to start a successful blog for your online business’.

3. Video

Visual content is playing an increasingly important part of ecommerce content strategy – and for good reason. Search engines like visual media such as video content so it is great for your SEO purposes. Of course we only need to see the phenomenal success of YouTube to see how is popular a medium it is amongst consumers.

Digital Sherpa provides some interesting video marketing statistics :

  • Video increases people’s understanding of your product and service by 74%
  • 50% of users watch business related videos on YouTube once a week
  • Your website is 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of a search engines result page if it includes a video.

Have a think of a suitable way you can use video for you business. For example a video tutorial is a great way to show customers how to assemble or use a product. And, if you want to build your ‘brand personality’ video can be a great way to your business a face. You could use video  in your email mail as way to entice customers to your website. Indeed, an introductory company email that includes a video receives an increase in click-through rate by 96%.

4. Informative content

Having content that ‘educates’ and ‘convinces’ is an important part of offering balanced online content. This content tends to be more authoritative and informative; for example –  industry trends, whitepapers, news articles, demo-videos, infographics, business guides, research reports and press releases . If you have them make them available to view on your website, if you don’t then think about implementing some.

5. User generated content

User generated content is another excellent way of introducing new and unique content to your site. By this I mean opening up your business to content that is generated by your customers such as customer reviews, blog comments or community forums. Search engines like user generated content:

“According to the latest ecommerce SEO trends, the more your brand, products or links are discussed by commenters across the Internet (including your own site), the better your page ranking will be. Google has increased its focus on these conversational searches because, as hinted above, comments and reviews are much harder to fake or manufacture in high numbers than other types of content.” Volume 9 

So be open to including user-generated content on your site. Do remember though if you are going to accept user-generated content,  you will need to regularly monitor it.  It is a good idea to introduce some guidelines  that visitors wishing to comment online must adhere to or risk being removed – such as not accepting the use of profanities, posting explicit photos or images, any bullying behaviour or derogatory comments.

6. Content that entertains

Having more interactive, entertaining content is a good way to draw customers to your business. It is often the case that business-to-consumer companies often find this type of content generation comes a bit more naturally than business to business companies.

Because business-to-business companies may find it slightly harder they may fall a bit short on more ‘entertaining’ content.  It is as all about creating a good balance of content therefore interspersing more informative content  with a bit of  ‘entertaining’ content is a good idea. If you are business-to-business think about including more light-hearted content such competitions, quizzes, community forums or video.

 

ID-100253237Finally – don’t forget to alert customers to all your great content!

So you have implemented some great new online content, the next thick is content distribution. How are you going to alert people to your content? Content is a great way to drive new traffic into your website so you need to bring it to the attention of your customers and potential customers.

“Interesting content is one of the top three reasons people follow brands on social media” The Blog Economy

Use an integrated approach to market your content, if possible use both online and offline methods. For example if you’ve posted a new blog article then tell people in an email alert and on your social media sites with a link to the article. Great content will draw people in – you just need to bring it to your customers attention.

“Fulfilling these intents is up to you. Creativity, high-quality writing, use of examples, and inclusion of images and multimedia can all help in crafting content that perfectly matches a searcher’s goals. Your reward is satisfied searchers who demonstrate their positive experience through engagement with your site or with links to it.” MOZ: Beginners Guide to SEO 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience on this subject so please do leave a comment.

  1. Website, forum, blog signpost image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  2. Catching SEO word image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  3. Start business image courtesy of kashasa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  4. Announcement Quote image courtesy of 2nix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to optimise your landing pages and increase conversions

Apollo moon landing

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good landing.

Landing pages play an integral role in maximizing online conversions. Yet, a surprising number of small online businesses overlook their importance.  A good landing page should engage your visitor, generate a response, increase conversions, answer your customer’s information needs, reduce your ‘bounce’ rate and support your brand.

“Landing pages can be described as the entrance doors to a website that only selected customers are directed to” (Gay et al, Online Marketing, 2007)

Put simply, your landing page is the destination web page a customer arrives at when they click on a link – usually from a marketing communication or referring site. The landing page, the page on which your customer enters your website, is incredibly important as it is often the first impression that they get of your business.

Do you recognise this all too familiar scenario? You spend time putting together a fantastic offer and communicate it effectively to your customers via a great, targeted email campaign.  Your customer, enticed by your exciting offer, clicks on the link through to your website – then inexplicably exits your website immediately? So what might be going wrong? One possibility could be down to the web page you have sent your recipient to – the landing page.

Exit signBounce rate – how are your landing pages performing?

“In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave “instantly”. Thought about from a customer perspective rather than I came, I saw, I conquered, the action is I came, I saw, Yuck, I am out of here.” Avinash Kaushik

The bounce rate is a really useful measurement to use when you are evaluating the effectiveness of your landing pages. Your bounce rate is essentially the number of customers who arrive at your website then leave immediately – without looking at any other pages. The basic rule of thumb is the lower the bounce rate the better. A high bounce rate may suggest some issues with your landing page.

A good starting point is to look at your Google Analytics (or equivalent) Landing Page report and look at the landing pages with the highest bounce rate. From here you can visit those landing pages and review what might not be working so well – unrelated or irrelevant content, no call to action, confusing format and so on.

So what is an average bounce rate to measure your performance against? Actually, an average bounce rate is difficult to pin down as it will differ for industry and web page type (for example a contact us page is automatically going to have a high bounce rate due to the nature of it use – in fact a high bounce rate in this case would indicate your contact page is doing its job). However to give you a ball park figure , Google put the average around 40%-60% so this is probably a good starting point to begin with.

“According to Google the average bounce rate for most sites falls in the range of 40% – 60%.  If your site bounce rate is below 40% you are doing well and if it’s above 60% then you definitely need to find out why”. Anders Analytics

Welcome mat imageWhat makes a good landing page?

So, your hard work has paid off. You have successfully grabbed your customer’s attention and they’ve clicked through to your site. How then do you make sure you don’t lose them? The first thing to remember is that the page your customer arrives at may be the first experience they have had of your website. You need to make them feel welcome and reassure them they’ve arrived at the right place.

1. Create different, campaign specific landing pages

Often the first place that visitors are automatically directed to is the home page, and sometimes this is appropriate. However, the problem with the home page is that due to the broad  job it has to do, it can’t be very message specific. This can make  it difficult to develop a customer’s interest and elicit a particular response.

You need to consider where it is the customers is coming from – be it an email newsletter, search engine, social media site or a specific marketing promotion – and direct your customers to a landing page that is appropriate to the message being communicated. For example if your customer has been enticed by a special promotional offer, then you should have a specific landing page dedicated to that offer. The landing page should enable the customer to easily find out further information about the offer and there should be a clear call to action.

2. Think about it from your customer’s point of view.  

Before you write the copy for your landing page, think about what it is that will drive your customer to click-through to your website. What link has bought them to you – what are they expecting to find? You then need to write your copy accordingly. Your landing pages should provide additional, relevant information to your searchers based on the offer or referring site that they have just clicked through on.

3. Have a clear and specific message

Make sure that the message you are conveying to your customer is clear, targeted and specific. Don’t get distracted and try to be all things to all people. Keep your message concise, relevant and to the point.

4. Have recognisable and consistent branding

Make sure your landing page reflects your brand and is consistent with the rest of your website – even if your landing page is just temporary for a time-specific promotion. Remember, even if your ultimate objective is conversion, you must try to ensure all visitors (even those who choose not to convert at this time) have a positive experience. As we mentioned earlier, this maybe your users’ first time on your website and so you need to create a good first impression if you want them to come back.

5. Clear and easy call to action

Make it as easy as possible for your visitors to convert. Your call to action should be obvious and it should be easy for your customer to respond to. If you’ve got them this far, you don’t want to put them off with a complicated call to action or a request for too much information. The more straightforward it is, the more likely it is you’ll get that conversion.

6. Well thought out page design and layout

As with any other web page, think carefully about page design and layout. It should be easy to navigate, user-friendly (for example how easy is it for your user to complete an action?) and visually appealing.

I’ll leave you with some solid landing page advice from Web Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik on improving your bounce rate:

“If you want to have high performing web pages make sure that you:

1. Have a clear understanding of what the purpose of that page is and

2a. a clearer understanding of what drove customers to the page and

2b. what they want to accomplish to ensure that

3. #1 and #2 are in alignment.”

We’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so please do leave a comment.

Exit sign image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome mat image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Small business guide to marketing planning part 3: Objectives and strategy

world map and compassTo give your business direction and enable it to move forward, you need to have a clear idea of your goals, objectives and strategy . You may have a general idea of where you’d like your business to be in one, two or five years time, but without setting specific targets you may find you lose track of where you’re going and have no way to measure the success of what you are doing.

So, welcome to part 3 of our small business guide to marketing planning. In Part 1, we  looked at the importance of marketing planning and how using a framework such as SOSTAC can help you build your small business marketing plan. Part 2 discussed the first step in marketing planning – situational analysis and examined the question ‘Where are you now?’ This post looks at the importance of  setting objectives and how to formulate your strategy by thinking about ‘Where do you want to be?’ and ‘How do you want to you get there?’

Where do you want to be?

Having undertaken your situational analysis you should have a pretty solid idea about where your business currently stands. You’ll have a good understanding of your customers, the marketplace and your competitors.  You’ll also be aware of  your business’ strengths and weaknesses, alongside any opportunities or threats that may be on the horizon. All this analysis will help you mould your goals and objectives. These may include wider, long-term goals such as your business mission and vision as well as more specific short to medium term objectives.

So for example; say your situational analysis has identified that one of your weaknesses is that you have only a small database of prospective clients,  one of your goals over the year is likely to be to grow your database. Put into a specific short-term objective that you can focus your strategy and tactics around, your objective could be something along the lines of:

  • To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014.

SMART objectives

To make you your objectives both useful and relevant, you need to make them SMART. This way it is clear to everybody what the target you are progressing towards is.

  • Specific – objectives should be detailed and specific to a particular area – not vague or wishy-washy as that will make them impossible to measure.
  • Measurable – the objective should be able to be quantified.
  • Achievable – is the objective likely to be achieved or have you overestimated targets?
  • Realistic – do you have the resources, time, budget to make the objective happen?
  • Timely – you need to have a specific target time frame to work to.

How do you get there?

Now you know ‘where you want to be’ through setting clear goals and objectives, you need to think about how you’re going to get there. Strategy is driven by your situational analysis and is essentially about how you intend to go about meeting the objectives you’ve set.  So in our example our objective was to increase the number of contacts on our database. Therefore we are likely to want to drive more traffic to our website, which may well mean improving our search engine visibility and ranking. Our strategy will be thinking about the best ways to do this. This may include looking at:

  • Customer segmentation and target marketing strategy. Probably the key element when formulating your strategy is your customers and segmenting them into clearly defined customer groups by identifying the different behaviour and needs of each group. You will have looked at segmenting your customers as part of your situational analysis, so your strategy should then focus on how you intend to target your marketing to each customer segment.
  • Your positioning and OVP ( Online Value proposition): Where is your business positioned within the market and what is it that makes your e-commerce offering stand out from your competitors? How can you exploit this to your advantage?
  • Content strategy:  So if your strategy is to drive traffic to your website,  you will want to improve your search engine ranking and therefore you will need to look at SEO (search engine optimisation) . Content is absolutely central to SEO And so you will need to think about ways to improve your online content.

Your strategy is all about what actions are you going to undertake to ensure you achieve you objectives.  Your next step will be defining the tactics you are going to use (the tactics element of the SOSTAC framework will be part 4 of our marketing planning guide).

So, how does all this fit into the SOSTAC framework?

Going back to our earlier example objective of growing our prospective database, lets look at it in the context of the SOSTAC  framework :

Situational Analysis

1. Where are you now?

SWOT analysis  identified that the current prospects database was poor

Objectives

2. Where do you want to be?

SMART objective: To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014

Strategy

3. How do we get there?

 Strategy: To drive traffic to our website in order to data capture new names and achieve our objective of growing our prospects database by 25%.

Tactics

4. How exactly do we get there?

What marketing tactics will we use in order to drive traffic to our website and data capture new names for our database?

Actions

5. What is our plan – who is going to do what and when?

Who is taking responsibility for our tactics. What is the schedule and timeframe required in order to meet our objective’s deadline? What is the budget? What resources do we have?

Control

6. How are we going to measure our success?

We need to be able to measure our performance through analysis such as, KPI, web analytics, conversion rates in order to be able clearly measure whether we have met our objectives.

Part 4 of our Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning will be looking at marketing tactics.

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

How to start a successful blog for your online business

Blog definition imageAs a small business or start-up you may be toying with the idea of creating a blog for your business. But perhaps you are not quite sure of how to get started or how to make certain your content is interesting and engaging. In this post we’ll give you some top tips to get you on your way and blogging like a pro.

The benefits a great blog can bring

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, quality content is central to the success of so much of the marketing you undertake as an online business.  A blog is a genuinely effective way of creating engaging content for you site. Still not quite convinced? Then check out the statistics obtained an info-graphic from Ignite Spot :

  • Small business with blogs generate 126% more leads
  • Interesting content is one of the top 3 reasons people follow brands on social media
  • Companies that blog have 97% more inbound links

Where should you start?

A sensible place to start is by looking at other blogs, including some within your own industry. This will give you a feel for typical formats, content and styles of writing that are out there, giving you a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. The next step is to get some blogging software. There are plenty of great blogging services that are quick to set up and straightforward to use. It is worth doing a bit of research to get the right software for your needs. Popular free services include Google’s Blogger (you will just need to set up a Google account) and WordPress.  Equally, your current website platform probably also offers a blogging service. Don’t forget to make sure you customise a URL for your blog and  host it off your website, otherwise you won’t get the SEO benefits.

Top tips for writing an engaging blog

  • Content: I would argue that the most important tip  to remember is that a successful blog is all about content. Your blog is not the place to be aggressively selling your products or services. It should be aimed at your customers and prospects – what kind of information would they would find  useful and interesting?  For example if you owned a florist shop you might choose to write about  tips on how to arrange flowers in a vase or how to keep cut flowers fresh for longer. You are aiming to be seen as an expert in your relevant field through providing informative and  engaging information that readers will hopefully share with others.
  • Topics: So how do you come up with great topics and ideas to blog about? Taking a look other business blogs in your industry is a good way to generate ideas – then think about how you can approach the topic from a different angle. Popular blogs include problem solving posts like how to guides, breaking news, pro’s and con’s posts (for example, going back to our florist shop the pro’s and con’s of fresh versus dried flowers for table centrepieces) or list posts such as 10 top tips for better time management, or 20 tips to beat the Christmas rush.
  • Headline: Spend time on your headline. As with most copy, your headline is a really important part of the blog. It is what often makes people decide if they want to read on. A good way to start a headline is to think about the keywords and keyphrases a customer or prospect might type into a search engine to find the kind of information you are writing about in your blog post.
  • Conversational:  You should try to make your tone friendly and conversational. Remember, you are trying to build a relationship with your audience so start by writing in first person using ‘I’ and ‘you’. It comes across as much more personable than writing in third person (this is not to say that there aren’t times when writing in third person is appropriate).
  • Share information:  Don’t  be afraid to share relevant and informative links to sources of  information you think your customers might find interesting or useful, such as statistics, infographics, publications or websites.
  • Open links in new windows : If you are including outbound links in your blog make sure you open them in a new window so your reader isn’t  taken away from your post permanently and are able to get back to your blog easily.
  • Post regularly: You don’t have to blog everyday – unless the mood takes you that is! But it is important that once you start a blog you need to keep posting regularly. It doesn’t do much for your brand image if a visitor arrives on your blog page and sees that your last post was six months ago. If you are pressed for time why not see if you have some  affiliates or contacts who might like to write a guest blog for you now and then?
  • How long?: Don’t get too worked up about how long your blog should be,  you will probably find the length will be dictated by the topic area you are writing about. It is the quality of the content that you should focus on rather than worrying about the quantity. If you do find your post  getting too lengthy then maybe it’s an area that lends itself to a series of related posts. However, if you are just starting out and want a bit of a guideline then an average  post is probably anywhere between 300-800 words.
  • Quality: Check your grammar and spelling. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because blogs usually have a less formal tone than other types of content poor spelling, punctuation and grammar don’t matter – they do. A slapdash post will reflect badly on your brand.
  • Feedback: Try and close your post by asking your readers to comment and if they do then reply back, as it is a good way to encourage engagement with your customers.
  • Images: ‘A picture paints a thousand words’. Images are really important.  A strong, relevant image can pull a reader in to your post. Plus, you get the added bonus of using these engaging images to help promote your post on sites like Pinterest.
  • Tagging and Categorizing: Keyword and keyphrase tagging and categorising will help potential readers find your blog post more easily. So for example for this post I could categorise it under ‘marketing for small businesses’ and ‘digital marketing’ and my tags could include keywords and keyphrases like ‘how to write a blog’, ‘SEO’ and ‘online content’.
  • Promote: Spread the word! You’ve just invested your time in writing a great blog post so make sure you tell customers and potential customers about it. Use your social media pages and email newsletters to promote your latest blog with a small paragraph about your blog’s content, a good visual and the link to the post.

Be patient!

Finally don’t forget, building up leads and links takes time. But is worth it – according to statistics from Traffic Generation Café  when you’ve written over 52 posts on your blog, traffic increases by up to 77%.

“Once you write 24-51 posts, your blog traffic generation starts to grow. That’s probably how long it takes to build a blog with enough pages to get indexed by Google and attract links from other sites as well as visitors.”

 So do persevere as evidence continues to show it really is well worth the effort!

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marketing for small businesses: how to write a successful online news release

online press releaseThe benefits of writing online news releases

Written and distributed correctly, online news releases can be an effective marketing tool for your business. News releases can:

  • Keep your customers, potential customers and industry contacts informed of developments within your business
  • help drive traffic to your site, since fresh, relevant, quality content improves SEO
  • build credibility and awareness of your brand.

When to use news releases and what to write about

Traditionally press releases were sent or faxed to key media contacts and fingers crossed, they would be picked up by a journalist and published through traditional media channels. The web has changed all that by providing businesses with the opportunity to widen their news release audience – enabling their releases to directly reach customers, prospective customers, news sites, bloggers and search engines as well as journalists.

In ‘New Rules of Marketing and PR’ (Scott,D.M 2010) Scott suggests that businesses should:

  • Send news releases frequently – not only when there is really big news
  • Create releases that appeal directly to buyers – not just a small group of journalists
  • Write releases using copy that is rich in keywords and phrases
  • Optimise news release delivery for searching and browsing

So what should you proactively be writing about? For a press release to be newsworthy, the ‘news’ doesn’t always need to be huge. For example you could write a timely news release on:

  • the launch of a new product, feature or service
  • an upgrade to a feature, product or service
  • a new business partnership or affiliation
  • market research findings
  • a new employee announcement
  • company news such as expansion, a special event, a move to new premises, the receipt of an award or anniversary
  • community involvement such as working alongside the community or a charity.

Standard news release format

The format for a news release is fairly standard. Press release distribution agencies may vary the format slightly, but the key elements remain the same. Make sure you follow a standardised format as it will give your release credibility and increase the chances of getting it picked up and published. A typical format would include:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  These words should appear in the top left hand corner of your release

Headline:  This needs to grab readers attention so make it  strong and engaging – but try to keep it short (remember search engines have limits to the number of characters they display in a headline)

Dateline:  For example: Bristol, UK, 1st October 2013

Body:

Opening paragraph. This should be a short, lead paragraph that captures your reader’s attention and  tells the reader succinctly what your news is – remember the who, what, when, where, why rules.

Centre paragraphs. This is where you tell your news release story. Use statistics and resources here to support your release.

Final Paragraph – This is a summary paragraph where you restate the key points of your overall press release. You can also provide an opportunity for the reader to obtain more information.

Boiler Plate:  This contains the background information about the companies or organisations featured in the press release

Contact information: This should include contact person, company name, phone, fax, email and actual address

### or ENDS:  This indicates that it is the end of the release

Do’s and Don’ts when writing a press release

Do keep it in third person and write objectively

Do keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Remember your press release should be between 300-800 words – no longer

Do use headings and sub headings

Do proofread your release. Check and double-check for grammar and spelling mistakes

Do keep it professional –  a news release is not the place for informal communication

Do include supporting resources –  such as relevant statistics, quotes, infographics and links to source materials

Do use images, graphics, and bullet points to break up text

Do use keywords and phrases that are relevant to your topic area

Don’t  use the words ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ unless it’s within a quotation – remember you are not writing sales or marketing copy.

Don’t use  a news release as an advertisement  tool

Don’t  keyword stuff  or use excessive links (search engines will pick up on this as spam)

Don’t include any information that isn’t timely or accurate

Don’t use excessive technical or industry jargon (if you do remember you are writing for a broad audience so explain jargon where necessary)

Don’t put email addresses in the body of the press release (search engines will pick up on this as spam)

Don’t use all CAPITAL letters, exclamation points or deliberately exaggerated words (such as ‘amazing’ or ‘astonishing’)  to emphasise anything

Distributing your online news release

You can distribute your own press releases by building up a database of relevant industry contacts. Alternatively you could use a press release distribution company, such as PRWEB, Businesswire or  Online PR Media. They will distribute your news release to their large networks of news sites and search engines on your behalf.

You should also make sure you have a news or press release area on your website. This is where you put your releases, ideally in date order with latest news at the top. Then proactively promote your news release to your customers. For example put a link to the latest news on your news page in your email newsletter and on your social media sites.

Content, Content, Content…

Essentially a successful press release comes down to quality content. It is only through providing newsworthy, relevant and engaging content that your release will get found, read, posted on Facebook, retweeted and blogged about.

 

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

7 website essentials for a successful online presence

Web Design Button on Keyboard The basic principles of good website design are universal, regardless of whether your website is a small brochure-only site or an all singing, all dancing interactive experience.  Understanding and implementing the following suggestions will help result in a positive online experience for your customers’ which in turn leads to the increased likelihood of sales and repeat visits for you.

Whether you are building the website yourself, outsourcing development to a web designer or reviewing your current online presence, an understanding of what makes for a good website is essential. By combining a number of key elements you are more likely to create a successful commercial website.

1. Start with your website goals

Before you begin have a good think about what it is you want from your website – what purpose does it need to serve? Are you looking to sell your products online and therefore need it to be e-commerce enabled? Do you need a site that serves as an online showcase or catalogue for all your products? Or is it primarily an additional channel to enable customers to contact you? It is important to have a clear idea about your website’s objectives prior to embarking on any design and development.

Navigation hand with compass2. Navigation

Navigation is essentially how simple it is for the end user – your customer –  to move around your website. Can your customer get to the information they are looking for within a few clicks?  The more complicated it gets the higher the likelihood that your customer gets lost, gives up and abandons your website.  A good rule of thumb is to try to keep the number of clicks it takes to reach any piece of information to a minimum and to make sure your menu arrangements, page layouts and signposts are clear and logical.

3. Usability

Usability is a test of how straightforward it is for a user to complete an action on your website such as purchase a product, fill in a registration form or book an appointment. Your customer should be able to complete these tasks efficiently and effectively. Get people to test your site  – not just you or your web designers – but people who are representative of a typical user of your site. Ask them to perform specific task whilst you observe how easy it is for them to complete the process. You can then identify where, if necessary, changes need to be made.

Hands catching TRUST letters4. Credibility

Does your website make a customer feel secure enough to feel confident about completing a transaction on your site? Or does it make them leave to find a site that feels more trustworthy? In addition to making sure your security credentials are clear to see, there are lots of other things you can do to build-up credibility and trust online. For example make sure customers can get in contact with you easily and that your organisational details (registered address, VAT no. etc) are available. Content should be accurate, up-to-date and error free (no matter how small, errors make your site look unprofessional). Include testimonials or client lists and deal with queries any quickly and efficiently. Essentially make sure your site, no matter how small, looks and feels professional.

5. Accessibility

Accessibility is a central requirement for your website. Legislation states that your website needs to be accessible to everyone. Your customers should be able to interact with your website regardless any disabilities they may have. A full checklist of guidelines for website design and HTML coding is available from the World Wide Web Consortium, following is a link that gives you a useful overview of the guidelines. http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/ Another aspect of accessibility you need to consider is that your website can be viewed equally well from any device, whether it is a laptop, desktop, iPad, or a handheld mobile device.

6. Content

61% of global internet users use the internet to research products online (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012).   Don’t underestimate the importance of quality content and clear, concise copy on your website. Your customer has come to your website to look for specific information and so you need to ensure that the content on your website is accurate, informative and reflects your customer’s information needs. How your content is presented is equally important; visually it must be clear and easy to find. And, don’t forget to continuously keep your content fresh and up-to-date.

“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” Steve Krug, Don’t Make me Think: A Common Sense Guide to Usability 

People read information differently online, they tend to scan information and jump around  the page. Users are unlikely to read through reams of text.  It is therefore essential you keep your copy concise and to the point using key words and phrases that customers are likely to pick up on. Your page layouts should be clean and clear, so it is easy for your customers to scan the page and find the information they are looking for – quickly.

Sitemap image7. Design and structure

‘Keep it simple, keep it stupid’ Bryan Eisenberg

A sensible approach when looking at the design and structure of your website is ‘simplicity is best’. Everything should be self-evident to customers so they don’t have to think too hard about anything. Here is a link to a useful article by Bryan Eisenberg that despite being written well over 10 years ago gives some helpful website design advice – much of which is still relevant today.  For example:

  • Make sure everything is obvious to the end-user
  • Do not assume your customer is an expert user
  • Keep everything short, sweet and to the point
  • Use simple and consistent navigation

The key things to think about are how the overall structure of your site works, individual page design (paying particular attention to your landing pages) and how you present your content to your users. Make sure your website is visually attractive and remember, if an image is appropriate then ‘ a picture paints a thousands words’.  The effective use of  relevant visuals can engage a user and reinforce a message.

Finally, remember to always keep your end customer in mind and try to think about  the points we have listed above as a useful checklist that will help create and maintain your online presence.