We know you have technology issues and questions. Everyone does! And we also know that you may not have access to the people and resources who can answer those questions and resolve those issues. That’s why we’d like to invite you to our monthly online business owners’ roundtable,ORBIT, designed to help small businesses like yours blast their online presence into the future. Sign-up here, it’s free
ORBIT provides a fun, informal and congenial online forum for business owners (beginners to advanced) to openly discuss ANY and all web and technology-related issues specific to their small business. Maybe you have a question about search engine ranking, or how to integrate e-mail marketing into your existing online presence, or maybe you just have a general technology problem or question that you’d like to “put out there” for feedback.Bring your questions and you’ll receive concrete feedback on how to make the web work better for you and create a web presence that rocks!
Each month one participant will have the opportunity to submit their website for review by the group, and engage in a roundtable discussion format that explores that particular websiteâ€™s usability, search engine ranking, local marketing, and more.
The next ORBIT sessions are scheduled for Thursday, October 28th + December 30th, from 3:30 PM until 4:30 PM, and will be co-hosted by Birgit Pauli-Haack, Founder & CEO of Pauli Systems, LC, and Jane Freitas, Director of Operations, Pauli Systems, LC.
Login information for this online session will be sent the week prior to the scheduled date, to all registrants.
Some of us are happy to share links, videos, information, and quotes with our friends on Facebook, and some of us are also active in various online communities that have Facebook pages. More frequently, I find myself in the situation that I am sharing connected information over more than one page, and with my own personal friends. And, you might have seen that other people tag friends in photos. You can do that also in posts.
To do some cross-posting, I am using Facebook “tagging”, which creates an informational posting, and links it to other organizations’ pages. For a while now, Facebook lets you tag people in posts, as well. As an example, below, I am tagging my friend Mary Rack, with whom I share a great passion for technology:
How do you tag people?
First, make sure you are actually friends with the person. The, start writing your post. When you are the spot where you would like to add the link, type an @? and immediately start typing part of the name of your friend. Facebook will suggest as you add characters to the string and give you a list of four suggestions, matching your typed string.
List for @Ma:
List for @Mar:
List for @Mary:
The list changed as I progressed typing. At first I was a little confused, until I noticed that Facebook doesn’t make more than four suggestions at a time. When I got to the full first name, the choices became much more relevant; I really didn’t have to type the full name, I just selected the correct one:
And was back in the post box. After I selected the right entry, the system replaced the @Mary with the full name and a link to my friend’s profile page:
I was able to continue with my post. Once I hit the Share? button, the post was visible on my wall and when people hover over the link with their mouse, they will see a little pop-up box with some information.
As a second consequence, the post also shows up on the tagged person’s wall, too. Through “tagging”, you can cross-post, and you can make connections and form your network of information and friends.
When does tagging not work?
The tagged person is not your friend
The tagged person’s privacy settings are set so that other people can not tag him/her
In your comment on posts
The post is sent through 3rd party connections, like Twitter, Hootsuite, Seesmic or Foursquare, to name just a few
Your own privacy settings do not allow for sharing with others
Conclusion: To rise above the noise and to make your post and sharings on Facebook more inclusive, use tagging for a more richer connection. You spin your own web among your friends and introduce your friends to each other by sharing common interest.
In another post, we talked about blogging as a format you can use to build website content, including some back-to-the-basics info onwhat a blog is, tips for getting started and avoiding blogger’s burnout. Here, we’ll focus on the software available, and how to determine the best fit for your needs.
Bottom line, the type of blog software you choose is mainly dependent upon the current state of the rest of your online presence. If you have static web pages, you might want to consider using a self-hosted WordPress installation. This would allow you to easily convert your static pages and start blogging in a short period of time. What’s more, the chances are good that your current website design can be transscribed by your designer into a WordPress theme.
However, if you have already a fairly expansive website built on top of a content management system (CMS), you can ask your web developer about integrating their favorite blog software with your website. He or she will probably be able to offer you several options to choose from. For example, our CMS, Pauli Systems – Community Suite, includes membership administration, photo galleries, and an events calendar feature, and integrates very well with open source blog software that is developed in the same programming language. And, the layout can be seamlessly integrated.Â
Here are the must-have features for blog software:
Auto-creation of RSS feeds
Auto-creation of archive pages by date, by categories, by authors
A widget section and ability to have 3rd party code displayed from Flickr, YouTube, e-mail signup forms and recent posts
WYSIWYG editor for content production and formatting
Easy upload feature for images
Comment administration with moderation and spam prevention
Effective creation of meta tags for description and page title to be visible for search engineâ€™s and optimized for social media sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others
A closing thought:
With more frequent updates on your blog and, therefore, your website, you will increase the visibility of your company on search engines for various keywords. Make sure you are able to benefit from it and have your domain name be part of your blog’s address. For example, Â blog.mycompany.com, or www.mycompany.com/blog is fine, as well. Keep in mind that if you use a service such as WordPress.com or blogspot.com, they will benefit from increased search engine visibility, not you and your business.
Small business owners can spend an insane amount of time creating and building website content that relates to their products or services. (As if you need to be reminded of that, right?) Yet, with all the time spent doing so, you may not be fully capitalizing on the very content you are so carefully trying to build and cultivate.
Over a few different posts, we will explore various ways you can put a fresh spin on your content, with tips for easily reformatting and presenting information to your valued customers in a variety of different ways. What’s in it for me, you ask? The answer is that different formats will often appeal to new and different audiences (= new customers). In this post, we’ll take a closer look at blogging, and how a blog feature can add a dynamic, interactive twist to your website content.
You, too, can blog!
Build a following by blogging about what you know best…your business and industry! Blog posts can also provide a great introduction to educational articles. Bloggers can also editorialize articles by injecting opinions or commenting about the information contained in the article, (and who doesn’t want to get their opinion heard?).Â
First, let’s talk about the basics — what is a blog? A blog is a type of website that is usually arranged in chronological order from the most recent˜post” (or entry) at the top of the main page, to the older posts towards the bottom. Blogs are usually written by one person, (but maybe more, such as the blog you are reading right now), and are updated on a regular basis. Blogs are usually written on a particular topic there are blogs on virtually any topic you can think of. From photography, to spirituality, to recipes, to personal diaries to hobbies “ blogging has as many applications and varieties as you can imagine. Blogs put people into contact with each other to learn, share ideas, make friends with, and even do business with, people who have similar interests. So, an important feature of a blog is the ability for readers to submit comments related to the posts in the blog. Remember a blog is not a monologue but a conversation. Your readers can give you feedback on what you write, by leaving comments on each of the individual posts. Typically, there is a ‘comments’ link or button that will take your readers to a form where they can leave their name, e-mail and, of course, their feedback, comments, critiques, questions, etc.
Now that you know what a blog is, is it the right format for you to build content? One question to ask yourself isÂ “what should my blog be about”? To answer that question, think about what YOU or your business are about. In other words, identify what your interests are, what your area of expertise is, what you’re passionate about, and what you’d be energized to write about on a very regular basis. It will be much easier to commit to building a blog, (it takes time to get a following), if you can see yourself writing about a topic you have a deep-rooted interest in. And, your readers will be able to quickly figure out if you are interested in what you’re writing about — if you’re not, why should they be? And, let’s not forget about the importance of educating people about the work you do. The more they know about what you do, the services you provide, etc., they will appreciate it more, and, in turn, the Â more valuable it becomes to them, as well.
Of course, you’ll need to determine if there is enough fresh material for you to build content around, and keep growing your blog. Will you run out of things to say? You’ll want to consider if you have enough content within yourself to keep the conversation going, and where you can tap into other sources for inspiration when needed, (i.e., online news, other industry-related websites, and blog sources such as Technorati).
Once you start blogging, you’ll want to avoid the dreaded “blogger burnout”. Â Here are some tips to stay in the game:
1. Blog what you love: Staying motivated is a whole lot easier when you’re constantly thinking about, and dealing with the topic you blog about. If you love your topic, you’ll find it easier to think up content ideas, engage with readers, and establish a warm and welcoming voice that encourages rapport and develops readership.
2. Take it one step at a time: When you start a blog, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the things you feel you should be doing to help it grow. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done yet, spend time each week assessing the things you have done, and considering ways to build on those results. If you’re going to avoid burnout, you need to be kind to yourself. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to tell yourself it’s too hard, you don’t have time, and to give up.
3. Plan, plan, plan: If you haven’t already, develop a flexible, but clear plan of attack for building up your blog’s content and reach. A focused plan will help you to keep your expectations of yourself in check, and to test and assess the results of what you do. This kind of periodic review will give you information that you can feed back into your efforts to make each new promotional approach more successful, and helps you avoid the must-do-everything-now, no target approach that quickly exhausts even the most motivated blogger. As you plan, you’ll likely identify some easy wins ” things that you expect will be fulfilling or gratifying on some level. Perhaps these are tasks that will pull in a lot of readers, or maybe you just know you’ll really enjoy doing them. Try to space these jobs so that when the going gets tough, you know you have a favourite task just around the corner. This can make a big difference to your motivation over time.
4. Allow for downtime: Once you’ve got a plan, fit some downtime into it. Make sure you’re not always operating at breakneck speed, or that if you are, it’s only for a short, manageable period. Be sure to build in time out for family and friends, and to be flexible about your schedule. Above all, let yourself really enjoy that time off ” don’t spend it guiltily obsessing about all the things you should be doing to build your blog.
5. Realize that everyone has bad days: It’s true. Some of us even have bad weeks! And months. It doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel or that you don’t have what it takes. Of course you have it ” the thing is, you need to manage it to get the most out of it. If you have a bad day, don’t beat yourself up. Accept that this is part of life.
Now that you know what a blog is, and have some tips for getting started and avoiding burnout, you’ll want to select the type of blog software that’s right for you. A future post will explore some different blog software options, including a list of “must have” features. Stay tuned…
Jennifer Marquis-Muradaz, video producer & director on Team Pauli Systems teaches Digital Video classes at Edison State College, Ft. Myers Campus. Her “Making the Documentary” class starts on October 13th for eight Wednesdays.
Students interested in writing, producing and/or directing documentary films will be introduced to the basics of documentary-making in this eight week course. Students will watch and study documentary films of varying styles and participate in the assembly of an in-class documentary using interview, radio and video footage and other print research materials. Students will also develop aÂ working plan for a documentary of their own.
Class 1: The purpose of the script, writing the proposal, research
Class 2: Shaping the film, beginning and completing the first draft
Class 3: Budget and contract; preproduction
Class 4: Directing, directing the interview, and locations
Class 5: Editing and writing the final narration
Class 6: Finishing the film (sound, titles, credits)
Class 7: Cinema Verite vs. Documentary Drama
Class 8: The Historical Documentary; Industrial/PR Films
All materials will be provided by the instructor, but students must have home computers and home internet access in order to download free online screenwriting software. Students highly encouraged to bring laptops to class, if available.
Dates: Wednesday’s (8 week sessions)
October 13th â€“ December 1st, 2010
Time: 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Location: Edison State College, Lee Campus, room to be announced
Jennifer Marquis-Muradaz has a masters degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. She has produced six documentaries, including “Friends of the Good Shepherd Home,” about the plight of Sierra Leone war orphans, “The Making of ” Mickey B,” about the filming of a Shakespearean feature film in a maximum security prison; and “Miracle Making,” about the Miracle Plus after-school program in Immokalee. She also produced two docs about the recovery program of men on probation in Northern Ireland, and executive-produced aÂ doc about the work of these men with Queen’s University social work/criminology students.
Today it takes more than just having a website to make the internet work for your company or organization. Sites are highly competitive, and optimizing site design has become an area of concern to businesses that want to use the internet to its fullest. To help navigate potential design landmines, here are some common website mistakes to take note of (and, avoid!)…
Selecting a not-so-great domain name: Pick a domain name that is memorable and relates to your business or organization. Since people are likely to forget long, non-intuitive names, shorter domain names are typically better. For example, a name like ‘Mary.com’ is too vague and says nothing about the content of the Mary’s website. If Mary’s business is pet sitting services, a better domain name would be ‘MarythePetSitter.com’ — there’s no question as to the service Mary provides. And, make sure you use your domain name in your e-mail address, as well, (i.e., “Mary@MarythePetSitter.com”), for consistency and building “brand” recognition.
Poor design and functionality: Why have a website with great content if your customers and visitors can’t easily access that content? Good design is largely based on consistency. Menus should appear in the same place on every page, links should follow a standard and all be the same color and typeface, and your logo should be clearly visible on all pages.
Too complicated or too slow: Although flash animation may look amazing, it may be too complex for casual internet users. Though ‘looks’ certainly matter, it must be in balance with functionality and ease of use for the typical visitor to your website. Â Also, a more complex design takes longer to load on many computers.
Stagnant site/no new content: Not only is content time-sensitive, so is format and design. It is not cost-effective to create a website and let it sit idle. Update content regularly by incorporating a ‘News’ section. What is ‘news’? Anything you want visitors to your site to know about your organization, its employees, volunteers, or members, that generates interest and enthusiasm for what is happening there on a daily basis. You can then take your news a step further, and integrate with one of the many e-mail marketing services available, such as MailChimp or ConstantContact, to get the message out to a broader audience, on a relular basis. The key is to make sure that news is refreshed often, so your customers and visitors have a reason to return.
Broken links: Make sure every link on your website works. You’ll frustrate and lose visitors quickly if they see a “page not found” error message or find broken or incorrectly labeled links. Perhaps, consider adding a comment form to your site, so visitors can submit suggestions and let you know when they’ve encountered an issue on your website, such as a broken link. This let’s them know you are proactive, and on top of any problems they discover.
No contact information provided: Customers need to be able to contact you with questions, complaints, and suggestions. A ‘Contact Us’ page, which is like a business card for your website, should be available from within any area of your site. Perhaps, also consider adding a “Comments” form, so customers and visitors can submit questions or suggestions online. Of course, be sure to actually answer these messages either personally or through an auto-reply.
Ignoring website statistics: Detailed reports of visitor traffic are available for your website. This service may be offered by your hosting provider, or by leveraging the large search engine mashups of maps, business directories and search engine results, (mashup = a web page or application that combines data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service). Some of the˜players include Google Places, Yahoo Local Listings, andÂ Bing Local Listing Center.By monitoring your statistics (such as how many times users saw your business listing as a local search result, clicks for driving directions, clicks to your website, etc.), you can tailor your marketing and design toward those who visit most, or identify ‘missed opportunities’ based on who you are not attracting.
Ignoring SEO: You want to make sure your pages are designed so that your company or organization shows up high on search engine rankings, (i.e., improve the volume or quality of traffic to your web site). This process is called search engine optimization, or SEO. Keep in mind that SEO is complex. To move up in the listings on Google and other search engines, you may want to hire a professional, especially if your business relies heavily on generating business from the web.
Let’s admit it, we all love news. We love it hot off the press, especially if it’s about something that we are passionate, or have a need to know more about. And, there’s no better way for your customers and potential customers to know more about your latest achievements, projects, products, community-related updates, (in other words, your news), than having a news section on your website, where you can easily post new information right away and on a regular basis.
Think you’re company or organization is too small?’ Think again. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small or multi-million dollar company, your website needs a news section that’s kept fresh and up-to-date. Here are some reasons why¦
1) Which company do you think will have more traffic to its website? A company that shares the latest happenings and innovations within its industry, or a company with a stagnant website, devoid of any news? Your news page shows customers and visitors that you are proud of your achievements, offer an expert point of view, and that you’re always striving to grow and stay ahead of the curve. What is “news”, you ask? Anything you want customers to know about your organization, its employees, volunteers, or members, that generates interest and enthusiasm for what is happening on your turf, on a daily basis. For example, tell people about the cutting edge technology you’re bringing on board to fulfill orders speedier than ever, or share a story about a group of your volunteers who recently spent a weekend laying sod and landscaping a newly rehabbed home, or how one of your Board members spent a month in a developing country helping build an adult learning center. Bottom line — give your online champions (the folks that do business with you) something to talk about and share with their family and friends!
2) It’s another marketing tool in your arsenal! Why did you build your website in the first place? Probably not because I just felt like it?. We are online to promote, market, and profit from the products and services that we offer. To further that cause, you can easily link news and updates to other sectionsÂ and pages on your website, that talk about your projects, products and services. How about sharing customer testimonials and kudos, too? Once you’ve got ’em hooked, keep them there, and keep ’em coming back.
3) Let’s not forget that search engines — Google, bing, Yahoo — love websites with updated and relevant content. Publish new news and updates frequently, and your website will climb up the ranking charts! The higher you’re ranked, the more targeted traffic you amass,which, as we all know, means more success.
And, here’s a useful tip about posting news“
Use links! Link to other pages on your site that have additional information about the topic, or where you have archived old, but relevant news. Use links on your news page to draw your visitors deeper into your site. The depth of information you provide underscores your expertise, making you and your site the go-to-? place on the web for your products or services. And, internal links can support navigation on your site, making it easier for visitors to get to the information they want.
It’s just not clicking. You’ve peppered your website or e-newsletter with lots of links and graphics to support your sizzling content, but no one seems to care, (or, click). What can you do to improve the odds that your links will get noticed and clicked, (and lead your visitors to where you want them to go)? No worries. There are a number of steps a you can take, that will encourage visitors and customers to click on a link or graphic located on your website. Just take a look at the tips below, and try some or all to help get “em clicking”…
Colors – Use contrasting colors for links. This makes the links stand out from other text on a web page. Also, avoid placing links against a patterned background, as it will make it much more difficult for your visitors to read the link text. Bottom line, the link color should stand out from the rest of the web page, and be easy to locate.
Link Traits – Underlining is still the universal indication of a link. Using the “underline” for links will send a clear message to website visitors about which text on the webpage is just text, and which text is actually a hyper-link. And along this line of thought, you should avoid using underlining for text that is not a link, just to avoid confusion.
Visible – It may sound obvious, but make all your links visible. Do not hide the links or navigation on a web page.
Textual – Text links have a higher rate of clicks than linked images. The one exception is typically a “Buy Now” button, which tends to be more effective than text-only “Buy Now” links. Keep this in mind when creating a linking scheme for your website.
Consistent – The location of links should be consistent as the visitor moves from page to page through your website. Do not move links around as the content of the web page changes.
Position – Place important links in a location that is easy for the website visitor to see without having to scroll. Position important links “above the fold” on the website. Above the fold? typically refers to the portions of a webpage that can be visible without scrolling.
Font Style & Size – In order to make links easy for the visitor to see, be sure to use a font style and size that can be easily read. And, of course, be consistent with its use throughout your website.
Graphic Links – If you use image links, the clickable graphics should be vibrant and should stand out from the other content on the page. Use bright or bold contrasting colors for the graphic. Be sure to include appropriate ALT text, (i.e., text that is displayed instead, when an image cannot be displayed), for each linked image, so the visitor will have an indication of the material being linked to as they move their mouse over the graphic. Keep in mind that ALT text is not supposed to literally describe contents of the image — iIt’s supposed to be an alternative for the image, usually stating its purpose. For example, an image of a warning sign should not have the ALT text “a triangle with yellow background, black border and exclamation mark”, but simply “Warning!”.
Fresh Eyes – Ask a friend or family member to navigate your website. It may surprise you to learn what they see and where they click. A fresh set of eyes will give a good indication of how others will perceive your website and the clickable content.
Of course, these tips also apply to the links and graphics included in your e-mail communications and electronic newsletters. Take a look at the examples below; the links are in a contrasting color to the rest of the text, and the universal link trait of underlining is used.
The last two weeks, I have done a considerable amount of teaching, and have participated in numerous discussions related to online presence, websites, and social media. Of course, many questions are centered around the question “how will we get noticed, and what does it cost to get a better ranking on Google?”
PageRank reflects our view of the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that we believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results.
PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value. We have always taken a pragmatic approach to help improve search quality and create useful products, and our technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page’s importance.
My answer is go ask Google. They publish everything they deem important on their website, Google for Webmasters. And, don’t be afraid; most of the information is not technical, but practical and actionable.
How to Get Better Visibility on Google
USA Today interviewed Matt Cutts of Google, to get a primer on the four or five most important things to ensure good Google visibility. This video gets you started in just a few minutes:
SEO Site Review Session from Google I/O 2010
Invest another hour to watch the second video posted here.Â Â Matt Cutts and his team review sites for search engine optimization (SEO) during this year’s Google I/O, the yearly Google developer conference. Again, very interesting insights, and day-to-day questions and answers. Below, we make some of the referenced links available to you, and provide links to Matt Cutt’s and Vanessa Fox’s blogs. If you have questions about your site and would like us to offer some feedback, make sure you post them in the comments section and we will answer.
It’s your jobÂ as the site owner to be aware of these few key topics, so you can assist developers, friends and consultants in doing an optimal job for you. Remember, you are the content provider, and will also be monitoring your website. Here are some additional tools for you, all free all from Google:
Google Webmaster Tools Sign-up for an account, and let Google help you optimize and analyze the performance of your website. Find out what keywords get people to your site, what the back links to your site are, and how the Google crawler sees your site.
Matt Cutt’s Blog on SEO Matt Cutt works for Google Search and shares short articles on search engine optimization (SEO). Both videos in this post show him talking about Google’s search engine behavior.
Vanessa Fox’s Nine By Blue Vanessa Fox developed Google Webmaster Central while working for Google. She is now head of the company, NineByBlue, which consults in online branding and optimizing reach for target audiences.
Your website is your organization’s greatest communication platform. Competition can copy everything you have, but it cannot copy who you are. Let your ‘brand’ shine! Connect to customers, potential members, etc., online with content that focuses on their needs, provides them with information, and communicates the benefits your products and services provide.
Fresh content personalizes your online presence and gives people something interesting to learn about your business, organization or about themselves. Whether you write a blog post, article, Facebook post or website page, you want your business to be seen as a vital resource. The right content inspires action and pulls people into your message. Publish content that people want to read, link, subscribe to and share. Use content marketing to generate a following that continually expands.
Deliver valuable information that people will talk about and share with others. Here are some very compelling reasons why your content matters as much as the design of a website:
Positions You as an Expert. Giving your customers the resources to believe in you is the new way to market. If you have good content, other sites might link to your content, increasing traffic to your site and potentially boosting your search rankings. Reliable and up-to-date content will increase your credibility, engage with your audience, and raise the likelihood that visitors will become customers.
Great content, blogs and articles can also serve as (free!) PR for your business, making you an informative and quotable resource to the press.
Connects to Customers: 90% of all corporate websites talk about how great the company or product is, but forgets about the customer. The right content attracts customers and retains their attention. Incorporate a ‘News’ section, and make sure it is updated often. Your news page shows visitors that you are proud of your achievements, and that you’re always striving to grow and develop.
Regularly updating or modifying your website’s content gives you an edge over the competition. People will keep returning to your site if they notice something new to see, learn from or enjoy each time.
Utilizes your entire web presence. Fact: Only 25% of people land on a site via its homepage. The rest are guided into various pages of the site, depending on the keyword phrases they use in the search engines. Delivering high-quality content on every page increases your chance of capturing a potential client or customer. Each page of content (with proper meta-tags, title, optimization, and submission) is indexed by the search engines, which increases your keyword coverage.
Increases Sales: Unfortunately, 76% of online shoppers surveyed report that content is insufficient to complete research or purchase online always, most often or some of the time.? (from eTailing Group; click here to view press release in its entirety.)