Rebranding government agencies requires precision, tenancity.

Rebranding any company or entity is a difficult task on any level but rebranding a government agency requires precise attention to detail and tight coordination behind the scenes. 

Florida’s job and unemployment agency – now called CareerSourceFlorida – started its rebranding in January to the current name from the former Workforce Development Board, known in Southwest Florida as SWFLWorks. 

The online rebranding effort needed to be coordinated among and between the agency’s 24 regional centers. Pauli Systems, LLC, has been the contract website coordinator for the Southwest Florida center for a decade and worked statewide to restyle and reconfigure the center to its new moniker, CareerSource SouthwestFlorida. 

All the work is intended to align Florida’s nationally recognized workforce system and improve customer awareness and use of system’s services and resources. 

“A unified brand will help identify the world class talent available not only for Southwest Florida but throughout the state and help in their recruitment and expansion of the business” said Ken O’Leary, board chairman of CareerSource Southwest Florida.

Quoted: Southwest Florida Business Today

The new revamp was the fourth over the last 10 years. The new site went online on February 9th and was a team effort between Pauli Systems and the Workforce Board’s communications team with James Wall, Curt Bradbury and Priscille Chagnon. 

A huge website revamp in 2013 laid the groundwork to make this follow-up rebranding possible without any disruption of services, without content migration or any major change for the content providers and that proved to be an invaluable step for the eventual 2014 effort. 

The site is built on WordPress and Genesis Framework and, as a result, is highly flexible. For the revamp, the main task was to build another WP Child Theme incorporating the new brand assets into and existing content flow. Existing features such as FrontPage Slideshow, Featured Posts, One-Stop Career Centers Calendars and Hot Positions – Occupations In Demand look-up page were easily incorporated with the new design. 

Pauli Systems Team members doing the heavy lifting included Blair Daly, PHP developer and server admin wizard and Karen Wegenhenkel graphic designer and WordPress theme genius. The project was managed by Pauli Systems, owner Birgit Pauli-Haack. The site was finished and rolled out successfully a day ahead of schedule. 

Although the website and new domain for CareerSource Southwest Florida are now online and working for the public, behind the scenes there are still a few things that need to happen to retain Search Engine Ranking, make Analytics Data consistent, and provide redirecting of links posted on social networks and bookmarked in browsers. 

 

Being online is today part of business

“So how is business?” a friend asked me quietly the other day.  I could see the barely disguised fear in her eyes at the prospect of having to hear in reply another devastating story of how the Great Recession has turned yet another business into … let’s say a non-profit entity.  Imagine her delight when I told her that I feel blessed and business for Pauli Systems  has been fantastic.  “People are now coming with bigger dreams to our boutique web development and design shop on Radio Road,” I added.  

SBDC Distinguished Entrepreneur Award 2013Once upon a time we were seen as a mere office supply store, where one just buys something to put up on the web and is forgotten until something new is needed on the web.  Gone are the days when one hops from web developer to web developer, who invariably rip up an old website and installs a new one, which then an instant small business website & ghost town.

I never cared for those cookie-cutter web site shoppers who only want a Number One spot on Google Search and want it with a single key phrase, like “real estate” (in a town with 7,000 Realtors) and want it instantly, without any sense of content or context.  “Water removal,” “pet grooming.” .

The conversation has changed and I am very happy about that.

Business owners and managers realize today that “being online” is part of their business and content is king.  High demand for story, data and image sharing online have become a strategic part of savvy business plans and daily operations.  And the savviest business owners come to us looking for a partner to take them beyond single parts and who offers a broad spectrum of tools, services and guidance. We share our experience to help build systems flexible enough to grow with the business’ and customers’ needs but also stable enough, scalable enough to integrate into operational processes of a growing business.

SWFL WorkForce Development Board

We don’t have a chinese menu, from which one picks and choose. Online presence and online marketing has so many different moving parts that picking one over the other is like asking which pencil an architect might use to design a structure. As with building a house, we first need to better understand your vision, goals and budgetary outline.

Our motto is “Form follows Function” or “Form follows Content”, all depends on what you want your web site to be or do and what you think your various groups of visitors would want to see or do on your website; and in which context will they interact with you.

Similar to architects, we will find the right combination of software, tools and services that would best fit your overall content strategy, internet marketing plan and budget. Then we will oversee implementation, acquire resources (software, developers, graphic designers, services providers) and manage the configuration and assembling process.

Clegg Art - Responsive Design - Browsing imagesMost online systems integrate with APIs (Application Programming Interface) and the trend now goes to single purpose apps.  That’s what mobile phones and tablets brought us but as an enterprise you depend on the best integration of systems. You need a consultant who has a good working knowledge in many systems and is able to weigh advantages against trade-offs and manage the gaps between systems or innovations.  

Within the new paradigm, there are, however, challenges.  One of those is to keep fresh content filling a content management system, content to share over the social webs, keeping it fresh and real.  As most of you know, I founded two years ago, with journalist, author and friend, Steve Hart, a new company, Relevanza, to integrate all aspects of online technology with the ongoing need to produce relevant content and meet customers on their terms and within their own context. 

Business communication is not driven any more by corporate speak, no-one wants to speak to a 501(3)(c) any more (waving at Kivi Leroux-Miller).  On the other hand, businesses need to tell the stories of their products, how they are produced, what’s in them and how to put them to use.  Business news editors do that for industry publications  and that’s what your business needs to do, too.

Relevanza News RoomAt Relevanza, we provide the missing link. We are your own news room.  We help you speak, tell your story and, then, let the whole world know using the “new” online tools and social media. 

Each organization needs to develop an online community to be reachable, approachable and transparent.  The biggest challenge now is to understand what a business has to say and say it with authenticity, integrity and honesty.  That’s part of the contract with your customers. They chose you because you are able to build a relationship of trust.

Businesses now have plenty of data about their customers and can meet them on their own terms and within their own context. Yet most businesses are still not able to put the data to the best of their knowledge. 

It’s still hard to connect the real life interaction in the store, in the restaurant, in the classroom or in your office and continue your online relationship.  But how much richer does the business interaction become when you get personal and meet your customers as individuals. Most business schools don’t teach that kind of interaction and most corporations discourage that kind of approach to customer service. 

But, as a consumer yourself, how much do you like, perhaps even expect, personal interaction, personal services and customizable experiences? Your customers and clients are just like you. 

Comparing 4 Most Popular Blog Engines – Which one is right for you?

Original posted on Relevanza, Inc. Site

Which Blog Software is right for me?  How do I get started? Who can help me?

These are all valid questions!  And there are no easy answers.

Most of the time your decision will depend on a few variables you will need to consider. And, sometimes, after writing (blogging) for a year or so you may decide your original assumptions are out of date or have changed.

What does one do then? Start over? Shell out more money to convert your original site?

Our team deals with a variety of different software writing/blogging packages – and we’ve tried many more. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The world of Internet communication is filled with trade-offs.

So let’s get started…

My number one software for about 3 years is WordPress. It lets you start out as a small site, get up and running fast and keep growing. With the help of the community of this open-source platform, you are able to grow and increase the features set and sophistication of your web presence.

In 2012, there are 60 million websites built on top of WordPress. Fifteen percent the new domain names (URLs) set up last year use WordPress. It’s an easy choice when you have a new business and need a website: build it on top of WordPress, self-hosted.

But what if you have had a website and don’t have the time or funds to convert the site?  Using a subdomain (blog.yourdomain.com) with any of the free services will get you started. When the time and circumstances are right, you can migrate the whole site into one content management system.

WordPress.com & WordPress self-hosted (WordPress.org

WordPress.com & WordPress self-hosted (WordPress.org) come from the same stable of open-source developers and migration from one to another is easy when your site matures.

We published last week an info graphic by WPBeginners that illustrated the main differences between a WordPress.com and a self-hosted instance of WordPress for your website. Read more here:

So the two top spots, in our view, are taken by WordPress self-hosted (WordPress.org) and WordPress.com.

Blogger/BlogSpot

There are two more free services that have a long history as well as a lot of users. One is Blogger, the blog engine run by Google, which just recently received a total overhaul and is now equipped with small business level features, like integration of AdSense and site analytics as well as some great layouts.

Blogger was, a long time ago, the distant cousin in Google’s software family. It’s one of the oldest blog engines and has had a large following, especially among individuals and personal blogs. Only recently with the arrival of Google+ has it experienced a major feature upgrade and was integrated with other Google services. Various themes are available but, of course, not as vast as for WordPress.com or Tumblr. Whoever stuck it out on blogspot.com has been rewarded with an interesting upgrade. For serious businesses, connecting it with a domain should be obligatory.

Tumblr

Tumblr - Follwo the world's creatorsThe other free Blog service that made it onto this list is Tumblr which had its greatest year in 2011 when it went from 11 million users to 90 million users. Tumblr is a blog engine with a restricted set of features but what it lacks in options or integration it makes up for with social network integration, ease of use, mobile integration for visitors and contributors and search engine visibility. The themes are mostly customizable with a few clicks and settings. The range of out-of-the box features allows for a fast set-up and wide distribution over the social webs. It also has a great array of social features called like”? and “reblog”? to spread the work.

Yes, you can integrate it with your own domain name or subdomain of your exisiting website. Our Social Media Bootcamp blog is built on Tumblr and helped us assess the blog engine in a real life setting that requires rapid updating from various locations.

Compare 17 individual features to find the right solutions for you.

All four blog engines allow you to update and post via mobile applications, be it from your smartphone or tablet. That feature is important these days and, for us, is a serious qualifier for this list.

Below, you will find a list of features, an overall comparison of the four engines. We have the three onsite free services stacked up against the WordPress self-hosted installation.

A comparison table features/ advantages and disadvantages for Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr. If you see the symbols, (++) ,next to a feature, it means you shouldn’t start a blog without it, even if you work with your web developer, who might have a different preference. When you see this link, (How?), the link will take you to a page that explains how to implement a particular feature on the blog platform. I didn’t research all features for their ease of implementation but I was curious about a few and checked them out. Underneath the feature matrix you’ll find brief explanations for each feature listed.

Compare Features across Blog Engines

Feature WP.com Self-Hosted WP (WP.org) Blogger Tumblr
Account Costs free hosting fees $8 – $35month (or higher) free free
RSS feed/
Category feeds (++)
yes/ yes (How?) yes/ yes (How?) yes/yes (How?) yes/no
Own Domain (++) $12 – 24/year ~10 – $40 per year 10 p.year + GoogleApps yes (How?)
Subdomain Existing Domain $12-24/year n/A Y-Integration of GoDaddy free of charge yes, no mention of cost. (How?)
Multi-author w/ WP.com profile yes w/ un/pw from WP instance yes /w google account yes/w.tumblr.com account
Multi-Blogs  w/ WP.com Profile no w/ google account yes/ w/tumblr account.
Post via email (++) yes yes yes (How?) yes
(How?)
Auto-post FB/Twitter FB/Twitter no Twitter
Mobile Version (++)  Yes Yes/via plugin & theme yes yes
Export/Move content yes yes no/yes via customized import/export scripts no
Adsense/Adserver integration no, you will see other people’s advertising with your content yes on any network, with selection of theme Google Adsense account yes, via customized Theme.
Social Features on site yes no yes yes
Share Buttons(++) yes yes, plugins available yes, yes
Spam Filter for Comment (++) Yes Via plugin (Akismet) Auto-system yes
Allow 3rd Party comment system no yes, via plugin no yes, w/ Theme

Import blog yes, WP from Tumblr (How?) yes, other WP yes, Blogger blogs only.
(How?)
from Blogger (How?)
Post via Mobile Apps
iOs/Android/others (++)
yes/yes/yes/ (How?) yes/yes/yes/ (How?) 3rd party apps yes/yes/no more..

What do the features listed entail and why they are important?

Account Costs

The costs mentioned here are the initial set-up fees. Depending on your level of comfort with configuring your own account settings and the settings of your blog, you still might need to hire a professional for the initial set-up. The costs referred to here are only the initial costs to have an account and start a blog. Some of the other features mentioned in this comparison chart will incur additional charges.

RSS Feeds:

Are essential and needed to reach the widest possible spread of your posts around the internet. Either your integration service set-up will use them or your readers will use them. Around this blog and on Above the Noise we have a whole series of RSS related posts. On your blog, you will need to have categories in smaller groups to help your readers find relevant content. (++)

Own domain/subdomain:

As a business owner, you need to make sure that all your online activities support your brand and market your domain. Even if you use one of the free systems, you should invest in your own domain and connect it to your blog on WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr. (++)

Multi-Author:

A Blog becomes much richer if you include others from your staff and or associates as authors on your blog. The burden of coming up with new content can be spread around and for your readers the experience is so much richer when they can hear multiple sides of an issues or different ways for problem solution or just different opinions. All blog software allows for multi-author set-up. All you need is an account, either on the service or on your self-hosted WP, for example. ‘

Multiple Blogs

Most people won™t have a need for multiple blogs. It’s hard enough to fill one blog with good, relevant and engaging content. But, sometimes as a business owner in a niche market it might be useful to team up with strategic partners and create a multi-topic blog and be great resources to each other’s customers. It also is helpful when you are part of a networking group with a decent online presence that you can guest post on the networks site, i.e., also on the same system.

Post via Email:

Sometimes it’s just easier to think about writing an e-mail than posting to the web where you have to login, get accustomed to a new interface, when technology distracts from the thought you want to jot down. WordPress programmers recognized this very early on and built in a way to post to our blog via e-mail. (++)

Auto-Post:

In order to make posting to social media less of a chore after you posted to your blog, you might be able to add your twitter account and your Facebook account to the settings page and authorize your site to post as you to the social networks.

Mobile Version:

By the end of 2012, it’s estimated over 50% of mobile subscribers will have smartphones, it’s imperative that your website/blog is recognizes when a mobile device is used to access your site and presents a different view of the site, optimized for mobile viewing. (++)

Export/Move content:

The big advantage of using free and low cost services is the feature set includes provisions to pack-up and leave when you find a more viable system or when you reach the point that you move on. In our 10 year experience as web consultants, the biggest hurdle to successfully moving on is the difficulty clients have in untangling content from the stronghold of hosting services or web developers. Setting up initially on WordPress.com and, later, moving to WordPress/self-hosted (WP.org) is definitely the easiest transition path. The export from the Tumblr, or Blogger will have its challenges.

 Adsense/Adserver integration:

At first it might not be all that interesting for small business to have ads on their website. But it might prove beneficial if you participate in affiliate marketing or for a publishing company that decides to monetize parts of the site.

Social Features:

As a user on the networks of WordPress.com, Tumblr.com and Blogger.com you can follow other users, like their posts and re-blog their posts with a few easy steps. You will not be able to recreate easily this kind of on-site connectivity with a stand-alone self-hosted wordpress site or other content management systems.

Share Buttons:

A row of icons on the bottom of each article that allows for on-click sharing on the most popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and also some of the lesser known ones like StumbleUpon, Reddit or Delicious. (++)

Spam Filter for Comments:

Your blog won’t be able to survive long without enabled comment spam filter. This can be accomplished with a built-in feature or by allowing a third-party service to monitor your comment section or prevent spam from being posted. (++)

Allow third-party comment system:

For a richer comment administration, you can consider using an external service for your site. Disqus.com, Livefyre, IntenseDebate are the most popular systems, and provide their own community of people engaging on different kind of sites.

Import Content:

It’s the opposite side of moving between the worlds. One part is the export of existing content and then you need the new software to have mechanism to import your content from another system

Post via Mobile Apps:

Your site might benefit from real-time posting while you are on the road or at an event. Mobile apps on the smartphone or tablet platforms will make it possible to post photographs right from your camera to your website/blog.

Please make sure to post your questions and thoughts in the comment section and what your experience is using any of the mentioned systems. Are features missing? What else would you need to know?

Pauli Systems is your MailChimp Expert

Is your e-mail marketing effort in need of a little TLC? Look no further than Pauli Systems, an approved “MailChimp Expert”.  MailChimp Experts are people and companies who know about e-mail design, coding, and programming. MailChimp has been our preferred e-mail marketing vendor for some time now, so, when they launched their Expert program earlier this year, it was a no-brainer — tell us where to sign up, and we’re there! As a designated Expert, we provide consulting, custom template setup, API work, as well as manage your overall e-mail marketing program. It’s important to note that the process to become an approved Expert requires that references (who are already using MailChimp), are provided at the time an organization completes the application. This way, MailChimp can verify that you know how to use their application, and will be able to successfully help others.

Why is MailChimp our e-marketing vendor of choice?

(And, before you go there, it’s not because of the large check MailChimp writes us each month — because they don’t.) Plainly put, MailChimp offers ease of use that is unparalleled, which is a key benefit for our clients. Whether a client is starting an e-mail marketing program from scratch or is moving from another e-marketing vendor to MailChimp, MailChimp’s intuitive layout and flexibility mean they’re up and running in no time flat.  Also of key importance to our clients is MailChimp’s ability to integrate with Customer Relationship Management systems CRMs), such as Salesforce, Highrise, and BatchBook, to name a few. And, using the MailChimp API, we can configure a registration/subscription process on a clients’ website, that synchronizes with their MailChimp subscriber list. Then, within MailChimp, you have access to dashboards and reports, that let you see the performance of your individual e-mails, and allow you to drill down into open and click statistics per e-mail and per subscriber.

Another cool feature MailChimp offers is a module called “Analytics 360”,  that allows you to pull and consolidate stats from your website traffic tools (such as Google Analytics) right into your MailChimp campaign reports page. Upon clicking the Analytics360 link, MailChimp goes to work for you pulling in your website stats and displays them on a one-stop-shop page. You can see not only how many people might have opened your message and clicked on links, you can also see site traffic, site traffic by geographical region, list growth, top referrer sites, top content viewed on a website, and, if enabled, instant ROI results for every e-mail campaign you send.

Mailchimp Analytics360

You can also target you e-mails to  specific groups of subscribers within your subscription list, offering you greater flexibility in managing those relationships.  Keep in mind, the more focused you are able to target your communication, the higher the probability that your message will be of relevance to the recipient and actually read.  In addition to individual e-mail campaigns, MailChimp also provides for configuration of RSS-driven campaigns, so you can generate automated e-newsletters directly from your website and/or blog posts.  This is particularly noteworthy, since RSS-feed automation is a relatively rare specimen among e-mail marketing systems, and MailChimp’s got it. More communication means more traffic to your website.

Be an Active Participant on Your Website or Blog

You’ve gotta work your blog, for it to work!

When it comes to making sure your website or blog builds interest and passion amongst your target audience for whatever it is you do, (you know, the people you want cheering for you — your customers, constituents, donors, etc.), you’ve got to get off the sidelines, roll up your sleeves, and get involved in telling the story, and keeping it fresh.  Designing and launching a web presence can be a monumental task, (and, a great achievement), but that’s just half the battle. Once your site or blog is up and running, it’s not going to run itself.

A month or so ago, I wrote about formatting your content as a blog, including some tips to get started, as well as some pointers to avoid the dreaded blogger burnout. The first tip mentioned to avoid blogger burnout was to blog/write about 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 a readership. Rest assured, if they’re not reading about you and your organization, they’re probably reading about someone else.

Find your voice, and let people ˜hear” what you have to say. You know your story better than anyone else, so really capitalize on that strength. Make it a point to draw people into your site or blog by sharing and posting articles that highlight and support your mission. Tell your readers about your experiences at a recent industry event, talk about a partner organization’s initiative that ties into one of your own, give accolades to a colleague for his or her outstanding achievement in your area of interest. To that end, here’s an idea — consider authoring your own series of articles around a common theme, making it a weekly feature on your website or blog.

For example, post a spotlight piece each week that introduces a person in your industry/area of interest that is a fervent champion for your cause, or an unsung hero forgotten by the news, but, in spite of, is still forging ahead, (with all the bad news these days, we need more ways to good? stories, don’t we?). The people you profile in the spotlight series  may be within your own organization, (staff, volunteers), respected industry peers, folks who do much but ask for nothing in return, etc. Or, consider including a friendly, personal anecdote remembering a past interaction with a well-regarded champion or hero — maybe recalling how he or she helped you get your start. Remember, it’s the heart-warming human? stories and anecdotes that grab people’s attention and make them take notice. These are the types of stories that inspire others to join a cause (perhaps, yours), and get involved.

And, on that note, why not harvest the wealth of personal stories and industry news that resides within your target audience — invite them to share their tales, accomplishments, and expertise. Their contributions are the perfect way to enhance and add emphasis and credence to the material you post, creating another compelling reason for visitors to your site or blog to return again, and again. Depending upon the response to your invitations to submit material, a section or category dedicated to your readers’ stories and contributions may be warranted. Just a thought.

With all the great and eagerly anticipated  content you’ll be generating, your readers are certainly going to make their voices heard, by posting comments  in response to the stories and articles appearing on your site.  Don’t miss this golden opportunity to reach back out — respond regularly to their comments! Let your readers know you are involved, “listening”,  and are interested in what they have to say. Answer questions, provide clarification, let them know what action you are going to take, which suggestions you are looking more closely at, and thank them for their feedback.  While you’re at it, why not cull reader comments for possible future article ideas? Make your site an interactive and meaningful one, and make your visitors part of the conversation.

The bottom line is, resist the urge to make your website or blog a strictly clip and post? service, where you simply rehash news and material from other sources. (And, let’s not forget about potential copyright infringement issues, right?) If your visitors can get it from another source, why do they need to visit your site?  Roll up your sleeves, and make your content a personal reflection of you, your organization and your mission.

Formatting Your Content: What Blog Software is Right for Me?

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

If you don’t yet have a website, think of a domain name and order a self-hosted WordPress installation; WordPress.org provides you with a list of hosting companies. We have an easy two-minute WordPress site signup available, that offers variety of templates.

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 engine’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,  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.

Formatting Your Content – Let’s Blog!


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?). 

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 is “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  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”.  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…

 

 

 

 

Website Gotcha’s to Avoid

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.  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 PlacesYahoo Local Listings, and 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.

 

You Need News — or it’s a Snooze

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 sections  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.

 

 

Back to the Basics: Search Engine Ranking – Learn it From Google

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?” 

Google describes their Page Rank Technology

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: 

 

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SEO Site Review Session from Google I/O 2010

Invest another hour to watch the second video posted here.  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 job 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

 

  • Google Webmaster Central Blog
    Read related articles about 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.

 

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